Hello new Knotties,
Congratulations on your engagement! Often when I peruse this board, I see questions on how to get started with wedding planning. My wedding planning has been fairly stress free, so I thought I would share the way I planned the big things in case others found it helpful.
1. Enjoy being engaged for a little while. It's exciting and for the first little while, you probably won't be able to think about much other than your wedding. (I know I couldn't, and I'm pretty adverse to planning.) But you don't have to make every decision right away. Take a couple of weeks to enjoy being engaged. Get used to calling that special someone your fiance and spend some quality non-wedding planning time with him/her. Once you really get into the planning stages, you will be glad you did.
2. Determine your budget. Who is paying for your wedding? How much are those people willing to spend? If you are expecting money from family members, don't count on that money until it is in your hands.
3. Make a tentative guest list. It's pretty likely that you don't realize how many people you want at your wedding until you and your FI (and parents, if they are helping to pay) sit down and write out all of the guests names. Don't forget significant others, plus ones, and children if you are inviting them. (SOs are not optional. Truly single people don't need a plus one unless you want to give them one, but be consistent. It's up to you whether you are inviting all kids, some circles of kids, or no kids.) If, like my FI and me, your list is much larger than you thought it would be, prioritize your list. Figure out who must be at your wedding verses who you would really like there.
4. Select your wedding party, identify VIPs, and find possible wedding dates. Figure out who you want standing up with you, if anyone. Ask them privately whether they will be a part of your wedding. Determine which family members and friends you need to work with in terms of scheduling a date. Ask these people what their availability is in the general time frame you are considering for your wedding. (We identified a span of about 3 months for our wedding, asked everyone their availability, and came up with a list of 9 weekends that worked for our immediate families and the wedding party. We ranked those dates in order of our personal preference and took it with us when we were looking at venues.)
5. Prioritize venue vs. date. Decide what is more important to you, getting married on a certain day or getting married in a certain place. If you must have your wedding on X date and in X place, you may be disappointment to learn that someone has already booked that date and time. If there is a specific date that you want to get married on because it has some significance to you, understand that you may not get the venue you have been eying. If a specific venue is important to you, you may have to be flexible with your wedding date.
6. Start researching venues and caterers. Keeping your tentative guest list and budget in mind, start looking around. I was pretty shocked at how expensive most places and caterers were. You may have to revise your budget and/or your guest list once you get an idea of what is available in your area.
7. Visit multiple venues. We checked out four different places we determined were within our budget before we decided which one we wanted. Ask lots of questions. Think about various issues with venue: Does it fit your budget? Who does set up/tear down? Do you need to book a separate caterer and if so is there a preferred caterer list? Where will out of town guests stay? Cake cutting fee? Bar options? Availability? Etc.
8. Choose a venue and a date. After you've done your research, pick the venue that works best for you and the date you wish to hold your wedding. Book the venue before booking anything else. (Note, FI and I are having the ceremony and reception at the same location, if you are getting married in a house of worship, you should also clear potential dates with them before finalizing a date.) Read your contact carefully and do not sign it until you understand all of it. It is ok to ask questions about the contract before signing it.
9. Choose a caterer. If your venue doesn't do it's own catering, next step is to pick a caterer. Same steps apply to picking a caterer as a venue. Ask lots of questions: Budget? Food options? Buffet vs. plated costs? Special meals (vegetarian, gluten free, etc.) available? Appetizers? Caterer can provide bar or need to look elsewhere? Linens and silverware included in cost or separate? Set up/tear down? What is included in price?
10. Take a break every once in a while. Relax. You don't have to wedding plan 24/7. Don't drive yourself too crazy. Insert step 10 in between any steps you need to. Insert it in the middle of a step, even.
11. Go dress shopping. Or suit shopping, or whatever it is that you are going to wear to your wedding shopping. Have fun. Try on lots of stuff, even if you think you might not like it. Your dream dress in pictures might not be what you want in reality. Try lots of silhouettes so you can see what cuts are most flattering on you. I ended up buying a dress that, based on the pictures online, I had in the "maybe I'll try it" column of my dress selections. But I completely fell in love with it once I tried it on. Try on some things you wouldn't necessarily pick for yourself, just to see. But don't be afraid to say no.
12. Book a photographer. Other than venues and caterers, photographers book faster than anyone else. Once you have a venue and a date set in stone, I suggest that you book a photographer next. We started looking at photographers about 11 months before our wedding date and even then, some were booked.
13. Now start looking at all those other vendors. Cakes, flowers, rentals for the ceremony. All of these types of vendors generally do more than one wedding a weekend. Take some time. Shop around. Taste some cake (my FI's favorite part of wedding planning). Look at some bouquets. Ask questions. Read contracts carefully.
14. Remember, everything will be just fine. You don't have to do it all at once. In fact, you can't. Take your time. Have fun. Plan the wedding that you and your FI want.
Good luck! And congratulations again.