for an easy and incredible wedding planning experience
Just about to get starting with planning your own wedding or feeling a little overwhelmed by it all? We've put together a massive list of some of the best wedding planning tips that can make the entire experience from start-to-finish much, much easier.
You see, we planned our own wedding and got a taste of what it's like first hand. Since then, we've gone on to photograph a ton of weddings for couples who chose to use us as their wedding photographers - and we've seen over and again how wedding planning can be a lot of fun if done right (and a little stressful if not thought out well!).
While this post will be a little more involved than the typical "top 10 wedding planning tips" articles you'll find around bridal magazines and such, we hope you'll be able to find it a little more helpful as we give personal and practical advice that's more than just "make a budget".
1. HAVE A WEDDING ON YOUR TERMS
We are firm believers that your wedding day should be a reflection of who you are as a couple, not just parents dictating every little detail. If there are things that are really important to you to incorporate into your wedding - whether that's traditions, a certain aesthetic, etc. - you should let that be a part of your day.
When planning a larger wedding, it's normal to expect a level of compromise with your family - but don't accept compromising on things that will make you unhappy. Otherwise, what's the point of all this wedding planning if you won't be able to enjoy yourself when the big day comes?
2. GET ON THE SAME PAGE WITH YOUR PARTNER
One of the worst "wedding planning trends" is when one partner is super invested in the planning, and the other just sits it out. At the start of your wedding planning, we suggest sitting down and talking together about how to approach making these plans.
3. know the costs
In the United States, the average wedding costs about $33,000. The price can be much higher in major metro areas like New York City and Philadelphia. Of course, price can also vary depending on the specific venue and vendors you select - with newcomers in the industry generally being less expensive, and more experienced service providers being more expensive.
For experienced and reputable vendors, here's a breakdown of what you can expect to pay:
- Photographers. $3,000 - $5,000. This price range will typically include wedding day coverage, an engagement shoot, 1-2 shooters, assistance with creating a timeline, and often albums or other print options. - Videographers. $3,000 - $5,000. This price range will typically include wedding day coverage, an edited video montage, RAW footage of your ceremony and toasts. Some videographers also include things like drone footage or quick turnaround social media edits. - DJ.$1,000 - $2,000. This price range (or higher) includes a skilled DJ who is able to read a room and keep a party going all night long. - Live Band.$3,000 - $4,000. Live music is super awesome and a little more expensive because it requires a lot more effort and manpower. Price can vary depending on the size of the band and how long they are needed to perform. - Wedding Planner.$3,000 - $5,000. This price range will take all of the hardest parts of wedding planning off of your plate, and give it to someone who is experienced in helping with the flow of your event. - Day Of Wedding Coordinator. $1,000 - $3,000. For weddings that need a lot of support in the logistics department, a day of coordinator can help make sure everyone is where they need to be at the right times. - Wedding Venue. $10,000 - $25,000. This price range tends to include a lot of amenities and a more nuanced experience - sometimes may include food, cake, etc. as well. - Officiant.$300 - $500. While virtually anyone can become a wedding officiant for free & online, an experienced wedding officiant is good at helping to make your ceremony personal and engaging for the audience. - Catering.50$ - 70$ pp. The cost of food depends largely on how many guests you will have at your event. - Cake.$300 - $500. This price range is for a custom wedding cake. - Florals. $1,000 - $2,000. This price range tends to cover a lot of floral arrangements such as bouquets, boutonnieres, table centerpieces, etc.
4. Create a mood board
So - what do you want your wedding day to look like?
One of the easiest ways to make a wedding mood board is to start a new board on Pinterest. Start pinning wedding inspiration. Over time, you can shape the mood board to focus on the color, aesthetics, and vibe you're going for in your wedding day. This board can help guide your decisions on choosing vendors, as well as be something that can be shared with some vendors (like a florist) to help guide them in floral selection.
6. Make a list of the "must have" guests
Weddings are notorious for bringing together long lost family members you may have never even heard of. For some couples, this is pretty exciting and kind of a cool way to turn your wedding into a bit of a family reunion. For other couples, this can be super annoying because "why should I pay for my 3rd cousin Jerry" when they don't even know who you are.
