With Wedding Planning Part I documented, let’s move on to the big stuff, shall we?
I’m not going to lie; you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you before you even start. But with this handy Wedding Priorities List you should be ready to tackle anything.
This list prioritizes, in order of importance, the most important aspects of planning a wedding. Disclaimer: This is all according to me and my experience. You don’t have to follow it exactly but I would strongly encourage anyone planning a wedding to strictly follow at least the top 3.
Priority #1 – Your Budget
You aren’t going to get anywhere planning-wise without putting a budget in place first. Where’s a good place to start? Well, did you know the average wedding costs $24,066 (in 2010, according to The Wedding Report)? You may balk at that figure but it’s a good baseline that I can personally vouch for, as ours was pretty close to that. You can absolutely plan a wedding for a lot less, and a lot more if you have money to burn, but if we’re talking about the average couple’s experience, I’m going to stick with this figure.
The next step is to figure out what you have and what you need, money-wise. The two biggest parts to this are figuring out what you and your fiance can contribute (this includes figuring out what you can save per month to meet your goal) and then figuring out who you need to ask and for what amount (parents, family, etc.) to cover the remainder.
Once you’ve figured out the total amount you have to spend you should break it down by category. Here is a really handy worksheet by Real Simple which covers every expense you could think of and what percent of your budget should be allocated towards it. The biggest decision to make here is to name your top 3 expenses. For us it was food, photography, and venue. Once we prioritized these three things, we adjusted our budget accordingly and let everything else fall to our second tier of importance.
After you’ve broken your budget down into those specifics, it’s time to figure out where you’re going to be depositing your money and how you’ll keep track of it. Here’s what we did:
- Opened a joint checking account (with two checkbooks and two debit cards) that was used for expenses. We deposited everything into this account initially and moved it around to the following two accounts when we needed to. I kept a very close eye on and balanced this account almost daily.
- Opened a joint savings account. This was most helpful up front for big deposits that we knew would sit for a few months until we needed them. This was the “holding tank” for most of our money throughout. We’d transfer cash to our checking account when we had expenses but, for the most part, our money sat here. And hey, we even accrued a tiny bit of interest on it!
- We opened an Orange Savings Account with ING for our House Fund. We specifically told friends and family at the outset we didn’t need anything gift-wise, purposefully kept our registry small, and that our goal is to own a home soon. This account didn’t come into play really until a few months before the wedding when we received one large gift specifically for this fund. We also received a few smaller gifts along the way that we decided to put in here. I should mention that this account is off limits for us. Once we put something in it, it isn’t to be removed or used. And we accrue a little bit of interest on this account too.
Priority #2 – Venue
Seems minor to some but it is actually one of the most important decisions to make as quickly as you can make it. Your choice of venue will determine other extremely important details such as wedding date, location, season, and whether or not you’ll be purchasing The Wedding Package from your venue or bringing in your own vendors and DIYing things. Determination of your venue sets so many other decisions in motion and, without it, it will be extremely difficult to move your planning forward.
Priority #3 – Involvement of Your Significant Other
This may also seem minor but it is huge. Some brides or grooms are natural born planners and can take this whole project and run with it. For others, the thought of doing all that work alone is terrifying (I knew I never wanted to be a bridal island). The key here is to set your expectations. Talk to your fiance about what interests them, which parts they feel strongly about, and about what they absolutely do not want to do.
To my surprise (and subsequent extreme gratitude), John wanted to be involved in our planning. Like, a lot. At the beginning I kept telling people how he was doing 90% of the work, that I was a negligent bride. Now that we’re at the end I can safely say it evened out but he really stepped up in those first few months. I was happy and proud! My husband-to-be took on a huge amount of responsibility and interest in our planning. It says a lot about him as a person and partner, no?
For us, John was the President of the operation (making the tough decisions, gladhanding and making phone calls, staying focused on the big picture, driving the whole thing) and I was the Chief Operating Officer (paying close attention to the minute details, signing contracts, managing our bank accounts, creating task lists and staying goal oriented), and that really worked for us. It played to our natural strengths and our planning went smoothly from day one. We talked about it a lot, checking in weekly with what we needed to do and who wanted to take what. And because of that, it never felt inequitable and always felt manageable.
Priority #4 – Involvement of Everyone Else
It’s really up to you how involved you want your family, wedding party, friends. etc to be. In my experience, people take their cue from you. So if you want something specific done or you want to delegate a task, you need to be up front about it.
Yes, there are a number of duties that are traditionally expected of the Maid of Honor, Best Man, and even your parents but we found those responsibilities to be kind of antiquated. Long story short: if you want help, you gotta ask.
Priority #5 – Guest List
We were about 80% in agreement of our guest list from the beginning, thankfully. The first step is to figure out how many people you want to invite. This directly relates to how much you can afford per person and how many people your venue can hold (other reasons why budget and venue are priorities #1 & #2). Once you have your number, you do have to make the tough calls – whether or not kids are invited, who can have plus ones, if you want to invite coworkers, who your backup/B-list of invites will be.
Priority #6 – Vendors
You really gotta do your research & homework here but be aware, it’s time consuming! My recommendation is to get recommendations. Don’t work with someone you haven’t been referred to. You probably know enough people who have planned their own wedding or planned a big event. Ask around, use Yelp, take notes, and definitely comparison shop.
Also, for your reference, vendors include (but are not limited to): venue, DJ, photographer, florist, caterer, invitation designer, hair and makeup, liquor, rentals (tables, chairs, linens, flatware, etc), service staff, bartenders, cake baker, event coordinator, the list goes on and on.
Oh, one more thing, get a signed contract for everything. It’s doubtful anything will ever go wrong but if it did, a signed contract with all of your terms included will save your ass.
Priority #7 – Ceremony
Who will marry you? Family traditions? Religious or secular? Indoors or outdoors? Double ring ceremony? Church service? Readings? Who will walk you down the aisle? Will you be “given away”? Wearing a veil? First kiss? Smashing of the glass? Ring warming? Dove release?
It doesn’t matter what kind of ceremony you have but you definitely have to agree on it.
Other Things – Prioritize As You Wish
And then there’s everything else. While important, these things didn’t qualify for their own categories for us. Take a look and prioritize as you will!
- Wedding dress/Groom’s suit
- Honeymoon Destination
- Engagement Party
- Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties
- Wedding Shower
- Rehearsal Dinner