This page includes affiliate links, meaning at no extra cost to you, I might make a small commission if you decide to buy something. You can read my full disclosure here.
It is official: More and more brides resort to either planning their own wedding, or asking a friend or family member to help. This is especially true if the bride has a very limited budget, and simply cannot afford to hire a wedding planner or a day coordinator.
Are you one of these brides?
We have written this blog post especially for you, to help you plan your wedding like the professionals do it!
We know this is a long post, but planning a wedding is a long and daunting process. Be sure to bookmark this page for future reference, or whenever you get stuck with all the planning hype!
Also, if you are just starting out with planning your wedding, be sure to grab our Wedding Budget Planner and Tracker!
How to Plan a Wedding like an Expert – PART ONE
Where to start
The three most important documents and spreadsheets you will work with are the following:
- Wedding Checklist – use this checklist to make sure you include everything at your wedding. A good wedding checklist includes every little wedding detail.
- Wedding Timeline – plan your timeline ahead so that you know when which wedding aspect should be planned, booked or paid. We have a very helpful post to guide you to create your very own wedding timeline, with a free link to ours. Read it here.
- Wedding Budget – Planning your wedding budget should be one of the first things to get out of the way. We have recently added this post to help you set up your budget, and how to avoid overspending. Read it here.
Need a wedding budget template? Get ours here!
Is there a wedding date?
Having a possible wedding date will definitely help your wedding planning to go a little smoother. You can already check the availability of venues and suppliers, and check for seasonal prices.
If you don’t have a clue where to start with setting a wedding date, do the following:
- Choose 3 possible wedding dates
- Determine in which season each of these dates fall
- List the pro’s and cons of these dates (i.e. it is far from month-end, so people haven’t received their paychecks yet).
- Write what makes this date unique? Is there a significance to this date?
These steps will help you to narrow down these dates, and to choose a final one.
Also bear in mind that the closer your wedding date is, the less time you have for planning and organizing your wedding details.
Season + Location
Determining your wedding date will affect the season and location of your wedding. Take this into consideration when planning your dream wedding.
For instance, if you want a mountain wedding with snow caps and lots of coziness, you obviously want your wedding date to fall in the winter time, and at a location where the mountains actually have snow caps!
A spring wedding with wildflowers and a bohemian theme calls for a location and date where this is possible, and so forth.
Finding the perfect wedding venue
The most difficult challenge when planning your own wedding is to find the perfect wedding venue, that will fit your budget, style, theme, etc. Read here if you are still looking for the perfect wedding venue…
Is your ceremony and reception at the same venue?
This is important, because if your ceremony and reception are at two different locations, you will need to include this in your budget, and also determine the distance, transportation, additional flowers and décor, etc.
Narrowing down your venue search
Once you have scouted and visited a few venues, it is time to narrow it down. Always eliminate the venue options until you are down to three possible choices. Then you can start comparing the options, according to location, availability, cost, extras, uniqueness, etc.
We made the effort to create a printable planner which you can use to compare your reception and ceremony venues, as well as other suppliers which you will possibly have to book and work with. Check it out here.
Having a plan B in place
The weather has a mind of its own, and even though it is considered good luck to have rain on your wedding day, no one wants to get wet! Be sure to have a plan B in place for when this happens.
You can either organize a plan B with the venue, or find an additional location for if this happens. But to make it easier for yourself, choose a venue with a plan B already included in the package.
Booking a Photographer and a DJ
These two suppliers are the most important ones to book beforehand, the reason being: the top ones are booked out way in advance, and there will usually be a waiting list for them – this is especially applicable if your wedding takes place in peak wedding season.
Save yourself all the drama and regret, and book these two suppliers first!
Photographers usually have 2 or more packages to choose from, so consider which one is more applicable to you, and your budget. And remember, there is this myth that the more expensive the photographer, the better their work – this is absolutely not true!
