Once the initial shock of being engaged wears off (and you take a second to peel your eyes away from that sparkly ring on your finger!), you’ll need to make a lot of decisions. Here are the 11 most important things you need to do to really kick off your wedding planning.
Set a Timetable
The minute you get engaged, everyone will be asking for your wedding date. But in reality, you won’t be able to set an exact date until other major decisions — like choosing (and booking) your venue — are made. So first, focus on determining a range of dates that will work for you. A typical engagement lasts anywhere from six months to a year and a half or more, but also think about what season you’d prefer, any major holidays or family events you’d like to avoid conflicting with, and how long you predict you’ll need to plan.> See the wedding dates you should avoid.
Dream Up Your Style and Pick a Location
Before you try on a single gown, book a band or sample a bite of cake, look at the big picture and imagine what kind of style and vibe you want to set for your wedding — and where you want to hold it. Close your eyes and picture your fantasy wedding. What do you see? Is it a candlelit ceremony in a mansion? Are you walking barefoot on a beach in the tropics? Or maybe it’s in your hometown’s botanical garden. While you’re picturing your perfect wedding, here are some key questions to consider: Big (everyone you know) or small (just close friends and family)? Outdoors or in? Home (one of your hometowns or your current city) or away (a destination wedding)? Modern, classic, romantic, vintage, rustic or all-out glam? Fancy, casual or somewhere in between? To help you get a better idea of what you want (and what you don’t want), spend some time gathering inspiration. Check out magazines, books and real wedding photos online, but don’t limit yourself to the obvious sources. Something as unlikely as a wallpaper pattern, a scene from a favorite movie, or a family heirloom can spark your creativity. Bottom line: Always keep your eyes open for inspiration.
> Search 35,000+ real wedding photos by color and style.
Set Your Budget
Sit down with your families and figure out how much everyone is contributing. This number will affect every decision and purchase you make, so be sure to work out your budget before you start planning. It can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s better to get it out of the way now.
> For interactive budgeting help, use our online wedding budget tool.
Draft a Guest List
As you begin to build your guest list, you’ll need to consider a number of factors. If you have a particular ceremony or reception site in mind, for instance, you’re going to be limited by how many people it can accommodate (you can’t squeeze 300 people into a lighthouse). Would you rather have quality one-on-one time with each guest or throw a once-in-a-lifetime party for all your friends and family? If mom and dad won’t budge about inviting throngs of friends and family, you’ll have to hear them out — especially if they’re footing a major part of the bill. Keep in mind that more guests means higher prices, as catering costs are generally calculated on a per-head basis. So, in addition to location, your budget will have a big influence on the size of your guest list.
> Create and manage your online wedding guest list.
Register (Before Your Engagement Party!)
Worried that you’ll look gift-grabby if you register? Don’t! With all the engagement parties, bridal showers and well-wishing relatives in your future, everyone will appreciate your foresight. And although gifts are optional for engagement parties, some of your guests may want to give you something to commemorate the occasion, so register for at least a few items beforehand so they don’t have to ask (or guess) what you’d like. One thing to note: Don’t include registry information in your engagement party invitations or in any other formal manner. Stick to using word of mouth or links on your wedding website.
> Get our ultimate registry checklist.
Insure Your Engagement Ring
No matter how careful you are, the peace of mind that engagement ring insurance will give you and your fiance is worth it. There are two basic ways to do it: As an extension of your renter’s or homeowner’s policy (which would reimburse you for a set amount of cash if you lose the ring), or through a company that specializes in jewelry insurance (which might offer more coverage than a standard homeowner’s policy by replacing a lost or stolen ring).
> See 200+ wedding ring photos.
Choose Your Wedding Party
Now it’s your turn to propose to your bridesmaids and groomsmen. Remember, the earlier you ask, the sooner you can enlist their help. And keep in mind that your wedding party is agreeing to spend their hard-earned money and donate their precious time — be considerate and kind by informing everyone about all your plans, showing them a good time and making sure they know how much you appreciate them.
> Search 1,000+ bridesmaid dress photos.
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Consider a Consultant
If you’re a super-busy couple, have demanding jobs or have big (read: complicated) dreams for your wedding weekend, then you should hire a full-time wedding planner to help you prepare your entire event, from the announcement to the honeymoon. You can also hire a part-time consultant to devise a wedding blueprint — including budget, schedule, and lists of good vendor and site choices — before you launch solo into the preparations. Another option is a day-of coordinator, who will make sure everything goes smoothly on your wedding day.
> Find a consultant in your area with our local wedding vendor search.
Book a Venue (and Set Your Date)
Your reception venue will become the backdrop for virtually all your photos and can influence everything from heavy hitters like your budget and guest list to smaller details like your menu (if you choose a venue with in-house catering). Ensure that you get the look, price and extras you want by scouring local listings, shopping around, scheduling visits and booking early. Bonus: By signing your venue contract, you will officially have your wedding date (congrats!)!
> Browse reception venues in your area.
Hire Priority Vendors
If you just can’t imagine getting married without a certain local band playing at the reception or a photographer whose work you love, act fast. Many top wedding photographers and other in-demand vendors are hired more than a year in advance, and once they’re booked, they’re gone. Translation: Figure out what your highest wedding priorities are, whether it’s world-class catering or exquisite flowers, and snap up the vendors whose work you love.
> See our complete listing of wedding vendors (search by city!).
Begin your search by browsing dress photos online (and saving your favorites — you’ll want to take them with you to your appointments). Then, learn the lingo before setting foot in a dress salon. Read up on silhouettes, necklines, trains and hues that might flatter you. The season will also affect your choice. Getting married in the sweltering summer? Go with lightweight fabrics such as chiffon, linen or organza. Having a winter wedding? Brocade, faux fur and velvet will keep you warm. Satin, shantung, silk and tulle are perfect year-round.