You’re Engaged! What’s Next?

The Complete Guide to Wedding Planning

YAYYY you're engaged!

You've probably been waiting for this moment for the last few years, if not longer! Now you have a pretty new ring and you're wondering how to even go about wedding planning.

Hi, I'm Elizabeth. I'm a Kansas City Wedding Photographer who just celebrated my special day in October 2018. I made a lot of mistakes while wedding planning. A LOT.

I'm in a unique position, being in the wedding industry and getting married recently, so I wanted to write a little thing about all the mistakes I made while wedding planning and how to avoid them. I also want to break down each type of vendor you'll need to hire and what to look for.

Additionally, I talked to 10+ of my brides and preferred vendors to get their input on various part of the day and mistakes that can be made. If you don't take my word for it, be on the lookout for this completely true advice from REAL brides who have also been through what you are currently experiencing!

Without further ado, here is your complete guide to wedding planning!

Havana Room Kansas City wedding

1. Decide on your mood board!

If you're like the majority of brides, you've been pinning away for years. It's time to get serious with those pins.

If you take nothing else away from this section, remember this! DO NOT LET ANYONE SEE YOUR BOARD UNTIL YOU ARE READY! As soon as my fiance put the ring on my finger, I had a full team of people telling me what to do. I had my mom, a maid of honor, a wedding planner, and a florist all pinning for me within the first month and it stressed me the hell out. My biggest mistake was asking these people to help before I had a clear understanding of my personal wedding style.

Once I started planning, I was shocked by how many decisions I had to make in such a short amount of time and I hated it. I thought passing the decisions off to a wedding planner would ease my mind, but it didn't. I wound up confused and wayyyy tooooo stressed out for the majority of my engagement.

It wasn't until April when I realized I hated the wedding I was planning. I had been engaged for a year at this point, so I decided to go for it and start planning MY wedding.

Cedar Valley Forest wedding venue in Kansas

2. Find the venue that best fits your vision!

"When picking my venue, I was really looking for something that fit the whole image of my wedding, I knew the theme I was wanting and looked at venues that would match. I was also trying to find a place that wouldn’t completely blow my budget."

Bride 8.11.18

After you decide on your vision for the day, you must find a venue that matches! If you have pinned a fairy tale ballroom wedding, you probably don't want to look at a rustic barn.

Pro tips for finding a venue:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Don't even view a venue outside of your budget. Did you know venues can range from $500 to more than $10,000? The average venue in Kansas City is around $5k.
  • What do you want included? A lot of venues will take care of set up and cleanup for you. Others will charge additional. Some venues will include tables and chairs. Others will only give you the room. Some require you to use their vendors or have a closed catering policy. If you have your heart set on a specific vendor or caterer, make sure your venue allows it.
  • Location is important! When I was planning my wedding, I fell in love with my venue which happened to be 40 minutes away. My family was not happy about it. Even if the venue is perfect, take into consideration some of the logistic issues. Do your relatives feel comfortable driving there? Are there hotels nearby? Is it close to the airport if you have out of town family coming in?
  • Look for tons of natural light and a large getting ready room!
Kansas City Wedding Photographer

3. Find your vendor dream team!

I say dream team because it's so important to find vendors who will work perfectly together to help you plan an amazing day!

Pro tips for building your team:


  • Ask friends or family for advice. Who did they hire and what would they change if given the chance?
  • Ask your venue for referrals. Chances are they have a team of vendors who are already familiar with the space. That being said, just because someone has not worked at your venue does not mean they won't do a good job.
  • Search online. When I was wedding planning, my favorite resource was The Knot. The vendors tend to be more quality than other online directories. Whatever you do, DO NOT POST ON FACEBOOK SWAP SHOPS LOOKING FOR VENDORS! You will be bombarded with vendors and will quickly get overwhelmed. No one needs that many messages.

Kansas City Wedding Photographer


One of the first vendors you will want to book is your photographer. Since photographers tend to book up 12-15 months in advance, it's important to get on that as soon as you have your date.

"Since we did a low budget wedding (under 10K and paying it ourselves), I wanted to invest in our photography. I also had siblings get married before me and I wasn't impressed with their images. I wanted to make sure i had images I would love to look back on and proudly display in our home."

