You’ve popped the champagne, called your relatives with the big news, and posted pictures of the engagement ring to Instagram. Now it’s time to make your special day a reality.
A wedding to do list may seem never-ending, but when you have a clear idea of what steps to take, you can organize the process—making throwing the biggest event of your life, if not a piece of (wedding) cake, then at least less of a headache.
If your head is spinning just thinking about how to start planning a wedding, here’s a great first step.
Talking about Your Budget
According to The Knot , the average cost of a wedding in 2018 was $33,931. Whether this number seems like a lowball estimate or it’s much higher than you’ve considered, it’s helpful to decide on the budget before proceeding with anything else. The finances will likely guide the rest of your wedding plans.
Perhaps the most important part of this step is communication.
It’s worth discussing how much you want to spend with your fiancé. If someone else is paying for or contributing to your wedding costs, talk to them, as well. You don’t want to plan a $20,000 wedding that you expect your parents to pay for, only to have them hand you a $3,000 check.
Maybe your dad is willing to pay for catering, but as a result, he expects you to invite 25 members of your extended family. Or your parents may assume you’ll be getting married in a church, and when they give you money, there’ll be some major resentment if you end up having the ceremony in a barn.
After pinpointing the budget, a great next step is to discuss as a couple how you want to divvy up the funds for each aspect of the wedding. It’s common knowledge to choose one or two items you’re willing to spend a lot of money on, then set strict, lower limits for everything else.
What do you and your fiancé consider the most important parts of the wedding? Do you want the perfect dress? Maybe the photographer, venue, or floral arrangements matter most.
Some couples just don’t have enough money to have the wedding they want. If that’s the case, you may consider taking out a wedding loan.
Deciding Who Will Be in Your Wedding Party
Choosing your bridesmaids/bridesmen and groomsmen/groomsmaids can be stressful enough. But then you have to decide if you want ushers, a flower girl, and a ring bearer. Which family members and friends will walk down the aisle in front of you?
Keep in mind that as your wedding party gets larger, you may end up spending more money. However, the amount you spend on your party can depend on your approach.
For example, let’s say you want to mail a goodie bag to each woman as a way to ask her to be your bridesmaid. Mailing eight goodie bags will cost more than mailing three. Forgoing this custom might save you money.
Some couples also like to offer their wedding party thank you gifts on the day of the wedding, pay for hair and makeup for the group, and even cover additional expenses, like plane tickets or dresses.
Picking a Date and Time
A lot of factors could go into this decision, such as daylight hours, the weather at your honeymoon location, and when your wedding party and family are available.
The date and time might even affect your budget. Some venues offer discounts if you book during the off-season.
When it comes to time, think about how the day will play out. If your wedding is at 5 p.m., the reception will take place during dinner time, so guests may be expecting heavier food and alcohol.
You should also ask yourself, “How long does it take to plan a wedding?” You don’t want to book a venue date three months from now if the scale of your wedding will require eight months to plan.
Making Your Guest List
The easiest way to make a guest list is usually to decide as a couple on a number of guests, and stick to it.
There are several ways you could go about making the actual guest list. Consider writing separate lists for family, friends, and coworkers, then coming together to make a list of mutual friends. Or you could divide the list into must-have guests and maybes, then see how close you are to your target number.
Remember that the number of guests will affect how much money you spend. It will determine how many save-the-dates and invitations you have to print and mail, along with the cost of food you order from your caterer, how many chairs to order, the size of your cake, and maybe even which venue you can squeeze everyone into.
Of course, not everyone will say yes. According to a study by RSVPify, 83% of invitees RSVP “yes” to a wedding invitation. If you can only fit 200 people into your venue, don’t stress too hard if you find yourself sending 230 invitations.
Hiring a Wedding Planner (or Not)
I was the last of my friends to get married, and a number of them warned me that if you want the process to be easy, you’ll have to pay—if you want the process to be cheap, you’ll have to work.
You certainly don’t have to hire a wedding planner, but just think about the reality of making every decision yourself. If you’re willing to do that, then go for it!
Some people even enjoy organizing every detail of a wedding. Or you may choose to hire a partial wedding planner who typically joins you about a month before the big day to handle last minute details.