Ceremony and reception music
Make sure the DJ you have booked will play music at both the ceremony and the reception! Also, be sure to ask if they have backup equipment, and a microphone.
Booking an officiant
The next important supplier to book, is your wedding officiant – this can be a marital officer, priest, pastor, etc. This is the person who will marry you to your groom! The wedding cannot take place without this person!
High demand officiants also get booked way in advance, especially the more charismatic, affordable ones. Also, some religious officiants have a compulsory pre-marital course which you and your fiancée have to complete, before the pastor agrees to make your marriage official. These courses can sometimes take up to 1 year to complete!
Tips and advice for when you start planning your own wedding
- Make a list for yourself (a.k.a. The wedding checklist) – work with this list, add and eliminate as you go along, and tick items off as they get done.
- Never refuse help – you cannot organize your entire wedding by yourself. If someone offers to help, let them. Delegate tasks to different people, and lean on your bridesmaids to help you – that’s what they are there for.
- Sort your budget out, and stick to it! Read here for some budgeting tips, and also appoint someone to help you manage the budget. (If you get wedding fever, everything is oh-so-pretty and shiny!)
Figuring out how much you should budget for your wedding
We will save you the massive shock which you will receive later when you find out what weddings actually cost.
The average American wedding costs $30,000. (RSA = between R200,000 and R300,000)
This is without any additional pretty stuff you wish to include and some great Pinterest ideas your best friend shared with you recently. We know this is a lot of money, that is why having your budget in place from the start is so important.
To figure out how much you should initially budget, create your wedding list of all the things you wish to include… Then see where you can either scale down, find alternatives or ask friends and family to help out.
Creating your final wedding budget
Your budget should be finalized before you start planning. Don’t think you will simply “wing it”, because you might get a huge financial shock when you realize there are some unexpected costs. You might also end up in debt after your wedding as well.
Read this post to find out how you should create your wedding budget, as well as how to avoid overspending on your wedding. We also have the Wedding Budget Planner Kit, which you can print out and use to plan and manage your budget successfully.
A note on paying suppliers: Do this before the wedding. If you simply can’t afford a certain photographer, find a more affordable one, without compromising the quality of course.
Many suppliers give you a payment plan to follow, with the last installment being paid before the wedding. This helps, especially if you rely on your monthly income to cover wedding costs.
Don’t make debt. If you have to take out a personal loan to cover wedding costs, you are already heading in the wrong direction! Rather postpone your wedding date a little longer, and save some extra money.
Wedding Guest List
Estimating your guest count
To start off, create a rough list of who you wish to invite. Add everyone you know you want there, and be sure to include everyone. If you accidentally forgot someone, go to your Facebook friends and see who’s on there. Don’t forget to ask your parents and the groom’s parents to help out with this list!
Starting your guest list
Start with family first, as they are the most important guests at your wedding. Then add all the friends you wish to have there. Then colleagues and bosses, if you really feel you should invite them – see below…
Who you should not invite to your wedding
- Exes and past lovers, no matter how close you still are with them. It just isn’t ethical, or fair to your future spouse.
- Work colleagues – do you really want all that office politics involved at your wedding? Also, are you going to invite all of your colleagues? Some might wonder why you didn’t invite them, and your work atmosphere will become sour.
- Acquaintances – If you don’t really know someone that well, or you’ve only met them once, why should they be attending your special day?
- Friends of friends – Fine, you might know these people better than acquaintances, but are they really your friends?
A note on inviting people: Your wedding is not a high school or family reunion. If you haven’t seen or made contact with this person in more than 5 years, should they really be there?
Also, if your budget is limited, only invite the guests you really want there. At a wedding, you will literally pay for each and every person attending. So, if you invite everyone, you will pay for everyone!
The rule about a plus one
The same rules apply to guests having a plus one. If it is a close family member, consider giving them the opportunity to bring a date. If your budget is limited, then rather not give your other guests the option to bring someone.
