Brides-to-be are peppered with plenty of questions: Did you set a date? Have you found a wedding dress? Can I see your engagement ring? But perhaps the most surprising to me was the one that come from a well-meaning coworker. After taking one look at my left hand, she asked, "Isn't wedding planning the worst? So glad to be done with that!" Her belief is one I heard repeated a few more times throughout the planning process—but putting together your dream nuptials doesn't have to be a nightmare.
While planning a party for 150 of your nearest and dearest is certainly a challenge, it can be a really enjoyable process (we promise!) and one you can get through without a single breakdown. (Or, at least, with just one or two mini meltdowns.) We asked two wedding planners to tell us how.
Start with the basics.
Salt Lake City-based planner Michelle Leo Cousins, owner of Michelle Leo Events, tells her couples that drafting a guest list is the very first task they need to complete. "A lot of times our clients come to us and they haven't set a budget because they don't know what the budget can be," the pro explains. "And obviously the guest count drives what they end up spending." By putting together a rough guest list, couples can start preparing a budget.
Decide who will be making the decisions.
Another must for Cousins' couples? "I always try and have the bride and groom establish who needs to be in on the decisions," she explains. Because putting together a standout celebration means making tons of decisions, it's smart to determine early on who gets the final call. Whether that's the bride, the groom, the parents, or some combination of both, work out a system for who has final say. Once you've locked in your decision-makers, advises Cousins, keep all appointments to just that group so that no one gets frustrated.
Keep it together.
All wedding-related paperwork, that is. New York- and Pennsylvania-based planner Kristine King, president and lead event director at Kristine King Events, suggests buying a planning binder complete with helpful tips, schedules, and checklists. Use this to save notes, contracts, and other key documents. While you're at it, recommends the pro, set up a wedding-only email to use for all vendor communications. "You can create folders to store emails based on sender," she says, allowing you to reference them easily so you feel organized, not overwhelmed.
Document the details.
Simplify the invitation-sending process by inputting your guest list into a spreadsheet, advises King. Set up columns for guests' names, addresses, the number invited, whether you've sent the save-the-date and/or invitation, their RSVP status, and menu order, she says. "After the wedding, you can add columns to record gifts and whether or not you've sent a thank-you note," she adds. "And if you create this on Google Drive, you can access it anywhere and anytime."
Get your venue in place.
Before Cousins' clients dive into the daunting list of must-dos, she encourages them to focus on an important first step: locking in a venue. Oftentimes, the place will dictate the date and possibly even the vendors you're able to use. Checking that one major item off the list can feel like a huge accomplishment and leave you ready to dive into the rest of the details.
Get your priorities straight.
Before you get lost dreaming about peony bouquets and bistro lights, sit down as a couple and discuss what aspects of the day are most important to both of you. Listing the vital areas (think: the music, menu, or even the welcome kits) can dictate where you spend the most attention and money and help you decide which vendors to lock in first.
Make a backup plan you love.
The idea of outdoor vows sound lovely until you spend the week leading up to your wedding frantically checking the weather forecast. While you can't fend off rain or snow you can block last-minute stress by having a plan B in place. Leo Cousins, who estimates 90 percent of the ceremonies she plans are outdoors, says she "always, always, always has a weather backup plan." (If your venue doesn't offer an indoor site, consider reserving a tent.) With precautions in place, notes Leo Cousins, "We know exactly what we need to do if the week of the wedding it's snowing or it's raining or temperatures drastically drop. We don't have to panic."
Ask for help.
If you're not the most detail-oriented person—or simply don't have the time to search the Internet for a top-notch florist or affordable calligrapher—consider springing for a planner. Not only will they be able to give you a week-by-week guide from putting together your nuptials, says King, but they also have great connections and insider knowledge. "A planner will have key relationships with vendors, insight about wedding venues, and will be there on your wedding day from start to finish," she adds.
Give yourself some breathing room.
Collecting RSVPs and slotting guests into a seating chart can be a big stressor for brides and grooms, explains Cousins, because there are always invitees who don't return the stamped-and-addressed envelope. To avoid anxiety, she tells brides to build in at least a week of buffer time between when you ask for RSVPs and the final headcount is due. If the thought of bugging delinquent guests gives you agita, this is a great task to assign out to any eager relatives.
Paint a picture.
As you work through the logistics of what you want your reception to look like—and where your nearest and dearest will be seated—King recommends using an online tool called AllSeated. "It enables you to design floor plans, manage guests lists, and create seating charts," she explains. And you can share your work with all pertinent vendors ensuring you're all on the same page.
For Leo Cousins, it's a hard and fast rule: All planning and designing decisions are locked in a month out from the wedding. That leaves 30 days to focus on the details, she says. "Vendor arrivals, parking, who's cleaning up, who's setting up, where bridesmaids need to be for pictures versus where groomsmen are getting ready, and so forth. There are no other distractions because everything else is wrapped up," the pro explains. This is the ideal time to slot everything into a day-of schedule and distribute it to your wedding party and relatives. "Family can really bombard the bride and groom the month of," notes Cousins, "and when they have that document to say, it's all here, just read it, it's such a stress reliever."