How to Plan a Wedding

By Laura Grace Tarpley · June 09, 2023 · 13 minute read

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How to Plan a Wedding

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 and make planning the biggest event of your life much easier. Here’s how.

Talking about Your Budget

The median cost of a wedding is $10,000, according to a recent SoFi survey. Because of the expense involved, it’s helpful to decide on the budget before proceeding with anything else. What you can spend will guide the rest of your wedding plans.

Perhaps the most important part of this step is communication. Discuss how much you want to spend with your fiancé. Will the two of you be able to save up money for your dream wedding?

If someone else is paying for or contributing to your wedding costs, talk to them as well. You don’t want to plan a $15,000 wedding that you expect your parents to pay for, only to have them hand you a $5,000 check. Perhaps your parents might even consider the money a family loan that they expect you to pay back.

Maybe your dad is willing to cover the catering, but he expects you to invite 25 members of your extended family in return. 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, decide as a couple how you want to divvy up the funds for each aspect of the wedding. For instance, you might want to choose one or two things you’re willing to spend a lot of money on, then set 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 really want. If that’s the case, you may consider taking out a wedding loan.

Deciding Who Will Be in Your Wedding Party

Choosing your wedding party can be stressful. 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, it can depend on your approach.

For example, let’s say you want to mail a gift bag to each person you’re asking to be a bridesmaid. The more bridesmaids you have, of course, the more expensive that will be.

Many couples also like to give their wedding party thank you gifts, pay for hair and makeup for the group, and even cover additional expenses, like plane tickets or dresses. It’s a way of acknowledging that the cost of being in someone else’s wedding can add up. If you choose to do some or all of that, you’ll need to factor it into your budget.

Picking a Date and Time

A lot of considerations could go into this decision, such as whether you want a daytime or nighttime wedding, when your wedding party and family are available, and even the weather at your honeymoon location.

The date and time of your wedding day could affect your budget. Some venues offer discounts if you book during the off-season, for instance. Choosing a less busy time of year could be one way to tackle financial stress, or at least some of it, that comes with wedding planning.

When it comes to the time of day, think about how the celebration will play out. If your wedding is at 5 pm, the reception will take place during dinner time, so guests will likely be expecting appetizers, dinner, 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 five months from now if the scale of your wedding will require at least eight months to plan.

Making Your Guest List

The easiest way to make a guest list is usually to decide as a couple on the number of guests, and then stick to it.

There are several ways you could go about making the actual guest list. For instance, each of you could draw up a list of your family, friends, and coworkers. Then you can count them all up to find out where you stand. Or you could divide the list into must-have guests and maybes, and see how close you are to your target number.

Remember that the number of guests will significantly impact 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 fit into.

Of course, not everyone will say yes. By some estimates, 60% to 85% of guests respond “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.

Recommended: Wedding Cost Calculator With Examples

Hiring a Wedding Planner (or Not)

You don’t have to hire a wedding planner, but carefully consider the reality of making every decision and arrangement yourself. If you’re willing to do that, then go for it!

Some people enjoy organizing all details of a wedding. Or you may choose to hire a partial wedding planner, an expert who typically joins you about a month before the big day to handle last-minute details. This could help you maximize your time and money.

You might skip a wedding planner completely but opt for a day-of coordinator. You can hire one or see if anyone you know would be willing to do it for free. You could ask a good friend of your family, for instance. This person could take care of details like sending everyone down the aisle at the right time and helping with logistics throughout the day. Then you can relax and enjoy yourself without worrying so much.

The average cost for a wedding planner is $1,900, according to The Knot’s 2022 Real Weddings Study. Of course, whether you choose a full wedding planner, partial planner, or day-of coordinator will greatly affect how much you pay.

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.

You can hire someone to design these for you, or you could design and print them yourself.

Recommended: How to Manage Your Money: 11 Tips To Do It Right

Creating a Gift Registry

There are several ways to handle a registry: You might register at stores, ask for money to help pay for the honeymoon or put a down payment on a house, or even request donations to your favorite charity. No two couples’ registries are the same.

You could mention your registry specifics on the save-the-dates you send out, or direct guests to a registry on your wedding website, if you’ve created one.

Choosing a Venue

When picking a wedding venue, it’s a good idea to tour a few places before deciding. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, like if you want to reserve the church where your parents got married.

To decide what kind of venue you want, 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 might not know exactly what you want until you’ve toured a few venues, and that’s okay.

The wedding venue can often take the biggest bite out of your wedding budget. You may be able to save money, and potentially avoid some common money fights with your partner-to-be, by choosing a place that can double as a ceremony and reception venue. On the other hand, a place like this might not allow you to have everything you want. For example, if you get married in a public park, you may not be allowed to serve alcohol if you have the reception there as well.

