YOU’RE ENGAGED! Now What? 15 first things to do after getting engaged to start planning the wedding of your dreams
You’re engaged!! Now what? Where do you start with wedding planning? What are the first steps in the wedding planning process? When I got engaged in Bali this year, I couldn’t believe how little my friends had told me just about how stressful the beginning stages of wedding planning are. Allllll you want to do is celebrate your new engagement, but you have this HUGE thing looming over you. That you haven’t even started on….. and that you have no idea HOW to start on!!! You need to plan YOUR WEDDING!
Whether you or your daughter just got engaged, you’re probably thinking – NOW WHAT!? It can be exceptionally overwhelming to start planning a wedding. Especially because, helloooooo, none of us have ever planned one before! It’s completely new territory and there is SO much to learn. But that’s where I come in! With my wedding coming up in April, I am neck-deep in wedding planning right now. Since I’ve just gone through those first 6 (stressful) months of planning, I have learned SO much, and I want to help make it WAY easier on all of you. If I could go back and do it all again, a post like this would’ve helped me immensely, which is why I wanted to write it for yall.
Here are the top 15 first steps to do as soon as you get engaged to start planning your dream wedding
First of all, CELEBRATE! Seriously, being engaged is THE BEST, and you will never get back those first days and weeks after he gets down on one knee and you get to share your happiness with all your loved ones. It is literally the best, and it’s once-in-a-lifetime!
SOAK IT IN! Tell EVERYONE!!! Facetime’s are the best because you get to see everyone’s reactions to your engagement! Don’t forget to take some screenshots – I wish I took more!
Ok now kick this wedding planning thing into high gear.
After you’ve taken some time to soak up the love and relax in your engaged bliss (not to mention stare at your ring 24/7), the sooner the better on nailing these important details so you’ll have a super smooth planning experience leading up to your wedding!!
Figure out your wedding budget
Figuring out your wedding budget first and foremost will help decide which venues you should be looking into. If your parents, or his parents, are involved, make sure to have those conversations with them. If it’s something you and your future hubby are paying for yourselves, figure out what budget makes sense for your big day.
For me, it was helpful to lay out all of my assumed wedding expenses, and how much I thought they would cost in a spreadsheet, of course you’re just guessing at this point but it helps when going to venues to have an idea of where you want to splurge and where you want to save to make your budget work. Generally, my excel spreadsheet included an estimated cost (do research for your area, or just put a general # in you feel comfortable spending) for: Photography, Videography, Wedding Planner, Ceremony venue fee, Officiant, Ceremony decorations, Ceremony flowers, Wedding party bouquets/bouttainieres, Ceremony chairs, Reception venue site fee, Reception decor/lighting, Reception flowers, Cake & cutting, Wedding dress, Veil, Alterations, Band, Wedding stationary (save the dates, thank you cards, invites – I hiiiighly recommend using Minted for these!!!)
Figure out your wedding priorities
When you picture your big day, what’s most important to you? Do you care most about the venue, the panache? The details, the flowers, the dress? The people, spending time with your friends and family? The sentiment, the ceremony, the emotion?
For me, the most important aspect of our wedding right off the bat was the guest experience. I knew right away that I wanted to throw a PARTY. I imagined our wedding being in a place where everyone was close together all weekend, where I’d run into all my favorite people all weekend long, and where it would be almost like a group vacation. I was immediately drawn to a destination wedding for that reason – there’s just something in the vibe that people have when they’re heading somewhere exotic that they’ve never been before for a wedding – they’re automatically AMPED up! That’s the energy I wanted surrounding our big day. I wanted everyone to feel like they were on vacation with us! That was a big priority of mine.