Then also, if your brother is seeing a new girl every other week, should he really get the option of having a plus one? Will she be in photos, too?
Choosing your wedding party
Your wedding party members will be the ones who stick with you from the start of your wedding planning until you depart for your honeymoon. Choose them wisely.
Your bridesmaids should rather not be people you barely know, and the same goes for the groomsmen. Choose people who are always there for you, and who you can definitely rely on.
Wedding guest list tips and advice
- Don’t be afraid to eliminate people from your list, in fear of offending them. It is your wedding day after all. If you simply can’t afford to have 300 people at your wedding, then you need to strike through those names!
- If you do feel bad because you didn’t invite someone, send them a card or letter explaining why you couldn’t invite them – this is completely optional, but not uncommon.
- If your parents are paying for the wedding, they get first pick of who is invited. It is definitely not right to them if you invite 80 friends and they are paying for the wedding, when they only get to invite 20 family members, because the budget is too small.
- Manage your guest list thoroughly from day one. Create a spreadsheet with all the names, contact details, food requirements, etc. for each and every guest. Include columns for check marks for when you send out save the dates, invitations and thank you notes (leave space to write what gift they gave you).
If your wedding is far away, you will need accommodation.
Block booking hotel rooms
Most hotels give you the option of “blocking” rooms. This means that you can book many rooms that are normally close to each other, or book out an entire floor of the hotel building. This is a great option for accommodation if your budget allows for it.
Let your wedding party members, parents and grandparents have first option to choose rooms. You also need rooms for you and the groom to get ready in, on the day of the wedding.
There are also many venues that provide accommodation on the premises. Consider this option if you have a smaller budget, as this type of accommodation will usually be included in one of the wedding packages they provide.
Finding accommodation near the wedding venue
Your guests need accommodation, too. So why not scout for options in the area of the venue? You can then include these options in your invitation, with contact details. Or, hire an agency to take care of this – simply provide the agency’s contact details on the invite, so that guests can contact them.
The gesture of a welcome basket
This works great if you provide accommodation to your wedding party or to some of your guests. If you create or order welcome baskets for their rooms, you show appreciation for their efforts to attend your wedding.
The night of the wedding
If you are not immediately leaving for the honeymoon, you need a room for you and your groom for the night of the wedding. Your hotel should be able to provide you with this option, or you can book a place somewhere romantic and close to the venue.
Tips and advice for wedding accommodation
- Always book accommodation way in advance. You will scramble around looking for places if you wait too long, and this will cause additional stress for you!
- You don’t have to provide accommodation for guests who can’t afford it, as you will go bankrupt. If you really, really, really want the person to be there, then only should you consider it.
- The wedding party’s accommodation are normally paid by the bride and groom. Especially if you expect them to pay for their wedding outfits.
- Peak and off-peak seasons count for accommodation, too. As with wedding venues, prices change according to seasons, so take this into consideration when planning your wedding.
Determining your wedding style
All of your wedding details will be centered around your wedding style. Your color scheme, or theme if you have one, will be deciding factors in choosing your décor. This also influence the prices you will pay – for example, rose and orchids are more expensive than daisies and wildflowers.
What type of ceremony will you have?
Your ceremony style is determined by which type of ceremony you will have. If it is in a chapel or church, you can incorporate the same style in flowers and décor, which you use at your reception. An outdoor ceremony might require more or less décor items and flowers, depending on the location.
Creating a mood board for your wedding
It is so helpful to have an idea of what all your wedding ideas will look like together. You can do this by creating a mood board, on which you can place all of your wedding idea images.
Your Pinterest assignment…
If you are using Pinterest for wedding inspiration, you can do the following: Create a board on which you save all of your wedding idea pins. Soon, you should recognize a theme coming through, so delete the pins that don’t fit in. Then, create board sections on that board, and name them according to each wedding aspect (i.e. flowers, dress, centerpieces, etc.). Go through all of your pins and save them into those sections.
