I Just Got Engaged - Now What? How to Start Planning Your Wedding
The Big Picture - Three Words
Start with the big picture. As Stephen Covey says, "Begin with the end in mind." Think through if you have other goals beyond just getting married that day. Do you want there to be an overall theme? Do you want your guests to experience specific things while celebrating with you? Do you want there to be an aspect of impact?
Between magazines, professional services, and pinterest you can easily feel overwhelmed thinking what you want your wedding to look like simply because of the number of options and ideas. Take time at the beginning, if you have not done so already, to dream of what you want your day to look like. Look at pinterest, talk to friends, and look at magazines in order for you and your fiancé to narrow down your dream day into 3 - 5 words you want to describe your day. It will help you narrow choices, eliminating conflict if you and your fiancé are working towards the same goals. It will help you make decisions more efficiently from your types of flowers, bridesmaid dresses, cakes, to even the date you set.
If music is most important to you, you may want to avoid an outdoor wedding for lack of acoustics. If the menu for the evening is most important, you may need to narrow your guest list later if you are working within a budget. If pictures are most important, you will want to pick out a venue that will look best in them.
Start Your Guest List
This can seem like a hassle, but the sooner you start it the better you will be able to plan the rest of your wedding. As you make your list, make three columns for your guests: who you think will for sure be able to come, who you know will not be able to attend (but you will invite regardless), and who you are not sure if they can come or not. Most brides can expect 60-70% of their guest list to attend. Having the number of guests affects your venues (Do they have the capacity for the number you are expecting? Do they charge extra if your guests surpass a certain number?). It also affects costs for other major expenses, such as food.
Having a number from the beginning will help you know how to plan where to spend your money and know what venues will best accommodate your day.
Set the Date
After you have your 3 - 5 words you want to describe your wedding day, you can move forward to other details, such as setting the date. It's important to think of when you will have flexibility with work, school, or other responsibilities. You will want some flexibility just before the wedding to wrap up those last minute details and get to enjoy being a bride. You will also need flexibility to go on your honeymoon with your new sweetie if you are going soon after your wedding. Maybe you have always dreamed of a fall wedding or always pictured spring colors in your wedding. These are things to take into account as you set your date. The time of year will also help you choose your venue - inside or outside? Your colors, food, etc.
Choose and Ask your Wedding Party
You will want to have your closest friends be a part of celebrating your big day! You will want to ask your wedding party soon to be a part so they can be sure to plan to attend. The sooner they know they are a part of your wedding the sooner they can make their own plans (if they will need to take off work early, budget for bridesmaid dress or tux/suit rental). Get creative on how you ask them. These are special people in your life, and you will want them to know you are excited for them to join you on your wedding day. Write them notes of how they have impacted you, make a small item that will remind them you value them. There are plenty of ideas out there.
In addition to honoring your friends schedules, you can also plan with them, making the process more memorable and utilizing their help. You will probably want a close girl friend or two to go with you when you look for the perfect dress...
Get the Perfect Dress
You can start with an idea of your perfect dress, but hold onto it loosely. Once you start trying on dresses you may change your mind completely of what you thought you wanted, and that's ok. You want to think through questions like What goes with the rest of my wedding theme? What will be comfortable for my venue (again, considering outside, inside, destination, etc.)? What fits within my budget? And a biggie: What makes me feel most bridal?
Depending on how long before your wedding date, you will likely want this to be a high priority since many dresses have to be ordered and altered. You will want plenty of time between when you get your dress and your date to keep your engagement less stressful.
Fortunately, there are detailed checklists you can get for free from Pinterest, The Knot, and Real Simple. You can even add apps that will help you keep track of your timeline on your smart phone.
In the midst of planning for your big day, remember to also plan for your marriage. Take some time for you and your fiancé to think through marriage roles, goals, individual strengths and weaknesses, and values. Marriage is not always easy, but it's worth it. Having some of these written down will give you something to stand on so that your marriage can immediately start moving forward when you get back from your honeymoon. It will help you and your fiancé feel like a team. Get counseling before the wedding on how to work together on issues that commonly cause conflict. Some of these topics are often communication, family relationships, finances, and intimacy. Talk through your expectations for these and get on the same page. It will help not get stuck on details in the wedding planning process that will seem minimal in years to come.
Your wedding day is a big day, but remember that life continues after it. If you choose to let go of every detail having to meet your expectation, you will be able to enjoy engagement much more. A friend of mine told me something for my wedding day that stuck with me: "You have to remember that at the end of the day it will be your dream wedding, not because every single detail is how you ever dreamed it would be, but because of the man you're marrying."
It's good to keep perspective as you plan. Your life is bigger than your wedding. It's special, so celebrate it and enjoy it fully, but remember the big picture. Don't let stress or conflict steal your joy. You are a bride, so soak it in. Plan well to keep stress out of your memories of planning your wedding. There are plenty of practicals besides these to help you get started, but ultimately it is you who will decide to choose to walk through engagement in joy and peace. You can do it!