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How to plan a wedding: the complete 20-step guide

how to plan a wedding

Your wedding day is by far one of the most important and special days of your life. And as the reality of your new engagement sets in and the excitement starts to build, you’ll want to get started on the wedding planning process.

Thanks to the growing availability of digital tools, planning a wedding has become much easier and less-stressful than it once was. Couples have far more control over the details of their joyous occasion, and many of the steps can be entirely DIY-style. For instance, you have the option to create a wedding website, make your dream playlist and collect pictures from guests - all from your own computer.

If you’ve always dreamed of planning the perfect wedding but aren’t quite sure where to start, this article is for you. We’ll guide you through the steps of how to plan a wedding - and point out some of the most helpful tools that can ease the stress and make your special day even more memorable.

how to plan a wedding

How to plan a wedding

01. Pick a theme

Choosing the theme of your wedding is a good way to start the process because it can help you narrow down the rest of the details for your big day. Think about what colors, aesthetics, time of year and the overall vibe you prefer. Visualize the ceremony and reception and determine what you and your partner are comfortable with. Do you see yourselves having a small, intimate wedding on the beach somewhere or would you prefer a black tie event in a hotel?

Envision the overall concept first. This will help you make decisions and streamline the process as you move forward with your wedding planning.

02. Establish a budget

While it’s probably the least fun part of planning a wedding, you’ll need to crunch the numbers and figure out how much money you actually have to spend. You can use a wedding cost estimator to help you do this, as well as mobile apps such as Wedding Happy or Fudget to track your spending.

If you and your partner are paying for the event yourselves, you may need to think about cutting back on some expenses prior to the wedding. Just remember, the most important part of creating a budget is sticking to it. It can be tempting (and incredibly easy) to overspend, but try to use your allocated budget as a guide for every decision you make.

A helpful tip is to add an additional 7%-10% to your final budget for unforeseen expenses. That way, if there’s an extra cost you didn’t take into account, you’ll be covered.

03. Create a checklist

Organization is the key to staying on track and to not becoming overwhelmed. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a wedding checklist. You can do this on Excel or Google Sheets, or take advantage of this pre-made wedding checklist printable by Martha Stewart.

If you choose to create your own checklist, you can customize all of the items on your list to your own special day. Start by adding every action item to one column. Then, set a deadline for each item to make sure it gets done in time. And because there’s no greater feeling than checking items off a to-do list, make sure you include a completed column to give yourself this satisfaction.

04. Set the date

You probably won’t finalize your wedding date until you’ve secured the venue. But now that you know the type of wedding you want, you can select potential dates and begin looking at venues to accommodate your vision.

Select 3-4 dates that work for you and your partner. That way, if one isn’t available at your preferred venue, you can hopefully book another suitable date instead. This flexibility will ease the process and prevent any disappointment.

Think about the season in which you’re getting married and what days of the week you prefer. Weekend and holiday weddings can be more expensive and competitive, as well as weddings in the spring and summertime. If you want to get married in the next 6-12 months, you’ll need to book a venue rather quickly. Consider celebrating your wedding on a day that isn’t as common, such as on Sunday, or even on a weekday. You’ll have a much easier time finding an available space.

05. Book a venue

Now that you’ve decided on your wedding theme, budget, size and potential dates, consider your venue options. If you opt for an off-site wedding, such as at the beach or a garden, you’ll need to provide all of the food, equipment and staff yourself. This can be more expensive and complex. However, if you hire a wedding planner, they will be able to sort out all of these details for you.

In contrast, an on-site wedding, such as at a hotel or an event venue, can be much easier to plan and more affordable, as much of this will most likely be provided, including a commercial kitchen. There may even be a wedding coordinator working for the venue that can help you with the planning.

06. Make your guest list

This step of the wedding planning process can be notoriously difficult, as making cuts is never easy. Perhaps your or partner’s family insists on inviting someone that you don’t feel warrants an invitation, or your list simply becomes too long. Take everyone’s guest requests into consideration. However, at the end of the day, your goals should be to stay on budget, not to exceed the capacity of your venue and of course, be happy with your final invite list.

07. Choose your wedding party

If you are opting to have a bridal party, now’s a good time to consider who you want as bridesmaids and groomsmen. It’s common practice to ask siblings to fill these extra-special roles, especially as Maid of Honor or Best Man, but the choice is yours.

Factors to consider when choosing your wedding party include reliability, who you’re closest to as well as the overall group dynamic. Most likely, your wedding party will be spending quality time together and it’s important that everyone gets along.

08. Create a wedding website

In today’s digital age, wedding websites have become the simplest way to share all of your wedding details in one place . To make things simple, start by creating a wedding website with an easy-to-use, customizable wedding website template.

Then, download an event app on your event website to incorporate features that will help you plan and organize some of the most important aspects of your wedding. These include sending out online invitations, collecting RSVPs, embedding your registry and even live streaming your wedding ceremony with Wix Video or Zoom.

Next, create pages for all your wedding events, such as the rehearsal dinner or post-wedding brunch for out of town guests. You can even password protect them so only those you invite have access and no one’s feelings will be hurt.

