So you just got engaged. Congratulations! You may be asking yourself “How in the world do I plan a wedding?” And we can — and will — get to that. But first, take a nice long look at the ring and at your smile in the mirror.
Speaking from experience, there’s nothing quite like this moment in a relationship, so take a beat to soak up all the love. And not just from your partner; lots of people are going to want to celebrate with you, and you should take them up on it. Indulge in those impromptu celebratory meals with your pals and engagement parties that your cousins offer to throw. Wedding planning is a long and sometimes tedious process, so it’s important to allow space for enjoying the excitement of this new step.
Once you’ve properly toasted your engagement, then you can dig into the thick of wedding planning, starting with the big picture stuff.
BEFORE YOU START
You know that engagement ring you’ve been staring at for the last few days? We know it feels like you’ll never take it off your finger, but in case you do: You’ll want to make sure your new favorite piece of jewelry is insured ASAP. Some renter’s and homeowner’s insurance policies cover jewelry claims, but you’ll have to dig into the fine print of your specific policy to find out. Many insurance companies have policy add-ons (or “riders,” in insurance-speak) that specifically cover engagement rings. These policies will reimburse you for the value of the ring in cases of loss, theft, or damage.
If you don’t have renters’ insurance or homeowner’s insurance, you can always check out engagement ring-specific insurers like BriteCo or Jeweler’s Mutual.
Strike a Pose
Ok, now that we’ve gotten disaster-proofing out of the way, you’ll need some visual content to post on the ol’ internet to announce to all your acquaintances, distant cousins, college frenemies, and mom’s book club buddies that you’re getting hitched (We assume your besties got a same-day text). That’s where engagement photos come in.
If the proposal was a surprise, it is possible that your partner already had a photographer hiding behind a bush to capture the moment in real time, but if there isn’t photo evidence of the moment you said yes, worry not.
Like everything in the wedding-planning universe, there are levels of financial investment and time commitment you can dedicate to engagement photos. Loads of couples commemorate the occasion with elaborate photoshoots, complete with multiple costume changes and the services of a professional photographer. Others keep it lower key, and announce their engagement with a more casual photo or two. Be sure to do your research before booking a session with a photographer though. If you already have an idea who you’d like to hire to photograph your wedding day, some photographers will bundle an engagement session as a part of your wedding photo package.
And, as always, you should also consider your style as a couple — not every photographer has an aesthetic that’s going to match yours! Just like when choosing a partner, choosing a photographer to capture your sweetest memories is all about finding the right match.
The money question. The B-word. The green elephant in the room. Planning your wedding budget can be overwhelming and even uncomfortable, but it’s also a process that will save you from unexpected bills, arguments, and (in the worst cases) credit card debt.
According to The Knot’s Real Wedding Study, the average wedding in 2022 cost about $30,000. That’s a lot of coins for a young couple to pony up for a party, but with a little planning, it can seem less daunting.
You’ll quickly find that the total price of your event has a mostly linear relationship with the number of guests. A bigger crowd needs more space, more places to sit, more food to eat, and more access to infrastructure like restrooms. Planning on having an open bar at your soiree? A bigger crowd is gonna require more (and more varied) beverages.
Sometimes, parents of one or both partners will offer to help shoulder the financial burden of paying for the big day. Just know that those financial contributions often come with the expectation that the parents will have a say in things that do or do not appear at the wedding. Just make sure you communicate right out of the gate how open (or closed) you are to accepting input from family.
The secret to creating a wedding budget: Break it down. Sit down with your partner and sketch out the big-picture details. What kind of venue are you hoping to be married in? Does your venue require wedding insurance like Wedsafe? Will it be near your home or require travel? How many friends and family would ideally attend? Then, create a spreadsheet with more detailed categories — we’ll go more into that later — to begin costing out your dream wedding.
Don’t forget to prioritize your mental health during this long and sometimes tedious wedding-planning process. We spoke to Landis Bejar, founder and director of AisleTalk, a New York-based therapy practice dedicated to helping couples navigate the stress of wedding planning, and she shared some of her top tips for wedding-planning bliss. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect for you,” Bejar said, “This applies to a lot of things. The day and the details don’t have to be ‘perfect.’ Your mood and feelings don’t have to be ‘perfect’ … to have it be the perfect process for you.”
