How to Plan Your Wedding: When To Do What! (Part I)

So you’re engaged… now what? That’s the beginning of the wedding planning process! A friend of The Wedding Lens recently got engaged and was asking questions about time frames. So here we go!

Because engagements take place for different lengths of time, I’m not going to specify how long before the wedding date you should do each action. But this is generally the ORDER of things. Where possible, I’ve linked to other related blog posts on the topic! (And here’s just a list of things to do for wedding planning, if you just want that) Also, be sure to check out our Cheap Wedding Tips and our Green Wedding Tips, both of which have great ideas to help you out during different stages of the planning process!

First Steps

  1. Create a budget! This means taking a list of everything that you know you’ll have to spend money on and deciding how much you can dedicate to each portion. Check out our Guide to Creating a Wedding Budget — which specifies which costs are fixed and which depend on the number of guests.
  2. Pick the wedding party. This seems early in the process right? True! But the wedding party can help you with the tasks that you’ll have to do. Pick early, they’ll help early!
  3. Divide tasks! After reading the rest of this blog post, you’ll get a full picture of everything there is to do: from marriage license to centerpieces.  Once you have that list, divide up the tasks however you see fit.

Things That Shouldn’t Wait

  1. Marriage license.  Every state has different rules on the time frame needed to apply for a license and to get married. Make sure you know what you need to do before you get too close to your wedding date!
  2. Find a venue, date, and officiant. This is sort of circular because you need the venue and the officiant to be available on the same date. But keep in mind that you may have to pick two venues — one for the ceremony and one for the reception. Just be sure they’re both available on the same date! Here’s how to pick a wedding date. Also, make sure you look at how to find a venue AND the questions you need to ask each venue. With officiants, think about whether you will have a religious officiant or a friend. Find out any state requirements if you want a friend or family member to officiate.
  3. Create the guest list. Sometimes it’s hard to limit the guest list, so consider having A lists, B lists, and C lists. Here are our tips for the guest list. Also, be sure to decide whether you want kids to attend or not.
  4. Themes/Styles/Colors. The earlier you select any themes, styles, or colors, the earlier you can get started with some of the other aspects of planning. After all those three aspects will impact the dress selections, the flowers selections, etc. Here’s some help on how to pick your color scheme.
  5. Wedding dress. The wedding dress should be purchased earlier in the planning process because it might need to be fitted several times. Depending on how long your engagement lasts, this should be done ASAP. Plus the bride will want her dress before the bridesmaids get theirs! Here’s how to choose  the right wedding dress and some ideas for colorful wedding dresses.
  6. Save the Date.  The save-the-date (or STD) should tell guests when & where you’re getting married. When should you send the save-the-dates? It depends on when you’re getting married, but generally, send them as soon as possible. If you are ordering save-the-dates that you want to look similar to your invitations, there are companies that give you package deals. Here is a timeline of when to send save-the-dates and when to send invitations. Here are some creative save the date ideas and how to address the save-the-dates.
  7. Order your online photo album from The Wedding Lens. By ordering your online photo album from The Wedding Lens early, you can start telling your guests where to upload photos AND you can include your engagement photos in the album or any other older photos to share your memories with your guests.
  8. Wedding website. Obviously put as much information on here as you can, but here’s what to include on your wedding website.
  9. Find vendors. This means finding vendors for everything you might want. Here is how to find the right vendors for you (and each category that follows links to a blog post that will help you narrow down what will be best for you in that area). Photographer (engagement photos and day of), videographer, florist (selecting flowers), caterer, DJ/band/music, bakery, wedding planner or day-of coordinator. Any other kind of vendors you might want (eg if you want to have wedding entertainment such as a photo booth, cigar bar, or silhouette artist) can usually wait a bit longer in the planning process.

Stuff That Can Wait a Little Bit

  1. Invitations! What goes inside, when to send, how to tell your guests that no kids can come, RSVP cards. Remember, there are specific rules on how to address invitations, so make sure you check those out (yes, there will be a blog post coming!)
  2. Attire: Groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen. Here’s everything related to helping you select wedding attire!
  3. Hair & makeup for the bride and bridesmaids, if you would like.
  4. Rings! Dont forget you both need to exchange rings on the day of the wedding. Here are some green tips on picking the rings.
  5. Decorating: flower arrangement (or alternatives to flower bouquets), centerpieces, plates/napkins/glassware, guestbook, favors, place cards, menu cards, cake toppers, chair rentals/chair covers, other entertainment)
  6. Guest-related: Accomodations, transportation, and out of town bags!
  7. Get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens. If you haven’t done it yet, now is the perfect time in the planning process to get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens! When you share the information on accomodations & transporation with your guests, you can also share the link to the album and remind people to bring their digital cameras to your wedding. Plus people can start uploading old and new memories of you & your fiance(e)!
  8. Menu planning: buffet vs sit-down meal; alcohol – open bar, soft bar, signature drinks. Here are all things food & drink related to help guide you through this!