Other big priorities were that it be somewhere warm (duh), preferably either overlooking the beach or on the beach. I wanted TROPICAL. I also really wanted my friends (at least my bridal party) to be able to stay in the hotel if it was a hotel, and pictured us all hanging by a pool, margaritas in hand. I wanted a wedding that was unique, and very ME and my fiance, I wanted to be somewhere that none of my friends had done, and I wanted the whole wedding to be unique in that most people won’t experience a wedding similar to ours. I also wanted our wedding to be (somewhat) close to home, so that people didn’t have to travel across the world (which immediately took Bali out of the running, unfortunately!). Being from California, I loved the idea of Hawaii and Mexico right off the bat.
Decide on a wedding “theme”
Decide on a theme for your wedding that suits you and your fiancé!
One of the most helpful things I did in the beginning stages of wedding planning was nail down the “theme” of our wedding. I decided pretty soon after getting engaged that I wanted our wedding to be “Tropical Elegance”. This means that I wanted every part of our wedding to feel tropical, and elegant. I wanted the beachy energy and vibes of a tropical wedding, but mixed with the modern elegance of my taste. It’s funny because I didn’t realize at the time but I basically wanted to marry my fiancé’s brand and my brand – I wanted a mix of Kenny Flowers and JetsetChristina.
Deciding on a theme, whether it’s rustic-chic, romantic, modern elegant, classic traditional, nautical, trendy bohemian, tropical, or formal, is super helpful in every aspect of wedding planning. When you look at venues and talk to vendors, they’ll each want to hear about what you picture for your wedding, and this can be a great launching point for them to help piece together your perfect vision for your big day!
Pinterest helps a lot here, and many vendors will ask for Pinterest mood boards of what you’re going for with each part of your wedding! So make sure to start searching Pinterest for inspiration, and making boards of your favorite cakes, decor, ceremony, florals, etc!
Hunt for a venue
Maybe the most stressful part of wedding planning is venue-hunting. (At least for me!) And yes, it is a HUNT – not only because it can be hard to find the venue of your (and your fiancé’s) dreams, but because if you do, sometimes the dates you want are already taken! it’s really important to start as early as possible. Not to freak you guys out, but the best ones get booked up, and the best dates definitely get taken early.
So, start researching, and visiting, venues as much as you can, even if you’re not sold on them right off the bat. You’ll find that every venue tour you go on, you learn more and more about questions you should be asking, benchmarks on budget, etc etc. It’s SO helpful. Ask as many questions as possible, and get as much information as possible, even if that’s not the right venue for you, maybe you can get information on the area or what else you should be looking for. For example, when touring venues in Hawaii, we were at one that I didn’t care for as much as my favorite, but they let it slip to me during the venue tour that I should book my band FIRST thing, since there aren’t many wedding bands in Hawaii, and they’re all in high-demand… Meaning that if you don’t jump on it, you could be left with a single ukelele player – yeah, not my vibe. That was a super helpful little tidbit that I never would have known (especially because other hotels told me oh don’t worry, band won’t be a problem! but when I started researching bands in Hawaii I found there was really only ONE that I wanted. Luckily they were available (thank God).
Oh also, if you’re planning a destination wedding, I’d recommend going and staying at the venue you are thinking – get an idea for the hotel, the service and the guest experience, and make sure it’s up to par – after all, this is what everyone you love will be coming into for the weekend!
Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
With every venue you go to. Get an EXACT idea of what the wedding will cost at each venue, so you can properly compare them to each other. If one includes some things in their estimate but is missing others, ask for those things. If you find a venue you trust, tell them the number you need to keep the wedding under and ask honestly if they’ll be able to do that. Every single part of the wedding is a negotiation, and every venue has room for negotiation (think : site fees, room rates, etc) Find out what’s most important for the venue, and where there’s wiggle room. If negotiating isn’t your forte, this would be a good time to consider bringing on a wedding planner! I chose not to, since our venue came with a dedicated wedding planner, and I love negotiating and planning, but I think a wedding planner is worth their weight in gold! Especially if your venue doesn’t come with one – many require one!