Take it from us (a married couple), the people you have at your wedding should contribute to the joy of your wedding. You don't need to have people just to have them.
7. Ask about payments plan from your choice vendors
8. Accept help early (you'll need it)
One of the worst things you can do while planning a wedding is continue to feel like you can handle everything by yourself. We're the types of people that are highly independent and like to do things on our own, but something as big as wedding planning can benefit from the help. If your mom, aunt, best friend, etc. is offering support - take them up on it.
9. send out invites 8-12 months in advance
It's important to send out wedding invites so people have enough time to make plans to be there. Keep in mind many of your guests may need to schedule time off work, and not all jobs make this super easy to do.
If you still need to get invites made, we've found one of the easiest ways to be through Basic Invite. This is a website that lets you choose from pre-made templates that can be customized with all your information. You can even add in your own pictures and graphics if you want to go all out and make them totally unique.
A while back, we had ordered some up ourselves just to check the quality for ourselves, and loved them (you can see more about that here). If you use the promo code HANDANDARROW at checkout, you also receive 20% off your first order.
5. Get organized
Okay, we know every wedding planning tips article tells you to "get organized", but how do you do it?
Many of our couples are already skilled at organization since we often are shooting weddings for people with very organization centric careers like teachers, nurses, lawyers, engineers, and similar. But, not everyone has a natural gift of being good at organization - and that can really come out during wedding planning since there are a lot of things to keep track of!
More than likely, if you're good at organization already, you won't need our help. But, if you struggle with it, here's some suggestions to make it easier for you:
- Keep a journal of everything that needs to get done. Sometimes the easiest suggestions are the best. Some couples who plan their weddings try to keep everything up in their heads, but this makes it very challenging to actually stay on track. Just writing everything out will make wedding planning much, much smoother for you. - Use Microsoft Excel if you want to level up your organization game. We can be a little nerdy, and have a weird love for Excel. Do we dare say it's kind of fun to use? A good spreadsheet can help you get better organized. We'd suggest working off of some pre-built templates like those found here. These make it much easier to use, even if you're not a skilled Excel user! - Delegate tasks to friends & family who are willing to help. Part of staying organized with wedding planning is accepting you can't do everything yourself. If you're able to have help from your friends & family, see what things they are able to help you with. It'll allow you to move through your list of things to do quicker and more easily. - Make a couple of checklists. You should have big goals that need to be done before the wedding. We'd also suggest setting daily/weekly goals as well to keep things moving ahead consistently.
10. All Inclusive or DIY - what's better for you?
There are really 2 types of wedding venues.
All inclusive. These venues tend to be more expensive, but include a ton of amenities. Often they will include food in the cost of the venues as they have an in house catering staff. Decor will usually pretty set as well.
DIY. These venues are often more affordable, but require you to bring in everything.
11. do venue research a little differently
When couples begin looking for a wedding venue, usually one of the first things they do is end up on websites like Wedding Wire or The Knot. These are hugely popular wedding planning platforms, designed to help connect couples with venues and other helpful information. While these are not bad sites to reference, their list of venues is not as comprehensive as they make it seem (especially since they transitioned to requiring all new vendor accounts to be paid for).
Some better ways to approach finding the right wedding venue for you:
- Search for wedding inspiration in the area you'd like to have your wedding and find the names of venues that look cool to you - Look through hashtags on Instagram to find pictures taken by photographers in your area - sometimes they will tag the specific venues - Reach out to friends, family, and vendors you like to see if they have any suggestions
If you're in Pennsylvania, you can also check out our comprehensive list of Wedding Venues in PA - we add to it regularly!
12. Ask venues about any restrictions they have
One of the most disappointing thing for couples is booking a really nice venue, only to find out later that they can't do certain things. Some things to ask about include:
- Can you have a sparkler exit? - Are fireworks allowed? - Is there any limitations on photography? - Is the venue pet friendly? - Is the end of the evening a hard cut off time? - Can I bring in my own decorations?
