The Complete Guide To Planning Your Dream Wedding (Slideshow)

If you're recently engaged, don't worry... we've broken down every possible step that you'll need to take in order to plan your dream wedding.

Announce Your Engagement

So, you just got engaged! Congratulations! Before you start planning your wedding and sharing all of your lovey-dovey engagement photos and ring pics on social media, make sure you call all your family members and close friends to let them know the big news. There's nothing worse than grandma finding out you're engaged by scrolling through Facebook.

If you've just gotten engaged, here's what you have to do next.

Consider an Engagement Party or Dinner

If you want to formally celebrate your engagement and gather you and your fiancé's families together, throw an intimate engagement party. You don't need to be too extravagant with this event (you do have another big party to plan), but this can be a great, celebratory way to kick off your wedding planning.

To learn how to throw a citrus-inspired engagement party, click here.

Start a Pinterest Board

Envisioning your wedding day has never been easier thanks to the invention and growth of Pinterest. If you don't already have one, create a dream wedding Pinterest board. You can pin literally anything involving your big day, from wedding color and theme ideas to dream dresses to playlists to tiny décor and photograph ideas.

For the "10 Best Pinterest Boards for Table Settings Slideshow," click here.

Get Organized

Just because you have a Pinterest board does not mean you're an organized bride. Some events need tangible organization. Get a planner and binder, and make good use of them. As you plan your wedding, keep everything — vendor quotes, dress color swatches, brochures for honeymoon resorts, etc. — in your wedding binder.

Set a Wedding Budget

There's one part about planning a wedding that brings a lot of stress: money. Weddings are expensive. So, before you get too far along in your planning, figure out how much money you'll be able to spend, who is going to pay for your wedding, and how you'll be able to fit planning this massive party into your financial life.

For the "14 Most Stressful Parts of Planning Your Wedding," click here.

Hire a Wedding Planner (Maybe)

If the amount of money in your wedding budget exceeds the amount of free time that you have for planning a wedding, consider hiring a wedding planner. A wedding planner will take the load off your back, sweat the details so you don't have to, and save you unlimited amounts of time and stress. However, wedding planners can be expensive and you may have to sacrifice bits of your vision for theirs (for better or worse). The decision to hire a planner or not is totally yours, and there's no right or wrong answer.

To find the best wedding planner in your state, click here.

Pick Your Bridal Party

Besides your future spouse and your parents, the most important wedding guests will be your bridal party. These are your close siblings, cousins, and best friends in the world. Pick people for this position who have had great impacts on your life. You'll need their help, so make sure they're trustworthy, too.

Compose Your Guest List

Composing a guest list may seem like something that comes along late in your wedding planning, but it's actually one of the first things you need to do. From venues to caterers to hotels, almost every vendor will need numbers. You don't need to know who will be attending until a month or so before your wedding, but you need to know who you'll be inviting ASAP.

It's OK to not invite these seven people to your wedding.

Pick a Date

From the types of flowers that are in season to what colors are appropriate to whether you can get married outdoors, so many things about your wedding center around a date. Pick a day that is symbolically important to your relationship, maybe a specific number or month. If the date itself is less important to you than other details (such as an outdoors ceremony or a snowy backdrop), just pick a general season and pick a date based on available venues.

For "5 Tips for Setting the Perfect Wedding Date," click here.

Book Your Venue

Good wedding venues get scooped up fast — we're talking 18, 20 months in advance of a date. If you're absolutely in love with a certain space, be sure to book it as soon as you can. If you don't have your heart set on a specific venue, many other wedding details such as décor, available vendors, and even the style of your dress can depend on your venue, so be sure to book this first.

For the "8 Dreamiest Wedding Venues in the World," click here.

Go Dress Shopping

After you pick out a dress, it can take anywhere for four to six months for it to come in. Then you need to get it fitted and altered a few times, which can take several months; so this is another thing you need to do far in advance of your big day. Before you book appointments to see dresses, get a few ideas of styles you like and think would look good on you. Next, take your mother, future mother-in-law, and maid of honor dress shopping. Don't forget to have fun! Most people only get to try on beautiful gowns like this just once in a lifetime.

Register for Wedding Gifts

Though enjoyable, many steps in wedding planning are incredibly stressful. One thing that is pretty much always as fun as it sounds? Registering for gifts. Pick two or three different stores or websites and register for things that you and your spouse will need as you start your life together. Register for practical items, such as bed sheets, bath towels, and silverware. But don't forget to have some fun with your registry, and add things such as board games, picture frames, and home décor to shake things up.

For five common things you should leave off your wedding registry, click here.

