How to plan a wedding from start to finish, expert advice - INSIDER 1

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You’re engaged. Congrats!
Now what?
Well, it’s time to plan the wedding of your dreams. But that’s easier said than done.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of details to keep track of when putting your wedding together, and it can be stressful to even know where to start.
That’s why Insider created a step-by-step guide to help engaged couples plan their weddings, full of advice from industry experts.
You can’t start planning your wedding unless you have a clear picture of what you want your day to look like. 
Will your wedding be big? Small? Outdoors? How much are you willing to spend?
“Our advice for couples is to sit down with your partner and talk through what are the top three to five things that you can’t live without for your wedding,” Jeffra Trumpower, the head of creative marketing and events for WeddingWire, told Insider. 
“Talk about your lifestyle, talk about the things that you love to do,” Kristen Maxwell Cooper, the editor-in-chief of The Knot, agreed.
“Let those things influence what’s important to you about the wedding and the things that are non-negotiable for you,” Cooper said.
Those things will vary for couples based on their interests. Some might choose to prioritize food and drinks, while music could be the make-or-break element for another couple. 
Picking your priorities and general theme early will also help you create a sense of continuity with all of your pre-wedding events, from showers to the rehearsal dinner.
Cooper and Trumpower said the budget should also be part of that discussion, as it will be easier to plan every step of your wedding if you know how much you’re able to spend. It will also help you decide if it’s going to be a big or small wedding.
And if any parental figures are helping to finance the wedding, they should be part of these early talks as well, since they’ll likely want to give their input on the event they’re paying for.
With all of that information set, you’ll be ready to start planning.
You don’t have to have a wedding planner to have a beautiful wedding, but if you want to hire and can afford a planner, it’s best to book one before you start making any big decisions.
“If you really want somebody who’s going to help you from soup to nuts, find the planner first,” Cooper told Insider. “They oftentimes will know about venues and little nuggets.” 
But if you have a dream wedding location in mind or just want to play a more hands-on role in the planning process, it might be in your best interest to check to see if the venue has a staffed day-of coordinator you could work with instead.
Day-of coordinators will make sure the wedding day itself runs smoothly, and they’ll be your point of contact with your wedding venue.
“If you want to be more involved from the beginning, I would say start with the venue and then see what it offers,” Trumpower said of day-of coordinators. “Because if they offer that as part of the cost, then you don’t have to pay twice.”
Once you have your budget, vision, and planner picked, you can start booking the big elements for the wedding. 
Weddings have a lot of moving parts, but the venue is the first thing you need to check off your planning to-do list.
“Before you even set a date, it’s really about finding that venue,” Cooper said. “The venue is going to be about 50% of your budget.”
And if you want to have a plethora of venues to choose from, you need to give yourself at least a year to plan the wedding, if not longer. 
“If there’s a specific venue that you have your eye on, they can be booked out up to two years in advance,” Trumpower told Insider.
“It depends where you’re getting married and what time of year you’re getting married,” she added, as venues might be harder to come by during the peak of wedding season, which runs from May to October.
But no matter what, you’ll have the best chance of getting the venue you want by building more time into the planning process.
“It also helps your guests plan ahead of time so that you can have everyone that you want there to celebrate with you,” Cooper said of a longer planning period.
Like any other part of wedding planning, finding a venue will be easier if you stick to the theme and budget you and your partner discussed, so be sure to keep those things in mind as you shop around. 
It’s also in your best interest to pick your caterer right after you decide on the venue. The food plays a pivotal role in your day, so selecting a caterer you trust is important. 
Luckily, many venues have preferred vendors they work with frequently, which allows you to narrow down your choices more easily.
After you’ve picked the venue and wedding date, it’s a good idea to choose your wedding party. 
You’ll also want to put up your wedding website and register as soon as you have the venue, date, and wedding party picked.
The website will have your registry on it, and it’s ideal to give your loved ones access to it before any engagement parties or showers. You can add to your registry throughout your engagement if your needs change, though.
Your wedding photos help you remember the event for the rest of your life, so picking the right photographer is a crucial part of the planning process.
