Before you first start wedding planning, the world of weddings seems full of infinite possibilities… and so is your Pinterest board. Maybe you’ll have a tiny quirky wedding in a forest. Maybe you’ll have an all-night disco party in a giant hall. Maybe you’ll wear a ballgown… or maybe one of those newfangled wedding jumpsuits. Who knows! The world is your wedding oyster.
Then you sit down to actually start wedding 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.) How are you going to afford all this? And also, why is your mom fighting you on all your ideas? 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 “Okay, I got this!” when you’re getting started wedding planning?
Well, luckily for you, we’ve spent the last decade solving all of these wedding problems… and providing a place of zero wedding judgment. Want to have a $1,000 wedding for fifty people? Let’s do it. Want to spend $300,000 on five hundred of your nearest and dearest? You do you. And before you start to panic, we’ve partnered with Zola, the free(!) wedding-planning app and registry company. Together we’re going to walk through everything you need to know—from gathering wedding planning tools, to talking to your family, to picking your decor style. You name the problem, and between Zola and APW, we’ve probably got a solution. Hopefully a lower-stress, judgment-free solution. So let’s get down to brass tacks and figure out where you’re going to start… and how you’re going to slay this thing. (And pro-tip: Bookmark this page, so you can come back to it as you go.)
Happy engagement, and please don’t forget to toast your existing commitment several times before you make a single decision. (And then, look at these tips and tricks our readers have come up with for making planning a little chiller.)
Organize Your wedding planning tools
This wedding (sadly) isn’t going to plan itself. And that means that if you don’t want to lose your mind, you’re going to need some tools to help organize this thing, as well as some places to get sage advice. Let’s talk about where you should start.
checklists galore: Before you even get started with wedding planning, do yourself a favor and download our free, downloadable wedding planning checklist. This is not your average three-hundred-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 a stress-free experience that will keep you motivated and focused on crossing off your wedding goals, one by one. You can start by figuring out your wedding priorities (yup, there is a worksheet for that too), and then you can cross off all those things you don’t care about, because yes, that’s totally allowed. Encouraged, even.
And if you want to plan on the go, our printable checklist integrates perfectly with the free, customizable checklist on the Zola Weddings app, so you can access and update your list anytime and anywhere. Add the tasks you want, delete ones you don’t need, then Zola will help remind you to get it done. (They can even personalize your checklist to your religion or culture and then autofill your to-do list accordingly.) Combine that with our checklist (keep it bookmarked, save your sanity) so you have all the information you need to cross those tasks off your list in style.
the APW books that will help: You’re going to spend a lot of planning Googling. And while we can’t tell you which caterer is the best in your particular city, the APW books can save you from having to Google the wedding basics, and it will walk you through what you need to know in a logical order. 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.
An app to keep you organized: Speaking of thanking yourself later. We’re excited to partner with Zola because they have one of the only actually useful planning apps out there, not to mention it’s gender neutral, in that it doesn’t assume you’re a bride. (Can we get a 🎉 for the new businesses in the wedding industry finally putting the old guard on notice?) Zola lets you choose whether you want a little or a lot of guidance from the app, and then tailors your to-do list accordingly. Plus you can integrate your checklist, guest list, and registry all in one place. So sign up now, and then they’ll ping you when it’s time to actually get sh*t done.
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 $2,000 to $30,000 weddings, with advice on figuring out your own wedding budget. Plus, we have a guide on how to stick with your wedding budget when Pinterest is right there taunting you.
do your homework
Once you’ve gathered some basic tools, 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: Okay, 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 the guest list 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.) We’ve got tons of guidance on putting that list together. Plus, Our guest list spreadsheet can help keep you organized. And if you’ve signed up with Zola above, you can gather addresses multiple ways (including by uploading our spreadsheet directly) and manage your list from your desktop or straight from your phone. Zola’s guest list manager even allows you to track RSVPs in real-time and communicate directly with your guests (which will come in handy later when it’s time to send out thank you cards).
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.
Pick Your Wedding Date: Sure, you’re going to need to find a venue and figure out what dates they have free. But here is our guide on the other things you should think through before you put a date on it.
THINK ABOUT VENDORS: First things first: we have a guide full of folks who are committed to honoring your diverse and awesome commitment. They are awesome people and awesome vendors, and you should start your search right there. Then, 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.) We also have advice on hiring a florist, hiring a caterer, and hiring a videographer. 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 is that 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.
Finally, Some really fun stuff!
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.
Figure Out Your Wedding Style: Planning a wedding can be a lot easier if you’ve figured out what your general style and vibe is. You can start by picking a color palette (gone are the days of blush and bashful… thank God). When it comes to figuring out how to decorate without breaking the bank, you can check out our guide on cheap-but-totally-hip decoration ideas, along with the secret tools we use to create cool wedding designs. We’ve even rounded up our secret shopping sources. So hit our DIY section, and get your styling on… #LazyGirl style.