Bride 6.16.18

Pro tips for hiring your photographer:

  • Budget! Budget is extremely important when hiring your photographer or you will get sticker shock after you inquire. Photographers range from $1000 to $6000 (maybe even higher in some areas), and the average photographer in Kansas City is around $3000. With photography, you get what you pay for. After your day is all said and done, all you will have left are your photos.
  • Style! I've actually written an entire article on hiring a photographer for style. Check it out here! Basically, make sure your photographer's style matches your vision. If you want candid shots, don't hire a photographer who focuses on poses. If you have a church wedding, don't hire a photographer who only likes to shoot outdoors.
  • Ask to see full weddings! When you're talking to a photographer, chances are they'll want to meet you before booking. When they do, ask if you can browse through a few full wedding galleries. This will give you an idea if their work actually is represented by their portfolio. Also ask if you can see a gallery from your venue or a similar venue to see how they do in the exact same lighting situation.

 "I wanted to make sure a professional wedding photographer captured my special day because those will last a lifetime. We did not have a videographer and we wish we did. We had one of my friends video tape the whole ceremony which was amazing but we got nothing for our reception."

Bride 11.4.18

If I were to do it all over again, I would have maxed out my photography budget. Going into it, I knew photography was my priority so I set a budget of $2500. I ended up spending $2800, but I should have spent more. Having incredible images is absolutely priceless.

I'm not saying this just because I happen to be a photographer; I'm saying this because it's completely true. Your wedding day happens once and you want to make sure there are no missed details.

 "I decided to invest in a great photographer because I wanted to have awesome pictures to look at forever!! I wasn’t originally planning on doing a videographer but ended up getting one, and I’m glad I did!!"

Bride 8.11.18

As for a videographer, I originally wasn't planning on getting one. I hate watching videos and thought I wouldn't care, but there are some things pictures can't capture. Pictures can't capture your vows or speeches, so having a video is incredibly important. I honestly can't tell you what my husband said in his vows and I have no idea what my maid of honor said during her speech. The emotions of the moments were captured in pictures, but you can't relive the words without a video. I really didn't even realize the value of having a videographer until after my wedding day, so I'm glad I added one at the last minute.

"I am investing HEAVILY in photography and videography. my 'original' budget was quickly filled with venue, photographers, and videographer. Being in the industry, I knew I wanted to capture EVERY moment of my day, regardless of how much it costs."

Crumbs And Confections

Vendors to consider: eGolden Moments (Photo and Video)

Kansas City Wedding Photographer

Wedding Planner

"My advice as to whether you’re on the fence about hiring a planner: meet with one or two of them. You’ll be truly amazed at what they can do for you."

Eleven Events And Planning

My couples constantly ask me if it's necessary to have a wedding planner. I always tell them no, but they sure do make your life a lot easier.

A wedding planner is not necessary if:

  • You have a friend or family member who offers to run the day. Keep in mind, they will not be able to be a guest during the reception.
  • You are psycho crazy organized and know exactly what you want. If you know what you want and how to make it happens, go for it!
  • You have someone who wants to decorate. If you haven't thought about how your place settings get there, it's time to start thinking. Most of the time, the planner oversees the tablescapes and overall decoration of your reception hall.

"I planned our entire wedding myself. We didn't have the budget for a planner, but I think overall everything went really well and I don't regret not having one. If I could do it again, I don't think I would hire a planner, but just a day of the event coordinator. I felt like I didn't have enough communication with everyone to really get EVERYTHING I wanted taken care of."

Bride 10.7.18

If you can't justify a wedding planner for your whole engagement, at least try to have a day of coordinator. You don't want to have to rely on a friend or family member to organize the day. You want them to have a great time and be a guest at your wedding! If they're organizing and planning, they're going to miss out on all the fun!

Pro tips for hiring a wedding planner:

  • Ask what their job entails. Do they help with setup and cleanup or will they only be there to organize the flow of the day?
  • What can they help you with before the wedding? Some planners will take care of paying vendors or creating your timeline.
  • Take a look at their personal style. Make sure their ideas match your own, so you don't worry about conflicting opinions.
  • Are they someone you would want to hang out with in the real world? You seriously spend more time on your wedding day with your planner and photographer, so make sure you like them.

"My number one piece of advice is ALWAYS trust your gut instinct on which wedding planner you hire if you are considering one - while that saying is often tossed around it’s so very true! Just like anything else people can talk, but their work ethic is in the day-to-day details. How is their branding? Can they help me to achieve my personal aesthetic, do they truly understand design, how much value do they bring into my life, do our personalities click, are they the right fit for me?"

TWINE Celebrations


Kansas City Wedding Photographer

Dress Shopping

"I ended up buying the 3rd dress I tried on! It was the first time I had gone dress shopping and I was really just looking around to get an idea. It felt like the right dress but I went to one other store to try on dresses just to see if I liked any others. My dress was exactly what I had envisioned!"

