The [Totally Unfiltered] Wedding Planning Checklist for the Newly Engaged

Ahh! So you’re engaged! Congratulations! Whether you’re hosting an intimate affair with 20 guests or a blow-out extravaganza with 500 guests, we hope this checklist will help you sort out all those details. This means you can go back to more important things, like spending quality time with each other. So grab your favorite beverage, kick off your shoes, and enjoy!

Table of Contents

Create a new email account Find planner Find dresses/suits/accessories
Sign up for new credit card Find venue Plan honeymoon
Create Wedding Registry Find photographer Reserve hotel room block
Figure out wedding budget Find cinematographer Order or DIY Party Favors
Figure out your vibe Find entertainment Send out save-the-dates
Figure out your wedding party Find florist Send out invitations
Figure out your guest list Find caterer/baker Get wedding license
Figure out seating charts Find hair/make-up artists Write your vows
Plan rehearsal dinner Find officiant Misc. Items
Arrange transportation

Create a new email account JUST for wedding-related stuff

Because the last thing you need are 142 emails a day in your personal inbox from various wedding vendors trying to sell you stuff. Once the wedding is over, you can either toss it, or continue using it after your wedding as a joint email account (for bills and stuff).

While you’re at it, you might as well set up your wedding website!

Get a credit card with kick-ass rewards

While we definitely don’t condone going into debt to pay for your wedding, but if you are responsible and are able to pay your monthly balances in full, why not get some miles and perks for your honeymoon? Sounds like a no-brainer to me :).

Create a wedding registry

Most major retailers make it very easy to set up a wedding registry, and you can easily list all your relevant links on your wedding website. Because many modern-day couples are already living together, you may have very little need for new pots, pans and bedsheets. In those cases, a Honeymoon Fund is a tactful alternative to asking for cash, and some couples will even ask for donations to a charity in lieu of gifts.

Start your research

Figure out your vibe

Before you start your research, figure out the vibe you’re going for. That’s because your vibe is going to determine the kind of vendors you’re going to bring on board. Go to your local bookstore, grab some wedding magazines, and start from there. Zola, WeddingWire and TheKnot all have pretty good information overall, but remember to check out other resources that are more catered to your tastes and personalities. Don’t know where to start? You can start by checking out where these speciality/niche vendors submit their work for publication. Two Bright Lights is a great place to start!

Permission to come aboard!

Now that you’ve figured out your vision for the wedding day, it’s time to bring together the dream team who’s going to help make it happen! Here’s how you find them, as well as some of the things to watch out for. Above all else, always read the reviews!

Source Pros Cons
Professional Referrals
& Preferred Vendor Lists
Professional referrals generally implies a pre-existing and good working relationship between the one giving the referral, and the one receiving the referral. This prior working relationship generally means they’ll work seamlessly together, which means less headaches for you down the road. Sometimes, vendors will pay to be on lists, and sometimes they won’t. You generally want the referrals where there’s no money exchanging hands, because this means there are no financial incentives for the referrer to promote someone, aside from the fact that they do great work. Always ask if you’re unsure. Note: you can still find great vendors on paid lists, but free is always better!
Personal Referrals Personal referrals are great, because you can get some unfiltered feedback from your family & friends about their own experiences. 80% of our work comes from personal referrals! Sometimes, your tastes might be different from your friends and family. Just because you have two people dining at the same restaurant doesn’t mean they’re both going to order the same food. Same thing :).
Social Media Stalked an old classmate’s photos and thought they were pretty good? No worries, we’ve all done that too :). If a watermark or photo credit is not provided (but there usually is), you should always feel free to ask! Pro tip: Stalk your venue’s social media hashtags and location tags to find potential vendors! You haven’t really spoken to your old classmate since 4th grade, so this could be a little weird for some people…
Google Search If you google the right search terms, you should be able to narrow it down to a manageable number. Don’t search by geography (NJ Wedding Photographer) but instead, search by genre or venue (Maritime Parc Wedding Photographer or NJ Documentary Wedding Photography). The longer your keyword strings, the better your results will be. Pay attention to the kinds of images you like, and see if the same vendors are popping up! Finding good vendors this way is like looking for a needle in the haystack, and highly dependent on vendors who also understand how to SEO their content properly, as well as couples who are pretty much semi-pros at googling stuff on the internet.
Print & Online Publications Being published is one of the highest honors a wedding vendor can have, and it’s a privilege reserved for a very select few. Vendors cannot pay to be featured (but they can pay to advertise), so always read carefully! Online Publishers like WeddingWire & TheKnot will also offer reviews of vendors, so definitely check those out! Not every wedding vendor will aspire to be published, so you may be overlooking a huge swath of talented vendors if you go this route.
Bridal Shows You’ll get to meet with vendors 1-on-1, see their work in person, and get answers to your questions right away. There’s probably also a free glass of champagne with your name on it, if you know where to look :). In the following weeks, your inbox is going to be flooded with SO MANY EMAILS.

