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!
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.
2. Find the venue that best fits your vision!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vendors to consider: eGolden Moments (Photo and Video)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
|REAL FLOWERS||FAKE FLOWERS|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hair and Makeup
If you feel confident with the way you look, it will show in pictures.
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.
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.
Cake and Catering
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.
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.
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!
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?
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 email@example.com.
Thank you so much to all the brides and vendors who took the time to answer my questions!
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