Current and future brides, congrats on this wonderful season of your life! You've had the amazing proposal moment, you're ring is absolutely stunning, and now you get to plan your dream wedding! Wedding planning is so fun and exciting, but if I'm honest, there are moments that you'd rather stop planning and just elope.... which is why I wanted to make this list to pass on everything I learned throughout my wedding planning process. Let's dive in!
Right Away: You're Engaged!
1: Lay out the must have’s AND the must not’s with your fiancé.
Decide what’s super important, and what you really dislike from previous experiences so that it can shape the entirely of your wedding planning mission. Ideas outside of your core mission will come up from family and friends along the way, both good and bad, so define your mission and then stick to it.
2: Check out your city’s calendar before booking a date.
Are any major events coming up that guests will be forced to choose between? While there might always be something going on, its good to keep in mind as holidays and city events can affect your overall attendance and the vendor's availability.
3: Prioritize your guest list.
Its not the easiest, but its the best way to start your wedding planning as your guest list can affect the venue you choose and overall price of your wedding. Start with close family members from both sides and the bridal party. Then write down more distant family members, then friends, then parents' friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. If you have too many on your guest list, start cutting from the bottom up.
Pro Tip: Expect the list to grow some after initial decisions are made, so estimate high when booking your venue, foot, decor, etc.
4: Attendance will balance out.
Plan for 70-75% of your guests to arrive, and just know that some who rsvp 'yes' still won’t come while others that didn’t RSVP or thought they couldn’t come, will end up showing up. Either way, those two groups will seem to balance each other out. Just remember that whomever shows up, will be happy and excited for you, so its a win-win.
5: Once you have your guest list, book your key vendors.
The first vendors I recommend booking are the photographer, videographer, venue, florist, and any dress appointments, but this goes back to all of your must have's list. Review your list and book those vendors first as they typically have limited availability.
6: Go to more than one wedding dress shop.
I was quickly surprised by how much time in advance it takes to find, purchase, receive, and custom fit your wedding dress. Between ordering from the designer and the dress fittings that come closer to the wedding date, its essential to find the dress as soon as you can.
But, don't rush this step. It's so easy to fall in love with a dress right away, or even a second time, but going to three or more will ensure you find the dress you love AND that fits you best.
7: Schedule time for just you and the groom.
After some of your initial decisions have been made, work on creating an estimated schedule of your day starting with the ceremony time and moving backwards and forwards. (This can be done before and later with your photographer.) In the midst of your schedule decisions, please do yourself a favor and schedule some private time with just you and your groom. Whether a first look before everyone arrives or time alone after the ceremony to take it all in, those moments will be the ones you remember the most.
8: Have family meetings.
Meet with each set of parents a couple times throughout your wedding planning process to do face to face check-in's to ensure the little things don’t get missed. Communication is key, and they often love to help!
9: Get a credit card with amazing rewards.
Since your groom's name probably won't change in the marriage process, get a line of credit in his name for all the major wedding expenses. By the end, you’ll have so many rewards built up you might even get free flights! We personally used Chase Sapphire, and already have a couple of flights ready for us! What a great way to start a future anniversary trip.
Throughout Your Planning: Keep it up!
10: Don’t do it all yourself.
Delegate as much as you can, even if it stretches your trust sometimes. You’ll thank yourself down the road when you actually have time to do things you enjoy. In the end more will get done, and your day will be even more relaxing!
11: Make sure your save the dates match USPS guidelines.
Creating your save the dates can be so fun as there's just endless options available, but remember to double check that your save the date fits within the USPS guidelines. The last thing you want is to invest all your time making them perfect, and then find out shipping will charge three times what you expected because its a tenth of an inch too big in one direction. If you're in the Bismarck area, I recommend using PreSort as they do all of the addressing and mailing for you!
12: Use Pinterest as inspiration, rather than expectation.
Let’s be real for a moment… Pinterest isn’t always reality. It's so easy to get caught up trying to make everything look like it does in a picture on Pinterest, but sometimes we fail to realize there's a ton of professionals out there who do that certain craft for a living. You also don't want to do yourself a disservice by simply copying other weddings, as this is YOUR wedding. You and your groom have a unique story, and deserve to have a wedding that reflects your style custom to you. So, gather your ideas and inspiration from Pinterest, but then use it as inspiration, not expectation.
13: Food is one of the greatest expenses.
Choose wisely what time your reception will be as this might dictate how hungry your guests may or may not be, and therefore how much you’ll be expected to feed. Also, venues often times have policies directly related to how many meals will be served so make sure to check out any guidelines they have before booking. To save some money, a dessert reception later in the day has become a more popular option.
