Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Your Wedding


Make the announcement: 

Some couples just don’t feel right if anyone knows their big news before their parents and other close family members do. If possible, tell both sets of folks in person. If your parents don’t live nearby, put in a special phone call.

Delve into dreams: 

Sit down with your fiancé and talk ideas. Think about the style you’d like, whether it’s a beach bash, a sit-down dinner in a ballroom or a ceremony on a mountaintop. No talk of money. Yet.

Rough out the timing: 

While you don’t have to set a firm date now, it’s smart to have an idea of what month or season you want to marry in. Then you’ll know how long you have to get things organized. Because your wedding’s size determines where you’ll hold the party, how much it will cost (prices usually rise per guest) and whether travel will be involved, creating a guest list is one of the most important things to do. So make your list; your fiancé and both families should do the same. You can, and likely will, cut later, but this first number will be your base.

Now talk money: 

It’s rare these days that the bride’s parents pick up the whole bill, so decide on your bottom line. Find out from both sets of parents if or how much they can contribute.

Get organized:

Buy a notebook and separate it into sections for each budget category. This way you can write down the amount you want to spend on the item and then note your expenditures. As you near your limits, you can start to figure out ways to cut costs.

Finding your venue:


Ceremony Who & Where

Finding an officiant and a ceremony site can be simple—if, say, you wish to marry in your hometown house of worship. Even if you’re no longer living in the area, you may have family who still are and can help out. Sometimes for the sake of convenience, couples choose a place that’s in between their homes and their parents’. And then there’s the destination wedding; just make sure that everyone you really want to join you and your groom can afford to travel and is able to make it.

The Reception Venue:

Think again about those wedding dreams, and see how they mesh with reality. Perhaps you envision an outdoor garden. Fine, but what if you can’t find just the right place or the weather is an issue? Maybe there’s a quaint hotel with a pretty courtyard that would suit. Some couples find historic homes in their area to rent. Use local resources to narrow down options: a wedding planner or a recently married friend. Check wedding websites and bridal magazines. Then start scheduling visits.

Hiring your vendors:


Photographer & Videographer

The best ones usually book weddings many months in advance, so get on this one early. Get recommendations from friends, then research what kinds of shots you’d like to see—formal portraits and dancing shots or a candid, journalistic format. Always ask to see other wedding albums the pro has done.

Quick tip: Not sure what kind of album you want? Look for photographers with a looser style and many package choices on offer. You don’t have to make up your mind right away. After the wedding, you may even want to get creative and make your own album.


Arrange to hear musicians perform before you sign them on. Make sure they agree to stick to the playlist you give them. Find out how they will dress and how many breaks they will take. Hiring a deejay is usually less expensive than a live band, but not always. 

Flowers and Décor

Once you have your reception site booked, you can decide on table arrangements and other decorations. A hotel ballroom might be a relatively blank slate, whereas a museum may need little more than simple centerpieces. If you can buy fresh stems at a local farm, ask a talented friend to help put together bouquets and centerpieces. Or ask your florist to incorporate tons of greenery to make fewer flowers look like a lot more.


You want to know how dishes will taste and look and how flexible the caterer is with menus and prices. Don’t be afraid to bargain; you can cut costs by limiting the number and kinds of hors d’oeuvres served at cocktail hour.

Naming your bridesmaids

When naming your attendants, follow these tips:

-Explain to prospective bridesmaids what the role requires, like planning the shower and paying for their attire.

-Tell each ’maid that she’ll need to commit a certain amount of time and energy—and if she can’t, it’s fine for her to decline.

-Choose as many or as few bridesmaids as you want.

-Give your closest friend or relative the maid of honor position.

-Include a female relative of your groom in your bevy of bridesmaids; it’s a diplomatic move that can only strengthen family relations.

Buying your gown:


Erase the Emotion

If you were the girl who pinned towels in her hair to play bride, you may need extra help with this step. Pulling the emotion out of the event and remaining level-headed as you shop for your dress will help you stay within the bounds of both budget and practicality. If it helps, bring your mom and a down-to-earth pal along with you.

Know What Kind of Shopper You Are

Some brides relish the hunt for the ideal dress, and happily book a number of appointments at bridal salons. They like having a salesperson who offers ideas and selects gown styles for them. Others would really love to just slip into a store (a department store, a specialty boutique, a secondhand shop) and find their dress hanging there on the rack. Both ways are possible. Decide which kind of shopper you are, and work accordingly.

Don't Second-Guess Yourself

Think you’ve found The One? Then you probably have. Look no further—and relax. 


