When you start wedding planning, it feels like there are a million things to do. All of the decisions can seem daunting and overwhelming. But there is ONE thing that will make the rest of your decisions and planning easier! As a wedding photographer who’s present throughout all of my couples’ planning journey, the best wedding planning tip I can give you is:
My best wedding planning tip: Before you do anything, lay out your wedding day priorities
Once you’ve celebrated your engagement, you’ll want to sit down with your fiance, and set your priorities. This will determine a lot about your wedding day, and will help you make all future decisions.
This wedding planning tip will help you throughout the rest of your planning journey! These priorities will create a solid foundation for your decisions. It will help you determine many important things like your venue, and it will help you determine the order in which you do things. Later, it will also help with budgeting.
For example, when you’re looking at venues, you’ll most likely have to play a little give and take. You might find a gorgeous venue, but it doesn’t hold enough people and you really prioritize the size of your guest list. If that’s a high priority, you’ll probably want to keep looking. If the size of your wedding isn’t a high priority, then you can feel more confident in making that decision and keeping your guest list a little smaller.
Below are some wedding priorities to consider, and I’ll include some examples of how these priorities could influence your decision.
Now this is not all encompassing, but we tried to include the majority of priorities that we’ve seen couples set. This does not mean you need to make all of these a priority. In fact, I do not recommend that, or you will have a really hard and stressful time trying to make everything a high priority. But it is okay to order them all to see where they fall. As I said, wedding planning involves some give and take, so this will help you know where to give a little when necessary.
1. Keeping everything at the same place
Another priority we hear is making the day “easy” by keeping everything at the same place – If you want everything at the same place, you’ll need to make sure you pick a venue that has space for you to get ready, that they allow you to get ready at a reasonable time (as in, they let you in before noon on your wedding day), has ceremony options you’re happy with, and can accommodate your ideal guest list.
2. Booking a particular venue
Sometimes a high priority for couples is the ONE dream venue that they’ve had in mind. This is great, and makes your decision easy, but you’ll have to keep in mind that you’ll most likely have to be flexible on your date. Of course, there is always a chance they’ll be available on your ideal date, but venues book out pretty far. So go into that with an open mind if the venue is that important to you.
(Read: How to choose your wedding venue)
3. A specific date, month or season
Along with the last point, if a specific date is your highest priority, you will have to be more open minded with your venues. Especially if you’re planning in less than a year to 18 months. Venues can book out two years in advance, so I would keep a few options open if you’re dead set on a date. Now, a specific month or season gives you a little more flexibility. Is it important to you that it happens when it’s warm, but not unbearably hot? Is fall your favorite season? Or are you a winter person?
4. Style and aesthetic
Rustic, modern, elegant, industrial, vintage, gothic, holiday themed. If you know the style you love, you can automatically rule out certain venues and vendors. That way, you don’t have to waste time visiting dozens of venues.
Destination wedding, downtown, country, by a lake, near hotels, near a certain town or within a certain radius, ceremony in same location, etc.
One priority we hear of a lot and that we might be particularly biased to – capturing your memories (photography and videography). You can make that a high priority by hiring a trustworthy, experienced photographer, allocating a bit more of your budget for hiring that right one, hiring one with the style that you love, and taking the time to meet with them first to make sure you feel completely comfortable. This might not play a role in your venue – but it could. Especially if style of photography is very important to you. As an example, if having a bright, airy photography style and overall feel to your wedding is important, you can use that to rule things in or out for your venue.
7. Ceremony location and/or a particular officiant
There’s a particular pastor I would love to marry Ryan and I. I went to his church growing up, and he baptized me. He also married my parents. Long story short, he was a Catholic priest, and eventually left Catholicism. He’s now a Lutheran pastor in the city I moved to after college. I know for a fact that he does not travel outside of the county to officiate weddings. That would heavily influence the location of our wedding if having him as our officiant was a top priority.
