This Is Your Guide to Planning a Wedding

AKA How to painlessly get it together


a wedding planning guide

When you first get engaged, the world of weddings is full of infinite possibilities. Maybe it’ll look like this. Maybe you’ll wear that.

Then you sit down to actually start planning. And suddenly all that infinite possibility becomes infinite decision making. Where do you start? Guest list? Budget? Decor? (Hint: it’s not the last one). Bottom line: the first few weeks of wedding planning can be the hardest. So how do you get from “OMG how do we do this?!” to “Ok, I got this!” when you’re getting started wedding planning? Today we’ve partnered up with Squarespace (makers of awesome, modern wedding websites) to answer just that:

chalkboard for a wedding

get your wedding planning tools ready

Planning a wedding doesn’t have to be hard—it can be fun, even!—but it will involve a bit of work. And when you’re working, you need tools: think spreadsheets, books, checklists, a Pinterest board.

checklists galore: Before you even get started, do yourself a favor and download our free, downloadable checklist. This is not your average 300-line-item wedding checklist where useful things are peppered in with nonsense like “Shine crystal chandeliers at least one week before the wedding.” Our goal is to make your wedding checklist a stress-free experience that will keep you motivated and focused on slaying your wedding goals, one by one.

the books that will help: You’re going to spend a lot of wedding planning Googling. And while we can’t tell you which caterer is the best in the northern hemisphere, the APW books can save you from having to Google the wedding basics. The first will help you save time, money, and sanity, and the #APWPlanner can basically plan your wedding for you.

Spreadsheets: You won’t need them quite yet, but get these spreadsheets saved somewhere. We’ve got you covered on everything from your wedding guest list template to your vendor contact list to your day-of wedding timeline. You’ll thank yourself later.

set a budget: Setting your budget can feel like you’re just making up numbers… but it doesn’t have to. First, you need to decide how much you can spend on your guests. Then, you need to discuss how much you want to spend on your guests. We have sample budgets for k to k weddings, if you want to look at the weddings of couples who share a similar wedding vision with you, plus a handy guide for figuring out your own wedding budget (and another for how to stick to it).

dinosaurs and wedding invitations

do your homework

Once you’ve hit this stage in planning a wedding, it means it’s time for you and your partner to sit down and discuss what kind of wedding you want to have. (Psst: the #APWPlanner provides a handy priorities worksheet for you and your partner to follow.)

talk to your families: Ok, you know how you want the wedding to look, feel, and move—now it’s time to sit down and have a chat with your families. Are you asking for financial contributions? Have you thought about what kind of input you want them to have? Are there traditions you want to include—or traditions you want to eschew?

MAKE YOUR GUEST LIST: You’ll notice that we’ve put guest lists before venue search. That’s because your first step in planning the logistics of your wedding (after budget) should be figuring out who you want there. Then make the rest of your plans around that (doing it the other way around is how you accidentally realize you don’t have enough space in your venue for your grandma. Whoops.) You each might want to consider making your own, separate lists (and possibly inviting your parents to do the same) and then work through those lists together to compile a master guest list. Hot tip: Our spreadsheets can help you do this.

begin the venue search: Now? Now you’re really getting started, friends. We’ve got a comprehensive guide to choosing a venue right here. But here’s a tip to get you started: when you’re doing your initial search, try Googling phrases like “Northern California beach wedding” or “Brooklyn diner wedding” and see what comes up. Many venue and photographer websites are optimized to come up in searches like this, so use that to your advantage.

THINK ABOUT VENDORS: Have you ever booked a photographer? A florist? A DJ? Some of your wedding vendors need to be booked months (or a year!) in advance, and some don’t. Here’s how you hire a wedding photographer, for one (psst: if photography is a top priority, this is a vendor you probably want to lock down ASAP). Speaking of vendors, make sure you get contracts for everyone you work with (yes, even the ones you’re friends with.) We’ve got the useful advice on that right here, plus what to do about tipping your vendors.