Bride 8.11.18

As a bride, I hated dress shopping. Shopping in general sucks and wedding dress shopping was the absolute worst. Because of this strong dislike for shopping, I decided to get my dress custom made. That eliminated the whole shopping problem, but it didn't eliminate the 'I have no idea what I want' problem.

I know I'm not a princess type bride and didn't want strapless, but I legitimately had never pictured what my wedding dress would look like. In order to get an idea, I went to a couple shops with my mom and maid of honor. Everyone had opinions and tried to convince me to get a dress that was totally not me. 

Looking back on it, I wish I enjoyed the experience more. Dress shopping should be fun and there's no reason you need to settle with the first store you visit. Look around a bit and just relax. This should be the most stress-free part of the wedding planning process.

"For me, looking for a dress was one of my biggest concerns. I did some research and found a bridal shop that specialized in plus size dresses. I went in there one Saturday, tried on three dresses and the fourth was the one that I decided on. I couldn't get over the fact that I found 'the one' on the first day!  The dress that I decided on didn't look like anything that I pinned to my Pinterest boards, but it was still perfect."

Bride 10.7.18

Pro tips for dress shopping:

  • Remember to order the dress 6-9 months before your wedding day. The majority of dresses will need alterations, so make sure you give yourself enough time.
  • Make sure you bring any shoes, jewelry, and undergarments you might plan to wear with your dress for the most accurate body measurements.
  • Try to limit your squad to one or two bridesmaids/family members. Too many opinions will only slow down the process.
  • Sleep on it. I knew I had found the perfect style for me when I couldn't stop thinking about that dress.
  • Dresses run small! They should seriously warn you about this wayyyy before you even think about dress shopping. And by small, I mean really small. When I first was measured for my dress, I was measured to be two sizes bigger than my normal pant size.

"I only went to one store. I knew what I was looking for, but when I tried on the second dress, I knew it was the one. I went in saying I didn't want a strapless dress but I end up getting strapless."

Bride 11.4.18

Although I never even considered this route, several of my 2018 brides ordered their dresses online. If you are completely opposed to shopping and want a more cost effective alternative, ordering online is something to consider.

"This will sound so risky but...I bought mine online. It worked, though, because they offer an option for you to send in your measurements and they will custom make it. I went with this option and the only thing that needed altered was the length, just a little, and I had a bustle added for the train."

Bride 8.10.18

However, if you are going to order online, be sure you do your research. Make sure you are ordering from a reputable company. It's also a good idea to make sure this company has a phone or email available, so you can communicate if any issues arise.

"The spotlight of dress shopping just wasn't for me, and I found myself unhappy with both the prices, the experience, and not loving any of the dresses. My only recommendation would be to try and communicate with the company first before you purchase anything just to make sure that you're able to reach them and that they understand what you want. Overall, I was very happy with the experience and loved my dress."

Bride 6.24.18

Vendors to consider: Natalie M, Savvy Bridal

Christmas tree farm wedding venue in Kansas


"The only real flowers I use were for my bridesmaids bouquets and mine. I hired a florist to do them. I had fake flowers for my reception. I love the way all my floral arrangements turn out."

Bride 11.4.18

When I first started thinking about my wedding, I knew I wanted fake flowers. I was never a huge flower person, but I needed to carry something down the aisle. I briefly considered carrying a puppy, but my family quickly vetoed that idea.

Well, a few months into my engagement, I was shown the difference between a real and fake bouquet. I couldn't get over how beautiful the real bouquet looked compared to the one with silk flowers. From that moment on, I knew I needed to increase my floral budget.

"I used fake flowers. I have a talented Aunt who created everything. I chose this route as I can display my bouquet year round if I want! It meant a lot to have my Aunt be a big part of our wedding."

Bride 6.16.18

That being said, I also didn't like the price tag that came with real flowers, so I opted to only have real flowers in areas where guests would notice and have fake flowers everywhere else.

Pros of using real flowers vs fake flowers:

Photographs better Cheaper
More natural looking Lasts a lifetime

If you are looking to cut costs, I would strongly suggest having real bouquets but have fake flowers everywhere else. I had real flowers on my arbor and down the aisle, but looking back, I would have opted to do less decorating at the ceremony location. My guests and the wedding party were outside for 15 minutes max, so there really was no point in stressing so much over ceremony decor.

"I used a florist for my flowers for the wedding. For my center pieces, I used just eucalyptus and bought single stems and had people arrange them in vases for all the tables. I chose this route for convenience. I loved my bouquet!! I showed my florist pictures of everything I wanted and she got it spot on."

