The guest list and budget
If you can tear your eyes away from your new sparkler, now is the time to consider numbers. Specifically how many guests you want to invite, and how much money you have to spend. Do you want to marry this year, next year, or in a few years’ time when you’ve saved up?
Work out these figures now, as there’s no point looking at venues you can’t afford; or ones where you don’t have enough guests to meet their minimum requirements. Include some contingency money in your final budget as costs can mount. Be realistic and clear with contributions from other family members - if your parents will contribute, will they also want to invite some of their own friends too?
Consider buying wedding insurance. No one wants to think of anything going wrong on their big day, but if your DJ is ill, or the photographer is stuck in traffic, this could be money well spent.
Finding a venue you love that’s available on a day that works for you means you can then set the date and start booking other suppliers. But where in the world do you want to get married? Think about geographic location first – will you marry in the area you currently live, or where you grew up, or do you want a destination wedding?
What style of wedding do you both see yourselves having? Asking yourselves these questions will help you find suitable reception venues. Always keep in mind your budget when viewing a venue – you’ll need to spend around 50 per cent of your total budget on the reception side of things.
Religious or civil, formal or relaxed? The ceremony is the important bit, so don’t lose sight of that. There are certain required legal aspects, but then you can have readings, poems, songs or music played.
For a religious ceremony, meet with your vicar who will explain the process and any specific requirements, for example they may ask you to attend church services or marriage classes beforehand. In some parts of the UK, you’ll also need the banns to be read in church on three consecutive Sundays before the wedding.
For a civil ceremony, you’ll need to give notice at your local register office; this can be done up to 12 months before your big day. You’ll also need to book the registrar to conduct the ceremony, so if you’re not marrying locally, contact the register office nearest your venue to do this. You can either marry in the register office, or in a licensed room at your reception venue.
The two main photography styles are formal – posed group and individual photos; and reportage – a more relaxed set of photos. But of course you could have a mix of the two. Always view plenty of examples of a photographer’s work and talk through the shots you’d like them to take.
Check what’s included in the price, how many images come in your album and who owns the copyright of the photos (it’s usually the photographer, although some will provide you with digital images, but this is often at an extra charge).
Most weddings include music during the ceremony which could be played live or from a CD. Then at the reception and during the evening you may want music and other entertainment such as a DJ, band, magician, casino or outdoor games. Again, don’t forget your budget when deciding what you want - a DJ will be cheaper than an eight-piece band, simply because the band has more people to be paid for their time.
[ Related article: Top 10 wedding dress styles]
Wedding dresses can take a few months to be made, so start looking for your dream dress early on in the planning process. A good time to go dress shopping is once you’ve sorted out the venue and set the date, as you’ll already have made decisions about the style of wedding you’re having. Don’t forget suits for the groom and groomsmen; bridesmaids’ and flower girls’ dresses and outfits for your mums, too.
Stationery sets the whole tone for the day, so think about the style as these will tell your guests more than just what time to turn up. In addition to invitations you may want to send save-the-date cards first; and with the invitations you should consider including maps, directions and hotel/travel details, as well as RSVP cards.
And then there’s the orders of service for the ceremony, menus for the wedding breakfast and thank you cards. You can go to a specialist company, or make your own invitations. Either way, before they are printed, double check for spelling mistakes or other errors.
The food and drink
Most weddings follow the ceremony with a meal (usually called the wedding breakfast). But if you’re having an evening reception too, you will need to feed guests again later in the day. If your venue doesn’t have its own caterer, ask for a list of recommended local companies they’ve worked with before.
Again, the style of day can dictate the style of food – a sit down meal might work well for a traditional wedding, but a more relaxed day could have a barbecue or ‘pub grub’. Don’t forget to request a menu tasting beforehand and check with guests for vegetarian and children’s meal requirements, and any allergies.
[Related article: Expert tips on choosing your wedding cake]
Brides are often split on the subject of flowers – some want floral displays in every available space; others would rather spend their budget elsewhere. Key flowers to think about are bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids; buttonholes for the men; corsages for the mums; flower girls baskets; ceremony decorations such as pedestals and pew ends in church; reception and table decorations.
If the budget is tight, go for a few noticeable pieces rather than lots of small displays that will get lost, and concentrate on the areas where guests will spend the most time. And don’t be afraid to move displays from the ceremony to the reception.
This can become quite complicated especially if the bride and groom are arriving from different places, or if the ceremony and reception are not held at the same venue. Plus you’ll need to coordinate getting everyone in the wedding party to the right place at the right time. Vintage or classic cars are a popular choice.
If you’re staying near to the venue, save costs by just booking one car to take the bridesmaids first, and then return to pick you up. Or ask a friend or family member with a nice car to do the honours.
[Related article: Wedding hair and make-up essentials]
Hair and make-up
If you’re having your hair or make-up professionally done then you’ll need to have a trial before the big day to talk about what you want and to try out hairstyles and make-up colours. If you prefer to do your own hair and make-up, you’ll still need to practise beforehand to find out how long your style takes, and how well it lasts.
Wedding day make-up is usually heavier than everyday make-up as it needs to last all day and show up for the photos. Ask a bridesmaid to keep a bag with hair spray, hair pins and make-up essentials close by for touch-ups on the day.
The gift list
There are several options for wedding gifts. You can register with a department store or specific gift list company; you can compile your own list online; or you can ask for donations towards your honeymoon, new house or to a charity.
The first night hotel
Where will you stay after the wedding? If your venue has rooms, it would be really convenient to stay there. Some couples like the idea of family and friends all staying in the same place; others prefer to have a bit of time alone to take everything in. If guests are coming from out of town, make a list of nearby accommodation to suit different budgets (and check whether any will do discounts for block bookings) and include this info with the invitations.
And finally… minimise wedding stress by being organised. Keep track of RSVPS and the budget with a spreadsheet or wedding planner. Keep copies of all contracts – and read them! And never assume - if you want something, get it in writing, as your idea may not be the same as your suppliers’. Put together a scrapbook to show suppliers images, styles and colours you like. Enjoy it. This is the biggest day of your life, after all!