As someone who just got engaged (In March he asked at the base of a waterfall, at the top of a mountain in Steamboat Springs, Colorado…since you asked), the list of “what to do now” can be confusing and overwhelming… even for someone like me. Still, my experience over the past decade as a wedding planner, caterer, and venue owner has certainly provided some practical strategies to get the planning process off on the right foot. Done well, the planning process can actually be enjoyable.

The first thing to note is your new “bestie” is the wedding checklist. Ok… it doesn’t have to be, but I’ll be darned if those checklists don’t help keep things organized. With a good checklist, each step of the process builds on the next and, when done right, should make for a wedding day experience that flows beautifully together.


{First Things First} Before you start scheduling venue tours, or dress shopping, or booking the “must-have” photographer there are some questions to ask and decisions to be made.


  1. What’s your budget? Oh no, the “B” word already? Yes. Including contributions from parents or loved ones, any wedding funds, “extra” monthly earnings (and without racking up a pile of post-wedding debt), what is the total you and your fiancé are prepared to spend? Things to note, when considering budget – You will have to pay deposits to secure the venue, the caterer and other vendors. You will not have to pay for the entire wedding tomorrow. So, what can you comfortably budget towards the wedding? Unless you are one of the lucky few where budget is not a concern, answering this question will impact all of the other questions to follow.


  1. What’s your headcount? The headcount impacts your overall wedding costs more than almost anything. A simple example is the cost savings on food and beverage alone. If you trim 50 guests from your list (150 guests at $50 per person = $7500 vs. 100 guests at $50 per person = $5000), you save $2500 out of the gate. The other big impact of headcount is on choosing the venue. One of the first steps in planning your wedding is selecting the venue. All of the experts (we are biased around here so we rely on the experts) will tell you the venue is notwhere you should scrimp. Why? The venue will set the stage for your wedding. And, the right venue, will provide character and ambience that can be a money saver on decor later. What does the venue have to do with headcount? Umm… everything. Here in lies the wedding planning version of “the chicken or the egg?” If you plan to invite 300 guests, you need to find a venue large enough to accommodate your guest list. If you find the venue that is just perfect but only accommodates 150, then you have to make some hefty cuts to that initial guest list. Whichever the case, you have to at least have a ballpark idea of how many guests you plan to invite.


  1. {Your Top 5} What’s most important to the two of you? Would you consider yourselves “foodies”? Is your “soon-to-be” an outdoor enthusiast? Is a day with your toes in the sand an apt description of perfection? Take a moment to consider these things as you determine how best to spend the budget. 


  1. {The Fun Stuff} Now that you have a budget, a headcount, and your “top-5,” it’s time for the fun stuff: shopping, planning and creating. What’s the look and “feel” you want for your wedding? Is your style casual and laid back? Or glamorous and over the top? Does your budget allow for a wedding planner or event designer? If so, relying on their experience, contacts, knowledge, and know-how can make the process even more enjoyable. 


Once you’ve made these decisions you can get started on the big to-dos:

  1. Select a venue. Be flexible with your date especially when booking in the high season
  2. Book your pros. Remember, without a venue and a date, most wedding pros won’t sign a contract with you.
  3. Find the dress which should complement the style and design of the your wedding day.


In the end, your wedding day should feel like it was made for the two of you.


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Photo Credit: The Story Creative