Decide on your bridal party
Think through with your fiancé how many people on each side will be a part of your wedding party. For us, we chose 8 on each side. I’m not of the opinion that your sides have to match, but that’s totally up to you! I think do as many, or as few, makes sense for you. Did you know in Europe it’s unheard of to have more than a few bridesmaids? They think Americans are crazy to have 6 or 8!
We honestly wanted 12, and both had so many friends we wanted to be a part of our big day, but there’s a point where you have to draw a line, because if you have 12 bridesmaids then how will the # 13-20 friends feel!?
Once I decided on my bridal party, I got to think about how to ask my bridesmaids to be in my wedding, which was SO much fun! I think it’s good to do this sooner rather than later so that they know they’re going to be a part of your big day! (and so they’re not sweating wondering!!!) But a lot of people will wait until they have a venue and date to ask their bridal party, which is fine too!
Determine your wedding size
The size of your wedding could be dictated by the size of your favorite venue, or vice versa! Be sure to get both of your families’ input, especially if they’ll be footing the bill. I think it helps during this step to start a guest list! That way, you can have a number on who are the most important people you want there, and where the lines get drawn when it comes to guest #s.
Once you’ve agreed on a rough guest count and budget, it’s time to decide on a date and lock down a venue!
Decide on a date
This goes hand-in-hand with picking the venue, since it depends on the best times of year for the location you want to get married in! When we had it locked down to Hawaii (even when we were unsure on the exact venue in Hawaii), I started thinking about dates. I was between April and May because they were both beautiful times in Maui and ahead of the Summer rush.
I also loved the idea of a Spring wedding, especially in a destination. We were leaning May for a long time but checked in with our bridal party, groomsmen, family, and any important friends to make sure there were no dire conflicts (definitely an important step! Even if you haven’t officially asked them to be in your wedding yet! You can frame it as “You know how important it is to me that you’ll be there, so I want to make sure you don’t have any conflicts in X month”), when we checked, we found out that some of our favorite people had a conflict on the date we were leaning, so we went to April instead!
Lock down your venue
If you have a date you like, and a venue you love, it’s time to lock it down!! Make sure you’ve negotiated every bit of the contract, because you definitely won’t have as much power once these papers are signed!
Start setting up your wedding website
I loved this part of the planning process! It was so creative and fun, and the websites out there make it so easy to plug-and-play and create an AMAZING website. And the best part? They’re all FREE! The only cost we had was to create a custom domain – which I highly recommend doing because it’s only $14 to buy a domain name, and it’s so fun to have “Yournames.com”.
We used Zola for ours – I loved that they connect to your registry, making it super simple for people to shop all the gifts you’ve requested. I also just loved that they had a tropical template – so perfect for us.
Minted also has some awesome wedding websites, which is fun because it connects to your wedding stationary.
On the website, I recommend having travel/accommodation recommendations, things to do in the area you’re getting married in, an “about us” section where you can talk about how you met and your love story, and a bridal party section for sure, where people can get to know your wedding party! I also liked doing a FAQ, where we answered little questions like “what do I wear?”, “is there a valet?” and “are kids invited”.
Finalize Your Guest List
And each of your families’ lists! Make sure the final number makes sense with the venue you’ve chosen and the vibe you are going for! They say you should assume about a 80% acceptance rate.
I recommend sending Save the Dates out about 9 months in advance. These days, almost every wedding is a “destination” for most people invited, and it’s a really nice gesture to give them as advance of notice as possible so they can plan their schedules! Make sure to buy your wedding website domain before you send these out – and if you’re going to password protect your site, be sure to have the password on the Save the Date!
I used Minted for my Save the Dates and I am IN LOVE WITH THEM! They have so many options, and pair you with a custom designer, to make your personal Save the Date. For example, on ours, where it was supposed to say Save the Date, we changed it to a gold-foil-embossed “Meet Us in Paradise”. I loved that we could make it unique and our own! I also used them for my thank you cards! They’re the best. You can check them out here.
