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Engaged? Use these 10 Essential Wedding Planning Tips

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bride and groom dancing at summer wedding reception in beautiful wedding venueFrom the moment couples announce their engagement, the advice starts coming in (and never seems to stop). Suddenly, everyone has an idea for your wedding—and there are a million ways to use all that advice. When it comes down to it, though, you don’t need all that wedding advice (good news!), just a few basic tips that can guide planning the special day of your dreams.

Don’t procrastinate.

Wedding planning can be a lot less stressful by checking off a few of the wedding planning tasks now (here are the first few wedding planning tasks to get you started). As an extra bonus, booking the right wedding venue and vendors guarantees that you get the site, caterer, and photographer that you want. As you start planning, don’t feel that you need to have an exact wedding date. It can be easier to get the venue and vendors you want if you are flexible about dates (“what dates are you available?”) and only have a month or season in mind (use these tips to choose the right wedding date).

Stay organized.

We’re not going to lie: there are a lot of steps to wedding planning. It can be overwhelming—and completely doable if you stay organized. Use this wedding planning checklist and these tips to stay on top of your wedding planning. If family or friends ask to help, give them a deadline to ensure that the task is done and checked off the list.

If hiring a wedding planner, choose the right level of wedding planning.

Most couples assume that a wedding planner is a one-size-fits-all service that completely takes over. In reality, there are full-service wedding planners that can attend to every detail and part-time planners that can assist throughout the process. Decide which type of planning fits your wedding and your lifestyle early in the process and add it to your to-do list (or criteria for your wedding venue). This can help you decide between two planners or venues (some venues offer on-staff wedding planners that are intimately familiar with the venue and local vendors).

Select your venue carefully.

There are a lot of big wedding planning decisions; one of the biggest is the wedding venue because it dictates all the other wedding day details. The best piece of wedding planning advice: consider your options for a wedding venue carefully. Use this wedding venue checklist and these questions to select the best wedding venue for your special day. Don’t choose a wedding venue until you’ve seen it; online photos can be misleading. Schedule a tour (or ask a family member or planner if you can’t) to ensure that the wedding venue is the right one.

Let everyone know that you have a favorite vendor.

Assumptions are the enemy during wedding planning; don’t assume you can bring in your favorite caterer or décor caterer you would love to use. Make sure you ask the venue if they have an open vendor policy, which allows couples to bring in their preferred vendors. If hiring a wedding planner, let them know right away that you have a vendor in mind so they can factor that into the planning process.

Draft a guest list early in the process.

As you go through the wedding planning process, you’ll find that two key points keep coming up: date and amount of guests. While you don’t have to get a final guest list nailed down, it does make cents (pun intended) to set an estimated guest list. As you plan, decide whether you want an adults-only wedding or a kids included guest list. This simple step can help you as you make key wedding planning decisions—and save you from heartache. You don’t want to fall in love with a wedding venue that doesn’t have enough room for your guests.

Make guest comfort a priority.

Your big day is all about you, but the people you want to join you celebrating should be a focus too. Keep your guests in mind as you plan. Choose a venue with enough space and all the amenities that your guests appreciate. Little things matter, like a venue with convenient parking and transportation so guests don’t have to tramp for miles to your big day. An open-bar policy can also be a touchy subject for guests; decide early what your preference is and communicate the specifics on your wedding website. You’d be surprised too how those little things can stick with you; the smallest details, like a late-night food course, can be the detail that guests talk about for years.

Decide on a budget ASAP.

A wedding budget should not be an afterthought. Have a conversation with your significant other and anyone else that has expressed an interest in contributing to your big day. (As long as you are opening the lines of communication, discuss these key points before you delve into wedding planning.) Decide on a wedding budget (this wedding budget checklist can help) and be open about issues that may arise, such as credit problems or credit card limits.

Pack an emergency wedding kit for your big day.

An emergency wedding kit may seem like a small detail, but one with big implications. Make sure you pack these wedding essentials for those “just in case” situations, such as bad weather, a rip or tear, or any other unpleasant problems that come up. In your wedding kit, too, plan on putting payments for vendors and any last-minute items you need for the day (use this list of wedding kit essentials).

Enjoy yourself.

A wedding is a celebration. Enjoy it—and the process to get to your big day! When you feel overwhelmed, use these tips for de-stressing or spend some time relaxing with these de-stressing ideas. Once all the planning is over, take a deep breath and use these last-minute preps to ensure that you are enjoying every moment of the biggest day of your life.

Wedding Planning Guide: What is the first step in planning a wedding?