Buying the Wedding Attire

In addition to the wedding gown and tuxedo or suit for the bride and groom, you’ll also need to decide what clothes everyone will wear for the ceremony. If you aren’t picking out dresses and suits for the wedding party, be sure to communicate clearly to them what you expect, including the color, the length of the dress, suit vs. tux, and so on.

And remember your parents and grandparents as well. Give them any guidance they might need. 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. Having everyone on the same page can help prevent headaches down the road.

Contacting an Officiant

Choosing an officiant may be one of the simpler tasks on your to-do list. You could choose someone who knows you well, like a clergy member, friend, or relative.

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 airfare if they’re traveling to the venue. You’ll also likely want to give them a small gift, such as a gift card to a favorite restaurant, as a thank you present.

Hiring a Photographer

Hiring a photographer is probably one of the most important wedding decisions you’ll make. Couples cherish wedding photos for the rest of their lives, and you want someone who will capture the day the way you envision.

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.)

The average couple spent $2,600 on a wedding photographer in 2022, according to The Knot. If that’s out of your price range, you may be able to negotiate a wedding photo package for a lower fee. And if some services mean more to you than others, see if a photographer is willing to work with you. For example, if you skip the book of photos, might they work extra hours on your wedding day instead?

To help find the perfect photographer, figure out the style of wedding photos you’d like, look at the portfolios of photographers whose work matches the vibe you’re going for, and ask recently-married friends for recommendations.

Also, keep this in mind: If you hire a photographer 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 might want to serve some hot food. If your reception starts at 6 pm, it may be a good idea to serve dinner. On the other hand, if it runs from 2 pm to 5 pm, you could possibly get away with providing appetizers and snacks.

The average cost of wedding catering runs about $75 per person. This typically covers food, beverages, and servers.

Of course, you don’t have to hire a professional caterer. However, if you’re serving a sit-down meal of elaborate food to a large group of people, using professionals might be your best — and easiest — option.

Deciding What to Do About Alcohol

First things first: What are your venue’s regulations, if any, concerning alcohol? Some venues don’t allow it, while others do as long as you have designated bartenders. Still others require you to use bartenders approved by the venue owners.

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.

If you do serve alcohol, you’ll likely want to include a selection of non-alcoholic beverages as well.

Figuring Out Flowers and Florists

The average couple spends about $2,400 on flowers, The Knot found, but the cost can vary. Think about what types of flowers you’d like. Roses, carnations, and tulips might be a little more cost effective, while gardenias and orchids could take a hefty toll on your wallet. Generally, using flowers that are in season can help cut down on costs.

Then, consider making a list of where you want flowers at the ceremony and reception — this could help determine how many to buy. Besides wedding bouquets, do you also want floral decorations? Would you like them woven into a wedding arch, on guests’ tables at the reception, or lining the aisle? And are you envisioning corsages and boutonnieres for a number of family members? Think through the various scenarios to decide what makes the most sense for your day and your budget.

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 on the smaller side, a DJ may fit just fine, while a four-member band may make things a little crowded.

What kind of music do you want? If you’d like something people can dance to, a band might be the right choice, while if you crave the variety of Beyoncé, The Rolling Stones, and Miles Davis, a DJ could be a safer bet.

Cost may be the determining factor. A DJ is typically less expensive than a band, so if you’re on a strict budget, this is something to keep in mind. If you’re on a super tight budget, you may want to think about 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. Second, if you block off a number of rooms, many 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 should also think about guests’ budgets. You could set aside blocks of rooms at two or three hotels to help make sure that there’s a range of accommodations and price points.

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 get-togethers, so think about which ones you want and who should be in charge of planning each.

Here are some common wedding events and who (traditionally) plans each:

•   Engagement party for the couple (parents)

•   Bridal showers (close friends, wedding party, or parents)

•   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)

•   Post-wedding brunch (parents)

You may choose to have all or none of these events. And of course, the person or people planning each can vary.

Taking Care of Miscellaneous Details

There are many other details to take care of, such as choosing a color scheme, buying decorations, purchasing wedding bands, and organizing transportation. And, of course, you’ll need to plan the honeymoon along with booking airline tickets and choosing the best hotel you can afford. Keep a list on your phone for miscellaneous tasks so you can add them to the list as soon as they pop 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, which is a type of personal loan, for your big day. Personal loans can have lower interest rates than credit cards, so taking out a personal loan could save you money versus using your card.

SoFi can help you find the best loan for your wedding. You can apply quickly online, and find out within minutes how much you could be prequalified for. You can choose a fixed rate, and the funding is fast. You may even get your money the day you’re approved.

A SoFi personal loan can help you finance your venue, photographer, flowers, or any other part of your wedding.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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