Use this board to plan all of your wedding details, and refer to it whenever you need to refresh your mind.
Determining your style
The following aspects play a major role in your wedding style:
- Theme type – if you are working with a theme, i.e. country, then you will have to choose décor and flowers accordingly.
- Spending – A smaller budget will limit your flowers and décor choices.
- Location – where your wedding takes place also influences your wedding style. For instance, you will struggle to work with a country theme at a castle venue or Tuscany style venue.
Tips and advice for your wedding style
- Pinterest is your wedding planning friend, but be wary of inspiration overload. Manage your wedding ideas thoughtfully, and don’t just pin everything that is “nice”. Think about your style and how that pin will fit in. If it doesn’t, keep scrolling.
- A floral designer or wedding stylist will help you to create the wedding look you have in mind. Consider working with one if your budget allows it.
- Watch your budget, as this is where most of the smaller expenses add up. You are also most likely to go over budget when it comes to flowers and décor.
- It’s okay to like more than one wedding look. Just make sure you decide on a definite one before planning all of the tiny wedding details.
Outfits and Attire
Your wedding dress
Going wedding dress shopping can seem like a challenging task at first, but there are many ways that you can make the process go smoother. For instance, if you already know what type of dress you like, you have a head start when you enter your local bridal boutique for the first time…
Saving your wedding dress photo’s
When you start looking for that perfect dress, we are assuming you are already using Pinterest. If this is the case, we can give you some handy guidelines:
- Create a wedding dress ideas board. Also, if you are interested in more than one type of wedding dress, create board sections in your wedding dress board to save these to.
- Don’t just save everything that is pretty. You will crowd your wedding dress board with hundreds of pins, because the most common wedding related pins out there are about wedding dresses.
- An important thing to remember is that the specific dress you are looking at on Pinterest might be hard to find in real life. Use these pins as inspiration for finding your real wedding dress.
- If your budget allows it, get someone to make you a wedding dress, based on an image you like on Pinterest. Be sure to use a professional seamstress, too.
- Dresses look different on every single bride. Take this into mind when you do your wedding dress shopping. A mermaid dress might look better on the model than on you…
- Take your images with you when you go to the bridal boutique. This will make it easier for staff to help you find your dress.
Fittings and adjustments
A good quality wedding dress allows for multiple fittings and adjustments, without starting to fall apart. Cheap fabric and low quality dressmaking will disappoint you when it comes to make changes to the dress. Always ensure that your dress quality is top notch, in case you need to make adjustments.
Also, be sure to use a seamstress or tailor that knows what they are doing. Your bridal boutique should have an in-house seamstress or they should be able to recommend someone. Don’t just use someone you’ve found on Craigslist or Gumtree, or someone a friend or family member recommends. Rather push the extra buck and hire a professional to do the job!
Your veil and headpiece
Your veil and headpiece should be purchased at a later stage, and preferably after you have had your hair trial. Or, you can take your desired veil and headpiece, or accessories, with you to your hair trial.
Also take the dress into account when choosing your veil. If your dress has stunning back detail, do you really want to cover all that up with a cathedral length veil?
Bridal accessories and shoes
It’s easier to find accessories and shoes to match the dress, than the other way around. Shop for these after your have found your dress.
Take your shoe height and comfort into account, as this can create a strain on your wedding day. Uncomfortable shoes can make your feet ache and cause you to limp when you have to dance or walk…
Garter and Bridal Lingerie
These are very intimate items, so they should intimately be chosen by you on a personal shopping outing. In other words, your bridesmaids and bridal party should preferably not be with when you shop for these.
Choose a comfortable garter that fits around your upper leg. It’s should not be too tight, but it should also not fall off when you walk.
When choosing your lingerie: If your “special night” is on the evening of your wedding, you should wear your lingerie underneath your wedding dress. It should be comfortable (i.e. not a corset!) and it should not show when you have your dress on.
