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The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist

Updated: Mar 20

Your wedding day is supposed to be your most memorable day, but planning it can be very stressful. Here is how to get started with planning your big day.

newlywed couple

You're engaged - congratulations! Now that you're engaged, you and your partner are ready to plan a wedding. But where do you start? What do you need to do and by when? How do you start budgeting for a wedding? Don't worry, we've compiled a list of what to do, helpful resources and common Q&A to help you plan your perfect wedding!

Note: This post may contain affiliate links, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through one of these links.


+ Where do you start when planning a wedding?

+ Finances (wedding budgeting, splitting expenses, etc)

+ Communication (aligning on priorities, compromises, etc)

+ Vendors (how do you find them, what to look for, etc)

+ What is the biggest piece of advice for wedding planning?

Where do you start when planning a wedding?

Weddings are celebrated as a day to remember for the rest of your life...and it is. But getting to the big day can be stressful. The best way to start planning for a wedding is develop a budget for your big day. Most of us feel like a wedding date needs to be secured as the sign that wedding planning has kicked off, but depending on what venues you like and the availability they have, you may not get the exact wedding date you're looking for. This is why I like to solidify this a little later in the stage rather than starting wedding planning with it. You may have a target date that you're aiming for, but I would avoid telling everyone in case you do need to make a change once you start venue shopping.

Budgeting is probably the most important aspect to start with. It will determine how you proceed with the rest of the wedding. There are a lot of simple wedding budgeting templates out there that you can use for free. We have a Wedding Budgeting Tool that automatically splits out your ideal budget into categories (venue, food, decor, etc) based on what the industry average is. It gives you a better understanding of how you should break your budget up. Plus, you have the option to make adjustments to the industry average so you can customize your own budget. You can purchase the budget tracker below:

Finances (wedding budgeting, splitting expenses, etc)

First and foremost is to decide on a wedding budget. What do you both feel comfortable spending on a wedding? Once you align on the overall budget, make sure you discuss the following:

1. How to split wedding expenses: This is the biggest one. Who is paying for what? Will either of you parents be contributing to the wedding? Will they cover the whole thing? Everyone does things differently, but it really depends on how you and your partner want to handle it. If you don't feel comfortable talking about finances, I have a post that shares 3 tips on how to discuss finances with your partner. One of my friends ended up having her family pay for the entire wedding because there was such a small amount of people from the groom's side in attendance. My husband and I decided to split everything down the middle: he had more guests so with my wedding dress and our wedding bands added in, it seemed like a fair split. But this is something you have to align on together. Don't make an assumption that just because you're inviting less people, it means that you're paying less for the wedding.

2. Who initially pays for what and how do you reconcile expenses: Keeping track of expenses and who is paying for what is going to be important, especially if you and your partner will split everything on your own. My hubby and I decided that we would individually pay for certain things then reconcile what we owe each other after the wedding has ended. Since I had a higher credit score and a higher credit limit on my credit card, I paid for the big expenses like the venue cost, while he took care of things like the DJ, cake vendor, florist, etc. We kept track of who paid what in our wedding spreadsheet so it was easy to reconcile later on. You may want to reconcile earlier once payment goes through for each vendor. Do whatever you both feel comfortable with.

I highly recommend purchasing our wedding planning spreadsheet bundle (peep my Tiktok video on it) as it takes care of everything you need for while planning a wedding, including a customizable budget, expense tracker by contributor (so you can easily track if your parents are contributing as well) and an easy to use RSVP tracker that helps you decide on your seating chart.

Communication (aligning on priorities, compromises, etc)

This is one of the critical moments where communication can really make or break something. Planning a wedding is a big undertaking (no matter how big or small of a wedding it is) - make sure you communicate openly with your partner and with your wedding planner (if you have one).

Make sure there is dedicated time each week where you both sit down and discuss the wedding. You both should align on your priorities first before begin your search. What is most important to you about this wedding? What are things you definitely want a say in and contribute to? My husband was adamant on making sure that we had an open bar, great food and an amazing DJ. I let him take ownership over those areas. Things like decor and floral arrangements are things he could care less about and we agreed that I was able to make those decisions without his input. Talking about these things set clear expectations on what each person is expected to do and eliminates any confusion or unnecessary back and forth.