Bride 8.11.18

Pro tips for floral planning:

  • Find a florist who can identify with your personal style.
  • Splurge for real flowers whenever possible.
  • Extremely light flowers will blend in with your white dress in pictures.
  • Take into consideration the season you are getting married. If you have your heart set on a specific flower but it is out of season, you will be paying way more than you normally would for that flower.
  • Give your florist creative freedom. Like everyone in the industry, your florist will work best if you trust them. I gave my florist the color scheme and general colors, but she handled the rest.

"Flowers are one of the most important things to me. I'm a very organic person, and we love the outdoors, so we're using lots of natural greenery and my bouquet is humongous. The guys bout's are a little more natural, nothing too florally."

Crumbs and Confections

Vendors to consider: Twisted Sisters Custom Floral, Bella Chic Floral

Kansas City Wedding Photographer


"I had always just assumed I would hire a DJ, but then a few months after we got engaged, we went to a wedding with a live band and it was amazing! I’m so glad we got a band because a lot of my family and some of our older guests weren’t interested in dancing but were still entertained by live music. It did add quite a bit more to our budget but it was a priority to me and it was worth it!"

Bride 10.20.18

Your DJ is arguably the most important part of your reception. They'll keep the party going and the music alive.

That being said, there are several alternatives to having a DJ these days. I've seen it where couples will appoint a friend with an iPod or even have a live band perform.

Personally, I hired a DJ. I didn't have any connections in the DJ industry, so I hired my guy based on a friend's recommendation. I've never been big on music or dancing, so I didn't want to spend a ton of money on keeping the party going when my husband and I aren't party people to begin with.

"We went with a professional DJ and I’m glad we did. He really helped the day go smoothly with announcements and was super friendly! Mostly I’m just glad I didn’t have to worry about someone I know not knowing how to hook up to a sound system."

Bride 11.10.18

If you aren't super hip and cool when it comes to music, make sure you have someone involved who knows what is going on because you will have to decide on A LOT of songs! Did you know there is a specific song for the cake cutting? This is something I definitely didn't think about until my DJ asked. If you aren't really into music, maybe ask a friend to be in charge of the playlist or hire a DJ who will take control of song choices based on your style.

"We ended up only using a playlist, and we loved it! We had guests of all ages up and dancing to the music, and have even had some requests for our wedding playlists. I definitely wouldn't have made any other decision because A) it worked perfectly, B) it was much more budget-friendly, and C) we now have a playlist of our own that we still replay to remember the day by."

Bride 6.24.18

Pro tips for finding your DJ/MC/Live Band:

  • Think about your personal style. Are you party people? If so, you probably want a DJ that will keep you dancing all night long. Are you not wanting a dance party? Maybe an iPod will do.
  • What equipment does your chosen music vendor bring? Most DJ's will come with all the lighting and sound equipment while others will only come with a laptop.
  • Pay attention to how he/she communicates. I cannot tell you how many times I had a DJ try to get me on the phone. Like most millennials, I much rather email or text.

"I had a personal recommendation for a DJ, and he was amazing. I think with something that is not concrete, it’s hard to 'see' their work like a photographer or florist. He was a great host and mix-master."

Bride 11.3.18

Kansas City wedding inspiration

Hair and Makeup

"My stylist doesn't do weddings, so I had someone at her shop do it. I loved it. Just make sure to do a test run to make sure your on the same page."

Bride 6.16.18

If you feel confident with the way you look, it will show in pictures.

"I hired my stylist and friend to do my hair. It looked nice, but my overall experience was less than ideal. If I could do anything different, I would hire a separate wedding hair vendor. Just because a personal relationship was impacted by it ."

Anonymous bride

Here are a couple common explanations for not hiring a pro that I hear:

I never wear makeup, so I don't want to look unnatural. That's totally understandable since I wear makeup MAYBE twice a year, but I was so happy with the way I looked in my wedding pictures. Because of my amazing stylist, I looked like the best version of myself.

I have a friend who is good at makeup. That makes sense, but keep in mind bridal makeup is different than everyday makeup. If your artist goes too hard on the contouring, you will have lines on your face in pictures and no one wants that. If you have a friend who is properly trained in makeup, definitely go for it, but if they just happen to be talented and not a professional, it may show in pictures.