Many couples don’t consummate their wedding on the evening of the wedding day. If this is the case, you can simply pack your lingerie and put it on when you have your special evening together.
Dressing your bridesmaids
Each bride, and bridesmaid, is different. There are brides who let their bridesmaids choose their own dresses, with or without any guidelines. Then there are brides who dress their bridesmaids and choose their dresses, shoes and accessories for them.
Which bride are you?
Your bridesmaids can match, or be different. Be sure to help them choose dresses that are comfortable and flattering. If a certain dress doesn’t suit one of them, then don’t force her to wear it because they all have to match. Reconsider your dress options.
Choosing your flower girl’s outfit is one of the easier tasks. Little girls love princesses, and they will love looking like one on the bride’s wedding day.
Why not choose a blue dress for her, and make it your “something blue” idea for your wedding?
Unless you want your groom’s suit to be a specific color or style, allow him to choose his own.
As with your dress fittings and adjustments, the groom might also have suit fittings. A suit should fit perfectly on the groom, otherwise it shows in the pictures afterwards.
The suits of the groomsmen normally look different than that of the groom, but not completely. You can choose to have slight variations with them. For example, they wear bow-ties while the groom wears a normal tie. Or the groom wears a waistcoat, but not the groomsmen, and so on.
Other bridal party members’ wear
It is up to you who still needs outfits picked out for them for the wedding. Most couples include the parents as well, so you can coordinate wedding outfits for them too.
A note on dressing the mothers: They should be comfortable. Be careful that their dresses or outfits don’t look too “young” for them (i.e. strapless, or a dress with a high slit). To make it easier, choose their outfits according to your wedding colors, or, matching the bridesmaids’ dresses.
It is a personal choice if you want to dress the grandparents, too.
Tips and advice for bridal wear and attire
- It is perfectly okay to be in love with the first dress you put on. We recently had a bride who experienced this, but because of pressure from those who attended this fitting with her, she tried on other dresses as well. She didn’t choose her first dress, and eventually decided on a different one which everyone else loved. It was not her style, and we are 100% convinced she wasn’t all that happy with her choice to this day.
- Don’t visit 20 bridal boutiques and try on 80 dresses. Limit yourself to two or three boutiques. You will realize that after the 15th dress you try on, all of them start to look the same and you will have a harder time making your choice.
- Go when you have a dress idea in mind, or a few images from Pinterest for one dress style or type. It just makes things easier for you, and everyone else helping you find your dream wedding dress.
- Don’t be afraid of being controversial. If you love that dip-dyed wedding dress in soft pink ombre colors in the boutique window, try it on!
- There are things to avoid when you go wedding dress shopping – read it here!
Wedding party outfits and attire tips and advice
- If you give your bridal party choices, give them guidelines too. For example, your bridesmaids can choose their dresses, but it should be long, and fit in with a certain color palette.
- The groomsmen’s suits should all match. Otherwise it will be difficult to spot the groom in all the pictures afterwards.
- If they struggle to make their choices, jump in and recommend a few dresses or outfits. They are obviously unsure what will make you happy, and they don’t want to make the wrong outfit decisions.
Nitty gritty wedding stuff
Before we continue with all the stuff for your wedding day, let’s get the nitty gritty out of the way.
Insuring your engagement ring and bridal jewelry
Your rings should be insured as soon as possible, and preferably before the wedding. They are already an expensive investment, and losing them will just break your heart. That counts for all of your expensive jewelry for your wedding. Your necklace, earrings, the groom’s ring and so on.
Save yourself the trouble and insure them. If something happens, you can replace them before your wedding day, without forking a ton of money out again. In any case, most jewelers can help you source the exact same jewelry, or have it made for you after the wedding.
It will be super awkward having to exchange the rings, and there are none because it went missing…
Getting your marriage license
Basically, your marriage license is your state or country giving you permission to get married, and to state that you are not already married to someone else.
This differs from country to country and you should inquire about your marriage license as soon as possible.
