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How to Plan a Wedding Step by Step: 17 Tips for Pro Planning

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Just engaged? Unsure where to start with planning your own wedding? Check out this roadmap to plan a wedding like a pro in 17 simple steps.

Jessica Bishop Headshot

Ever wondered how to plan a wedding like a professional? One thing most wedding professionals have in common is their penchant for organization. A pro wedding planner may plan, create, and work dozens of weddings each year, so they have their systems down to a science. But don’t let that intimidate you or allow you to think you can’t plan your own wedding. Just because you’ve never planned a wedding before, doesn’t mean you can’t take it on and plan it well, for that matter!

The key to planning your own wedding is – you guessed it – organization. Events have tons of moving parts, and if you try to plan your soiree without a system, you will quickly become disorganized. Outside of recommending that you start a Google Drive with a shared folder to keep everything in one spot, we also wanted to create a wedding planning outline for you to follow.

We want planning your own wedding to be a fun process with as little stress as possible! With this recommended wedding planning process, your event will be impeccably organized, and your day will feel like a dream when you finally get to celebrate.

How to Plan a Wedding The Savvy Way

Below, we’re sharing the 17 steps to planning a wedding you should take to keep it budget savvy! Keep reading to see how you can plan your wedding like a professional wedding planner! 

1. Define Your Wedding Vision

Before starting wedding planning, take care to identify the type of celebration you want. Think through the five senses of your wedding day. What do you want to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste on the big day? How do you want to feel? Who are you surrounded by? What season is it? What’s the temperature? Indoor or outdoor? Casual or luxe? Quirky or formal?

Your wedding should be a reflection of you and your partner as a couple. Use it to express your values, your interests, and your personalities. Make sure to clarify your wedding vision by discussing all these points with your future spouse before making any official decisions. Try the 20 Questions of Wedding Planning to kick off your discussions and get on the same page about your desires for your dream wedding.

2. Set Your Wedding Budget & Stick To It:

Before you get into the fun stuff, you need to tackle your finances. That’s why this is our #1 Wedding Budget Tip! Your wedding budget will guide all of your decisions about wedding planning.

Setting a wedding budget that makes you feel comfortable will only help to guide you to make the best decisions you can make while also not going into debt. Make the time to crunch those numbers and get a realistic figure before moving into further planning.

3. Consider Wedding Dates:

You do not need to set a wedding date this early in the game, but it is helpful to narrow down potential seasons and months for your wedding. Having a general idea of when you would like to get married will help venues, in particular, to guide you.

Plus, a general idea will also help you to focus on what type of inspiration to search on sites like Pinterest. Why look for spring flowers if a winter wedding is ideal? Thinking into the future is also helpful if you need to save money to put towards your wedding budget.

4. Purchase a Wedding Planning Book:

We wrote a best-selling wedding planning book on how to plan a wedding on a budget, and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it! Whether you purchase our book or another one, having a guide with step-by-step instructions will prove helpful. We also love it when books have room for you to jot down your own wedding planning notes!

Alternatively, you may find a digital option like a wedding planning app is more your style.

5. Pin Your Inspiration:

Pinterest can cause you to go down an entire wedding planning rabbit hole, which we do not necessarily endorse. But, pinning wedding inspiration for decor styles, attire, accessories, colors, florals, a wedding cake, linens, and wedding details can prove helpful. As you pin, double back to see if you can spot patterns in the inspiration you’re saving.

If you can, you’re getting close to truly understanding your ideal style, which will help you to DIY or work with wedding vendors. Once you have a solid amount of inspiration images (sometimes 20 photos is enough!), try to stop pinning. Having too many ideas is typically overwhelming, so stop while you’re ahead.

Of course, it’s a great idea to add some of your favorite Etsy finds to your Pinterest board as well. It will come in handy when you want to reference it for easy shopping later!

6. Set Your DIY Plan:

Once you have discovered the details that inspire you, consider deciding which items you would like to DIY for your wedding. Keep these items on a list you can refer back to (and check off!) as you purchase supplies, make a sample, and finally finish your project.