Selecting a Bridal Party
The wedding party traces its roots to Ancient Rome, where 10 wedding witnesses would dress as decoy brides and grooms to confuse evil spirits and prevent them from identifying the real couple.
Though tricking spirits is no longer the purpose of bridesmaids and groomsmen, picking out your inner circle for your wedding party is still a super important task — and it’s a little something we know quite a bit about! For many couples, being flanked by the friends that cheered on their love story or brought them ice cream to mend our broken hearts can make a wedding feel complete. These little communities we build throughout our lives sustain us and reflect who we are in beautiful ways.
So, close your eyes for a moment and picture your perfect wedding ceremony. Who is standing up there with you?
Many people worry that some friends would feel left out if not asked to participate. One simple way to make sure everyone feels included is to include them! Just because your pals aren’t standing up during your ceremony doesn’t mean that they can’t participate in the festivities. Deputize your sorority sister to pick up breakfast the morning of, or invite all your favorite cousins to your bachelorette party. Tap your high school BFF to be your iPhone photographer for the day (professional photos can take a long time to get back!). There are plenty of ways to ensure your friends feel like a part of your wedding that don’t involve standing up.
We love the trend of asking your pals to participate with a bridesmaid proposal box. We just so happen to have those on-hand. Just add gifts to create an unforgettable proposal moment. Once your bridesmaids accept your adorable proposal, you can start thinking about your bridesmaid palette.
There are also decisions to be made about how and how much to involve family in your wedding (both before and during the main event). As we mentioned before, financial contributions from family can influence how involved people get.
But, as Landis Bejar of AisleTalk reminds us, it’s important to remember who is getting married at this particular wedding. She explains, “There will be a lot of background noise and opinions. From family and friends, to vendors and the media content you are consuming during the process and lots of other inputs. Make sure this noise doesn’t drown out the two most important people in this process – your fiancé and you.”
Another important member of your day-of crew is the officiant. Will you have a religious leader emcee your ceremony, or will you ask a trusted friend or family member to perform it instead? Some officiants in your area may ask you to pay a fee for their services.
What matters most is that you choose an officiant that will kick off your marriage with the tone you and your partner desire. Or, to really throw tradition to the wind, you can forgo the officiant in your friends-and-family wedding altogether and officiate your own ceremony. In that case, you’ll also have to have a courthouse ceremony to make your union legally official.
To Planner or Not To Planner
A wedding planner or a day-of coordinator, should you choose to hire one, will also play a big role in your wedding day. Wedding planners help source vendors, deal with contracts, and put together the puzzle pieces of your big day, from the first toast to the last.
Day-of coordinators come in toward the end of your planning journey to act as event producers on the wedding day and manage any conversations with the venue representatives or vendors. Think of a coordinator as the shepherd for all your day-of personnel.
A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words
We’re also including your photographer(s) and/or videographer(s) in your day-of supercrew. These folks will be with you during your getting-ready glam session, your first look, your last dance, and every moment in between.
Study up on the styles of your local wedding and event photographers. If you’re in the market for a glowy, romantic look with plenty of lens flare and all the traditional wedding shots, there are undoubtedly photographers in your area with portfolios to match. If you’re looking for something with more of a party-photography flare, that’s a totally different aesthetic. If you have one, ask your wedding planner for advice on which photographer they might recommend. If you’re sourcing a photographer DIY-style, you’ll need to hop on Google or explore The Knot’s recommendations for vendors in your area.
THE BIG PICTURE FOR THE BIG EVENT
This section is dedicated to all the top-level questions to ask yourself about the wedding day.
Choosing a Palette
Early in the wedding-planning process, many couples select specific colors or themes to pull together the aesthetic of the event. Maybe they pick a lush, mixed-and-matched fall palette, inspired by autumn leaves. Or maybe they select one specific color — like sage green — to appear in multiple places throughout the decor and bridal party attire. We recommend ordering fabric swatches before deciding on one (or many) color(s).
