Congratulations ... you're engaged. Next up is planning a wedding. The first time most brides hear these words, two feelings arise: excitement and anxiety. It's understandable that you are totally excited about your wedding and equally understandable that you are nervous about everything that has to get done before your big day. My husband and I planned our wedding ourselves and it was one of the most memorable days of our lives, so I wanted to pass along some helpful tips that got us through all the planning and managing all the details.
1. Take it one step at a time - When we first plunged into the planning process, we were completely intimidated by everything that had to get done. So, instead of just staring at a huge list and being freaked out, we divided everything up into small, manageable tasks, set realistic timelines for everything and put it all on a calendar (you can find great planning calendars on sites like The Knot, My Wedding Workbook or even use Google Calendars). This way we weren't always looking at the big list and panicking.
2. Start with your budget - Everything in your wedding - and I mean everything - is driven by your budget, so before you start making big plans only to have some of them dashed because you can't afford something, sit down and draw up a budget (again, there are tons of wedding budget calculators online). This would also be a good time to talk with your parents or anyone else who might be contributing to the wedding, because it's great to know from the start how much money you have to play with. And be very realistic about the costs and pricing (this may mean you need to do some research on average costs for things that you want for your wedding).
3. Next tackle your guest list - If something isn't driven by the budget, then it's driven by your guest list. The number of guests usually determines the cost of your wedding or how elaborate you can make your wedding, and you can pretty safely count on less than half of all people invited to attend, so start with that as a rule of thumb. First write out everyone you would possibly want to invite and then start going through rounds of revisions until you have paired your list to the people you definitely want to be there. You may need to run this by the parents to see if you've left anyone out and negotiate with them, but do it early on, because the size of your venues and your catering all depend on your guest list counts.
5. Recruit help - Nobody in their right mind plans an entire wedding by herself, because eventually we all need at least a little help. In addition, recruiting help makes the whole process more enjoyable when you have family and friends with you on the journey. You should definitely recruit your fiancee for helping out (if not being an equal partner in the planning) as well as your bridesmaids and mothers. Even if you only use these people to bounce ideas off of, they can be a huge help and have great ideas of their own.
6. Bring along a negotiator - One thing we discovered is that almost every wedding-related expense is negotiable. Vendors realize that people plan on paying lots for their wedding and so they set their full retail prices high. If you or your fiancee don't like to negotiate, bring along someone who does, as it can be very worth your while (and you may even save enough to fund your honeymoon).
Hopefully that's enough to get you started ... enjoy the process.