13: Spend money where it matters.
Weddings cost money, usually a lot of money. When it comes to the wedding day, its easy for the day to fly by and for things you thought mattered to go unnoticed, so spend the money on your must have's and where you’ll be: Your attire, the bridal party, the head table, and anywhere else you plan on spending most of your time.
14: Decide on three decor essentials and run with it.
Styling your wedding day is one of the best parts! Although, its so easy to get distracted with the endless options so what I recommend is to pick three essential decor items that can really encompass the style of your day. Personally, we used the florals, glass items like jars, and hand lettering prints to be the foundation for all of our other decor.
15: Personalize your day without going overboard.
Similar to the abundance of decor items, there's also endless ways to personalize your day with photo books, letter signs, head table signs, balloons, a hashtag, branded gifts for your guests, etc. But, we found it helpful to choose our top favorites and then let the others be. This created less stress overall and created room for other ideas that came about throughout the planning process. Choose the essentials, and let the others take a back seat.
Pro Tip: Think outside of the box to really tell your love story to your guests! We decided to have a side table of handwritten notes and photos with a thin glass covering over it, as a way to show the years of memories we've been able to share together leading up to the wedding day.
16: Guest gifts aren’t required.
We decided not to do guest gifts for two reasons: They cost a lot of money and they usually get tossed anyway. Instead, we focused that money in making our food and reception experience as best as possible for our guests. Consider what your guests would enjoy most, and do that. That may or may not be a custom gift, and that's okay!
17: Trust and depend on your vendors.
The vendors you've hired are the experts who do this all the time, so choose the ones you can trust and rely on. Trust me, you’ll want that reliability when it comes to the last minute configurations. There's far too many things to think about the week before the wedding, and vendors' reliability shouldn't be one of them.
18: Your mom isn’t your wedding coordinator.
Every mother of the bride (and groom) should be able to relax as much as possible on your wedding day, too! After all, they did give birth to you, raise you, and probably helped make you become who you are today. Instead, rely on your vendors and close family and friends by assigning them responsibilities on the wedding day. People are more often than not, super happy and honored, to help out in any way they can!
19: Use Pampered Chef for your bridal shower.
If you want a fully stocked kitchen, do Pampered Chef. I had no prior experience before having one, and it was simply wonderful. They have invites all ready to get sent, wonderful long-lasting products, and super great discounts and deals on group orders. Marge Heck was our personal consultant, and I definitely recommend her for the Bismarck/Mandan area!
20: Buy Etsy items 2+ months out.
Etsy is a jackpot for all things wedding! However, I learned that they often have longer shipping times that most (especially if from other countries), so avoid extra stress by buying all things Etsy at least 2+ months away from their needed arrival date. If you want, you can always pay the higher price for faster shipping, but if you're budget buy your items in advance.
21: Go unplugged.
When you're thinking through the overall flow of your ceremony, I highly encourage doing an unplugged wedding. This simply means that all mobile devices are put away during the ceremony. One of the best moments of my day was walking down the aisle only to see smiley family and friends faces, rather than just their cell phones. It made the aisle moment all the more special and, not to mention, gave room for our hired photographer to capture the moment without any photo bombing in the background. Go unplugged and find a clever way to communicate to your guests.
22. Directions are important!
Make sure to include clear directions and the event times on your invites, Facebook events, websites, and everything else. Over-communication is key here, especially for those who are new to the city or venue. Reminders close to the wedding day are never a bad thing either.
1 Month Out: It's Almost Here!
23: List out all of the brought-from-home items.
These are items you didn't need to buy, and rather have at home. In addition to that, list out all of the misc. items you might need during the ceremony or reception... you'd be surprised at what's all needed. Once you have a grand list, put a name by who's responsible for bringing each item to avoid any confusion during setup. This will save you money and time by avoiding extra purchases and time running back-n-forth to the house.
24: Know who to pay.
Of course there's the payments for all of your vendors, but usually there's others involved that weren't necessarily 'hired'. We paid our officiant for leading the ceremony, the musician who played a song or two, and key guests that volunteered BIG time. Our volunteers were such a huge help that a nice money gift was the least we could do. Above and beyond that, is up to you. If your vendors go above and beyond, definitely feel free to leave an extra tip!
25: Give gifts to your family and bridal party members.
Both your close family and bridal party members have helped out and supported you in a great way throughout the planning process, and they deserve to be thanked and appreciated. A personal gift is a great way to show them how grateful you are and to simply show them that they're appreciated and loved. Find something that's personal to your relationship, include a handwritten note, and you're all set!
