The Key to Planning Your Wedding

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A person in a blue sweater writes in a notebook on a wooden desk, with the left hand resting on the page and sunlight illuminating the scene, reminiscent of soft lighting used in wedding photography.

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Hello future brides and grooms! May I start by narrating a scene from your engagement? 

It’s a beautiful day, you’ve just been proposed to, and you are on cloud nine! You and your other half have officially decided you’ll marry each other; you get to live the rest of your days with your best friend by your side! For the next few weeks, months, or years you’ll be planning the event of a lifetime: your wedding.

You’ve been planning your wedding in your head since you were a child, and you have it all figured out. Not much planning to do, actually! Life couldn’t be better, and nothing could ruin the bliss you feel as a fiancé.

One hour later:

Even though you’ve been planning your wedding in your head since you were a child, everything you dreamed up is a lot harder to find and about a million times more expensive than you thought. Your to-do list just grew legs and a mouth and is demanding food. Life feels crazy, and you and your fiancé are now considering an immediate elopement.


Okay, maybe it didn’t go quite like that for you, but those are true feelings from my first few days of engagement last winter. And from the conversations I’ve had with my engaged and married friends, I was not alone on the rollercoaster of emotions that went into planning my wedding.  

The savior for every bride-to-be: PRIORITIES

Looking at your wedding as a whole is one sure-fire way to get overwhelmed. That thing is so much bigger than you! But when you break down your wedding, the events around it, and every vendor or person you’ll need to make it happen, priorities will save your life. Here’s how to do it:

Name your lens

Every couple is going to make decisions for their wedding based on their own personal context–their lens, if you will (and pardon the photography pun). Your lens could be any of the following:

Our marriage is about us, but this wedding is for our family. They have sacrificed so much for us, and without them we wouldn’t be able to have this wedding in the first place.

Our wedding should be a representation of who we are as a couple. Why would we choose any food/entertainment/decor that doesn’t show our personalities? We’ll never get another chance to host an event all about us.

Our wedding is the one opportunity we’ll get for all our family and friends to be in the same place, at the same time. That means it needs to be the best party ever, and of course we’ll want to spend time with everyone that shows up for us.

…Or maybe you have a completely different thought about what your wedding is and why it’s important. The key is to get on the same page with your fiancé before you start making decisions about cake flavor or napkin color.  How do you want to remember your wedding day? What is important to you both? Talk through it with your fiancé.

Dream a little

Now that you have a big-picture idea of what your wedding should feel like to you and your guests, flesh it out a little. What should your wedding include? What shouldn’t it include?

Try making two columns on a piece of paper. One column should be for everything that you must have at your wedding. The second column will be for anything that you specifically want to omit from your wedding, and we lovingly named ours the ‘No’ column. Go crazy writing anything you can think of in its respective column as it applies to your wedding day. For instance, my husband and I knew live music was a must for our wedding, so we put that in our ‘must have’ column. On the other hand, we couldn’t have any roses because of an allergy, and I really loved the idea of an all-greenery wedding, so we put flowers under our ‘No’ column.

Your list does not have to be comprehensive, just take a few moments together to write down whatever comes to mind. At the end of the exercise, you should have an idea of some things that really matter to you. That alone should help the rest of the process go smoothly.

List them in order

One you have your list of must-have items and definitely-not items, go ahead and list out the major areas of your wedding.  Your must-haves will give you a start, but you can start adding in general things that you feel should be included in both the ceremony and reception. For me it looked something like this:

  1. Bridal attire (dress, shoes, etc.)
  2. Groom attire
  3. Bouquets/florals/decor
  4. Catering/cake
  5. Coordination
  6. Venue
  7. Rentals/floor plan
  8. Entertainment (music, dancing, games, etc.)
  9. Transportation
  10. Photography/videography
  11. Ceremony/officiant/readers
  12. Bridal party/family toasts
  13. Paper (invites, programs, thank-you notes)

Now, these categories don’t necessarily cover everything your wedding day will involve, but it pretty much covered mine. We built the list based on our dreaming, and got more specific from there. Once you have your wedding categories listed, start shuffling them into a priority order. If you needed your wedding to include the most stunning cake, but you care far less about everything else, that cake goes to the very top of your list! Here is what that same list from above looked like in priority order for me:

  1. Coordination
  2. Photography/videography
  3. Entertainment (music, dancing, games, etc.)
  4. Bouquets/florals/decor
  5. Paper (invites, programs, thank-you notes)
  6. Cake
  7. Ceremony/officiant/readers
  8. Bridal attire (dress, shoes, etc.)
  9. Catering
  10. Groom attire
  11. Venue
  12. Bridal party/family toasts
  13. Rentals/floor plan
  14. Transportation

If your categories are too broad, you may get tripped up when trying to prioritize them. In that case, just break down the category enough to place it correctly. As you can see above, I broke down ‘Catering/cake’ into both ‘Catering’ and ‘Cake’ as we had different priorities for those two things. If you get too detailed now, you may start feeling overwhelmed or lose track of the goal. Your final list should tell you what to focus on.

Create a budget

Please don’t @ me for including this. I believe creating your wedding day budget is SO necessary! Money is going to be your ultimate decision maker in so many cases, especially for those mid-range items on your priority list. Even if the amount of financial investment into your wedding day isn’t a concern for you, this step will help you place importance on the things that matter when it comes to your wedding.

Start with an ideal, final total. Whether the number is hard and fast or a vague idea, make sure you and your fiancé are on the same page about it, especially if one or both of you are paying for the wedding. Write down a number that feels reasonable for you both. 

If you have a third party (i.e. parents or grandparents) that will be paying for either part or all of the wedding, the total budget amount will be a question for them. They may be interested in knowing what you plan to do with the money as well, in which case your prioritized wedding categories list will come in handy. It may give them an opportunity to share what’s important to them and let you know if there is anything on your list they do not feel comfortable footing the bill for.**

**These types of conversations are SO COMMON around the planning of a wedding, and your ability to handle them with grace will be your great fortune. Just remember that everyone may have a different idea of what a wedding “ought” to be. That doesn’t mean you ever need to compromise or change your needs or desires to appease a third party. However, when dealing with loved ones, try to approach these conversations with openness and understanding. They may have thought about something in a way that you just didn’t see yet.**

After determining a total budget for the wedding, go ahead and put subtotals next to each category on your list. This is an estimate of how much you think an item should cost, and a goal for you to stay as close to as possible when making final decisions. I definitely recommend leaving a little allowance for any last minute details you may have missed. It happens to everyone! You should be able to add up the totals next to all of your categories, subtract that number from your wedding budget total, and come out with an exact $0. If not, keep adjusting the numbers until it works. 

Remember this

This moment in time has the opportunity to be one of the sweetest in your life. Above all, your wedding is not your life, it is only a milestone. My hope is that the details of your wedding are exciting instead of stressful; peaceful instead of frustrating. The finish line is just around the corner and we’re rooting for you! 


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