"Always do a test run! Especially if you haven't worked with that person before. And book early. I booked my MUA over a year out because she had other inquiries for my date already! And remember, more for makeup than hair, use someone licensed. The last thing you want on your honeymoon is an infection because they didn't clean their brushes. "

Crumbs and Confections

Pro tips for hiring your hair and makeup artist:

  • Keep in mind that not every beauty artist will do both hair and makeup. Some only do hair or makeup, so take into consideration if you need to hire one or two vendors.
  • How big is your wedding party? If you have a large party, you will most likely need two people there or getting ready will eat away your entire day.
  • Do they include a trial? You always want a trial! The trial will allow you to see how your ideas look in real life. If you wait until the wedding day, you could waste hours having everything redone because it's not as you imagined.

"As a hairstylist & makeup artist, I would recommend finding a vendor that you click with personality wise & one that understands your personal style. Asking the vendor what they will need at the venue is helpful as well. Most stylists will bring all the tools they will need. Most makeup artists will bring extra lighting just in case."

Studio A Salon

Vendors to consider: Studio A Salon, Roxstar Style

Cake by Next Level Cakery in Olathe

Cake and Catering

"I am doing a mix of cake and cupcakes, I hired a professional for those. My family and I will be making all of the food and mints other than that though. I know it will be time consuming but my family is so helpful and it’s going to save so much money!"

Future Bride

So when it came to priorities for me, food was on the top of that list. But, not just any food! I had to have mac and cheese. Call me crazy, but that was my one request for food. The caterer I hired had to have amazing mac and cheese.

Even though I wasn't picky when it came to options (as long as they had mac and cheese), my caterer was the last vendor I hired. That was because no one else quite fit.

"I am hiring all professionals. We considered doing it ourselves, but the idea of my closest friends and family working on my wedding day didn't sit well. I made a promise to myself a LONG time ago that I would not make my own cake. I can see myself running out to mess with something in my wedding dress and let's be honest, I'm clumsy and messy sometimes. "

Crumbs and Confections

As someone who goes to a lot of weddings, I've tasted quite a few catered meals. I didn't want my wedding dinner to be just like everyone else's wedding! I wanted to be unique. True story, we seriously considered having Chipotle cater for the longest time.

When it came to cakes, we spent way too much money doing tastings. I do get why cake vendors charge for tastings, but it adds up. After almost $100 worth of tasting, we chose the one we chose simply because we were tired of tastings. She did a great job and everyone loved the dessert, but we mainly just wanted to be done with this part of planning.

In order to save a bit, we opted to order less cupcakes than we needed and bake some cookies to make up the difference. I was constantly warned about having the pressure of baking something for my own day, but it worked out great! It was a fun bonding time with my husband as well right before the big day.

Pro tips for hiring your baker/caterer:

  • Food is expensive, so decide in advance what percentage of your total budget should be dedicated to food. The average couple spends around $5,000 on food.
  • Keep in mind added tasting fees. Most vendors will not let you taste their food for free.
  • Cake stands and cake cutting sets are usually not included. Ask your food vendors what they bring and what you need to provide.

"Make sure your food vendor knows where their ingredients come from. I try and get most of my ingredients from local farmers. I have actually met with every farmer that I buy from and the process was a little extensive. I really care about my ingredients, for the obvious reasons. I want my product to be the best that it can possibly be."

Petals and Pastries

Vendors to consider: Katie's Catering, Crumbs and Confections

Kansas City Wedding Photographer

4. Plan the Best Wedding Ever!

Now that you have your dream team assembled, it's time to get all the details figured out! This part is fun because you have people you trust who care about making your day incredible.

Pro tips to keep in mind throughout your planning:

  • If a vendor does not respond to you in a timely manner while planning, they will likely annoy you on your wedding day.
  • If you have a bridesmaid who is adding to your stress, cut her loose before it's too late.
  • Communicate everything to your vendor team! Even if you assume something is implied, it never hurts to ask or specify. Examples: shot list with your photographer, shade of ribbon you want around your flowers.
  • Try to have fun and enjoy the process!
Kansas City wedding photography

5. Get Married

After it's all said and done, nothing else matters if you didn't get married. That's why you're putting yourself through all this craziness, right??

You go put on that pretty dress and marry the love of your life. Why focus on anything else?

"Don’t dwell on the minor details for you wedding day. (How to the fold napkins, what stamp to use for invitations, etc.), because at the end of the day, no one but you will notice them, and there are far more important things to spend your energy and time on."

Eleven Events and Planning
Kansas City Wedding Photographer

So, did you learn anything? What's your least favorite part of the whole planning process?

If you have any questions or need advice, you can always send a quick email to


Thank you so much to all the brides and vendors who took the time to answer my questions!


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Elizabeth is a Kansas City wedding photographer who specializes in bright and airy images.

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