Just make sure you pick your colors so that your bridesmaids have plenty of time to order their dresses, with a buffer built in for shipping and alterations. We recommend that bridesmaids order their dresses four months or more before the wedding, to make sure everything is buttoned up before the big day.
Seasons can inform color choices. Some brides opt for lighter, airier vibes for spring and summer weddings and darker, moodier palettes in winter and fall. You’ll also want to consider the details of your venue (or prospective venues), when creating your wedding moodboard. And speaking of venues…
Picking a Venue
Here are some big picture details to consider when searching for a wedding venue.
- How many guests do you need to accommodate?
- Is the venue indoors or outdoors?
- What’s the weather going to be like in your chosen season?
- Does the venue require you to use their in-house vendors or vendors they have relationships with? And is that okay with you?
- Does the venue have the necessary audio-visual equipment and power capacity to pull off the event? For example, if you’re hiring live musicians, or if you’re writing (and reading) your own vows, these will both require special sound equipment.
- Is there parking near the venue or will you need to provide transportation?
Building Your Guest List
You probably already have a pretty good idea of what your guest list is going to look like by the time you’ve booked your wedding venue, but sometimes the venue capacity will dictate exactly how many people you can invite.
Let me introduce you to a little wedding guest list hack that will save you a ton of time and angst: The A list, B list, and C list. Break out a spreadsheet and sort your guest list into three buckets:
The A List: These are your must-invites — your family, best friends, and your primary community as a couple. Be mindful of the plus-ones your besties will want to invite. No bridesmaid wants to be lonely on the dance floor just because her boyfriend hasn’t popped the question yet.
The B List: This list is made up of your family friends that you don’t spend much time with, your newest friends that maybe haven’t cracked the inner circle yet, and the old friends you haven’t spoken to in over a year.
The C List: You know your father-in-law’s third-best friend from middle school? This is the list where you put that friend.
These buckets will allow you to quickly whittle down or expand the list to fit your venue, and it’ll give you a prioritized waiting list if some of your A-list guests can’t make it.
Wedding Website + Inviting Your Guests
Now that you have a venue selected, a wedding date booked, and your guest list more-or-less finalized, it’s time to let your friends and family know when you’re getting hitched! But before you send out a single invite, you’ll want to build your wedding website. Having your website set up before you start licking those custom stamps will allow you to manage RSVPs digitally (we cannot recommend this highly enough) and easily link your guests to your registry before the gift occasions begin.
Now, let’s dig into paper goods. Traditionally, save the dates are sent out about eight months to a year before the wedding date. We’ve seen a few super cute ways to get a wedding date on the calendar. There are a few different ways to approach save the dates, from the popular postcard to totally paperless (and free) digital options.
A few months later (about four to five months before the big day), you’ll want to send out your invitations. A lot of wedding website platforms also offer invitations, if you’re a fan of one-stop shopping. And, if you’re having a plated dinner at your reception, the invitation is where you’ll want to ask for a dinner selection. You can refer people to the website and manage this digitally as well.
License to Register
Stop us if this sounds familiar. Did you know that you don’t actually have to register for a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer, a blender, or a vacuum cleaner? Many couples will have lived together for many years before even getting engaged, and adding home stuff to an already-crowded apartment is just about the last thing a young couple needs.
It’s 2023. You can register for experiences. Honeyfund and Joy both have options to add travel gift cards, cash funds, and even charitable donations to your wedding registry.
Register for a Le Creuset pan, though. You have room for one really good pan.
Picking a wedding dress is such a personal process. We recommend making a day of trying on wedding dresses, if only for the experience, even if you don’t intend to buy anything from that particular boutique.
There are loads of beautiful bridal boutiques that are fully digital (editor’s note: I bought my wedding dress from a designer on Etsy, and it was perfect on the first try). Nevertheless, many experts point to the staying power of buying a wedding dress in person.
