Step 1: Plan your budget
Really this leads onto all the other decisions in the planning process, so it's important to sit down early on and have an open and honest discussion about your finances. How much can you afford to spend and what will you be able to save over the months to come? Think about ways of saving a little extra here and there - do you need that second Starbucks coffee? It may seem like a little at the time but by the end you will have put away a considerable sum. If your parents are offering to pay for some of the wedding then it's useful to sit down with them too and factor in any contribution. This is a perhaps not done as often these days so make sure you are appreciative of any help they can give, but be frank about their expectations and if they want an input on your plans because of their donation.
Step 2: Find your perfect wedding venue
As soon as you have an idea of your budget, the next step is choosing your venue. Unless you plan on marrying on a specific date which has some significance to you, your venue will often determine the wedding date, as well as the location and maximum number of guests too. This is why choosing your venue is so important as it can impact on a lot of other things.
Before you start searching, it's useful to sit down together (this is going to become a common theme!) and decide what you both want from the wedding. If one of you wants a fairytale style castle and the other a rustic barn type venue, you're going to have to reach some sort of compromise. It's also worth noting some other factors too, such as if there is accommodation provided for key guests, whether you can use an outside catering company and how many evening guests they can cater for.
Step 3: Wedding insurance
This part is often overlooked but its worth noting that the average wedding in the UK costs around £27,000. This may seem like an extraordinary amount of money but as soon as you start adding up the larger costs like the venue, food and drink, the dress and lots of the other wedding essentials you'll soon see how it's all too easy to get to such a high figure.
While no one wants to think about what may go wrong, there are many companies and even big department stores offering great value wedding insurance. Look to take out a policy as soon as you start to spend money on the wedding to ensure you have complete peace of mind.
Step 4: Choose your bridal party
Some people instantly know who their maid of honour, bridesmaids, best man, ushers, flowergirls and pageboys will be, while others take a long time to decide. If you do know then great! If not don't feel you need to rush into the decision, as they should all be people you really trust to support you both on your special day. Don't forget to consider the cost too, as you will have to decide whether to buy their dresses and suits or ask them to provide their own. Having a larger bridal party can therefore have a sizeable impact on your budget.
Step 5: Plan your wedding guest list
Guest lists are always a tricky one but you'll have probably already thought about it long before you started to put it onto paper. Hopefully you'll have an idea of the key people you want to invite so it may just be a case of deciding who to have during the day as opposed to just in the evening. Once you have a rough idea you can then try and sort out the delicate issues of plus ones and children etc.
Your venue will determine your maximum guest numbers and once the cost of the venue has been allocated from your budget, you can then work out how much the catering will cost per head and use this as a way of working out the numbers. Sometimes it's best to start with all of the people you want to invite and then work on cutting down the list if necessary.
Step 6: Choose your wedding suppliers
Many venues will have a list of recommended suppliers as a starting point, but it's important not to be too dependent on these. Some suppliers can pay to be on these lists so they are not necessarily representative of the venue and certainly won't always be the 'style' you are looking for! Try to have an open mind and look at all the options and services offered before committing to paying deposits, which are often not refundable if you change your mind.
It's always a good idea to sit down and meet with some of the key suppliers to get a real idea of how they work and their business ethic. Be sensible with your budget but if something really 'wow's you and you feel the extra benefit is justified then don't be afraid to indulge a little extra.
Step 7: Order your dress
Possibly one of the most emotional and exciting parts of the wedding planning process, your wedding dress decision should not be taken too lightly as it can go such a long way to making you really feel the part. Bring friends and family along and check out lots of local bridal shops to get a real sense of what there is available and what you think suits you best. Remember that designer gowns can take up to 6 months to make so leave yourself plenty of time to find the right dress and know you can always have it altered nearer the time.
Be a little wary of buying a dress online that you have never seen in person, as photos, descriptions and sizing can be wildly different, and delivery times can mean you are left to the last minute for it to arrive, if at all!
Step 8: Create your wedding gift list
Very popular in the States but it can have its place in the UK too, a wedding gift list takes the stress out of deciding what to get you as a guest. This is something to work out before sending invitations. It may feel strange but it will make the whole thing easier, as people will invariably want to give you something as a gift.
Thinking outside the box maybe you would prefer to set up a honeymoon fund instead, this is now becoming a very popular way of being able to afford some small upgrades or even change what you do entirely.
Step 9: Send your wedding stationary
Whilst you may have already told everyone you know about your upcoming marriage, it's now time to make it official and send out invitations. About 3-6 months before the wedding is a good time frame but beforehand you can always decide on a design and plan out your stationary if you like! Making them yourself is a great way to save a little money and give them that personal touch.
So your guests have as much notice as possible, many people send 'save the dates' to initially announce the wedding with the promise of an 'official invitation to follow'.
Step 10: Book your honeymoon
For many this is the fun part of planning the wedding as you're basically organising the holiday of your dreams! If you have budgeted for the honeymoon then you can book right away, or you may be using a 'honeymoon fund' as your gift list to help subsidise it. If you're still feeling conscious about your finances then consider going on a minimoon instead. This gives you both a little break after the wedding to relax and enjoy your newly married status. When you get back you can then spend time saving for a larger trip which will act as your official honeymoon.
Step 11: Collect RSVPs and work out a table plan
The invitations have been sent and hopefully you'll have received most of them back. Even though you set a deadline be prepared to chase up the last couple of people. Once you have your final number count it's time to start working on a table plan for the wedding meal.
It may be an idea to split everyone into a family group and a friends group before juggling everyone around to find the best place for them all. Remember as well that some people may benefit from easier access into or out of the room, such as those with small children or elderly guests who may have wheelchairs or other aids. Having these people nearer to doors or with an easy passage to them may be useful. You can then get creative and come up with a great way of displaying your table plan at your venue.
Step 12: Arrange stag and hen nights
This is where the bridesmaids and groomsmen can really get involved, and hopefully they have set up some awesome parties and events for you both to enjoy before the wedding. Make sure there is nothing extra you need to prepare for beforehand such as packing or paying for anything so you can factor this into your budgets and plans.
Step 13: The final touches
Now the main parts of the wedding are taken care of, planned and paid for, it's time to think about the smaller parts and the final flourishes. Think about the key songs during the day, readings during the ceremony, who will be giving a speech and thank you gifts for those key people who really played a part in the planning process. This is also a time to utilise anything leftover in the budget - perhaps some extra decor for the reception or upgrades with some suppliers if you like.
Despite all this hard work, don't forget to find the time to do something non-wedding related in the lead up as well. Take time away together and do something special. Have a little weekend away, go for a walk, keep up you fitness regimes or read that book you've been meaning to for ages.
If you've reached step 6 and are on the hunt for a wedding photographer, don't forget to consider me as well! Take a look at my coverage options and get in touch for a chat.
Informative posts about weddings and related things, as well as general photography stuff.