Figure out your wedding budget

“Honey, can we make this an Adults-Only party? Your little cousins are crazy.”

Your guest list is going to determine your budget and vice versa. At it’s most basic level, you’ll want to create your:

  • A list (immediate family and close friends),
  • B list (grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins)
  • C list (extended family, friends from college, coworkers & colleague)

“Honey, do we really need an ice sculpture of a flamingo? Just asking…”

Figure out where your priorities are, then decide where you’re going to be firm on your budget, and where you’re going to splurge. Comparison shop with all your vendors and make sure you are comparing apples to apples. In a perfect world, we would all be swimming in coins like Scrooge McDuck. But the sad truth is that most of us aren’t; this means means the ice sculpture of a flamingo probably has to go. (Sorry Ted!)

Find a Planner

If the prospect of being overwhelmed with everything wedding-related is making you kinda freak out, then definitely hire a planner. Planners come in all shapes and sizes, and offer a wide range of services. They can help you find vendors, set your timeline, and plan for all contingencies. During your research, you’ll encounter some who will charge a flat rate, while others will charge a percentage of your total spend.

But if you think you’ve got this, feel free to continue reading on, and get down with yo’ bad self!

Book a venue

Prime dates from April to October for popular venues are going to be snatched up 12-18 months in advance, so plan accordingly! If the budget is starting to feel tight, know that venues may offer cost savings when you book during these times:

  • During the “off-season” (typically December to February)
  • During the day (wrapping up by 5pm)
  • During the week (Memorial Day or Labor Day), or a random Tuesday

When considering a venue, consider what’s included. Some are all-inclusive, which includes catering, wedding cake, and valet. Others may offer additional dedicated areas for wedding photos and wedding ceremonies, while others may offer miscellaneous bonus multipliers: such as an incredible outdoor view, a historic castle on site, or convenience for your guests.

Book a wedding photographer

Wedding photographers will span the spectrum in terms of pricing, portfolio, experience and personalities. There are many different genres of wedding photography, with photographers specializing in creating certain looks, moods, and editing styles. After interviewing at least 3 candidates and scouring their reviews online, you really only need to consider 4 things:

  • Do you like their work?
  • Can you afford them?
  • Do you trust them?
  • Will the experience be positive?

(Incidentally, these will also likely be the same criteria you’ll be using to pick your other vendors too!)

In your research, you will encounter owner-operators, as well as larger studios which house several different photographers. Depending on the level of service, personalization, or relationship level you’ll require, one arrangement will be a better fit for you than the other.

Pro tip: make sure you do an engagement session to celebrate this milestone in your lives! Think of it as a test-drive with your photographer before the big day!

Book your entertainment

Would you rather listen to Lady Gaga on the radio, or watch her perform live? If given the choice, it’s hard to dispute that live music is definitely the way to go, but know that you’ll also pay a premium for that experience. But on the other hand, if you need to mix in some Bruno Mars with the Cupid Shuffle, a DJ’s may be the way to go. These days, DJ companies will even include some live musicians in their acts for an immersive, hybrid experience. Last but not least, DJ’s can typically bundle additional services that you might want to include on your wedding day. These may include photo booths, uplighting, or AV equipment for slideshows.