The most important thing to know about wedding dress shopping is that there absolutely is a wedding dress out there that you will love, even if you’ve never seen any of your friends wearing one. You just have to keep searching until you find something that speaks to you. Try working your personal aesthetic into your search terms. Searching for unique, boho, timeless, or modern wedding dresses on Google or Pinterest will yield completely different results.
THE BIG DAY
Don’t skip the getting ready moment. You should have a plan for hair and makeup for yourself and your bridesmaids. If you do opt to have professional hair and makeup artists on your wedding glam squad, you’ll need to schedule a trial at least a couple of months in advance to make sure your look is dialed in and that there are no surprises on your wedding day.
If you’re having a bridal party, you might opt to treat your squad to matching robes or PJs to wear while everyone primps.
They make for super cute photos that your pals can wear again long after your wedding.
The Case for Pre-Ceremony Photos
In the past, many couples would schedule their bridal party portraits immediately after the ceremony, but, increasingly, younger couples are trading that tradition for photos before the ceremony. That allows for more time for mingling with the guests and a quicker transition from ceremony to reception. If you and your partner want to share a first look, where the two of you meet in a quiet spot before the main event, that first look should happen before your portrait session.
Welcoming Your Guests
Before your ceremony, the first thing your guests will see is your welcome area, so have fun with it! Make sure you have an area for guests to leave any wedding gifts. This area is also where your wedding favors and guest book will sit.
The welcome table is no longer just a place for bags of junior mints and an ornate book for people to sign their names. Get creative with your wedding favors and give your guests something from the heart. Love to keep things spicy? Give your guests bottles of custom hot sauce. Is the bride a knitting machine? Knit some fun koozies to commemorate the big day.
Couples have really reinvented the guest book as a wedding tradition. What was once a simple empty book and fancy pen is now yet another place to showcase your creativity. Check out After the Tone for an audio-based guestbook they describe as “voicemails you’ll actually want to keep.”
Here’s a quick rundown of all the things you’ll want to consider for your ceremony.
Working with an Officiant
We’ve already talked a bit about picking an officiant (or choosing not to have one), so you’ve probably already got your person picked out. You’ll want to work with your officiant on crafting at least the rough structure of the ceremony, the desired length, beats to hit, and cues to give. You’ll usually have a chance to walk through the entire ceremony during your wedding rehearsal.
Next up, you’ll want to decide if you’re writing your own vows or if you’ll stick to a script. When done right, there’s absolutely nothing sweeter than hearing a couple’s handwritten vows. But it can also be a tall ask, especially for brides or grooms who are nervous about public speaking. If you do want to have custom vows, we recommend agreeing upon a rough word count and general format for both partners. That way, no one’s vows will drag on or take the tone in a completely different direction. Here’s a sample format:
Part 1: Tell a bit of your story. How did you meet? When did you know this was your person?
Part 2: Share a few things you love about your partner. Do they do something funny that makes you smile? Do they possess a quality that is uniquely inspiring?
Part 3: Make a few promises. Promise to share your popcorn at the movies. Promise to be interested in their hobbies. Promise to love them more and better with every passing year.
Those vows should get your new marriage off to a lovely, authentic start, and they have the potential to leave your guests laughing and weeping in equal measure. Just make sure you have a microphone at the ready so that your guests in the back can hear you.
Meet Me at the Altar
Does your outdoor venue have a big, beautiful tree? Are you getting hitched in a grand cathedral? Many couples choose to incorporate flowers or giant pampas grass into their altarscapes. Feeling crafty? Try your hand at building a wedding chuppah.
So Many Flowers
We don’t think anyone has ever said “You know, this wedding ceremony has a few too many flowers.” If we’re wrong about that, let us know. If you’re using a wedding florist, you should make sure you book their services six to nine months before the big day.
If you’re doing it DIY style, make sure you have a plan for your bridal bouquet, any bridesmaid bouquets or boutonnieres, and any flowers displayed at the end of each row of seats. If you’re having a flower girl or flower man (are people still doing that?) freeze-dried petals are a cost-effective and eco-friendly option that allows you to choose from any color of petal, regardless of your wedding season.