26: Meet and finalize with your vendors a month before the wedding.
By having one last meeting with all of your vendors, you can not only pay them any remaining balances, but you can also discuss any changes that have happened over the planning duration, and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Your vendors are a huge help so one final touchpoint is very beneficial to both parties.
27: Create an info packet.
About two weeks before the wedding, create an info packet to be given to any VIP’s the week of your wedding such as your parents, personal attendants, and wedding coordinators. The info packet should include your vendor’s phone numbers, a calling tree, a map of all the key locations, the estimated wedding day schedule, decor details, the family photo list, and everything else that might be helpful.
Personally, I created these so that anything I had knowledge of was written down so that my wedding day could be distraction free, and it worked great! Everyone was informed and knew exactly what to do. I can't recommend this enough!
28: Don't check the weather.
I know just how tempting it can be to check the weather the second it comes on the radar, but please, please, please do yourself a favor and don't check it. The weather is completely and absolutely out of your control and changes practically every day so avoid the extra stress and ignore it. I know its hard, but its one of the best things you can do. Plus, in the event that you actually get bad weather on the day of, your family and vendors will have a backup plan all taken care of.
29. Set up the day before.
Not every venue or timeframe allows for this, but if you can, always opt to set up the night before. This gives time for extra, unplanned events, things you forgot at home, small things left to buy, or whatever it might be. Simply having those few extra hours not only helps you, but all the people involved with making your day look and feel incredible.
After The Big Day: You're married!
30: Take it slow.
You're back from your honeymoon, you're married, and a whole new journey is ahead! Remember to take it one day at a time and enjoy this season, too! The wedding day was just the beginning as there's so many good moments left to happen. Create your home, continue to fall in love, and celebrate each other.
31: Change your name one step at a time.
If you're in the Bismarck/Mandan area there are a few different things you need in order to be officially married and change your name. First, you need to returned your signed marriage license to the same building you received it from within 7 days after you get married. (If that's Burleigh County, go to the Public Records building on 5th Street.) If you're like us, we were on our honeymoon the week after, so we gave this task to our mother, and it worked great!
Second, you'll need to get a certified copy of your marriage license. (Yes, that's the thing that you just returned to them). Go to the same building and ask for the certified copy. I recommend getting 2+ as they're only $5 each and you may need to send them in for things like your passport.
Next, update your Social Security by using your certified marriage license and a current ID. Its best to do this first because other name change processes might refer to this record. Go to their office north of town, and they'll update your files—expect to get your new Social Security card within 10 business days.
Lastly, update your driver's license with your certified marriage license and your previous license ID. Go to the ND Department of Transportation on the East side of the capitol, wait in line, and you'll get a new photo taken too! It's $3-$5, and let's be honest... a new photo after your wonderful honeymoon is always worth it!
Pro Tip: Some choose to update their passport, and some don't... they say that as long as you book your flights in the name on your passport, you'll be fine, but I'm personally choosing to update it to be safe. The last thing I want is to be abroad with the wrong name record. To update your passport, fill out this form, print if off, and send it in with your updated profile photo and marriage license. I'm still in the middle of this process, so I'm not sure how long they suggest it takes to get your updated passport back.
32: Rock your thank you cards.
Just like with your save the dates and invites, the options are endless, but try to choose something a bit more simple so that your thank you process can be as easy as possible. Postcards are always a simple, great option with a wedding photo on the back, but no matter what you decide, make sure to include a handwritten note. That personal touch always goes such a long way, and really concludes the amazing memory they have from your wedding day.
Pro Tip: Send thank you's to your vendors and leave them amazing reviews! If they did a great job, which is usually the case, make sure to let them know and to recommend them to others! It'll make their day.
33: Remember forever.
Looking back at it all, what I am most grateful for is the photography and videography we have that captured the moments of our wedding day. Even though we had intimate moments together, just my groom and I, and really embraced each moment for what it was, the day just isn't long enough and its so easy to forget the small, yet precious things! With photos and videos, those moments aren't lost and rather celebrated by us, our family, and will be by our future family that we create someday. Its truly the best gift, and I can't recommend it enough!
Bonus Tip: Enjoy the rest of your life together!
The planning, celebrating, and everything in between is done, and now you get to live your amazing lives together! Congrats, you did it! Now you get to live each day with your favorite person and make a lifetime more of memories.
Thanks so much for reading through! I hope these tips can be both helpful and time saving as you plan your big day. If you have any other questions or additional tips to add for future brides, feel free to leave them in the comments below! Cheers!