How to Start Planning Your Wedding

I’m going with a couple of assumptions here…

1 – Your wedding will be your first and only experience of planning a big event, perhaps of managing any project and

2 – You’re unsure how to get started and your head is starting to spin.

If that’s you, pause… breathe… you’ve got this! Now read on.

Author: Meggan Brummer

If we haven’t met before - I am an award-winning Marriage Celebrant in Sydney, Australia.

I’ve married hundreds of couples over the last 13 years and have over 23 years experience as a professional writer.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

You’ve already made the biggest decision – you and your partner have decided to get married.  Your wedding is going to be a celebration of your love and commitment to one another surrounded by all your family and friends.  If stress or challenges arise in the planning, just remember this is going to be a joyous occasion!

It’s a good idea to discuss up front, what things about the wedding matter the most to you.  Write these down.  Later, when your planning runs into an issue, if it’s not one of your top priorities, be ready to move forward without spending excessive time or emotional energy on it.  Think progress, not perfection.  You are still going to have an amazing day and you are still going to be married at the end of it.

Keeping in mind the things that really matter and having an attitude of ‘progress, not perfection’ are essential to enjoying the planning process.  Other things that can really help you to enjoy the process are:

Stay Organized: You are going to be managing a budget and a long list of tasks with due dates. Write everything down and by when it needs to be done.  Avoid leaving things to the last minute.  You don’t want to spend the final weeks before the wedding clambering to clear tasks that could have been done sooner. Aim to have those last 2-3 weeks as stress-free as you can.  Give yourself plenty of time to get everything done.

Take Breaks: Don’t let wedding planning consume all your free time.  Schedule date nights and time with friends to relax.  Go for a massage, do some yoga & meditation.  Keep the balance – remember it’s also about the journey, not just the destination.

Delegate: You don’t have to do this all on your own.  Delegate some of the work to friends and family.  If delegation is really your thing, the ultimate delegation is to hire a Wedding Planner or ‘on the day’ Coordinator.  If the feel the planning process may be overwhelming then hire a Wedding Planner.   If you can handle the planning but want to be freed up on the day itself,  hire a wedding coordinator so you can sit back and relax.  An ‘on-the-day’  coordinator will put together a run sheet to share with all your Wedding suppliers and liaise with them to find out what time they will arrive, set up and leave.  On the day, they’ll make sure everything is running smoothly and happening at the right time.  Hiring professional help with the planning process will significantly reduce your stress levels and can make it all so much more enjoyable.

Set Your Budget

Your budget will influence almost every decision you make.  At the very start, you’ll know what money you have, but not what things cost.  So the first question is what kind of wedding can you afford?

According to the 2024 Australian Wedding Industry Report, which collected data from 600 vendors and 4200 couples, the average cost of a wedding in Australia is $33,810.  The average original budget however was only $27,652 – an overspend of more than $6k. (These averages range higher or lower at the state level, with NSW having the highest average cost of $36,678).

But of course, an average doesn’t necessarily represent you or the wedding you are planning.  So do some Googling of venues and vendors to get an idea of what each category will cost. (Don’t spend too much time on this, you’re not picking vendors just yet).

Your initial budget will need to assume a specific number of guests.  This figure will change your venue and catering costs (probably 50% of your total spend).

Importantly, add a 20% contingency to the total cost.

Review this first draft with your partner. Is it affordable? How is the money apportioned and does it align with with what you decided was most important to you? If you need to compromise on budget somewhere, don’t let it be on on those things.

You now have the first version of your budget.

Create a Draft Guest List

Your guest list will impact your venue choice, budget, and other planning details.

Start with a full list of everyone you’d like to invite and refine as you go.  To help you make this list – think about whether you would like to have more one-on-one time with people or whether you’d like to throw a huge party for everyone.

Remember, besides venue and vendor selection, this list is your other lever you control to manage costs.  You may face some novel decisions such as whether you put money towards securing your first-choice of a vendor or instead invite that friend from work.

Use digital tools or spreadsheets to keep track of RSVPs and dietary restrictions.

Choose a Venue and Date

Start with searching venue availability in relation to guest numbers and budget.  Most people lock in a date with a venue and then hope for the best on the availability of their other preferred suppliers.  But if you do have a celebrant or photographer shortlisted at this stage – do check the date with them.  Once you agree on a date with the venue that decision is pretty is locked in so make sure you’re confident with this date.

When looking for a venue, think about the ‘vibe’ you want to create.  Would you prefer an outdoor boho party in the countryside, a wedding on the beach with your feet in the sand or a glamorous formal affair at a chic city venue?  Are you clear on indoors or outdoors for the ceremony?

How does the venue lend itself to your style, be that, modern, classic, romantic, vintage, rustic or all-out glam?

Popular venues book up quickly, so start your search early.  To get your perfect venue you might need to book far in advance, possibly a couple of years.  If you go with a weekday wedding, your venue will usually have much more availability.  In Sydney, Saturdays are the most popular days to get married, and then Sunday, followed by Friday.

Ideally, choose a venue that can host both your wedding ceremony and your reception.  This will save you and your guests time and energy as you avoid moving from one place to another.

Availability is also affected by the season.  Winter dates are usually cheaper.  Season also plays a part in the experience on the day.   Sydney winters tend to be mild and with the lower costs, more couples are now opting for winter weddings.

If your ceremony is going to be outdoors, you’ll need a backup venue in case of bad weather.  And remember bad weather doesn’t just mean a bit of rain, it could mean strong winds or extremely hot temperatures.  You want your guests to be comfortable.

If you’re choosing a beach or a park, are there nearby amenities?

Hire Key Vendors

Once you lock in a date with your venue, your selection of other vendors such as the wedding celebrant and photographer now becomes limited by availability.