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wedding day at a reception hall with bride and groom dancing after wedding planningYour significant other popped the question! Congrats! Once the glow of the proposal has worn off, it’s time to face the enormous task of wedding planning. While this wedding planning checklist from Real Simple can get you through the next few months (or years), we’ve given you a wedding planning guide that can get you started with the first step, talking to your partner, and can take you step-by-step from there.

Before you shop for wedding dresses or decide on flowers, sit down and talk to your future husband or wife (then follow the next steps in our wedding planning guide). A simple conversation now can give your wedding planning direction and guide you as select and finalize all the wedding day details.

Location

Where would you like to get married? Decide together whether your home town, current city, lake home, alma mater, or favorite vacation spot is your ideal place to get married. Once you’ve narrowed down the city, state, and country, start thinking about what you want and need in your wedding venue.

Next wedding planning step: Use this list of criteria to narrow down your choices for wedding venue; the next step is to contact potential wedding venues and ask them these important questions.

Date

You don’t have to select the exact wedding date, but it is helpful to narrow down your options to a month or season. If there is some flexibility on date but not on budget, ask the wedding venue for an evening weekday or Sunday morning (for brunch!); many venues give discounted rates for off-peak days.

Next wedding planning step: Use this guide to decide on a wedding date you both are excited about. Contact wedding venues and ask if the date is available. If there is some flexibility on date, ask the wedding venue for open dates during the desired season or month.

Guest List

You and your spouse-to-be don’t have to come up with an exact wedding list, but start talking about whether you want a big wedding or a smaller, more intimate affair. An idea of the guest count is also helpful when choosing the right wedding venue, which shouldn’t be too big or too small.

Next wedding planning step: Use these steps to set a wedding guest list. A final guest list can give you general numbers to give to the caterer and vendors for linen rental and centerpieces.

Budget

This is a very important part of the initial wedding planning conversation. Decide how much you want to spend on your wedding day, and where the funds are coming from.

Next wedding planning step: Contact any friends or family members that have expressed an interest in helping pay for the wedding day. Make sure you get a clear answer (not just “we can cover dinner”) to minimize any disagreements later.

Style

Every couple has their own style and vision for the wedding day. Do you want a formal, elegant wedding day? Or a day with a historic style? Is a rustic wedding more your style? As you discuss the big picture, be sure to ask if there is anything really important that either of you really want on their big day. Your spouse-to-be’s answer may surprise you.

Next wedding planning step: Take your desired style and run with it as you coordinate the details of your desire wedding atmosphere. Use the style to find wedding venues and attire, and to set a delicious wedding menu.

Time

Wedding planning can be a monumental task. Discuss the amount of time you both have to allocate to planning your special day. Be realistic; a good wedding planner can be a huge help when your time is small.

Next wedding planning step: If you need a wedding planner, get recommendations from friends or add it to your list of wedding venue criteria. Many venues have a wedding planner on staff who is intimately familiar with the site and local vendors. If DIY wedding planning is the choice, ask friends or family for their help; give them specific tasks and deadlines to eliminate any misunderstandings later.

7 Ways to Minimize the Wedding Planning Drama

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wedding figures for top of cake after wedding budget planningWedding planning can bring out the worst in anyone (anyone!). We’re not sure what it is that stirs up the emotions; if it’s the budget, stress, or just the enormity of the occasion (or a combination of all three), somehow wedding planning can bring out hurt feelings, heated exchanges, and its fair share of anger. As event planners who assist couples with wedding planning, we’ve seen the tears and heard the tales. Unfortunately, some couples can’t seem to avoid the family and friend drama that accompanies wedding planning. However, there are ways to keep the drama minimal so you can plan and enjoy the process (and the actual day!).

Have the necessary conversations early.

To make sure you are on the same page, start having those necessary conversations early—especially with your fiance so you are in agreement on the big details! Don’t avoid discussions (even the difficult ones) with family and friends who are vested in your big day. Talk to family members who have expressed an interest in helping out (financially or otherwise). Ask what their expectations are, such as the budget for the item they are offering to pay for or the deadline for a task they are helping with. Likewise, be open about major decisions, like who is walking you down the aisle, the number of guests they can add to the list, or the names listed on the invitation. A simple conversation can minimize angst later—and (hopefully) keep you on good terms until your big day.

Organize, organize, organize.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed; realize that same feeling can lead to negative reactions when you are in the middle of wedding planning. Use a wedding planning checklist or app to help keep you on track during the process and organize all documents in one place so you can easily find vendor names and contact information when needed (use these other tips for organized wedding planning to keep on top of it all). If it all gets to be too much, don’t hesitate to hire a wedding planner.

De-stress.

Unfortunately, stress and wedding planning seem to go hand in hand. Throughout the wedding planning process, step away from it all to de-stress. Have special nights out with your fiancé to reconnect, and designated nights with friends to relax. (We’ve listed a few local wedding planning de-stressing activities here.) When you take a day or night to de-stress, try (it can be really hard!) to not talk about wedding planning.

