Happy New Year! Did you get engaged recently? Let us add to the chorus of congratulations! You’ve started a new chapter and are over the moon as you and your partner begin planning your dream wedding. Yet, amidst the celebration, you might feel uncertain about where to start. Your guest list? A gorgeous color palette? The food and beverage menu?
There’s no need to figure it out on your own! We asked a handful of industry experts for their best advice for newly engaged couples — and their answers might surprise you! Here’s what they had to say.
Start with your values
Though jumping right into drinks and decor can be fun, you’ll want to consider what you and your partner are looking for from your big day. That way, you can set meaningful priorities accordingly, as recommended by Mary Angelini of Key Moment Films.
“As you begin planning your wedding and your future together, it’s important to understand each other’s values and priorities clearly,” Angelini states. “This helps ensure that your wedding reflects what’s most important to both of you. For example, is the invitation suite more important or having a high-quality cinematographer? Use an outline of your preferences as a guide to help you make tough decisions later in the wedding planning process.”
Determining what type of wedding you want and what will make you both happy is vital to a smooth wedding planning experience!
Create a wedding website
A wedding website is a fantastic place to share details about your special day, your love story, and what you enjoy as a couple. Plus, platforms like Zola and The Knot make it easy to create a free website your loved ones can visit if they have questions!
“Start a wedding website where you can tell your story,” suggests Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings. “The great thing about those wedding websites is that you add as you go! So let your friends & family know the story as you build up to a wedding date and start wedding planning!”
Find a fun design, share details about your love story, and let friends and family know your site is available if they want information about your wedding (or just want to sneak a peek at your engagement photos!).
Get a jumpstart on your vows
The last thing you want is to wait until the night before you say “I do” to write your vows. This adds too much pressure to an already-full plate! That’s why Brian Franklin of Vows & Speeches encourages couples to get a head start on their vows.
“Working on your vows early gives you much more time to find the perfect words for these important moments (or get help),” Franklin assures. “Starting early also gives you time to practice — which makes spilling your guts about how much you love your fiancé in front of all your closest friends and family a lot easier! Too many couples wait until the last minute, which creates a lot of needless anxiety.”
Of course, it doesn’t need to become a marathon writing session. Instead, consider creating a note on your phone to store ideas for your vows. You never know when inspiration will strike!
Soak it all in
Wedding planning can get stressful, but it’s also a special time to grow closer to your partner and have fun making decisions together. So amidst the timelines and contracts, don’t forget to soak it in and keep your love at the center! (Isn’t that why you’re here?)
“Enjoy the moment,” reminds Shannon Tarrant of WeddingVenueMap.com. “As soon as you announce you’re engaged, the wedding planning questions begin. It’s ok to wait a minute to enjoy taking this next step and being a fiancé for a bit before diving into the planning stage. Let people around you know when you’re going to start planning so they let you be for a little while.”
Julianne Smith of The Garter Girl agrees, emphasizing, “Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! This should be your number one post-engagement to-do! This is a very exciting time, and while it can be easy to get wrapped up in all the planning and the endless questions from well-meaning friends and family about a wedding date and whether you’ve picked a theme or not yet, make sure that you are taking time to be present in the engaged phase with yourself and your partner.”
Give yourself permission to enjoy your engagement (whether it’s a few days, weeks, or months!) before moving full force into wedding planning.
Don’t go overboard
Planning a wedding is a big deal — sometimes, it can feel like the sole focus of your schedule. However, to nurture your relationship and avoid becoming a big ball of stress, set aside time on your calendar regularly for non-wedding-related discussions.
“Choose a day of the week you aren’t allowed to discuss wedding plans and make it a date night,” suggests Wendy Kidd of Each & Every Detail. “Having a safe time where you can talk about everything else allows you to reconnect without the pressure of ‘what do you think about…’ or ‘have you done this yet?’. Remember, rest and relaxation during the process is important to make sure you are making sound decisions and not choices under duress!”
Knowing that your wedding and its planning timeline are only temporary will help you avoid neglecting other aspects of your life and relationship. Remember: Your love matters most!
Lay the foundation for your marriage
Themes, venues, entertainment — wedding day decisions can feel endless. But before you move into the details, you and your partner must discuss what’s truly important to you.