If your venue is large enough and doesn’t have existing signage, like you might find at a hotel, house of worship, or dining hall, you’ll want to point people in the direction of the ceremony, the beverage cart, the restroom, and other important locations.
If your ceremony has assigned seating, you’ll also need signage or place cards to let guests know where to sit.
Here’s a free idea for you: Instead of having your officiant give people an opportunity to share their objections during your ceremony, have your guests grab flutes of champagne and have your officiant lead a toast to love and partnership and new chapters.
No, not the kind that plays Bruno Mars and the Hora (more on that later), the kind that you wear on your finger. Generally, wedding bands are not a surprise, so you and your partner will pick out bands that you feel comfortable and confident wearing well in advance. If you’re planning to wear your wedding band next to an engagement ring, be sure to consider the shape of both when choosing your band. Ideally you want your two rings to sit comfortably next to each other. Store them someplace safe in your home until the big day.
Pro tip: If you’re having a young kid or canine ring bearer, have the real rings in a safe place (or with a responsible human adult) where they can’t be lost or hidden during the ceremony.
Pro-pro tip: Some ring boxes are reversible, so if you open your ring box and it looks empty, try flipping IT upside down before YOU flip upside down. You’re welcome.
Walking Down (and Up) the Aisle
It’s finally time to think about walking down the aisle. You’ll need to pick a song, whether that’s the ol’ “Here Comes the Bride” or something a little less predictable, the music you select will set the tone for the entire ceremony.
Another thing to consider is whether you’ll participate in the Christian tradition of having the bride’s father walk her down the aisle. In Jewish weddings, both parents escort both partners to the altar. Some couples choose to forgo the parental escorts altogether. It’s totally up to you!
You’ll need another song to celebrate your new union, and this time, you and your partner will make your way up the aisle first — together.
Yay, you’re married! It’s time to party! If you haven’t taken the majority of your big group photos yet, now is the time, while your guests mingle and celebrate and talk about how beautiful the vows were. If you have taken your bridal party portraits, we recommend taking a couple of minutes away from the crowd to grab a couple of happy, giggly newlywed photos. You’ll be flying high on happiness and the rush of having flawlessly performed the ceremony you’ve been planning for months and months.
Are You Not Entertained
As soon as you’re ready, you can return to the party. Often, this return is marked by the first dance. Which means, yep, you’ll need to have another song picked out. This is also where we’ll talk about your entertainment — a DJ or a band. You should aim to book these entertainers 10-12 months before the wedding.
The DJ or band lead will be the emcee of your reception, announcing most of the beats, from your arrival to last call. People have very strong opinions about whether a DJ or a band is right for their wedding, and we suspect you probably already have a good idea about which you’ll go with. And we love that for you.
Depending on your wedding venue’s rules, you may need to choose from an approved list of caterers, but you’ll still want to try their snacks before you buy! Make a date of it, and schedule a tasting (or a few tastings), so you can make an informed decision about who will serve the meal at your reception. Then, you can work with your caterer to nail down any details regarding appetizers, cocktail hour hors d'oeuvres, and late-night snacks.
Don’t forget your wedding cake — or your wedding cake tasting. Many modern couples have moved away from the traditional white-frosted wedding cake to more unique desserts, like wedding pie or this incredible cookie cake from Los Angeles cookie stalwart Milk Jar.
Another decision to make regarding your reception is whether your tables will have assigned seating. If you have family members or friends who don’t particularly get along, this might be something worth considering, to keep the mood light and the party peaceful. Assigned seating is also helpful if you’re serving a plated dinner, and guests have already indicated their preferences on their RSVP card. This will help your catering staff track everyone down and get them their respective meals promptly and accurately.
If you will be assigning seats, we recommend providing seat cards or signage to let people know where you’d like them to sit.
If you’re serving your feast buffet style, and everybody gets along, there’s no reason you’d need to assign seats at your reception, if you don’t want to. People will naturally mingle and meet and find a place to be.
The final decision to make regarding seating arrangements is whether or not you newlyweds will sit among your guests or at a separate sweetheart table.