The key to DIY done well is to keep the number of projects you decide to take on in check. Doing too much will only make the process overwhelming, and DIY should be something you look forward to doing!

Savvy Wedding Planning Tips:

Create a timeline for your creative projects, and make sure to avoid jotting down your finish date as the day before your wedding. We promise that’s NOT what you will feel like doing!

7. Outline Your Guest List:

Your guest list guides your wedding budget (and vice versa), and the number of loved ones you invite to your wedding will also help to determine plenty of other decisions, like your wedding venue.

Just remember, every guest adds an extra expense. From the number of save-the-date cards and formal invitations you’ll need to send, to extra chairs, plates, meals, programs, and how many tables you’ll need at your reception– your costs grow as your guest count grows!

When planning your wedding, having a rough idea of the number of people you and your soon-to-be spouse want to have present at your celebration is key!

8. Research, Tour, & Book Wedding Venues:

Once you have an idea in mind for your wedding style, now is the time in the planning process to start researching wedding venues. As we mentioned, you will also want to consider your guest list. Ask friends and family for recommendations, search online, and pop onto Instagram.

Finding the perfect wedding venue can feel like finding a diamond in the rough. Use your wedding vision to narrow down options based on the type of wedding you want. If you envision an outdoor wedding, keep that in mind when looking for an option for your wedding ceremony location and reception venue.

Before you arrive for your tour, review the number of guests the space can accommodate, the cost, and whether or not you can host your ceremony and reception onsite. Once you have toured your ideal spaces, book your venue!


Savvy Wedding Planning Tips:

Hosting your ceremony and reception at the same venue makes the wedding day easier for everyone, especially if you’re considering not working with a wedding planner. The less movement that needs to occur between spaces, the better!

9. Set Your Wedding Date:

The reason we recommend waiting to set your wedding date until after choosing your wedding venue is that it leaves more options open. If you see a space you love, you will likely find it easier to consider all of their open dates in a month or season rather than having your heart set on one particular date.

While setting your date, keep travel, holidays (and sports seasons), and weather patterns in mind. Once you have set a date for the big day, you can start announcing it, particularly to your wedding party and additional wedding vendors.

10. Ask Your Wedding Party:

You can definitely ask your friends and family to be part of your wedding party (FKA the more gendered term, bridal party) well before this point, but it can also be helpful to wait. As excited as your crew will be to stand beside you on your wedding day, their number one question will be, “When are you getting married?” In order to make this an easy yes for your bridesmaids and groomsmen, it’s helpful to be able to answer that question before they ask it.

Your bridal party will need to be kept in the loop of your plans as well as your expectations for their involvement on the big day. It’s also a nice idea to do something special to propose to your best man, maid of honor, bridesmaids, and groomsmen, but don’t feel like you have to go overboard!

You will also want to ask your wedding party members about each of their schedules. You’ll need to know their availability for pre-wedding events such as bridal showers and bachelor or bachelorette parties. So many things to plan!

11. Create a Wedding Website

Wedding websites are a key component of modern weddings. While you might not consider it on your list of wedding essentials, it’s a huge help in terms of sharing all the relevant wedding plans and details with your guests. If you want to avoid being a stressed-out bride by answering dozens of the same questions over and over, creating a wedding website is the ticket! It’s also an ideal place to share your wedding hashtag, if you’re using one!

From listing your registries, hotel accommodations, the starting time of your wedding ceremony and reception, and more– you’ll give your guests all the important info they need to attend and celebrate your special day. It’s also great if you use a site like Joy that allows you to restrict certain details to specific guests so you can inform and collect RSVPs for various wedding events like rehearsal dinner details, engagement parties, day after brunch, and more.

12. Research, Meet, & Book Wedding Vendors:

Your wedding date, venue and location, budget, and style are all important factors to know as you contact more wedding professionals. They’re all some of the first questions you will be asked, and it’s helpful to be able to answer them.