Create a Wedding Website (if Desired)

Though wedding websites essentially serve the same purpose as Save the Date cards, wedding registries, and invitation suites, a specialized, wedding-centric URL has become almost a necessity this decade. If you find yourself with the time and desire, make your own wedding website. This can serve as a hub for everything from directions to your venue to easy RSVPs to dress code.

Send Save the Date Cards

Six to eight months before your wedding, alert all of your guests of your wedding date and city with Save the Dates. These informal cards are not invitations, but alerts to your wedding guests that they will be invited and that your wedding is coming up. These cards allow out-of-town guests to book travel dates, request time off work, and remind people to — as the name implies — save the date on their calendars.

Hire a Photographer

The wedding photographer is the most important vendor that you will have at your wedding, and good ones get gobbled up quickly. Find a photographer who not only fits in your budget but also has a style that matches yours. You'll also be spending a lot of time with this vendor, so be sure he or she has a personality that gels with yours and your fiancé's.

For the "25 Best Wedding Photographers in America," click here.

Choose Your Caterer

If your venue comes complete with a caterer, congratulations; you get to skip this step and just have to coordinate a menu. If you're working from scratch, book a caterer as soon as you know your venue and rough guest count. Pick a well-known, local caterer who has a food style that is both accessible to the average person but has menu items that you and your fiancé love.

Hire a Band or DJ

No wedding reception or ceremony would be complete without music. Whether you decide to go with a live band, DJ, or both, whoever you choose will set the scene for your day. This person will work with you to coordinate your walks down the aisle, first dance, dance party, and more, so be sure they have a musical sensibility that matches your own.

Find a Florist

If you're going traditional with wedding décor, flowers are the center of tablescapes, aisle décor, and the bride's hands (in the form of a bouquet). Find a florist who has an aesthetic that matches that of your dream wedding. Before you book your florist and get a price quote, be sure to read up on what flowers will be in season.

To find out what the flowers and herbs in your bridal bouquet symbolize, click here.

Book a Baker, Plan Your Dream Cake

The wedding cake is a classic that is not to be messed with. These decadent, detailed cakes are not just desserts, but they're often pieces of art. Find a baker that is well-regarded in your area and offers a wide variety of styles and flavors. Then, in collaboration with them, design your dream cake. In the process, don't forget to sample a few different kinds of cake... you know, for research.

For the "50 Best Wedding Cake Bakeries in America," click here.

Pick an Officiant

No wedding would be complete without an officiant... literally. Whether you decide to go with a religious leader or a family member or friend who's been ordained online, you need to pick someone to perform your legal ceremony. Find someone whose beliefs about marriage align with yours and who will be an engaging speaker for your guests.

Book a Hotel and Room Block

Out-of-town guests and your bridal party will need somewhere to stay for the few days that surround your ceremony. As with any large gathering, most hotels will offer discounted rates for a block of rooms, so secure a nice location with plenty of space so your guests don't have to scour the internet for accommodations.

For "10 Excellent Hotels Run by Chefs," click here.

Find Hair and Makeup Artists, Book Trial

Though your wedding dress is what most people will be looking at, you can't complete the look without hair and makeup. Find a salon for the bridesmaids and bride to go to the morning of the wedding to get their hair and makeup done. (Get your nails done the day before.) Before the big day, make sure to book a trail run of your hair and makeup so you make sure your look is exactly what you want.

Pick Bridesmaid Dresses and Groomsmen Tuxedos

There are many ways to dress your bridal party. You can pick a color and fabric and then allow your bridal party to pick out corresponding dresses. You can go with an ombré motif. Or, if you want your bridal party to all wear the same dress, make sure you pick out something that is beautiful, flattering for all, and budget-friendly.

Plan a Rehearsal Dinner, Book Dining Venue

The night before your wedding, you need to hold a rehearsal and run though the ceremony with your bridal party so you're not just improvising when you should walk down the aisle. After this run-through, invite your bridal party to a dinner. To prepare for this, book a time to rehearse at the wedding venue, then book a group reservation at a nearby restaurant.

For "15 Celebrity Wedding Dinners," click here.

Buy Rings, Get Them Fitted

For most married people, a ring on your left hand is what symbolizes your love and dedication to each another. About three months before the big day, visit the jeweler of your choice and pick out a set of wedding bands for you and your fiancé. The trend these days are that you and your spouse can pick out whatever styles you prefer, so don't worry about getting matching bands.

Plan Your Honeymoon

After all of the stress of planning a wedding, you and your new spouse will almost certainly need a good getaway. Whether you decide to take a road trip across the country, go on a Caribbean cruise, or jet off to Europe, don't forget to book a dream vacation with your love.