And in the age of smartphones and social media, wedding memories are no longer captured solely by the professional photographer on the ground. Every guest can now participate in your wedding album using the Shared Gallery app. Guests can tag each other and comment on any media in the gallery and react with emojis and gifs. This way, you’ll have all your amazing memories stored in one place.

Some other must-have elements for this type of website include:

  • You and your partner’s love story

  • Pictures of you together

  • A countdown clock

  • Details of your wedding location

  • Interactive map to the venue

  • Sites and attractions for out of town guests

  • Transportation and lodging

  • Contact information

To help you understand how to make the best website and online space, start by checking out these wedding website examples to bring your dream wedding to life.

how to plan a wedding

09. Build an online registry

Building your online registry can seem like a daunting task. With a sea of options to choose from, how do you narrow down which websites to register with? The first step is to consider what you and your partner actually need, before thinking about extra items that you would simply enjoy having. Then, complete your registry prior to any of your wedding events so guests have the opportunity to buy you gifts beforehand.

A convenient way to do this is to use websites like MyRegistry or Zola, which allow you to create your registry from thousands of items from various online retailers. Then, embed the link directly onto your wedding website so guests can buy you the perfect gift with ease.

Include items across various price points so there will be options for all your guests, no matter what their financial situation. You can also set up a cash fund for those who prefer to give you money with the Get Funding app. Use this towards your honeymoon or a new home, or anything that will contribute to your new life together.

10. Send out invitations

Sending out your wedding invite is an exciting step and official declaration that your special day is around the corner. This is a good opportunity to set the tone of your wedding by using invitations that fall in line with your theme. Include all of the vital information, including the date and time, ceremony and reception locations.

If you are opting for paper invitations to be sent through the mail, you’ll also need to include RSVP cards with stamped and addressed envelopes. Send them out to your guests about 8 weeks prior to your wedding so they’re guaranteed to arrive in a timely manner.

However, if you choose to send online invitations, you can do this 6-7 weeks in advance. Online invitations are a faster, easier and more efficient way to make sure all your guests make it to your wedding. Eliminating the need for stamps and envelopes is not only cost-effective and environmentally friendly, but it will save you a significant amount of time from stuffing and addressing envelopes and going to the post office.

Use an online tool to customize a beautiful digital invite that reflects your personal style and sets the tone for your big day. Then, email it to all of your guests with the click of a button. You can even collect all your RSVPs right on your wedding website using a simple form. It doesn’t get much easier than that! If you need more help, learn how to create an online invitation.

how to plan a wedding

11. Hire vendors

The number of vendors you hire will depend on what’s included with your venue. If you’ve booked a venue that takes care of some or all of these services, then you may not need to hire anyone independently. However, if you are planning your wedding yourself, you’ll need to research and hire the following:

  • Catering service

  • Photographer

  • Videographer

  • DJ, singer or band

  • Florist

Keep your budget in the forefront of your mind and decide which elements of your wedding you’re willing to splurge on. Read online reviews and ask others who have gotten married in your area for recommendations. Just be sure to hire as soon as possible because wedding vendors can book more than a year in advance.

If you always dreamed of having a certain singer or band introduce you and your partner when entering your reception, you’ll want to see if they’re available as early on in the planning process as possible.

Just remember: When hiring your vendors, be sure to read over all contracts thoroughly before you sign anything, so you know exactly what you’re paying for.

12. Draft the seating arrangement

As guests begin to RSVP, keep track of who’s coming and who’s not using Excel or Google Sheets. Then, you can start to group your guests by who you’ll seat together during the reception.

When designing your seating plan, you’ll need to know how many people each table will seat as well as the overall layout of the reception hall. Seat family members with other family members and groups of friends that know each other from similar walks of life. Use place holders to make sure it's clear where each guest is sitting for the wedding.

Even though people will be moving around during the reception, you want to make sure all your guests are comfortable where they’re stationed for the duration of the wedding.

13. Book a hotel room block

Booking a hotel room block is a great way to ensure that your out of town guests have a place to stay for a discounted rate. You can also request gifts and other amenities be delivered to their rooms upon arrival as a way to thank them for coming.

When considering how many rooms to reserve, the key is to always overestimate. You won’t need an exact number when making the initial reservation, as hotels know that you don’t have an exact guest count at this point. And you can even book various hotels at different price points if you want to give your guests an option of where to stay.

Just be sure none of them are too far from the wedding venue and that the check-in times don’t interfere with any wedding celebrations.

14. Create a playlist

The music at your wedding ceremony and reception will help to set the tone and ambience of both events. That’s why after you’ve chosen your DJ, singer or band, create a playlist of songs you love to accompany the romance you’re there to celebrate.

Do you want soft, romantic music playing as you and your bridal party walk down the aisle? Or are you and your partner the type who loves to entertain and wants everyone to dance their way to the altar? These are important points to consider when selecting your music options.

