When I first starting planning our wedding, I signed up for a certain big website that shall not be named, with the intention of getting a wedding checklist going, so I could plan this thing. Logging in again six years later, I can see that clearly my good intentions did not last long. Most of the tools, but particularly the available wedding planning checklist, just didn’t feel applicable to our event, and I gave up on them quickly in favor of flying by the seat of our pants. And while checklists have changed a lot since 2008 (yay for apps), the feeling I get when I look at them, which waffles between panic and overwhelm, hasn’t. What if I don’t need all the things? What if I don’t have eighteen months to plan? At which point my brain goes, “Shut it down” and I resolve to live a checklist-free life once again.
Except, living a wedding planning checklist-free life and planning the whole thing by the seat of your pants is often what gets me (and my fellow non Type-A planners) into deep logistical trouble and lots of last minute arm flailing. (You’re telling me I shouldn’t create the world’s most amazing menu before figuring out where my wedding will take place and how many people will be there? But whyyyyy?) So we set ourselves out to create a more APW-friendly wedding checklist, one that could be applicable for weddings being planned in six months, or weddings being planned over the course of six years, with All The Things, none of the things, and places in between.
And thus, the wedding planning order of operations was born.
The Traditional Wedding Checklist, Reimagined
The problem with most wedding checklists is that they assume a certain wedding standard. Obviously you’re having X, Y, and Z; you’re getting married!
Our wedding planning order of operations is intended to be more flexible, while still helping you prioritize the things that should come first. And bonus: you can totally use it in conjunction with a more detailed wedding planning checklist if your brain can handle all that information. Here is our downloadable wedding planning order of operations (it’s perfect for your fridge), but let’s break it down in detail.
Download our free alternative wedding checklist below:
Start with the Big PICTURE
Obvious, right? Except with Pinterest, it’s so easy to convince yourself that you start with details, which is the wedding equivalent of designing a whole kitchen remodel around the your plates. So before you sign a single contract or accept an offer of help from family, take a big step back and ask yourself what you want out of your wedding. What’s your big picture wedding mission statement? Do you want something intimate and fun? Big and laid back? Are you willing to accept input from your parents if they help out? Hello, do you and your partner have different ideas about what your wedding should involve, that maybe you haven’t talked about yet? This is the time get real (see example below).
Once you’ve got that figured out, set a budget. It’s hard to make decisions about anything unless you know what you can afford. (A good lesson for life, in general, I’ve found. But again, not exactly one supported by Pinterest.) For more tips on budgeting, and avoiding the dreaded budget surprise, which is when you realize halfway through planning that you didn’t set a realistic budget, check out this post.
People, Places, then Things
The easiest way to keep your priorities in check while wedding planning is simply to remember: People, Places, Things. Always in that order. And here’s why: figuring out your guest list first isn’t just about staying under budget or not being able to fit an extra table into your venue. What you really don’t want is to have to choose between your grandma and your dream venue when you realize that your dream venue won’t accommodate her wheelchair. What you really, really don’t want is to realize it after you’ve put a deposit down. Because that dilemma will make you feel like a terrible person. So guest list first, then venue, then everything else.
The Nitty Gritty
Much like when my inbox at work hits that scary number of unread messages, my brain processes wedding checklists as too much to do and no idea where to start and then it sort of… casually directs my attention to the rest of the Internet where I don’t have to make decisions. So here’s my recommended approach to “everything else” for the easily distracted: first, figure out which vendors matter the most and which ones have finite resources available to them. For example, most service professionals (i.e., photographers, coordinators, planners, etc.) have a finite number of weddings they can book each year. So if one of those vendors is your tippy top priority, lock it down. Similarly, if you’re getting married in a small town and there’s only one tent rental place for miles and you know for a fact you’re going to need a tent? Book it as soon as you can. On the flip side, if you aren’t hiring out, but DIYing a super important part of your wedding, start your research and/or getting commitments from people good and early.
Once you get your first priority vendors out of the way, you can move onto secondary vendors and/or DIY research. And the good news is: you get to decide who and what matters most. With one exception: some thing have cut and dry production times (like that bespoke dress I talked about earlier), so make sure to do your research before setting your heart on anything that needs to be created from thin air. If you’re planning a super short engagement and your favorite dress designer can’t make a dress in fewer than eleven months? Time to re-calibrate your wants (off-the-rack?) or get creative with your sourcing (eBay?).
And then after all that is the fun stuff, like decor.
Don’t Forget The Ceremony
Start planning your ceremony as early as you can. It matters way more than anyone ever admits and you don’t want to leave it to the last minute. Trust.