“As an old timer, I can’t stress how important it is for engaged couples to discuss finances, children, and their future goals before planning the wedding,” advises Joan Wyndrum O’Hear of Blooms By The Box. “Getting caught up in the moment is easy, but marriage is a lifelong journey. The beginning of a healthy, happy relationship is not to avoid conversations or fear disagreements but to listen to each other and sometimes compromise. Having these discussions will lead to a happier future.”
Understanding who you are as individuals and the kind of life you want to build will make your big day much more special!
Work on your guest list
Before deciding on a venue or vendors, you must have an anticipated headcount. It doesn’t need to be precise, but a ballpark estimate will help you make the best decisions for your wedding. So before signing any dotted lines, prioritize your guest list and consider who you want with you on your big day.
Jeri Solomon, co-author of Guide to Smart Wedding Planning, recommends “building two guest lists. The first list is the Wish List. That’s everyone you (and your parents if they are part of the process) want to have. The second list is the Non-Negotiable List. This one is for everyone you must have, either because it is a requirement or they are part of your inner circle and you can’t imagine a wedding without them there. Having those two lists will then inform your budget and venue choices.”
Though it’s not as glamorous, determining your guest list will allow you to choose vendors that can best bring your vision to life.
Set your budget
Let’s not sugarcoat it — weddings often carry a hefty price tag. So, before you get creative, start with the numbers and map out your top priorities so you don’t drain your bank account. Nobody wants to start married life with debt!
As Renée Sabo of Urban Soirée notes, “creating a realistic budget and funding sources for your wedding is the utmost important thing you can do before signing a contract for a venue or vendor. Be sure to dedicate some time to researching the market and average pricing for the location and style of wedding you are hoping to have, then create a budget and spending plan that will work with your funds!”
Having a concrete number in mind will save you time, allowing you to quickly eliminate vendors that simply don’t fit the bill. That’s not to say you can’t adjust your budget at a later time, but setting a benchmark will make early vendor decisions much more manageable!
Talk to your family
Your first order of business when you get engaged might not seem like a family discussion, but talking to those involved in your special day is something you’ll want to add to your list. So sit down with your parents and future in-laws to learn more about their expectations and involvement.
“Having a wedding talk with your parents is something most couples avoid because it’s uncomfortable,” shares Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events. “But, having a sit down with your parents is important, especially if your parents are helping you to pay for the wedding. This discussion allows you to voice your opinions and reach an agreement before the planning begins. If you don’t, you’ll end up in a conflict because you are not on the same page, which can lead to fighting, stress, and strained relationships.”
Getting your thoughts and feelings out in the open is a great way to start your wedding planning process on the same page as those you love!
Don’t wait on your invites
Wedding invites are typically sent out six to eight weeks before your celebration, but if you’re working on a shorter timeline, it doesn’t hurt to get ahead of the curve. In fact, having more time to send invites to your wish list ensures you’ll have more loved ones there to celebrate.
“Send out invitations early enough to allow time to invite the alternates based on the average of 15-20% who decline — order extra invitations to allow for this,” suggests Betsy Scott of The Hill. “If you have to order extra invites once printed, it is usually far more costly than ordering those extras as an insurance policy.”
Having an extra handful of invites (especially one that’s untouched for your wedding suite photos!) will provide peace of mind knowing everyone on both lists will receive their invitation.
Create a top three
It’s easy to write down every dream you have for your wedding day. But sometimes, a long list of priorities makes planning much more complicated. So instead of working through a laundry list of ideas, narrow it down to the top three priorities for you and your partner.
As Jacqueline Vizcaino of Tinted Events Design and Planningadvises, “list the top three items you cannot live without and the top three items that are unimportant to you. Compare notes and those top categories that align; you know those will be the most important to get on the radar first.”
Creating a solid list will guide your planning process, ensuring you and your partner don’t lose sight of what’s most important to you.
The time you spend as an engaged couple will go by quickly, so remember what you value and know your wedding day will be special no matter your decisions. You’re starting your life as a married couple, and your love is what will take center stage. So enjoy the moment, prioritize your relationship, and soak it all in!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.