13. Use Facebook groups to find cheap or free wedding decor
After spending a year getting together candles, place settings, vintage books, and more - we now have all of these things sitting in a box, collecting dust. They were awesome details at our wedding, but we really only got them for this one purpose. So many now married couples are in this same position. Some of them will offer these in FB groups to other couple's planning their own wedding, and you can usually find some great deals because people are just wanting to get rid of these things at this stage in their lives.
14. Don't forget your marriage license
Getting a marriage license is pretty easy. Because it's so easy, it's also easy for forget! Most marriage licenses are valid for 60 days after you receive it, so planning to get yours 30-45 days out from your wedding is a smart idea.
The process is pretty simple:
- Fill out an application at your local courthouse (or online if it's available where you live) - Show up to the court and show ID (needed for both partners) - In some states, you receive the marriage license immediately. In others, there may be a waiting period (here in PA it's 3 days).
15. Some little details can make a big impact
When adding details into your day, a good question to ask is this - "what's the purpose of this detail?"
Good details do the following: - Contribute to the overall aesthetic - Bring up old memories and emotions - Add extra sensory memories to the day (like unique smells from a special perfume)
Some of our favorite details include the "borrowed-and-blue" items that are passed down from generation to generation. Another great one is a memories table where you can show off photos of lost loved ones. It's a nice way to remind everyone just how important and special this day is!
16. Learn how to get dressed (seriously)
17. Prepare a small "emergency kit" for the wedding day
It's good to be prepared for little mishaps that may come up on the day. A couple little things can relieve a lot of in the moment stress!
- Bobby pins. - Needle & thread. - Bandaids. - Light snacks. - Nail clipper. - Double sided tape.
18. Have a Rainy weather backup plan
All the wedding planning in the world can't control the weather, so having a backup plan is a great way to ensure you can still have an incredible time even if it starts to downpour. Usually, talking with your venue is a good first place to start - how do they handle rain in the forecast?
19. Invest in the things that matter most to you
Let's be real - we all know wedding budgets are important for many couples. There are definitely ways to cut costs, but we highly suggest not skimping on the things that matter most to you.
You can get a cheap DJ off Thumbtack, but if they don't keep the party going (or worse - make it super awkward) - you'll probably be thinking it was worth spending a little more money on in the moment. We hear this a lot from newly married couples who always look back on their wedding days and talk about what they would have done differently.
20. Plan for an unplugged wedding Ceremony
There is nothing more distracting during a wedding ceremony than everyone taking out their phones. On one hand, we get it - family & friends get super excited to see the couple and this instinct kicks in that says "this is a big moment, I need to record it!" An unplugged ceremony requires your guests to be present and enjoy the moment, instead of viewing it through a screen. Having signage at the front of the aisle and the officiant ask everyone to put away their phones allows an unplugged ceremony to go on without a hitch.
If you don't want a fully unplugged ceremony, a few things you can do to still keep things more intimate:
- Ask everyone to not take photos/video from the center aisle. - Designate 1 or 2 people to take these cell phone pics and video.
21. Pre-Plan Thank you Cards
We'll admit - after our wedding, we were a little lazy to get around to writing our thank you cards. After the wedding and honeymoon, you'll go through this period of time where you don't want to plan anything. So, building your thank you card efforts into your wedding planning can make it a little easier, and make it feel like less of a chore when the day comes around. Honestly, even just purchasing thank you cards beforehand and leaving it on your desk will make it easier to get around to it.
22. Hire a wedding planner
Let's stop for a minute - do these wedding planning tips just make you more anxious, instead of relieving your stress? For most people, that shouldn't be the case, but if it is for you, it might be a good time to consider investing in a good wedding planner who can help you.
A good wedding planner will make all of these things easier. Yeah, they'll need input from you so your vision aligns with what they are doing, but they can handle all the heavy lifting.