For the reception, you may want softer music playing during dinner and then a more upbeat set for dancing. And if there’s a special song you and your partner want for your first dance, you’ll need to let your hired musician know. Just be sure to discuss your preferences with them ahead of time so they can accommodate your requests.

15. Find your dream wedding dress

Perhaps one of the most monumental parts of wedding planning is finding the perfect dress. You’ll want to start the process as early as possible to give yourself time to find your dream gown. Another reason is because it can take months to complete alterations.

First, consider your budget. This should not only include the cost of the dress, but alterations and accessories, too. Then, take a look through magazines and check out photos on Instagram and Pinterest to get a sense of your personal style. However, keep an open mind. You may surprise yourself and fall in love with a dress completely different than what you originally planned.

16. Choose your bridal party’s attire

Your bridal party has accepted the honor of being in your wedding, and now you have to decide what they should wear.

If you prefer all of your bridesmaids to wear the same dress, it’s a good idea to provide a few options to choose from and see which one gets the most votes. You’ll want to choose a dress that flatters and pleases everybody, so it’s important to take into consideration the color, fabric and shape of the dress.

The other option is to choose a color you like and let them choose their own dress. It all depends on your theme and the aesthetic that you’re going for.

For the groomsmen, decide if you want tuxedos or suits, and in what color. Or, if you prefer a more relaxed look, you could opt for khakis and a button down shirt. Do you want your bridesmaids and groomsmen to color coordinate? Match the colors of the dresses to the men’s bow ties for a fun, modern aesthetic.

17. Find an officiant

In order for your marriage to be legal, you’ll need an ordained minister to conduct the ceremony. There are three primary options when it comes to wedding officiants:

  • Religious clergyman

  • Friend or family member

  • Justice of the Peace

To find a clergyman, you can start with your house of worship if you belong to one. Or, reach out to other houses of worship in your city that fit with your religious preferences and see if one of their clergymen is to your liking. Be sure to meet any potential officiant in person before you hire them.

Another increasingly popular option is for a friend or family member to become ordained online and perform the wedding ceremony. This is a great way to add a more personal touch to the most important day of your life. In some states, such as California and Massachusetts, you can get a one-day designation to perform weddings. In others, you’ll need to get ordained via a non-denominational ministry, such as The Universal Life Church. Just be sure to check with your local government office to be sure what’s acceptable.

The last option is to hire a Justice of the Peace. This is a local public official without any religious affiliation. To get a list of who’s available in your municipality, contact your local county clerk’s office.

Whoever you choose to perform the ceremony, make sure they can provide the type of service that you want and are comfortable with. Some questions to consider asking when making your decision include:

  • Can we write our own vows?

  • Does it matter if we belong to different faiths?

  • How customizable is your script?

  • How much do you charge?

  • What is the length of a typical service?

  • Can friends or family perform a reading during the ceremony?

18. Set a wedding day schedule

To ensure that all the pieces of your wedding day puzzle come together seamlessly, make a schedule and try your best to stick to it. Consider every step, from waking up, getting your hair and makeup done, to your first look with your partner and even the pre-wedding toast.

While it may be impossible to follow a schedule exactly to a tee, if you are falling 15-20 minutes within each step, you’re doing extremely well. After all, your wedding day should be a monumental and joyous occasion celebrating the people you love, and not about perfect timing. Try to enjoy and relish every step, and don’t be too upset if you run a little behind schedule.

19. Buy wedding rings

It’s become standard for couples to match or coordinate their wedding bands. If you have already purchased an engagement ring, you’ll want it to match your wedding rings as well, so the two will coordinate nicely on your finger together.

However, if you and your partner have different styles, don’t let it deter you. Your rings do not have to match, or even be the same type of metal. There are plenty of options, such as gold, white gold, silver, shiny or matte, to name a few. The most important thing is that you both are happy wearing your wedding bands on a daily basis.

You may also want to consider insuring both your engagement and wedding rings to protect yourselves if anything should happen to them. While jewelry is covered by renters and homeowners insurance policies, coverage only goes up to a certain amount. Additionally, certain circumstances, such as losing your ring, may not be covered.

To protect yourselves, you can opt to pay for a rider or floater to your current policy to make sure you are fully covered.

20. Get your marriage license

Before you can recite your vows and live happily ever after, you’ll need to purchase a marriage license. While requirements vary slightly between states and local governments, you will most likely obtain this document from your municipality.

You and your partner will need to make an appointment in advance and bring official identification with you, such as your birth certificate, passport, driver’s license or other government ID in order to sign the official marriage license.

How to plan a wedding FAQ

How to plan a simple wedding?

Planning a wedding can be an exciting but stressful time. In theory planning for a simple wedding should eliminate some of this stress. Decide first what a simple wedding means to you - does it mean a smaller guest list, less elaborate decorations and flowers, and a smaller venue. A simple wedding can still be beautiful and meaningful depending on how you plan it. When it comes to simplifying your planned wedding, think less is more at every step of the way.

How to plan a wedding in a month?

How to plan a wedding on a small budget?

How to plan a wedding without a wedding planner?

How to plan a wedding reception?

How to organize a rehearsal dinner?

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