Get this out of the way as soon as possible, too. Sometimes for contracts to get approved, depending on where they get sent, this could take a few weeks.
You and your fiancée should make an appointment with the lawyers to set up your contract, if you are having one. This also differs from each country, and you should do your research about different kinds of marriage contracts.
This is not a requirement to get married, but many churches and pastors agree that the couple should do this counseling before they get married. They believe that this will decrease the chance of a divorce.
Find out from your pastor if this is a requirement. Counseling can be as little as three months, to up to a year even.
Day of the wedding Emergency kit
Ask your maid of honor to take care of this. A good day-of-wedding emergency kit will contain medical things such as painkillers, electrolyte solution, nausea tablets and so on, and also things like snacks. There should also be stuff like pins, thread, safety pins, ribbon, glue and so on for wedding dress emergencies. Get your FREE Emergency Kit Checklist in this handy post.
As we are progressing as a society, you will realize that drastic traditions are slowly fading away, and new ones are taking their place.
Things that still remain: Old, new, borrowed, blue; the unity candle/sand; confetti throwing; first kiss; first dance; cutting the wedding cake, etc.
It is up to you to decide which traditions you are planning to include at your wedding, and how you want to include it.
Toasts and speeches
Make sure to ask those who you want to speech at your wedding, at least a month before the wedding. Give them time to prepare, because some find it extremely difficult to make a speech, even in front of friends and family.
Give them a guideline of what exactly you want them to make their speech about, and ask them to only make a speech about that. They should also keep it short and sweet, because wedding toasts and speeches are the reason everyone goes hungry and eat very late at a wedding.
Rental and lighting services
If your service providers, such as your DJ or venue, don’t provide certain things, it is your job to hire it in if you want it. Things like lighting should be taken seriously, especially at a venue where this is lacking or the lighting is of poor quality.
When should you using renting services?
Whenever you want to provide that something extra at your wedding for guests to enjoy, or to make them more comfortable, then you should use rental services.
Renting equipment and items can make a wedding so much more special and enjoyable. Keep an eye on your budget, though, especially if you are limited. There are nice-to-haves (candy cart, bubble machine, horse and carriage…) and then there are must-haves (lighting, shading, chairs and tables…).
What type of things can be hired in?
Luckily, as the wedding industry is growing, wedding venues provide most of the things required to make your wedding day successful. This normally includes a plan B, in case of rain or bad weather.
You can hire in almost anything imaginable, but to start off with the basics:
- Furniture – tables, chairs, couches, cocktail tables, etc.
- Dining ware – cutlery, crockery, glassware, etc.
- Catering – servers, buffet accessories, etc.
- Flowers, décor and centerpieces
- Catering, food trucks, mobile bars, candy buffets and carts, etc.
- Draping services
- Wedding tenting, tent-and-pole structures, marquee tents, gazebos, arches
- Chapel hire – aisle runners, pews, benches, altars, stands, pillars, pedestals, baskets, etc.
- Linen – chair covers, overlays, table runners and cloths, bows, , etc.
- Lawn games and activities
- Photo booth hire and props
- Entertainment – live bands and artists, caricature artists, firework displays, etc.
- …the list goes on
Good lighting at a wedding can determine the entire atmosphere, success and mood of that wedding. Make sure you know what your venue looks like when all the lights are switched on, and that they have outdoor lighting as well.
Also, lights should be dimmed after dinner until the end of the wedding, to set the mood. Bright lighting throughout the wedding can make it seem like a high school reunion… Opt for softer lighting, and ask your DJ if the provide spot lights and other types of lighting.
Special effects hiring
It can be so romantic to see the couple doing their first dance and a cloud of fog appears on the floor. If you feel you want special effects like this at your wedding, you can hire this in also.
Planning your own wedding is such hard work, but we are not done yet… As this is only part one! There are still so many other aspects to discuss with you, and more great tips and advice we cannot wait to give you – Read part 2 here!