Tip: It’s not strictly necessary to know wedding place and time details before you shop. Whereas fashion guidelines were more rigid in the past (not wearing a glittery sheath for a daytime wedding, for example), the rules are looser now. But check with your house of worship; some require covered shoulders or heads. Start shopping whenever you feel pumped—and don’t forget to have your guy rent formalwear for himself and his groomsmen.

Managing your budget:

No matter what your wedding budget may be, here’s a rough idea of how much is typically spent in each category. Keep in mind that the numbers are not hard and fast. Some couples may, for example, choose to spend more on photography and less on flowers. It’s up to you!


-Reception: 40%

-Honeymoon: 14.5%

-Photography and videography: 10.5%

-Wedding attire: 7%

-Engagement rings and wedding bands: 6%

-Flowers: 5%

-Music: 5%

-Invitations: 2%

-Miscellaneous: 10%


Wedding budgets have a way of expanding like a balloon. Keep yours from popping (and give yourself some wiggle room for those unexpected expenses or must-haves) by reining in spending. Here, six smart saving tips:


Did you totally love the tiara your sister wore? Borrow it for your ensemble! You can borrow jewelry (just like the stars do at Oscar time) and other accessories, honeymoon luggage (no reason to splurge on new suitcases if your parents have good stuff), vases for centerpieces (if you’re doing these yourself) and so on.

Use People's DIY Skills

If your aunt is a sewing whiz, she can create a veil or even do alterations on your dress. A skilled artist can create wonderful personalized invitations. A crafty pal can come up with a fun favor. An avid scrapbooker can put together an album for you. Just tell them this is their gift to you.

Create a Signature Drink

If you’re tempted to save by having a cash bar, stop! Instead, cut down on liquor costs by offering one signature drink (like pitchers of a gourmet martini) along with beer, soda and juices. Another idea: Buy cases of a local wine and serve just that. 

Limit the Limos

It’s nice to pull up to the ceremony location in a sleek limo or classic car, but consider skipping the rides elsewhere to save money. Instead have your brother or a cousin chauffeur you and your new hubby to the reception.

Don't Go Flower Mad

There are plenty of ways to keep your bill from blooming: Buy flowers wholesale and give them to a florist to work with or create centerpieces that use candles and just a few beautiful blooms. A profusion of blooms looks lush and lovely, but you can get the same effect with fewer flowers than you think.

Avoid Impulse Buying

Got everything on your list? Then stop shopping. If you’ve already bought your bridesmaids lovely shawls, and you see pretty handbags that would match…and sparkly earrings…put them down.

Taming your guest list:

When you pay a caterer by the head, every guest is a ka-ching on the total bill—not just for the food and drink, but also for tips and taxes, which rise accordingly. Here are some ways to keep the list under control:

-Don’t invite the whole office—either just ask your boss and your closest friends at work or no one at all.

-Don’t dig into your old address book for blasts from the past; stick to those people you see regularly.

-Rein in parents. They can invite their friends, but they don’t have to ask the garden club and the tennis buddies and the former neighbors.


Quick Tip: It’s likely everyone will be going snap-happy with their camera phones. To avoid ending up with 300 nearly identical shots, give guests a few ideas (print up a card to place on each table). Suggest one photo of each couple at the table, some goofy dance pics and a surprise shot of their choice—all to be shared later.

Sending your invitations

Your invitations should be sent out six to eight weeks before the big day, so work backward from there to be sure you order in time. The basic invite announces the hosts of the wedding (whether that’s the two of you, your parents or a combination) and the place and time of the ceremony. It may include a card that gives the reception details, a reply card and envelope. Have a sample of the invite in hand before deciding to use it— and proofread! Never include registry information with your invitation.

Wedding day beauty:

It’s easy to become so caught up in the planning that you forget one simple thing: you! So start now to create and stick to a self-care plan.

Exercise Regularly & Keep to a Healthy Diet

Even a 30-minute walk several times a week can be enough to keep you feeling energetic. To prevent fatigue, take a multivitamin everyday, especially if you’re skipping meals. Bring healthy snacks—almonds, a banana—along with you when you go shopping or to work.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Most brides-to-be find themselves having some late nights, but try your best not to skimp on sleep; not getting enough contributes to lowered immunity, and you don’t want to get sick now. Plus, well-rested gals always look their best.

Meet with a Hairstylist

If you want to maintain your current cut and/or color, tell your regular hairstylist, and be sure you’re not due for an appointment the week before your big day (you should ideally have your hair cut and colored a couple of weeks prior). If this stylist will do your hair for the wedding, see her for a practice session or two to try a couple of hairdos. (If you’re wearing a headpiece or tiara, bring it along.)

Practice Makeup

Most stores will give you free makeovers; tell them you’re getting married and they’ll go all out.


Plus: Keep your wedding-planning on track with this month-by-month guide!

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