Final Steps

  1. RSVPs
  2. Ceremony planning: walking down the aisle, vows, readings — and whatever else you want to take place.
  3. Seating chart: who will sit where during the reception? Here’s how to create a seating chart!
  4. Music (song) selections for band or DJ, both during the ceremony and reception.
  5. Remind your guests to bring their cameras to your wedding day so they can capture memories for your online photo album.
  6. Planning the timeline: This means planning the timeline of who arrives where at what time, what order things occur, and who transports what where. It’s meant to be distributed so that everyone is on the same page about what’s going on.
  7. Programs: This lets your guests know what is going to happen & when! Here’s the information on writing your programs.

So that’s everything you have to do…. Next blog post will cover what comes up on the day of and any other last minute things and miscellaneous things you should be aware of! (Like gift registry, thank you cards, wedding insurance, things people forget, staying calm…. all coming up!) 

Good luck! Remember, if you have questions – email me!

~ Natasha

How to Find the Right Wedding Planner

You have decided you want to hire a wedding planner, but you aren’t sure how to do it. There are a few things you should think about…

What they do

Wedding planners can do as much, or as little, as you want. For example, there are the full planners and the day-of planners. The full planners take care of everything so you dont have to worry about it. The day of planners help make sure that the actual day-of goes well, but usually you’re responsible for doing the planning yourself.

Wedding planners can:

  • pick your location
  • pick your vendors (florist, caterer, cake design)
  • take care of the little details (flower arrangements, linens)
  • ensure that things move smoothly on the day of the event (chairs in the right place, namecards in place, people in the right place, etc.)

It all depends on what they usually do and what you are hiring them to do.  If you want to be involved in the location decision, make that very clear when you meet with them. (See below about what to discuss!)

How to find one

My blog on how to choose vendors provides the best guidelines for how to find a wedding planner too.

  • Ask friends
  • Look online
  • Check out ads

After you find them, you should:

  • check out reviews online
  • contact them to find a price
  • meet with them
  • ask for references

What to ask

The point of meeting the potential wedding planner is to 1) ensure you like them (and can afford them), 2) establish parameters of what you expect them to do and what they expect of you, and 3) assure that you feel the person is qualified to do everything that you would like them to do (and that they & their plan will fit within your budget). With that in mind, here are some questions to guide you:

  • How much experience do you have? How long have you been a wedding planner? 
  • What is your background? (eg did they used to be an attorney, a party planner, a financial planner? Attorneys are helpful for contracts, party planners are helpful for the planning portions, and financial planners are helpful to ensure that you stay within your budget)
  • Are you a member of any professional organizations?
  • What do you usually do as a wedding planner?
  • How much do you charge?
  • What kind of budgets do you usually work with? (This is very important if you have a particularly small or particularly large budget. No matter what your budget is, you dont want your money being wasted because of carelessness!)
  • Are you familiar with contracts and traps that might arise in a contract?
  • How do you select vendors? location?
  • Do you have experience with a certain religious/ethnic/cultural wedding? (if you are having a particular type of wedding)
  • Do you do day of work also? (some planners only do the planning, but aren’t available on the day of to ensure things go smoothly)
  • Do you have people who help you? How many?
  • Explain what you want and expect. How much do your services cost to do that? (though maybe that will be clear if you ask what they charge)
  • Can you give me a list of references?

Most important is to make sure that you get along. You have to work together at a very high stress time and it’s important that your personalities mesh so that it’s LESS stressful to have a planner, rather than more.

How did you pick your wedding planner?

~ Natasha

Learn more about The Wedding Lens and create a free photo album today!

To Have a Wedding Planner or Not?


The wedding planner seems to fall into three categories: 1) A wedding planner to plan the whole wedding, from start to finish ; 2) A Day of Coordinator (DOC) to deal with the minute details of the day; 3) A planner that is required by the venue.

Category 3 is obviously the most difficult because some venues tell you that they want to deal with a planner – not with you.  Find this out BEFORE you do too much planning! It would be a shame to have to hire a planner to take over after you’ve done all the legwork.  That said, there can still be two advantages to doing that legwork. First, you might be able to negotiate a lower price for the planner and second, the planner may be able to get you a better deal on the things you’ve already worked out.

As between Category 1 & 2 — it depends on what you’re looking for. Do you want someone to help you through the whole process? Negotiate the contracts and prices and ensure you’re getting a good price (though remember! you are paying the person!)? Or do you only need someone to make sure the final details work out on the day of? That things are delivered on time and correctly?

If you want to do the planning on your own, then there are a plethora of websites (including THIS ONE!) to help you with details of planning. Green Wedding Planner gives you ideas for a green wedding, ensuring that you pick eco-friendly options. My Wedding Blog has links to various topics with suggestions and ideas.  And Perfect Wedding Blog is another fabulous resource that gives you plenty of ideas and things to think about.

If you decide you want to get a coordinator, The Wedding Bee gives (from a male’s perspective) some things to look out for when selecting a coordinator (which apply to both day of and full fledged planners). For example, a good planner should be professional and personable.  He/she should be able to “hold their own” with vendors and not get trampled! And the planner should be able to CALM the two who are getting married! It’s stressful enough and the planner should definitely NOT add to that stress.

Happy Planning!

~ Natasha