For the "17 Most Romantic Food Vacations in America," click here.

Order and Send Formal Invitations, RSVP Cards

There aren't many occasions these days that require a formal, paper invite, but a wedding certainly is one of them. Roughly two months before your wedding, send out your invitations, accommodation information, and RSVP cards, with an RSVP date that is about two to four weeks before your date. However, do not send out registry information with your invitations; keep this to your wedding website. Otherwise, it comes across as a cash grab and sends the message that a gift is a requirement to attend your wedding.

For "The 10 Worst Wedding Etiquette Mistakes," click here.

Get Your Dress Fitted & Altered

Chances are your wedding dress will not fit perfectly right off the rack. Find a reputable seamstress, get measured, and get your dress taken in (or let out) to fit your specific body dimensions. This is one garment in your life that you want to fit flawlessly.

Plan Your Ceremony

There are more details to a wedding ceremony than walking down the aisle and saying "I do." Along with your officiant, plan the details of your nuptials from whether or not you'll write your vows yourselves or say the traditional words. Also, talk over things like the inclusion of religious elements, readings, and what kind of unity ceremony (candle, jumping the broom, handfasting ceremony) that you want to include.

To learn about Celtic wedding tradition (such as handfasting), click here.

Pick Special Music

From your walk down the aisle to your first dance to the song you play when you toss the bouquet to anxious single women, there are some moments from your wedding that require special music. Along with your band or DJ, pick out music that means something to you for moments such as these and more.

Design & Purchase Other Paper Goods

Wedding invitations aren't the only paper goods you need for your wedding. Items such as the menus, ceremony programs, and table numbers also require printed material. Find a set that either matches your wedding invitations or fits with the theme of your day and get these items printed professionally.

To read "Wedding Menu Ideas for Every Bride," click here.

Purchase Bridal Party Gifts, Favors

In addition to the rehearsal dinner, it's proper etiquette to thank your bridal party for their time and effort by giving them a small gift, be it a robe, bottle of wine, or a cookbook. An optional gift, however, is a parting favor for all of your wedding guests. These can be very small tokens, such as matchbooks, drink koozies, or an edible treat.

For "9 Food-Themed Gifts for Your Bridal Party," click here.

Don’t Forget the Little Details

Like any party, a wedding is filled with little details, so stock up on these before your big day. Don't forget to purchase (or DIY) a guest book, numbers for your table, something to indicate where each guest should sit at the reception, photos for decoration, and other small bits and pieces of decoration and details that will help to take your wedding to the next level.

Double-Check RSVPs

Your caterers will tell you when they need final numbers for the food, so a day or two before that deadline, double-check to make sure you have all of your RSVPs in. If a guest has not sent in their response, call them directly and ask whether or not they will be attending.

Arrange Seating

After you have finalized your guest list, you need to sort out how many tables you'll need and who will be sitting at each table. Feel free to mix up your tables between sides of the families and friend groups. A wedding is about the union of two people, so don't be afraid to have your guests socialize with people they may not have met before the big day.

Finalize Things With Your Vendors

In the weeks before your wedding, make sure that all of the details are sorted out between you and your vendors. Make sure your menu is what has been agreed upon, that your requested music is all queued up, that your cake is what you envisioned, and that your photographer knows what shots you have deemed necessary. Be sure to arrange payments with all your vendors before your wedding day arrives.


If this comprehensive guide hasn't driven the point home yet, let us tell you directly: Planning a wedding is a lot of work and can be pretty stressful. Let off some steam with bachelor and bachelorette parties. Though the bulk of this party planning will go to your bridal party, you need to pass along a guest list of people you want to be invited to this final fling before the ring.

For "Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties Fit for a Chef," click here.

Get Your Marriage License

It may be easy to forget amid all the romance, but a marriage is actually a legal contract. Each state's marriage license laws differ (for instance, how long they're valid or if there's a waiting period). Read up on your state's guidelines and get a marriage license in the county that the ceremony will be performed in.

Write Your Vows

In the days leading up to your wedding, be sure to take some time out, gather your thoughts, and write them down. Not every couple writes their own vows, but if you do, be sure to think of all the reasons you love your future husband or wife and what promises you want to make to them, and let the words flow. Be sure to keep the vows relatively short though; about two minutes long is ideal.

Get Married, Enjoy the Day

The final step in wedding planning? Relax, have a glass of wine, and enjoy the day. There will be dozens of details that need to be finalized on your wedding day, but pass those duties off to a trusted family member or maid of honor. Remember to take some time out with your new spouse, soak in the scenery, and enjoy all of your hard work and love.