Pro tip: With either a band or DJ, see if they’re available to provide their talents during ceremony or cocktail – because many do!

Book a wedding cinematographer

A wedding video can do many things that wedding photos simply can’t. Wedding videos can record your actual vows and toasts, follow the stream of tears as it falls from your face, and capture the movements of key moments throughout the day (where they are simply implied in still-photographs). The BEST resource for finding a wedding cinematographer will be your photographer, because their needs (lighting & time wise) are going to be very similar. Should you find one on your own, make sure your photographer and cinematographer shoot & light the same way – or else your final deliveries for photo or video may be compromised (and you probably paid a pretty penny for both to be there).

Our cinematographer colleagues understand that they’re sometimes relegated as an afterthought within the scope of wedding planning – but know that the work they do is just as important, and the skill & experience required to deliver an amazing product is likely to be just as impressive. Definitely do not go the cheap route when hiring a cinematographer; either do it right, or not at all!

Pro tip: Sometimes you’ll encounter companies that offer both photo & video. And sometimes, they’ll be able to offer cost-savings when you bundle them together. But in our (totally biased) observation, these companies will perform stronger in one of those disciplines compared to the other. Present them with the following question during the interview: “If we’re running behind schedule, who’s calling the shots that day?” and you’ll have your answer :).

Book a florist

I mean, what’s a wedding without flowers? In addition to bouquets, boutonnieres, flower crowns & centerpieces, remember to get corsages for moms and grandmoms too! Oftentimes, they’ll even help you with decor if you need something elaborate (like drapes from the rafters, candles along the ceremony aisles, or even bistro lights over your dance floor). If you can dream it, they can create it!

Book a caterer and/or baker

Sometimes your venue doesn’t offer them (and you have to bring your own), and sometimes you just want something more specific to you. In all cases, a tasting is usually recommended, and reviews/referrals are going to be your best resources here.

Pro tip: If you’re having an outdoor summer wedding, your tiered cake with buttercream icing is not going to last very long!

Book an officiant/priest/rabbi/shaman

Well, someone’s gotta MC your ceremony, right? If you’re getting married in a place of worship, you probably don’t need to read any further. But for folks who are having their ceremonies on site, or for non-religious ceremonies, many couples nowadays resort to enlisting the help of a close friend, which could be a nice personal touch. But know that professionals can bring much of their experience & expertise to the table, and can even help with the paperwork after everything is said and done.

Your wedding party. Who’s in? Who’s out?

And who’s going to totally wreck your open bar? In all cases, you’re going to need to settle on a number, because you’re going to need this information before you book the next two items on this list.

Book your hair/make-up artists

Sometimes you can book them together with the same person/salon. Sometimes you’ll find a specialist for hair and one for make-up. Follow your top picks on social media to see recent samples of their work, and definitely schedule a trial to see how they’ll work their magic on your wedding day!

Pro tip: Schedule your hair/make-up trial on the same day as your engagement session, so you can see how everything will photograph as well!

Find dresses/suits/shoes/accessories

Your town will likely have a bridal shop that specializes in what you’re looking for #supportsmallbusiness #buylocal!. Otherwise, with the internet, you literally have the world at your fingertips and you can find/order whatever your heart desires.

Pro tip: Custom suits have gotten very affordable these days, and you’ll pretty much recoup your costs after two wears (compared to a tux rental).

Pro tip: Let your bridesmaids pick their dresses to suit their personal preferences and different body types. Give them a rough color palette and/or materials of what you’d like and let them handle the rest. Voila! That’s one less thing on your plate!

Plan Your Honeymoon/Bachelorette Party/Bachelor Party

After all this stressful planning, there’s gotta be room for a little bit of fun, right? Now go out there and enjoy yourselves, and of course, always party responsibly :).

Pro tip: If you’re traveling out of the country, make sure all your travel documents are in order.