We recommend booking vendors who can only work one wedding on a particular date first. So, have a game plan in mind for pros such as your wedding photographer, videographer, caterer, florist, officiant, band or DJ, and day-of wedding coordinator (if you want to work with one!)

Having a coordinator can be a big help with organizing things like rehearsals, your wedding day timeline, and overall logistics on the big day, and are more affordable than full-service wedding planners. Once you have decided on which pros to hire, start to consider other details, like stationery, transportation, etc.

13. Find Your Wedding Day Attire:

One of the most exciting parts of wedding planning for many brides is finding the perfect dress! You can definitely purchase your wedding dress right off of the rack, but many wedding dresses will need to be special-ordered. To allow enough time to try on, order, alter, and finally pick up your wedding dress, the best thing to do is to start shopping ten months before your wedding.

The same is true for the groom, bridesmaids, and groomsmen. Truly, the earlier you start looking for attire, the more relaxed you will feel.

14. Select and Mail Wedding Stationery:

Wedding stationery can include a whole host of printed paper goods like save-the-date cards and formal invitations. To ensure the entire guest list has plenty of notice before your wedding date, many couples mail their save the dates around eight months in advance. This is particularly important as guests work around busy schedules and potentially book travel in order to celebrate with you in person.

You will want to follow up with your wedding invitations 6-8 weeks before your wedding day. Make sure you have a wedding website set up to collect RSVPs digitally for more convenience (and less postage!) If your budget is extra tight, you could even consider some of the lovely digital options for online wedding invitations.

15. Purchase Wedding Bands:

Don’t forget to purchase wedding rings! The best time to shop for wedding bands is at least 2-3 months before your wedding day. This is because bands sometimes need to be ordered, and it’s also possible they will need to be resized.

You want time to find a band that perfectly complements your engagement ring as well as a style that suits your future spouse. Once they’re in, hold onto them and decide who will be in charge of making sure they make it to the altar on your wedding day.


Savvy Wedding Planning Tips:

Don’t have your ring bearer walk down the aisle with the actual rings! This is a great job for a best man.

16. Obtain a Marriage License:

Don’t forget the legal part of getting married– you’ll need a license to be legally wed. Every city and county has specific guidelines in place for obtaining a marriage license, but the universal rule is, generally, that you can’t officially get married without one. Do a quick Google search for your area, and visit your city or county’s website to learn more.

Typically, you will want to obtain a license 14-30 days before your wedding. And make sure to note there is usually a cost for a marriage license! Be prepared to pay $100 in some areas (of course, this can vary).

17. Celebrate Your Wedding:

You have planned and planned, and now it’s finally time to celebrate your wedding day! On this day, you will want to feel like a guest at your wedding. So, delegate roles to family and friends.

Put someone in charge of answering vendors’ questions, nominate someone to wrangle family members for photos, place another person in charge of making sure gifts are collected at the end of the night, etc. Above all, make sure you have fun with your favorite people, especially those out of town guests you don’t get to see often!

We guarantee that by the time you end up in your hotel room at the end of the night you’ll agree that it all goes by in a flash.

Finally… Enjoy your Honeymoon!

Wedding Planning Timeline and Checklist

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Good Luck on your Wedding Planning Journey!

As we hope you can now see, planning your own wedding with the right amount of organization is definitely possible and – dare we say – enjoyable. We hope this simple wedding planning process can serve as a rough roadmap to get you down the aisle with more clarity and less stress!

Are you planning your own wedding day? Now you’ll know how to plan a wedding! What other tips would you add to our list? Join us in the community to talk about all things wedding planning!

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Jessica Bishop Headshot

Jessica Bishop is the founder of TheBudgetSavvyBride.com, and has worked in various areas and roles within the wedding industry since 2007. She is the author of the best-selling book,The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner & Organizer and also hosts The Bouquet Toss Wedding Planning Podcast. Jessica's expert wedding advice and savvy savings tips have been featured by Good Morning America, COSMOPOLITAN, Glamour, and more. You can learn more about Jessica on her personal blog and professional website.