EVENT RENTALS 101: If your reception venue isn’t inclusive, you’re probably going to need rentals. The good news: they’re often more affordable than you’d think (and cleanup is way easier too.) Here’s what you need to know about event rentals.

wedding website from squarespace


Next, it’s time to set up the framework of your wedding. What will it look like? Feel like? How will your guests experience it? How will you? Since you have your date and maybe a vendor or two, you’re ready to methodically (or not) hash out the next phase of planning:

WEDDING WEBSITES: The easiest way to communicate all your hard planning with the outside world is to get yourself a wedding website. So once you’ve got the what, where and when figured out, put it online (it’ll save you from having to field all the questions later.) Squarespace is offering 10% off all first time purchases to APW readers when you use the code APW16 at checkout, so head over here to make that happen.

ENSEMBLES: If shopping for a wedding dress makes you feel queasy, we’ve got your back. Our wedding dress shopping guide has all the details you need on fabric, sizing, and prices. Plus, we’ve got tips for plus size wedding dress shopping, queer wedding style, and fair trade wedding dresses.

INVITING GUESTS: Are you getting ready to tell everyone about your fabulous upcoming shindig? COOL. We have guidelines for how to DIY your wedding invites, and suggestions for ways to make the invite wording more feminist. (And oh yeah: here’s how you get them to RSVP in the first place.)

man and woman walking down a sidewalk

and then a little later…

ALCOHOL: If you’re hooking up your own wedding booze, understand that it can be a… thing unto itself. You’ll want to read up on how to buy it, and how to calculate how much alcohol your wedding will need in the first place.

WEDDING TIMELINE: At some point, you will need to figure out when and how you’re getting from point A to point B of your wedding day (and your vendors might ask for it too). So here’s how to calculate your wedding timeline.

what can you DIY: The number one rule of DIY is that you should only invest your time (aka blood, sweat and tears) into the thins you really care about. Spend money (or just ditch) the stuff that matters less. Because your time is precious, you hear me? Anyway, planning on DIYing your wedding flowers (or a floral crown)? Mulling over the idea of DJing your own wedding? You can do to those things, and you can do them well.

wedding playlists: You know what Google is often not awesome for? Helping you pick out wedding songs. (Unless you had your heart set on Lonestar, in which case, do you.) Luckily, we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. Our playlists have a little country, a lot of soul, and basically everything in between (and we’ve covered everything from first dance songs to mother son dance songs to non-cheesy father daughter dance songs, and blowout jams to end the night by).

get real wedding inspiration: One of the best things to do when you’re planning a wedding is to seek out weddings that are like yours and bask in them. Thinking of self-catering your wedding? That’s super cool, and we actually have featured a lot of couples who did just that. Considering an elopement? They’re lovely. Is your community helping make your wedding happen? I bet it’ll be gorgeous. If you just want to get lost for a few hours (or days), every single wedding we’ve ever featured can be found right here.

wedding sign that says dance


At this point, you might need a hug (or therapy? Wedding planning is hard). And maybe even some fun. First, the feels:

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE WIC: The Wedding Industrial Complex, that is.

Your wedding is not an imposition: When the people you love are threatening to drive you crazy, just remember: it’s not about them. It just isn’t.

And the parties:

Bridal shower ideas: Bridal showers can be old-fashioned, but they can also be awesome. Here are some ideas on how to make them more fun.

wedding rehearsals: Rehearsals themselves are super helpful (practice makes perfect and all that.) But the dinner part? That’s mostly a chance for you to hang out with your guests, and maybe for your parents to throw a party of their own. If it’s on your agenda—here’s what you need to know.


This post was sponsored by Squarespace. Squarespace makes beautiful wedding websites happen in a matter of minutes, thanks to their user-friendly software and modern, minimal template designs. Click here to start a free 14-day trial and make your wedding website today. APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW16 at checkout.

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