The transition into holiday season is my favorite time of the year. I love to watch fall change to winter, but most importantly…it’s engagement season! From Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day, we are in the thick of it, so get ready to see those Facebook statuses changing and to send out your best wishes. If you are recently engaged yourself—congratulations!!
As an event planner, it takes everything I have in me to avoid emailing a tip list to my newly engaged friends and acquaintances detailing what they should do immediately, plus a timeline, budget and the famed “what not to do” list. However, I eat, breathe and sleep weddings and events and want everyone to have the most amazing day, and to me, that begins with proper planning.
So, how do you know where to start when you get engaged? Thanks to the takeover of online media, from blogs to Pinterest, it can be overwhelming (and easily become a full-time job). I have found most clients have started with a magazine (or five) and a hard copy planner. The trouble with this approach is you suddenly feel like you have to do everything now. Unless you are getting married in four months, this is the last way you should be feeling upon engagement.
Over the years I’ve planned events, I’ve come up with a very realistic and honest list to help you navigate the first steps in wedding planning, as well as what comes next. These are what I consider “the essentials”—items you really need as a foundation before you go any further and begin selecting those wedding bands.
1) Set a budget. OK—I know you are rolling your eyes and wanting to move on to number two. Don’t do it! While budgeting is a difficult conversation, it is essential and should be the first thing you do before picking up the phone to call vendors or trying on wedding dresses. It’s important that you, your fiancé and anyone else contributing to the wedding are on the same page. If you find that setting specific numbers is your challenge, try—at minimum—to set a percentage of your budget that you want to spend in each key area. Two recommended resources are CostofWedding.com, which drills down to your ZIP code and gets very specific, or “A Budget You Can Live With” from Wisconsin Bride. Tackle this step right away and move on to the more exciting things, like…
2) Start your guest list. It’s natural to want to invite everyone. Social media has allowed us to remain connected with friends we still “know” but have not seen in years. While this may start off feeling like a fun project, you will probably quickly realize that trying to please everyone can become overwhelming. Determining your guest list early is necessary because it is directly related to your budget, along with the spaces where you’ll host your wedding. Plain and simple, the more guests you have, the more you have to spend (and not simply on the catering). Sure, there are people who may not be able to attend, but weddings are also a reason to take a vacation or to visit with family and friends, and you may have some surprise “yes” responses along the way.
3) Select a few dates. It’s the first question everyone seems to ask, right?! To some couples this is an easy task if they want to be wed on a certain date, or during a specific month or season. If you’re set on certain venues or are planning on an outdoor ceremony, there are certainly some dates or times of the year that just won’t do. It’s important to pull out a calendar with your fiancé and cross off work obligations, holidays you would like to avoid, and (if you’re an avid sports fan) dates your team plays. I also recommend you talk with your families to ensure there are not any big birthdays, vacations, graduations or religious sacraments during which you’d be remiss to book. And yes, I said dates. I recommend you come up with two or three possibilities. Some venues book out well over a year in advance.
4) Determine your wedding style. At first this probably seems odd, but I promise doing so will make your planning life so much easier. We have a plethora of location options in the Milwaukee region to celebrate your marriage, from historic buildings with world-class charm to outdoor venues that offer a blank canvas. Sorting out venues will be a lot less complicated if you and your fiancé discuss what your ideal wedding day would look like. The beauty of wedding styles is their direct correlation to your décor and details. It will help you refine what you are looking for from here on out.
Bringing us to last, but certainly not least…
5) Book your main venues. You should be able to accomplish the previous four items in one sitting and hopefully that will go smoothly and swiftly—so on to the fun stuff! Since popular venues book out early, you will want this to be the first contract you enter into, as it also may be the most expensive component of your wedding day. You will also want to ensure both your ceremony space and reception space will jive together with dates and geographic distance. Since you will have already set your budget and estimated guest list, you can begin exploring venues that fit your wedding style and inquiring about their availability. See how nicely that all comes together?
While I would like to keep this list to the top five items, I cannot forget the most important item of all:
6) Enjoy your engagement! While it’s hard not to “get down to business” right away when you hear the terrifying word “budget” and are constantly questioned if you’ve set a date, there is no need to rush down the aisle. Take this time to enjoy your engagement and your fiancé. You’ve probably waited a long time for this, so be sure to take the time to savor the excitement and well wishes!