Find a Killer dress (or suit): 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 even fair trade wedding dresses. This year we even tested out a way for those of us with lots of boob to go braless.
Registering: Why did we put registering under the fun stuff? Because it should be fun, and we just wanted to remind you of that. So ignore all the must-have lists, and register for stuff you actually like and want. And that means giving yourself options. With newer registries like Zola, you can register for experiences and subscriptions (hello cheese of the month box, we see you there) in addition to the standard home goods. Zola has fifty thousand gifts, including experiences and cash funds, and they offer more brands than you could ever hope to find in a store. So whether you’re looking for old standbys or one-of-a-kind goodies, you actually have all the flexibility to personalize your registry and make sure it reflects you and your partner. Also, this just in: ZOLA LET’S YOU REGISTER FOR A BLOWOUT WITH DRYBAR. 😍💁♀️ Just me, with the frizzy hair, or nah?
INVITING GUESTS: Are you getting ready to tell everyone about your fabulous upcoming shindig? COOL. We’ve rounded up our favorite invites that won’t break the bank. Let’s talk about wedding invitation wording and suggestions for ways to make the invite wording more feminist. If you want to DIY your wedding invites, we cover that in detail too. (And, oh yeah, here’s how you get them to RSVP in the first place. Pro-tip: You can track RSVPs in real time if you’ve got your guests loaded up in the Zola Weddings app.)
Digging into the nitty-gritty of Wedding Planning
ALCOHOL: If you’re hooking up your own wedding booze, you’re going to need to do a little pre-planning. 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. (And yes, if you can provide your own booze, it really will save you a lot of money.)
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 figure out 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 things 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. In fact, I did those things for my own wedding (plus hair and makeup).
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). But you might want to start with our master list, that covers pretty much… everything.
get real wedding inspiration: One of the best things to do when you’re planning a wedding is to find some real-world inspiration. Thinking of catering your own 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.
IT’S TIME FOR SOME PARTIES
Want An Engagement Party?: Engagement parties are just flat out fun, but they can be particularly nice if you know you’re in for a reasonably long engagement. Here are some ideas for putting together an engagement party that isn’t a second wedding (unless, you know, that’s your jam, in which case #GoBigOrGoReallyBig).
Bridal shower ideas: Here is everything you need to know to plan a bridal shower… so you can pass that right on to someone who’s not you. Plus, here are bridal shower games that are actually fun. Once you’ve handed off planning that shower, you’re going to need a good outfit… so we did a little research for you.
wedding rehearsals: Before we get to the rehearsal dinner, let’s talk about what really should precede it… the wedding rehearsal. Because unless you’re having a teeny tiny wedding, practice will really help the whole thing go more smoothly… even if we can’t promise perfection.
The Rehearsal dinner: Maybe your mom wants one, or maybe you just want a more laid-back chance to see all those people coming into town just for you. Either way, here are our best rehearsal dinner ideas.
What’s your hashtag?: You’re planning your wedding on the Internet right now, so I’m gonna guess you’re the kind of person who wants a wedding hashtag. If that’s you, here are our tips for coming up with the perfect one.
Makeup And Skincare: Maybe you’re getting professional makeup done, maybe you’re not. But either way, taking care of your skin before your wedding makes you look all glowy (and is good for you too). We’ve rounded up the products we personally use to make our skin a hundred percent. We’ve also rounded makeup products we’re really loving right now. And if you want to go sans makeup for your wedding, let’s get to it.
Hair Stylin’: Time to research wedding hair ideas? We’ve gotchu, with hair ideas for every length and texture of hair, along with a special guide just for curly girls. Oh and maybe you want tips from Beyoncé’s stylist about wedding hairstyles for black women? And if you’re trying how to make your pixie cut wedding worthy, we’ve got plenty of ideas (plus maybe you should gild that lily?) If you know you want an updo, we’ve rounded up ones that don’t look like a prom in 1994. If, like me, you’re going to do your own hair for your wedding, here is what you need to know. And finally, your bridesmaids need hairstyling ideas too.
And finally, thank you notes: Yes, you need to write them. But lucky for you we’ve come up with the perfect template to make it easy peasy. And bonus #lazygirl tip: If you registered with Zola, you can easily export a list of who got you what and when, so then all you have to do is put pen to paper.
This post was sponsored by Zola. With Zola, you can build the registry you actually want; add items from a selection of over 50,000 gifts (plus add from any store) or if physical objects aren’t your style, register for experiences and subscriptions—heck, with Zola you can even register for your blowout. (They just partnered up with Drybar. I’m not mad about it.) And with Zola Weddings, now you can manage your wedding checklist and your guest list too. Other perks include group gifting, shipping control (aka you tell your registry when you want to receive stuff), and the lowest credit card processing fee in the industry for cash gifts, if you choose to add a cash registry option. Click here for a full list of Zola’s features and sign up for Zola today!