Experts suggest couples use the same photographer for their engagement and wedding photos, so you need to hire someone early to give you ample time for an engagement session.
“It gives your photographer the opportunity to build on your relationship and see how you two work in front of the camera,” Mary Ann and Kristin Summey of Trinity Photography told Insider of using the same photographer for both occasions.
When you’re trying to pick a photographer, checking out their websites or Instagram accounts is a good place to start.
“As you’re browsing through a photographer’s website or Instagram, see if the photographer’s personality is coming through in their about page or in their comments,” the Summeys said. “You will get the best photos when you also find a photographer that looks like they would be someone you’d love hanging out with.”
They also say you need to look for example shots that mirror what your own wedding will be like.
“You might love a photographer’s work of a morning ceremony in a garden, but if you dream of a candlelit ceremony, make sure to check and see if they have work that is similar to what you are looking for,” they said.
Likewise, keep an eye out to see if the photographer is good at capturing different types of people, whether it be people of different sizes, races, or even just hair color. 
And the Summeys say the biggest red flag they see in photographers’ work is a lack of candid shots.
“The photographer needs to be able to make you comfortable enough with them that you can just relax whenever they’re around,” they told Insider. “So if their portfolio doesn’t show those lovely emotional shots, odds are they might not be able to capture that for you on your big day.”
And if you want a videographer for your wedding, you should hire them around the same time and use the same screening process for selecting them that you use for the photographer. 
Experts recommend brides shop for their wedding dresses nine to 12 months before their wedding dates.
Buying a dress is a lengthier process, as you not only need time to order the dress but also to get it fitted and altered.  
“Once you have selected your venue and date, finalizing your dress selection early will ease a lot of the planning pressure, allowing you to focus on the other details that also set the vibe for your special day,” Madison Debany, the store manager at RK Bridal, told Insider.
If you have less time, you can rush order a dress, which is more expensive, or you can buy a sample gown, which is a better option than you might think.
“There is a minimal risk when buying a sample dress if you have thoroughly inspected the gown prior to purchasing and avoided saying ‘yes’ to a sample that is not close to your size, torn, or shows extra wear,” Debany said. 
You should also get your bridesmaid dresses ordered around the same time as your wedding dress, as they will also need to be altered. 
Anne Chertoff, the chief operating officer for Beaumont Etiquette, told Insider you should send your save-the-dates as soon as you’ve settled on your wedding venue and date. 
According to Chertoff, save-the-dates shouldn’t be sent within six months of the official wedding invitations, which are sent six to eight weeks ahead of the wedding. That means you’ll want to send the save-the-dates around eight months before the wedding at the latest. 
Save-the-dates include the date, city, and state that the wedding will be in, as well as available accommodations if guests will have to travel to the event. Because that information is pretty basic and you’ll likely have your venue picked a year before the wedding, it’s in your best interest to send save-the-dates as soon as you choose a venue.
“You do not include the wedding venue, start time for the wedding, or ask people to RSVP on a save-the-date card,” Chertoff told Insider. That information is saved for your actual invitation.
You should also include a link to your wedding website on your save-the-dates so guests can find more information about the venue and your registry.
Once you’ve made a deposit on a venue and made your guests aware of the wedding date, it’s time to start making decisions about the things that will make the day special.
Seven months ahead of the wedding, you should hire a florist, pick out linens and other rentable items, hire musical entertainment for the wedding, choose an officiant, and book a venue for the rehearsal dinner.
Both WeddingWire and The Knot can help you find these vendors, as well as keep track of your planning progress. 
It’s also important to book transportation for the bridal party for the wedding months in advance, whether that be a limo, special convertible, or a horse and carriage. Likewise, the groom and groomsmen should arrange their outfits for the day around five months before the wedding.
And, of course, you should buy your wedding bands around five months before the wedding to make sure they look exactly as you’re hoping. 
Initial food tastings will also happen around this time, so you can start to imagine your wedding menu. 
Although you’ll be focused on planning the actual wedding, you also need to sit down with your partner and make honeymoon plans in the months leading up to the big day.