If you are opting for a remote venue far from the city, you will also need to contend with either choosing from a limited pool of local suppliers or paying extra for a preferred supplier to travel further from the city.

Identify and book your essential vendors as early as possible.  Make a shortlist of your top two or three vendors in each category after stalking them online.  Unless you’re on a really small budget, I’m not a fan of wedding directory sites, instead look at the supplier’s own websites, their socials and importantly their Google reviews.

When reaching out to them to see if they’re available, do use the contact form on their website.  It’s usually tailored to make sure you provide them with the right information they need to know upfront and save you some back and forth on the communication.

Meet all the vendors on your shortlist, even if you’d initially placed them as 2nd or 3rd choice based on price or first impressions from their site.  How you rank initially will often change once you meet them and you’ll feel much more confident with your decision.

Remember you’re not just looking for someone who’s good at their job, but for someone you can enjoy working with.  You’re going to spend a lot of time with some of your main wedding suppliers in the lead-up and on the wedding day, it’s a lot more enjoyable if they’re on your wavelength and fun to be around.

Prioritise these 3 vendors:

Catering: If not part of your package with your venue, this is likely going to be the second biggest line on your budget after the venue.  You’ll need to arrange tastings, discuss menu choices and finalise these choices to be clear on the remaining available budget.

Marriage Celebrant.  The one supplier you can’t have a wedding without.  The ceremony is the heart of your day, so choose very carefully.  How they put together and conduct your ceremony will set the tone for the rest of the day.  Another reason not to leave this to the last minute; you have to lodge a legal document with your celebrant no later than 1 month before your wedding day.

Photographer/Videographer: Once your wedding day is over, the memories of your day will, for a large part, be provided by what they captured.  This in most people’s opinion, makes this a key decision.

Best of the rest:

Entertainment: Whether it’s a big band, DJ or an acoustic duo, your entertainment choices will create the atmosphere from before the ceremony till the end of the night.

Cake: Sample as many different cakes as you can… because cake is delicious.

Flowers: At the very least most brides choose to have a bouquet on the day.  Many also go with bouquets for the bridal party too.  A floral arrangement over an arbour at your ceremony can look gorgeous as do centrepieces on the tables at your reception.  Chat with your florist about your options based on the season.

Hair & Make-up: Go for a trial hair and make-up session well in advance of your wedding.  It may take a few iterations before you settle on something you’re really happy with.

Stylist: Sometimes this is taken care of by the venue, but you may need to find an external stylist.  Before you choose a stylist, you may want to hop onto Pinterest for inspiration.  This will help your stylist and florist get a clear idea of what you like.  Or, let them be the expert and ask for their suggestions.

Choose Your Wedding Party

Decide if you want to have anyone standing by your side during your wedding ceremony.  There’s a trend at the moment to not have a bridal party, but the choice is up to you.

When picking Bridesmaids and Groomsmen, consider close friends and family members who are supportive, reliable and solution-orientated.  You want people who’ll take care of you as well as any issues that arise on the day.

Make sure you communicate your expectations to your bridal party, including what you’re willing to pay for, what costs they may incur and what help and support you’ll expect not just on the day but also with the planning.

The bridal party also need to be factored into your budget if you’re prepared to pay for their outfits, hair & makeup.

Shop for Attire

Finding that knockout dress or suit might take time, so start early.  The first decision is whether to buy or hire.

As a bride, do you want a classic white dress or something less conventional? Perhaps you’d prefer to go for something colourful instead.  Visit bridal boutiques and try on various styles.  Take someone with you whose opinion you really trust and who’ll be honest with you.  Remember to factor in time for alterations.

As a groom, look for an outfit that complements your wedding theme and your partner’s outfit.

Think about whether you’ll ask your guests to dress a particular way, eg. black tie, semi-formal, cocktail or casual and put that on your invites.

Plan the Ceremony and Reception

Focus on the details that will make your wedding unique and right for you.  For your wedding ceremony, decide whether you’d like your celebrant to tell your love story.  Would you like to write and read personal wedding vows to each other during the ceremony?  (As a celebrant, I believe including both of these is what makes a ceremony come alive, not just for the couple, but for your guests). Are there any traditions you’d like to include in your ceremony?  These are all things to discuss with your wedding celebrant.

For your wedding reception, plan the flow of the evening, including the first dance, speeches, and cake cutting. You might want to disappear for a bit with your partner to have some professional photographs taken, especially if your wedding ceremony finishes sometime in the afternoon and you want photographs taken during the golden hour before sunset.

Send Invitations

Your invitations are one of the key ways you’ll convey the vibe of your event to your guests as well as providing the key details of the event. So choose a design that reflects your theme and style.

Aim to send ‘Save The Date’ notices 6 to 8 months in advance and formal invites 2 to 3 months beforehand.

Plan for the Unexpected

No matter how well you plan, something you couldn’t have foreseen is likely to arise on the day.

Prepare an emergency kit to handle wardrobe malfunctions.  Include essentials like safety pins, stain remover, and a sewing kit.

Include Paracetamol.  if someone’s dehydrated or stressed they’re much more likely to develop a headache and not be fully present.

Happy tears can be expected.  Make sure you have a handkerchief (not a paper tissue) and makeup in case you need a touch-up after the ceremony before the group photos.

The little details.

Keep water and snacks in the car for the drive to your wedding.  You want to feel fully present during the ceremony, not hungry or thirsty.  Have someone in your wedding party carry a bottle for you.

Final Thoughts

Planning a wedding in 2024 is all about balancing organization with creativity.  By following these basics and staying flexible, you’ll be well on your way to creating a memorable and magical day.  Happy planning!

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