Yay, you’ve decided to get married! Congratulations! Now what? Getting engaged is amazing, but the idea of planning a whole wedding from scratch might be overwhelming. Don’t worry – there’s a lot to do, but if you get the right start it will all fall into place. Here are the first seven things to do after you get engaged.
You’re in love. You want to spend the rest of your lives together. A good marriage is built on good communication, and what better way to start than to talk about what you *both* want for your wedding. Maybe you’ve always envisioned a romantic but simple elopement on a mountaintop with only an officiant and two witnesses, but your partner dreams of a big, lavish themed wedding with 300 guests. Or maybe you have different ideas about the food, the vows, the honeymoon. Now is the time to talk it over, figure out where you’re in agreement and where you differ and work out compromises. Hopefully, by the end of the conversation you’ll have a good general idea of what kind of wedding you want. Is it indoors, outdoors, in the spring, in the fall, surrounded by lush greenery, filled with florals, on the beach, in the woods, black tie or a casual barbecue? Try to reach an agreement here before you do anything else. It’s good practice for the decisions you’ll be making together for the rest of your lives.
One very, very big thing to talk about here: Money. How much do you both want to spend, what’s realistic and where will it come from? This is a good time to join some local Facebook wedding-related groups and check out wedding planning sites like Zola, WeddingWire and Offbeat Bride – a few simple searches will give you a rough idea of what local wedding services will actually cost and what you might need to budget. These are also great places to find venues and vendors you might not know about otherwise.
OK, so you have a rough idea of what your wedding will look like and what it will cost. Now, it’s time to hone that down a little more by identifying your priorities. Most people don’t have an unlimited budget for every aspect of their wedding, so you have to decide what’s most important. Is it a one-of-a-kind setting? A memorable meal for all your guests? Amazing photos? An epic dance party? Gorgeous decor? Figure out that one thing and put it at the top of the list. That’s the item that you invest the most money, effort and time in. Now go down the list and prioritize the next few things. Is a great DJ fairly important? Put that toward the top of the list. If you don’t really care about flowers, but them toward the bottom.
Now that you know your priorities, you can figure out what parts of that list you want to tackle yourself, what you can ask family & friends to help with and what you want to hire out. There’s a huge range of options here. Maybe you want someone to guide you every step of the way so you decide to hire a planner who can help you choose a venue and vendors, plan your wedding day schedule down to the minute, decorate and coordinate the whole thing. Or maybe you decide to make your own bouquet, ask your cousin to officiate and dance to a Spotify playlist.
There are no right or wrong choices here, this is YOUR wedding. But it’s a good idea to be realistic about what you and your family & friends can really accomplish without professional help. When my husband and I first got engaged, I decided that my sewing skills were good enough to make my own wedding dress. That lasted until I went to the fabric store and actually read the directions on a wedding dress pattern. It wasn’t going to happen. Accept your own limitations, and know when to call in the pros.
The first big thing to do after you get engaged is pick a date and a place to get married. These kind of go together – you can’t really pick one without picking the other. One big mistake I see a lot of people make when planning their wedding is choosing a date before they start looking at venues. Maybe there’s a significant date in your history as a couple. Maybe the numbers in a date are cool & memorable. It’s tempting to decide you want to get married on a specific day and then set out to find your venue. But here’s the problem with that: By selecting your date before your venue, you could be eliminating a whole bunch of venues that aren’t available that day before you even see them. And the perfect venue for you might be in that group.
Let’s say you pick a date because it’s special to you, and then start touring venues. One of them captivates you. It’s the right look, the right size, the right location and right within your budget. It’s perfect! But then you mention your date and the coordinator’s face falls. They’re already booked that day. But they have an opening three weeks later! So now, you’re faced with a tough decision: Go with the date you set your heart on, or the venue you’ve fallen in love with? Either way, you have to give up something you want. But if you start your venue hunt with only a date range in mind – let’s say Saturdays in fall 2023 – you’ll have so many more options.
Now that you know where your wedding will be, you can really start to visualize what it will look like. Maybe you’ve had your dream wedding planned out for most of your life – but if you’re like me, you might need a little outside inspiration. A good place to start is to search for photos of real weddings at your venue, to see how other couples used the space and decorated.
Pinterest, of course, is another place to search for wedding inspiration photos that match your specific vision. I know it’s one of the first places a lot of people go after they get engaged. But beware – Pinterest is full of styled shoots, which are wedding scenes and looks set up specifically for photos with dream-team vendors, perfect locations and models playing the couple. These photos are beautiful and oh so inspiring, but like much of Pinterest, difficult to actually accomplish in the real world. This is why I like looking for photos of real weddings at your venue, so you can see what’s realistically possible (fun fact: Lemonade Photography has *never* done a styled shoot, so every photo in my portfolio is from an actual wedding).
You know where your wedding will be. You know what you want it to look like. Most importantly, you have a date locked in. Now you can start hunting for the vendors to bring your vision to life. Go back to your priority list, remind yourself which things were the most important and start looking for those vendors first – you want to start your search for those as early as possible.
But where do you find them? You can start with the big wedding planning websites like The Knot and WeddingWire, but keep in mind that vendors have to pay a pretty hefty rate to have visibility on those pages, so you might be missing some hidden gems who choose not to spend their advertising money that way (like me). Offbeat Bride and Zola might have some of those vendors you won’t find elsewhere. Local Facebook wedding planning groups will have tons of vendors – you can post a request for a certain vendor and get plenty of responses. Your venue may have a list of vendors they have worked with before who are familiar with the space and meet their requirements, and if you have a planner or coordinator they may have suggestions as well. Check with your friends & family too, anyone who has planned a wedding recently may be able to recommend vendors they liked. Look for wedding shows and open houses in your area so you can meet prospective vendors face-to-face.
Here’s a hard truth: Wedding planning is exhausting. There is so much to think about, so much to do and so little time to do it. It can feel like it’s taking over your whole life. So here’s my advice to all newly-engaged couples: Breathe. Enjoy being together and being engaged. I know your wedding seems like the most important thing to you right now but trust me, it’s not. Your marriage is.
You have just agreed to link your life to another human being’s, to spend the rest of your days on earth sharing your space with them. This is no small promise. From here on out, you’re no longer just you – you are a team. It’s wonderful and it’s fun and it’s damn HARD. Your wedding is just the beginning of that, and it’s just one day. Plan your wedding, sure, but plan your life together while you’re at it.