There may be instances where you will have to compromise. Your partner really wants a plated dinner, you really want a buffet and that fits in better with your budget. Again, open and honest communication is key. You may be willing to have a plated dinner, if there are other areas of the budget that get cut down. Maybe the light show in the DJ package needs to go. If this is really important to your partner, acknowledge it and try to make it happen, but be clear it will require other sacrifices. Same goes if the roles were reversed. Make sure your partner knows what you will and will not compromise on and be open to making adjustments to accommodate the things you both care about.

If your parents are covering for some of the wedding expenses, note that you may have to compromise with them too. They may want to invite family members you've never met before, request that you uphold a certain tradition during the ceremony or host it at a particular venue (there's no such thing as free money). You and your partner may also need to accommodate the parents' requests unless you're willing to forgo the money they're contributing.

Vendors (how do you find them, what to look for, etc)

Personally for the big things like venue, we went on Wedding Wire and searched up locations we thought could be a good fit for us. My only criteria was that it was to be in NJ since most of my family and my husband's family are here. Make sure to ask upfront what the service charges are and the expected tax you will pay! Always read the fine print when you are sent a wedding contract. Know the rules of date changes/postponement and make sure you're clear on what fees you will have to pay.

For smaller things like wedding favors and gifts, we did a lot of research on who could provide the item that is cheapest for us. There are a few sites who will allow you to get free samples, so make sure you take advantage of that before purchasing. The Knot, for example, allows you to choose 3 free stationary samples, so you can see which invitation works best for you. I also love Wedding Star - they offer personalization on most items that you can then give to your family, bridal party, etc.

What is the biggest piece of advice for wedding planning?

Be willing to negotiate. If you find a few venues that you love, ask if they're willing to provide a small discount or price match another venue that you found. Most venues may not give you a monetary discount (I honestly haven't seen this yet even in my own experience), but they are generally able to throw in freebies to cut your costs down elsewhere. Here are a few things you can ask for:

1. Upgrades on packages: You can ask if they're able to throw in a few upgrades on your packages for free. For example, if you're already getting catering from your venue, can they give you the expensive pork option for free instead of paying the extra cost? Can they add in a cookie station for no additional charge? Add in a few more topping items to the sundae bar at no charge (especially if the toppings are ingredients used in your appetizer and main entrees). Most venues are open to this if you ask in the right way. It also helps if you have other venues to compare to and show where they may not be competitive.

2. Bringing in your own alcohol: This is sometimes a hit or miss, but your venue may allow you to bring your own alcohol instead of using theirs. This would bring down your open bar cost per person as you would now just be paying for staff instead of staff and alcohol. Alcohol is always charged at a premium for open bars, so if you can get your venue to agree to this, you will be save big here.

3. Outside catering: Another way to reduce the overall costs, but this option is much harder to do if your venue already offers catering. Most places will tell you that outside catering is not allowed. However, as I've said before, if you can get your venue to agree to this, you will save a lot of money. Instead of asking for everything to be outside catered, you can try asking for the appetizer or dessert to be outside catered and see how much that reduces your overall budget.

4. Waiving fees like cake cutting fees or corkage fees: Venues can sometimes charge additional fees for cake cutting and for serving alcohol. This is really just another way for them to make money. You can ask to waive these fees and I would tell them that other venues you're looking at don't charge these fees, which would make them a more attractive option.

5. Small freebies like decor, champagne, easy transportation: Most venues will be open to providing small items for free, which may not be big for them, but makes a big difference to you. For example, I asked my wedding venue to provide votive candles for each table that would be a part of my wedding centerpieces. It would have been an extra cost for me, but since they already have votive candles in the color that I want, it made more sense to use their candles instead of me purchasing new ones. Champagne is usually also an easy one to ask for. Ask for a few bottles of welcome champagne for your bridal party/family as you get ready. Since my wedding was on a golf course, I was also able to negotiate borrowing a golf cart for our ceremony exit. We were able to decorate it with a "Just Married" sign and were able to just drive off in this cute little golf cart to the area where the cocktail hour and reception will be held.

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