You might forego a wedding planner but opt for a day-of coordinator. You can hire one or see if anyone you know would be willing to do so for free. For my wedding, my lifelong best friend’s mom volunteered to be my day-of coordinator.
She took care of details like sending everyone down the aisle at the right time and finding missing items throughout the day. As a result, I worked hard to plan my own wedding but was able to relax more on the actual day.
The Knot’s 2018 Real Wedding Study found that the average cost for a wedding planner in 2018 was around $2,000. When you search for a planner on WeddingWire , not only can you filter by city, dates, and budget, but you can also choose between a full wedding planner, partial planner, or day-of coordinator.
Sending Save-the-Dates and Invitations
Not everyone chooses to send save-the-dates, but if you do, it’s a good idea to send them around six months before your wedding, followed up by invitations about two months before the big day. If you’re throwing a destination wedding, you may want to give guests even more time to plan and save for the event.
Creating a Gift Registry
There are several ways to handle a registry: you could register at stores, ask for money, or even request donations to your favorite charity. No two couples’ registries are the same.
You may mention your registry specifics on the save-the-dates, or direct guests to a registry on your wedding website, if you’ve created one.
Choosing a Venue
Choosing a wedding venue is a bit like buying a house—it’s good to tour a few places before putting a down payment on one. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, like if you want to reserve the church where your parents got married.
When picking a venue, you may want to think about what’s important to you. Do you want a place that lets you serve alcohol? A venue that will let you set up the night before? A space that can hold 300 guests? You may not know exactly what you want until you’ve toured a few venues, and that’s okay.
You may be able to save money by choosing a place that can double as a ceremony and reception venue. On the other hand, a place like this may not allow you to have everything you want. For example, if you get married at a church, you probably can’t serve tequila shots and cheer on your friends as they grind to “Get Low” at the reception.
Another great step is to consider what clothes everyone will need for the ceremony, whether that’s a dress, suit, or tux. It’s also helpful to communicate to the wedding party what you expect people to wear—especially if you aren’t choosing for them.
It may be important to you that the mothers of the bride and/or groom not wear the same color as the bridesmaids, for instance. It’s all up to you, but having everyone on the same page can help keep headaches from occurring down the road.
Contacting an Officiant
Choosing an officiant can actually be pretty fun! You could choose someone who knows you well, like a clergy member, friend, or family member.
Most officiants who know the couple personally will conduct the wedding for free, but it’s generally considered polite to pay for their hotel room and/or give them a small gift.
My husband and I were married by our college chaplain, and we gave him a gift card to his favorite restaurant as a thank you present.
Hiring a Photographer
Honestly, hiring a photographer felt like an even bigger decision than choosing my wedding dress. Couples cherish wedding photos for the rest of their lives, and you want someone who will capture the day the way you want them to.
Answering the following questions may help you find a photographer who’s right for you: How many hours do you want them taking photos? Do you want them to supply you with a book of pictures of your big day? Do you also want a wedding video? (You may have to hire a separate videographer for this.)
Several photographers I spoke with were willing to let me negotiate their services. For example, they were willing to forego a book of photos in exchange for working two extra hours on the wedding day, and I could still pay the same fee.
Don’t know where to start on your hunt for the perfect photographer? The Knot’s photographer page is a great resource. However, if you hire someone who lives far away, you’re usually expected to pay for their transportation costs in addition to the original price.
Thinking about Food and Caterers
Your decisions regarding catering will likely be based on how many guests you have, as well as the season and time of day.
For example, if your wedding is in winter, you may want to serve some hot food. If your reception starts at 6 p.m., it may be a good idea to serve dinner. On the other hand, if it runs from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., you could possibly get away with providing snacks.
Of course, you don’t have to hire a caterer. They can be godsends when you plan to serve a sit-down meal of elaborate food to a large group of people. But even in these cases, it’s up to you. My friend had around 150 guests, and the reception took place around dinner time. Her family made fiesta salad for the entire reception, and it was delicious!
Providing food is a prime example of paying if you want things to be easy and working if you want things to be cheap. Couples reported spending an average of average of $4,000 on wedding catering to WeddingWire.