Unplug.

Electronics are a necessary part of daily living, but they can also add to the stress—especially when everyone is continuously contacting you about the wedding! Take some time to unplug, whether it’s at the spa, concert, or for a weekend of camping. Come back from your “unplugged” time refreshed and ready to tackle the next wedding planning task.

Don’t be afraid to consult the experts.

It’s natural to receive A LOT of advice during wedding planning. We mean A LOT. Everyone has an opinion, and they’re not afraid to voice it. “Go here….” “Are you sure you want to do that…” “We did….” All the advice can make you want to scream (or elope!). Be patient with the advice; it’s part of the process. Remember, also, that all that advice, however well-meaning as it is, may not be correct. Don’t hesitate to contact the professionals for recommendations and advice. (Use these tips for hiring reliable, professional vendors.) You hired your wedding venue coordinator, DJ, caterer, and photographer for a good reason; don’t be afraid to lean on their expertise.

Make it a team effort.

If you need help, ask for it. Remember, though, to be realistic about it! Your best friend probably can’t get that huge task done in a weekend, and your friends may not produce Pinterest-worthy DIY projects. If you do trust a friend or family member with a huge wedding planning task, be clear about the deadlines and expectations. If you don’t think that person can meet either of those, bring in the professionals so you don’t end up with hurt feelings and angry texts.

Keep the lines of communication open.

As you schedule and make plans, send out communications about the plans to everyone so no one feels left out. Send out wedding schedules to the whole wedding party. If you do have a detail that might miff family members, make sure you and your fiancé are on the same page to avoid bickering and family drama.

How can I find the perfect wedding venue?

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bride and groom dancing at summer wedding reception in beautiful wedding venue

You’ve read all about how important a wedding venue is in wedding planning. You’re convinced. You’ve printed off the wedding venue checklist so you can find the right site for your wedding. Bring on the wedding venue tours.

But where do you start? How do you find the right wedding venue in your area?

Here’s where the wedding venue search doesn’t start

The search for the right wedding venue doesn’t start with calls to venues or getting out your calendar. Before you contact any venues, sit down with your fiancé, and any family or friends who are interested in investing in your big day. You’ll need to set these important points in stone for your wedding venue search:

  • Budget. What is your overall wedding budget? What is your budget for your wedding venue? Who is paying for what expense?
  • Date. You don’t have to the exact day and month to start your venue search, but you should have a general idea of the time of the year (use these tips to choose your perfect wedding date). For example, if you want a fall wedding, ask what dates are available for months of September and October.
  • Location. Consider what area suits your guests and you as a couple. Then take your planning a step further. Consider not only the geographical setting of your ceremony and distance to your reception site, but also the geography of your guests. If you have guests coming from out of town, consider a venue close to a hotel. If you’re having your ceremony and reception at the same place, consider the location of each event. Is there enough room for each? Will your guests need to wait for break down and set up? Visit your ideal venue to get your questions answered and a tour of the reception hall, ceremony site and dressing rooms.
  • Style. Do you want a rustic wedding? An elegant ball? A vintage wedding in a historic wedding venue with lot of architectural detail?
  • Guest list. Again, you don’t have to have the final guest list set in stone on your first day of planning, but you should have a general idea of your guest count. You’ll need this number to weed out venues that are too small (both for the safety and comfort of your guests).
  • Handicap accessibility. If you have a friend or family member that needs special accommodations, make sure you know this up front. Ask every venue if they are accessible for all your guests.

How to find the right wedding venue

  • Let your fingers do the walking. Use your favorite search engine to look for wedding venues that fit your criteria. Once you have a list, call or e-mail each wedding venue with this list of wedding venue questions. Ask the venue if they have your date available (or what dates are available during your chosen time of the year), how many guests they can accommodate, the cost (what is included and how long that covers), if there are any extra fees, and these other wedding venue questions. If you find your wedding venue on the internet, don’t skimp on your wedding venue tour. See the venue in person to make sure that the venue fits with what you saw on their website or social media.
  • Ask friends and family. Have a friend whose entire social calendar is weddings? Do you have a family member who always is headed to the next wedding? Ask them about wedding venues they’ve visited that really stood out. From there, narrow down your options by contacting the venues and finding out which venues fit your criteria.
  • Contact your favorite vendors. If you booked your videographer, DJ, band, or caterer already, ask them if they’ve worked at a venue (in your preferred style) that was really incredible. Remember, some venues require that you use a certain caterer. If you want to bring in your favorite caterer, ask the venue if they have an open vendor policy that allows you to bring in the caterer of your choice.