8. Size of your guest list
If the size of your guest list is important, you’ll want to find a venue that accommodates that. Our PRO TIP recommendation is to not push the max limit of the venue. We’ve been in some TIGHT spaces at receptions, and it’s hard for people to move around, and not conducive to mingling.
Dance/music, ending time of reception. If partying is important to you, you’ll want to make sure your venue doesn’t cut it off at 10 p.m. Or you might want to find a venue that is conveniently located near bars for an afterparty. This will also influence the size of your guest list, your choice in DJ/live band and your bar choices.
10. Really good food
If a specific caterer or type of food is important, you’ll want to make sure your venue either: 1. Has that exact food you want or 2. Allows you to bring in outside caterers. Some venues have their own food, and others only allow specific caterers. Make sure you know what their rules and limitations are.
11. Having a variety of drink options
This plays into the partying priority. We know of a really nice popular venue around us that doesn’t have a liquor license. That might be a no-go for some couples. While they serve beer and wine, maybe having those mixed drinks you love is super important to you. Most venues will have their own bar service, or hire it out, but some allow you to bring in your own alcohol too. Just keep in mind you’ll likely have to pay for a bartending service.
12. Outdoors vs indoors
If having your wedding outside is a high priority, look for a venue that has great options for that. Having a good indoor backup can also be a high priority. Although I do recommend this any time you are planning an outdoor wedding, for some it might be a lower priority. If it rains, they are okay with the indoor option even if it’s not ideal. If you’re not going to be okay with it, you’ll want to find a place that has a great backup option too.
13. Having your dogs involved
Simple yes or no. If it’s a high priority, you’ll want to find a venue that allows you to include your dogs. Just make sure you appoint someone to take care of them, so it’s not up to you.
14. Flowers and decor
Some venues are sort of a “blank slate” where you bring in all of your decor and flowers. Some offer rentals in house. Others have a little bit of both. If having freedom over your options on who you hire is important, make sure you have that flexibility. If this is a high priority, you’ll also want to look for an experienced, reliable florist and/or rental company.
15. Dress or attire in general
Falls less into the venue decision, and more into budgeting
16. Hair and makeup person or location
If you have a specific hair or makeup artist you really want to hire, it’s okay to reach out to them right away! This probably won’t influence your venue choice, but check to see if they only travel in a certain area, or if you have to get ready at their salon. You’ll also pay more for an experienced team!
17. Saving money
If saving money, or sticking to a low budget, is a priority, you’ll know you’re searching for more budget-friendly options before you get started. There are plenty of wedding vendors who are just starting out, and will charge less than more experienced vendors. Just make sure you do thorough research – make sure they are trustworthy, committed, and that you like the quality of work they can deliver. You might also consider more DIY options for decor, flowers, and more! A GREAT tool to DIY your own wedding stationery, decor and more is to use my favorite design tool – Canva. If you use Canva Pro, you’ll have access to thousands of photos, designs, templates and more. And you can even print right through them! It takes one investment upfront, but it’ll save you SO much money overall. Click here to try it out!
(Download our FREE wedding budget template HERE)
Bonus wedding planning tip: Determining the order in which you plan
In addition to using these priorities to make decisions on your venue and other wedding day items, they will also help you determine the order in which to do things. Let’s say a specific venue or style of venue is most important. You’ll want to choose your venue first. If your photography is most important, you’ll want to check with your desired photographer on the dates they have open, and then check your venue options.
In the example I told you about the officiant, I’m essentially choosing my officiant first. I will have to make sure I choose a wedding venue in our county, and make sure he is available before I book the date.
Pro wedding planning tip: It is okay to contact vendors other than a venue before you have a date. Just keep in mind that most people won’t hold dates without a deposit, so you might want to be looking at venues simultaneously!
Use your wedding priorities to set your wedding budget
Your next step is to lay out your wedding budget. Having your wedding priorities set will help so much here! Click here to learn how to use your priorities to set your budget.
And click here to download our free wedding budget tracker!