We can all agree that planning a wedding can be stressful and expensive. Choosing your priorities—and focusing the largest chunks of your time and budget on the facets of the big day you care most about—will make everything a whole lot easier. So, where do you get started? We asked top wedding planners Beth Helmstetter of Beth Helmstetter Events and Dawson Haynes of Easton Events to explain why establishing a budget early on is so crucial for planning success.
Both of our experts agree that the very first thing you need to do is determine a realistic budget for your wedding. "No matter the size of the budget, it is so important to have a number to weigh every decision against," Haynes says. Understanding what you can afford to spend overall will make your research easier and help you prioritize the details you care most about. If you can, give yourself a little wiggle room. You may need to spend more or less than you planned for, so a little flexibility one way or the other makes for less stress. Setting aside a little money in a contingency fund is never a bad idea, either.
Once you have that budget in mind, you can move on to everything else, but it's crucial that you always weigh your next decisions against the number you have to spend. Helmstetter recommends solidifying your guest list and members of the wedding party next since these details tie directly back into the budget—inviting more or less guests makes a big difference in terms of the cost of catering, the size of your venue, and how many floral arrangements you'll need. Once you've ironed out both the budget and the number of people you'd like to invite, you can work on the venue—it will become easier for you to see only ceremony and reception spaces that can accommodate both.
After you've got the venue, it's time to move on to the big vendors, like your photographer, florist, and band. As Helmstetter reminds us, "Most of these vendors cannot take another wedding on the same date as yours," so contact them first to ensure they have availability for your date. By booking these key pros early, you'll have a good grasp on exactly what you can and cannot afford to spend. Still not sure how to divvy up the budget? A helpful tip is listing out your top three priorities, either as a couple or individually. Whether it's having a live band, your dream gown, an open bar, a specific wedding cake, or something else, having this quick list will help you focus a little extra money, time, or attention to these details during the planning process.