It’s best to have at least some tentative plans around five months before the wedding.
Pick a location and a place to stay so you have some idea of what will happen after the last guest leaves the wedding. 
Around three to four months from the wedding date, you’ll need to make firm decisions about the details for your wedding day. 
You’ll have a final tasting with your caterer, pick out your wedding cake, meet with your florist to create mock-ups of your centerpieces and bouquets, and order your invitations.
The three-month mark is also a good time to meet with your officiant and finalize your vows and any readings you want to be part of the ceremony, as you’ll be able to envision the order of events and practice your vows if you need to.
You’ll also want to select your hairstylist and makeup artist, as well as set up trials with them both so you can plan your beauty look for the day. 
The final two months of your planning period will be all about making sure the big day actually comes together. 
When you hit the two-month mark, you should have your first dress fitting, get your marriage license, and create a song list for your band or DJ. Remember that list will have the first dance and father-daughter dance songs, so it’s good to mark those for the musicians.
At this phase, you should also start to plan your party favors for guests and send invitations for your rehearsal dinner. 
Your wedding party should definitely be invited to your rehearsal dinner, but if you can afford it, it’s nice to invite all out-of-town guests or host a cocktail hour for them.
“The reason you would invite them is that they traveled to be with you for your wedding, and you want to ensure that they are entertained during their stay,” Chertoff said. “But if it’s not within your budget to invite everyone to the dinner, it’s OK not to include them.”
This is also the time period to get gifts for the members of your wedding party, and, most importantly, send your wedding invitations. 
The invitation should list the location, time of the wedding, and include a deadline to RSVP a month before the event. It shouldn’t have a link to your registry, though.
“It is not appropriate to include your wedding registry information on the wedding invitation or in the wedding invitation envelope,” Chertoff told Insider. “It can be viewed as though you’re expecting a wedding gift in exchange for their attendance at your wedding.”
You should invite everyone you’d want to be at the wedding, even if you know a loved one has a conflict and won’t be able to make it. The gesture of inviting them is important even if they can’t attend.
“They will formally RSVP that they cannot attend, and perhaps include a lovely note for you to have as a keepsake,” Chertoff said.
If you don’t hear back from guests by the RSVP date, it’s appropriate to follow up with them.
“If you’re waiting to hear back from your guests, you can call, email, or text them asking what their reply is,” Chertoff told Insider. “Wait until you’re past the RSVP date since you gave them time to reply.”
Don’t be afraid to delegate through the process, as tracking people down can be time-consuming. “If the person or people you’re waiting to hear back from are friends or relatives of your parents, you can ask them to reach out and check in,” Chertoff said.
The wedding is mere weeks away at this point, so it will be time to write a lot of checks.
Your vendors have to be paid in full, you need to order your place cards so guests know where to sit, and you need to prepare your cash tips for day-of staff.
“It’s important to remember that these vendors are providing a service, and it is very customary to tip on services,” Cooper said of tipping wedding staff. Some vendors build tips into their contracts, but most don’t, so you should have envelopes filled with cash tips for staff.
“It’s important to make sure that you have those tip envelopes ready to go on the day of,” Cooper added.
Cooper recommends delegating the act of actually handing out the tips to a parent or member of the bridal party so you don’t have to worry about it at the wedding.
You should also make your seating chart a month in advance of the nuptials and set up your gift bags. 
Your wedding week will be busy, but you can stay calm if you’re prepared.
A lot of the week will be dedicated to beauty, from a final outfit fitting to a hair touch-up. You’ll also want to pick out your jewelry for the wedding day and clean your rings.
And if you and your partner are planning to exchange notes on the wedding day, make sure you write them sometime in the week before the event. 
The wedding is, of course, the main event, but it’s important to think about what you’ll do after the guests leave.
You need to pack a bag for your honeymoon, as well as a separate, smaller piece of luggage for the wedding night itself. 
You’ll need an outfit to change into after the wedding, a toothbrush, and it’s probably smart to include a few first-aid items and a phone charger, too.
The planning will all be worth it when your vision finally comes together. 
(And if this sounds too hard, remember you can always elope.)

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