According to the experts, the holidays are the most popular time of year to get engaged…which means that many of you are probably reading this with a beautiful new ring on your finger and one big question in mind: what do we do next?
I got engaged on Dec. 20, 2011 (five days before Christmas and my birthday), and I remember all the excitement of sharing our news and showing off the ring throughout the holiday season. I also remember feeling totally lost once January hit, wondering what I should be doing to actually start planning the wedding.
For all the new brides-to-be (because let’s face it, your fiancé will be looking to you for direction), here’s a helpful cheat sheet to get you started.
1. Set a date
It sounds easy, but it’s not. In most cases, it’s less about “picking” a date, and more about being told which date your dream venue is available.
Part of the challenge of getting engaged at Christmas is that most popular venues are already booked for the upcoming spring/summer/fall season. If you are looking for a short engagement, consider a March/April/May wedding in the spring, or a November/December winter wedding (all of which will be cheaper than a wedding during peak season). Otherwise, plan for an 18 – 22 month engagement period.
While you’ve probably been looking at reception venues for months already (in anticipation of the ring), you might not have considered how busy your church/temple/mosque or other place of worship is during wedding season. Remember to check in early if you are looking to have a religious ceremony, and ask for their availability on multiple dates and times during your desired month.
Coordinating a date that works for your venue, your place of worship and you is likely going to be the toughest part of planning your wedding, so have patience and get used to working the phones. Flexibility is key, and will go a long way in protecting your sanity.
2. Start dress shopping
After the ring, the most important detail is the dress and it’s one that needs immediate attention.
What brides-to-be might not know is that once you find the perfect dress, it takes about seven to eight months to manufacture it. Given that many brides want to take their time by visiting lots of boutiques with family and friends, to try on lots of dresses, this process needs to start early. 10-12 months before the wedding is ideal.
3. Research photographers and videographers
Wedding photographers and videographers book up FAST and are typically one of your most expensive budget items. Once you have an idea about the date, start reaching out to three or four companies that you like for their availability. Don’t be surprised if they are all booked. Make sure to have a back-up list – it’s completely normal to speak with 5-10 photographers before landing on one that you like, that has the date available and that you can afford.
4. Figure out a budget
This can be really difficult, especially if you are the first person in your family to get married in 20 years and no one has a clue about current pricing. The basic message is that weddings are expensive. A wedding limo service is more expensive than just booking a limo for a night out. A wedding cake is more expensive than a normal cake. Put the word “wedding” in front of anything and it is more expensive.
Since finances are personal and every couple is different, here are a few questions to consider when setting a budget:
Do we have a total dollar amount in mind that we want to spend?
If so, work backwards from that amount and allocate most of the money to the biggest line items in your budget: venue/catering, photographer/videographer, dress, rings, invitations, limo, cake, honeymoon. Start with a basic budget and adjust as you get deeper into the planning.
Will we be receiving help from family?
This is a tricky subject to raise with your family, but it’s one that is best discussed at the very beginning of planning. While contributions to the wedding fund are great, it doesn’t feel good to find out that more money is coming your way AFTER you’ve already taken a pass on your dream dress because it was just out of your budget.
In our culture, is it normal to receive cash gifts? What if we don’t make enough to cover our expenses?
When it comes to wedding gifts, in many cultures cash is king. This can be a great way to finance a wedding, but it’s not without risk. Be cautious when making assumptions about the average gift amount per couple. What if you’ve confirmed 300 people for a December wedding, a snow storm hits and only 280 people show? Will the other 20 still send gifts? Will you receive them in time to pay off the bill?
Planning a wedding can be a ton of fun (as well as a ton of work), and getting the basics right at the beginning can help to alleviate a lot of stress later on. Figure out these four items early, and the rest will be a piece of cake.