23. Join a wedding planning support group
There are a ton of great ways to get help and support in your wedding planning. One such resource is r/weddingplanning (Reddit), another is finding a local wedding planning group for your state or city.
24. Ignore current wedding trends you don't care for
We've seen a lot of wedding trends. Some of them feel like they've lasted forever and will never fully die (like the bouquet toss and dollar dance). Others are more recent, like a love for mason jars. If these things resonate with you and sound like fun, go for it! But, you aren't required to do things just because they're trendy - go with your heart, and only do you.
25. DO an engagement shoot with your photographer
Okay, we could give you a lot of advice when it comes to photography (since, you know, we are experienced wedding photographers) - but the one piece of wedding planning advice we'll give around it is "do the engagement shoot". But why?
Engagement sessions serve 2 main purposes. The first is to get you acquainted with your photographer and see how they work with you. This makes your life much easier when the wedding day comes around, since you've already met and know what it's like being in front of the camera. The second is to take a break from all the wedding planning, and just have a fun time together. While some engagement photographers go the cheesy route with a ton of props and signs, our approach is a lot more casual and about allowing our couple's to do things that feel natural to them.
26. You're bridal party should include the people you want - no matter how many or what gender they are
27. Factor tax into your wedding purchases
Gone are the days of a traditional bridal party, you can have whoever you want up there with you! We see so many awesome weddings feature guys on the bride's side, ladies on the men's side...not to mention unbalanced wedding parties (3 on one side, 4 on the other). Your bridal party should be comprised of the special people in your life, not determined by their gender.
We're all pretty used to paying taxes on things we buy every day. Here in Pennsylvania, a $100 dollar purchase adds an extra $6 bucks to everything - not that big of a deal in the scheme of thing. But, sales tax can add a lot. If you spend $30,000 towards a venue + other services, you'll end up paying about $1,800 in taxes alone.
28. Schedule time in your wedding day to enjoy yourself
When you begin working on your wedding timeline, it's important to add in some room for you to really enjoy being present in your day. We've seen couples add in that they are going to take 15-20 minutes together after their ceremony where they'll refresh themselves, grab something to eat, and just relax for a hot minute. Small things like this make a big difference in how you enjoy and remember your day.
29. Pay for experience & Quality when it matters
Unlike some wedding planning advice you'll receive from those in the industry, we think it makes sense to look for deals - especially on things you don't care a huge amount about. Let's face it, we also like a good deal, but we're also the types who will spend a lot on things that matter the most for us. It's a bit of a joke between us, as sometimes we'll be super cheap when buying clothing or food, but if we need that new $4,000 computer that we'll use every day? Sign us up!
When it comes to wedding spending, there will admittedly be some things you don't care about as much as other things. You probably don't feel you need the newest and finest linen tablecloths out there, so it's easy to find things second-hand that can help you save a little money. Other things, like wedding photos, you only get one shot to get right (and it'll be the only thing from your wedding that will truly last the test of time!).
30. Schedule time off work leading up to your wedding
This one really comes from first hand experience. Leading up to our wedding, Jes had the week off. Chris was not so lucky, as he had very limited vacation days. Situations like this are not always avoidable (and we could have probably avoided this too if we tried harder). There was nothing more stressful than working hard up until the very last moment. He literally did a shift the morning of our wedding rehearsal. Having even a day or two off in advance will help you to both relax and shift your minds into "getting married" mode.
31. Feeling a little stress is normal and okay
Most wedding planning advice will tell you "don't stress" - we're gonna go a different direction. Feeling stressed out comes with wedding planning. Think about it - it's a big step for you & your partner. You'll be bringing together family & friends, some of which who have never met each other before. You totally want everyone there to be happy and to have a good time, and you definitely want to make sure you're able to enjoy it, too! That's a lot to plan for, so the stress will come naturally. Of course, if you're feeling excessively stressed, that's no good either - so give yourself time and space to plan so you can account for that, but know it's totally normal to feel some stress along the way.
32. Want a fun dance party? Hire a good dj or band!
We've been to a ton of weddings - and often times the reception lives and dies by the DJ or band selection. Keeping the party going is about more than just the music selection, but how it's mixed, and how the person running the show is at MC'ing the event.