Deciding What to Do About Alcohol
First things first: What are your venue’s regulations concerning alcohol? Some venues don’t allow it, while others do, but only if you have designated bartenders. Still others require you to use bartenders approved by the venue owners. After looking at just the cost of sweet tea for 200 people, you may decide to forego alcohol altogether.
Liquor in large quantities is often significantly more expensive than beer and wine, so just serving those last two could be a nice compromise for your budget. My husband I had two kegs. We also bought cheap, boxed wine from Walmart, emptied them into nice urns, and no one knew the difference.
If you do decide to serve alcohol, you may want to serve at least one non-alcoholic drink that others can enjoy. Reflecting back on my wedding, I realized the only non-alcoholic drink I served was water. The children and non-drinkers probably weren’t too happy with me.
Talking About Flowers and Florists
The cost of floral arrangements can vary, but there are some ways to get an idea of how much you’ll spend. First, what types of flowers do you want? Roses, carnations, and tulips are a tad more cost effective, while gardenias and lilies of the valley could take a toll on your wallet.
Then, consider making a list of where you want flowers—this could help determine how many to buy. You’ll probably want some for bouquets and for the flower girl’s basket, but do you want floral decorations? Do you want them woven into the arch, on guests’ tables at the reception, or lining the aisle?
Wedding websites like The Knot and Zola
have lists of florists near you that will likely work within your budget. (In the interest of transparency, it’s important to note that SoFi has partnered with Zola for the writing of this article.)
Choosing a Band or DJ
It’s the great debate: band or DJ? If you’re having trouble deciding, a few factors could help you make your decision.
How big is your venue? If it’s a little cramped, a DJ could squeeze in just fine, while a four-member band may make things a little uncomfortable.
What kind of music do you want? If you want something people can dance to, a band might be the right choice, while if you crave the variety of Beyoncé, The Rolling Stones, John Mayer, and Miles Davis, a DJ could be a safer bet.
A DJ is typically less expensive than a band, so if you’re on a tight budget, this is something else to keep in mind. If you’re on a super tight budget, you may want to discuss creating a playlist beforehand and having a member of the wedding party hook up their phone to a speaker.
Considering Where People Will Stay
It’s typically the responsibility of the couple to set aside blocks of rooms for guests at local hotels. First of all, you do this to ensure people will have places to stay, even if there are big events nearby that could cause hotels to fill up that weekend. Second, if you block off a number of rooms, some places will give guests a group rate discount.
It’s helpful to make a rough estimate of how many people will be coming in from out of town before you set aside rooms. You also may want to think about guests’ budgets.
For my wedding, I set aside blocks of 10 rooms at three hotels, because I had a lot of guests from out of town, as well as people of various economic backgrounds and accommodation preferences.
Discussing Additional Events
A wedding isn’t just about the wedding. It’s about all the other events, too! Weddings come with a lot of optional supplementary events, so think about which ones you want and who should be in charge of planning each.
Here are the most common wedding events and who (traditionally) plans each:
• Engagement party for the couple (parents)
• Bridal showers (close friends or parents)
• Lingerie shower (maid/men of honor or bridesmaids/men)
• Bachelor and bachelorette parties (maid/man of honor and best man/woman)
• Bridal luncheon (sometimes the bride puts this on for the bridesmaids/bridesmen, sometimes they put it on for the bride)
• Rehearsal dinner (parents)
You may choose to have all or none of these events. The person planning each can vary, especially if your wedding isn’t traditional.
Taking Care of Miscellaneous Details
There are tiny details that don’t necessarily fit into any of the aforementioned sections, such as choosing a color scheme, buying decorations, ordering chairs, purchasing wedding bands, and organizing transportation.
Consider keeping a list on your phone for miscellaneous tasks so you can add something to the list as soon as it pops into your brain.
Paying For Your Wedding
The longer your wedding to-do list gets, the more money you could potentially spend. The reality is that not everyone has enough money to throw the wedding they’ve been dreaming of, nor does every couple have family members who can contribute financially.
In these cases, you may consider taking out a wedding loan for your big day. Personal loans can have lower interest rates than credit cards, so taking out an unsecured personal loan could save you money versus simply swiping your card.
Some lenders, like SoFi, let you apply quickly online, and you can find out within minutes how much you could be prequalified for.
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