(I took out the date for privacy reasons but it obviously says the date before 2020 for everyone who received one 🙂
Start booking your vendors
Chat with your venue and wedding planner about which vendors are most important to book first (as I mentioned before, it totally depends on your area! Some areas have a ton of wedding bands, but fewer photographers, and some have few DJ’s but a ton of videographers) It’s important to understand where the biggest demand is, and start there, so you can get your favorites locked down. It’s stressful at first, but piece by piece it all comes together!!! Photography and band were most important for me, so I started there, and then went to things like DJ, video, hair and makeup, etc!
Find (and order!) your dream wedding dress!
If you’re going designer, it’s important to buy your wedding dress about 8 months before the wedding. This gives time for them to order the dress (since most wedding dresses are made custom), then have you fitted and have any alterations necessary made.
Shopping for a wedding dress was hands-down my favorite part of wedding planning. I mean, seriously, I wish I could do it every day of my life. My maids of honor, my mom and I, all spent an entire day wedding dress shopping in San Francisco, and we had a BLAST. Make sure to book bridal gown shopping appointments early, and schedule your day around where and when your appointments are! I recommend going to at least 3-4 places to make sure you’re seeing a good variety of dresses – each boutique has such a unique style and carry different designers! It’s also helpful to create a Pinterest board ahead of your appointments with dresses you like – even if you don’t have an exact style nailed down yet – this will help the girls who are fitting you search for things that match your taste.
I found my dream dress at Bridal Galleria in San Francisco. Actually, each of my top 3 dresses of the entire wedding dress shopping process were from this store. What brought me to this place was their incredible designer dresses – Bridal Galleria has the BEST selection, and the buyer, Grace, and Hailey, the consultant, are the sweetest, most helpful people. They are the exclusive carrier of a bunch of leading brands and it’s clear from the get-go they are passionate about what they do – finding the most exceptional gowns in so many different styles, from classically elegant, to princess glam, to modern showstoppers. I felt like they could truly dress any bride in the gown of her dreams – wherever her wedding was! Which was important for me in a bridal salon because so many in San Francisco lacked the beachy feel that I needed for a Maui wedding. They truly guide you through the whole process and help you find dresses that completely blow your expectations out of the water. My girls and I had the BEST time here, and I’m so glad I ended up buying my dress, and matching veil, from Bridal Galleria!
Set a timeline for the next months
You can find a pretty good list of all the checklist items on Zola – which I love. But take this and create your own! From finding your bridesmaids dresses, to ordering your wedding invites, a checklist will make sure you don’t miss a beat. Tailor it to your personal wedding timeline, and organize what you can realistically accomplish when. This will help immensely in the next few months of planning to help keep you on track!
Start planning your honeymoon!
Let’s be honest, honeymoon planning is the most fun part of the wedding planning process! Start dreaming up where you want to go, and check out my blog posts on How to Start Planning Your Honeymoon, the Best Luxury Honeymoon Destinations in the World and How to Choose a Honeymoon Destination by budget: what does a honeymoon actually cost to get started!
Start stocking up on white outfits!
Like, a looooot of white outfits. You’re going to need a dress for every wedding-related event, and a lot of times it’s smart to buy these bride-to-be dresses months ahead of time since cute white dresses and sundresses are harder to find out of season!
Start planning your bachelorette party with your maid of honor!
Let’s be honest, bachelorette parties are one of the most fun parts of the entire wedding process! You’re going to want to choose a bachelorette party destination of the top bachelorette party destinations, and then research guides for your bachelorette party destination: here are some bachelorette party posts that I have!
I hope this helps ease some of the wedding planning stress! Sometimes you just need to see the steps written down to help ease some of the overwhelmingness of it all, right!?
PS – Join the JETSETTERS secret facebook group to get & give travel & lifestyle recs to our Jetset Christina community and connect with other #JSCJetsetters!
Check out my other related blog posts for brides to be!!
The Ultimate Bali Honeymoon Guide – my most popular blog post of all time!