Raise the Bar
Will you have an open bar at your reception? Many venues have bar staff on call to mix simple drinks for guests and pour glasses of wine or beer. We’ve seen loads of couples feature signature cocktails at their wedding bar, featuring school colors, witty names, or references to cities significant to their story.
You’ll need to consult your venue well in advance to determine what their policies are regarding alcohol. If you’re DIY-ing your wedding at a venue with loads of flexibility, you might have to source the drinks yourself. Local breweries and wineries are often more than willing to have their creations featured on your big day, and membership stores like Costco have lots of cost-effective liquor and Prosecco options (FYI, you don’t need a membership to buy alcohol at Costco, in some states).
If you’re booking a cash bar, make sure to let your guests know on your wedding website or invitation, so they’re prepared for the occasion.
Creating the Vibe
The decor of your wedding reception will create a mood for the party portion of your wedding day. Consider if your event is more formal or casual, more modern or classic. Tailor your floral arrangements, centerpieces, and other decor details to the style of your event. Heavily featuring a specific color for your bridal party and florals? Echo that color palette in your table runners, signage, and other odds and ends.
Looking for something to brighten the mood? Brite Lite Tribe creates custom neon signs for weddings and other occasions. Feature your wedding hashtag, family name, or wedding tagline in a shiny, new way.
Depending on your venue, you may need to source furniture rentals for the ceremony, reception, or both. Make sure you have plenty of space for your guests to sit and comfortably eat.
Does your venue have a dance floor? If not, you can rent those as well. In fact, Green Wedding Shoes shouted out custom dance floors in their 2023 wedding trend roundup.
Don’t forget propane heaters, if your guests will be outside in the cold for an extended period of time.
Before the wedding, go ahead and put cash in designated envelopes to tip all of your vendors. Don’t forget your photographer and videographer and any assistants! Handing out the tip envelopes is a great job for the maid of honor, best man, or one of the parents of the happy couple.
Similarly, you’ll want to have some thank you gifts for your bridal party and littles. These gifts don’t have to be expensive, but your pals will appreciate the gesture, after all the travel and time they’ve put into your big day.
You might also want to get something sweet for the parents of any of your youngest bridal party members.
Don’t forget to get your marriage license before the big day! Depending on which state you live in, your ordinances may vary slightly, but usually, you and your partner will make an appointment at your county registrar’s office with your social security cards, IDs, and any other necessary paperwork and head to the office in person. Many municipalities will have notaries on staff at the registrar’s office, so you won’t have to worry about sourcing a notary separately.
Make sure to Google your state’s laws to make sure you’re getting your marriage license within the correct window before your big day. All your paperwork usually has to be signed and postmarked within a few weeks of the license issue date.
If you or your partner (or both!) are planning on changing your name(s), there are services that cut down on the red tape and make the whole process super easy. Check out Newly Named and Hitchswitch to explore which kit is right for you.
THE FUN STUFF
Now that we have all the paperwork out of the way, we want to remind you to have fun! Don’t forget to soak up all the happiness at the other non-wedding wedding events.
Deputize your bridesmaids and any relevant moms to help you plan your bridal shower. Etiquette master Emily Post said the bridal shower should be two months plus two weeks before the wedding, but we’ll give you a little more wiggle room and say you should schedule your bridal shower somewhere between one month and four months before the wedding.
Have your bachelorette party whenever the season allows. Getting married in the spring but want to have a pool party bach? Schedule that party for the summer before the wedding. Frankly, whatever makes you happy. There are no rules when it comes to bachelorette parties. Take that as you will. Check out The Bach, one of our favorite bachelorette party planning tools.
Make sure to have a reservation in place for your rehearsal dinner, if you’re hosting your bridal party at a restaurant. You’ll also need to make sure there’s a big enough space to rehearse, if you won’t have access to the venue itself for the rehearsal piece of your rehearsal dinner.
After the wedding, many couples will elect to have a brunch the next morning to send their guests off in style and rehash the most memorable moments of the day before.This tradition is a big deal in the American South, where the brunch is often home-cooked and hosted at a family home.
The next step: Enjoy your honeymoon, you happy kids.