33. Consider how your wedding timeline will change to accomodate photos
Want all the amazing photos during your wedding day? You have to be comfortable blocking off some time to make them happen!
While every photographer may be a little different, here's what we suggest for different parts of the day:
- 1-2 hours of photography while you get ready (this allows for candids, detail shots, and some portraits) - 30 minutes for family formals - 30 - 60 minutes for bridal party & bride and groom portraits
34. You can control the size of your wedding
The size of your wedding really dictates the type of experience you & your guests will be having. We've honestly seen it all - weddings ranging from just the couple (self uniting elopements) to full blown 400 person weddings. Here's some thoughts on how these shape up:
- Small weddings (0 - 70 guests). These weddings are often the most intimate, more personal, and less stressful. The people in attendance tend to be closer relatives and close friends. Our own wedding ended up having around 70 people or so, and it felt like a lot to us as we're pretty introverted types ourselves. We absolutely loved it! - Average weddings (100 - 200 guests). More traditional weddings include larger guest lists, and can be a ton of fun with the right people in the room. Having this many people can sometimes add some stress to the couple as they cannot always (easily) make it around to talk with everyone. On the flip side, the dance party can be completely amazing! - Big weddings (200+ guests). While anyone can have these huge bashes, they tend to be most popular in certain cultures (like Indian weddings). These are definitely hectic, but if it suits your personality to really be the center of attention and have a ton of people around, it can also be an amazing experience.
If we can give any advice - size your wedding with what you're comfortable with. If you wouldn't be happy with just 50 people at your wedding, invite more! If having 300 people is way too much for you, then scale things back!
35. Read reviews of your wedding venue and vendors in detail
Online reviews are one of the best ways to determine the reputation of the vendors you're considering hiring for your wedding. We suggest not just looking at the star rating on these platforms, but read the actual descriptions from past clients. These reviews can shed light on what its like working with someone. This is especially important as even a 5 star rated vendor may not be "right" for you if you don't connect with their approach to doing things.
36. Verify that your vendors are legally registered and have business insurance
This one almost seems silly to have to include, but the wedding industry is comprised of many awesome businesses. Because it's so easy for anyone to become a photographer, a wedding planner, a DJ, etc. - many people are out there who are not properly registered to do business and lack the insurance that will often be necessary to work. For example, wedding venues will often ask vendors to provide a Certificate of Insurance (COI) before your wedding - without this, even your hired vendor won't be able to work there.
37. Wedding days can be a little unpredictable even with the best plan
Last but not least, it's important to keep in mind that even with the best wedding planning in the world, there is still always a level of unpredictability of wedding days. It's actually more of a surprise to us when things go 100% to plan than when things end up shifting around a little bit throughout the day.
One struggle we see again-and-again on the wedding day is everyone having a tough time getting dressed. Let's face it, brides don't regularly wear wedding dresses and bustling can be tricky the first time it's done. And the gents don't always need to tie a bowtie, put on cufflinks, pin a boutonnière. Because of this, we suggest watching a few videos on YouTube to get acquainted - it'll make your morning prep going much easier.
If you follow even half of these wedding planning tips, your own day is going to much, much easier already!
Need more support in your wedding planning? You can definitely reach out to us for some suggestions and to talk about your wedding vision. We love getting to help couples make their dreams a reality as our own wedding turned out to be one of the best days in our lives, we'd love for you to have the same type of feeling when you look back on yours!
Paying for weddings can be made a lot easier with a payment plan. This is a great option that often allows vendors to still receive what they need to stay in business, while allowing you more flexibility to make payments over time. Payment plans options will vary depending on the vendor (some won't allow them, either) - but it's always worth asking if this is something that could make things a little easier for you.
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Whether your already in the middle of planning for your big day or just getting started - we're open books and open ears, happy to help you and show you how photography can compliment your day - beautifully!
Hand and Arrow is a wife and husband photography team serving couples in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and tri-state area.