Reserve hotel room blocks for out-of-town guests

Hotels will offer special rates with booking minimums (typically 5-10, last I checked). As a bonus, they may even offer the newlyweds a suite for two nights (so ya’ll can get ready in the suites on the morning of the big day).

Pro tip: Some hotels will offer complimentary shuttle service for your guests to the venue. Always ask, because you won’t know unless you do!

Order Party Favors/Thank You Gifts

At the end of the night, you can send your guests away with cookies, candies, succulents or even personalized bottles of champagne (which I still haven’t opened since 1992). In lieu of gifts, many newlyweds have also made donations to a charity in their name, which we think is a pretty awesome idea as well.

Send out Save-the-Dates

Save-the-dates are typically sent out 9-12 months in advance, or slightly further out if you’re planning a destination wedding (or plan on inviting many out-of-town guests).

Pro tip: If you plan on using your engagement session photos for your save-the-dates, allow a month of lead time for your photographer to get your photos back to you, especially during the busy season between April & October!

Send out invitations

Invitations typically go out 6-9 months in advance, or 1 month if you’re Chinese :).

Arrange for transportation on the day of

This part is pretty straightforward. Want something a little more unique than a 1920’s Rolls Royce? Look into 1950s Cadillac Convertibles, or a 1970s Vintage NYC Taxi Cab. The only rule is: there are no rules!

Pro tip: Check with your hotel to see if they provide free shuttles for guests.

Small touches. Big impact.

Sometimes these small items are easy to overlook, but they could mean so much to the folks who receive/use them.

  • Toiletries for the restrooms (mints, ibuprofen, dental floss, Tide pen, hair product)
  • Welcome bags for out-of-town guests at hotel (snacks, water, ibuprofen, maps, etc)
  • Groomsmen gifts
  • Bridesmaid gifts
  • Bubbles for ceremony exit
  • Sparklers for sparkler exit (make sure they’re 36″ long!)

Seating Charts

Bi-fold escort cards are a popular way to do this, but there are all kinds of creative ways to tell people where they’ll be sitting (signs, mirrors, or attached to their party favors). But if you play your cards right with hiring the right DJ/band, your guests won’t be sitting very much anyhow :).

(Photographer’s) Pro Tip: Mirror seating charts are nearly impossible to photograph!

Finalize timeline of wedding day

If you don’t have a wedding planner, your wedding photographer will likely have a semi-comprehensive timeline of your day from prep to cake-cutting. Be sure to build in time for travel, and include a buffer time of 30 minutes for photo/video. Your florist and hair/make-up artists will most likely work off of this general timeline from your photographer. Once the reception starts, your entertainment will likely have a detailed minute-by-minute itinerary for the remainder of the evening. Last but not least, make sure your catering/venue knows when your photo/video team are leaving so they can plan your cake-cutting time accordingly.

Pro tip: Get all your formalities (first dances, parent dances, blessings and toasts) wrapped up in the first hour, so you and your guests can spend the rest of the evening partying!

Get wedding license

Believe it or not, you actually have to get a license in order to get married. Waiting periods are usually involved and every state is going to be a little different. Just because you said “I do” doesn’t mean you did! This part could be as easy as visiting your local town hall/city hall and paying a filing fee to get your paperwork in order. Hiring a professional officiant will also help you sort out all these details!

Write your vows

If you prefer to keep your intimate feelings private, a greeting card on the morning of the wedding is always a nice touch too :).

Plan rehearsal dinner

Or welcome dinner, or whatever you’d like to call it. It’s a nice way to catch up with folks (especially the out-of-towners) and spend time with them before the big day. Just remember to go easy on the sauce, and go to bed at a reasonable time!

Remember to relax

Professionals know that 100% of wedding typically don’t go according to plan; so rest easy! Know that you hired professionals to deliver Plan A to the best of their abilities, and Plan B’s will probably also do just fine. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you’re making a life-long promise to another human being. Everything is just icing on your proverbial wedding cake :).

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