1. Celebrate and enjoy this time together
Congrats!! The choice to get married is so exciting. Before jumping into wedding planning, take a week or two to celebrate together and focus on why you’ve chosen each other. Over the next few months of decisions, that “why” is what it all comes back to. Enjoy the moments when you personally get to share your news with close friends and family. It’s happening!
2. Talk about what you want your wedding to look and feel like
Before picking dates and booking vendors, talk with your partner about what you envision for your wedding day. A small backyard wedding? A huge party? An elopement with your parents and siblings? Which season and year do you want to get married in? Make a list of your top priorities together before taking input from anyone else. Embrace the traditions that make you happy and skip the ones that don’t. It’s your day, and no one will look back on it more often than the two of you.
3. Determine your overall wedding budget
Wedding costs range significantly and depend on your guest count, wedding date, city, and more. According to the Wedding Report, recent Bellingham weddings averaged about $24,700-28,500. Find a number that’s right for the two of you. There may be friends and family who want to pitch in!
4. Discuss guest lists and a maximum guest count
Guest count: Your guest count is one of the biggest factors in the overall cost of your wedding (think venue size, meals, drinks, reception staff, and table/chair/linen/plate/glassware rentals). If you want an elaborate celebration but have a smaller budget, consider an elopement or a micro wedding with your closest family and friends. Small celebrations are common these days, and it’s easy to include loved ones by sharing images and live streams.
Guest list: Make a list of the people you cannot imagine getting married without. Don’t overthink it—this is the easy list! Make a second list of everyone else whom you hope or need to include. You might find it helpful to write a third courtesy list to come back to as your wedding plans develop. Consider plus-ones in your guest count. It’s common to include plus-ones for guests who are engaged or married. (We chose to include plus-ones for guests who wouldn’t know anyone else at the wedding. This reduced our overall guest count, and everyone had someone to enjoy the celebration with.)
Wedding party: This is also the time to decide if you’d like a wedding party. If it feels important and fun, go for it! Your wedding party will support you throughout the planning process and day-of. If you have a group of longtime friends or one best friend you want by your side, that decision might be easy. If you’re unsure, remember that it's an investment for both the couple and the wedding party members, and it's not a requirement. You can still include your friends in the planning, get ready together, take pictures together, and sit with them at dinner if you’d like.
5. Pick a venue and date
Research venues that fit your estimated guest count, budget, and parking needs. Some venues include options for rentals, caterers, bartenders, and rain tents. While this adds to the initial cost, it can save time, energy, money, and transportation in the end. Schedule tours with your partner, and when you find “the one,” it’s time to pick a date. The venue cost may vary depending on the season and day of the week. In Washington State, July, August, and September Saturdays will likely be the most expensive and in-demand. (I got my dream wedding and vendors by getting married on a Wednesday!)
If there are people you won't get married without (parents, best friends, etc.), check in with them before booking your wedding date. If there’s a must-have vendor on your list, feel free to reach out to them, too!
6. Divide responsibilities
If you each have pieces of the wedding you’re passionate about, divide your responsibilities (photography, catering, etc.). You may have a close friend or family member who wants to offer help, too. Do what feels right for you. For vendors you’re going to closely and personally work with throughout the wedding, such as your coordinator and photographer, I recommend you reach out to them yourself rather than delegate to someone else. You'll quickly learn whether or not you connect and if they have the vibe you want walking alongside you on your wedding day.
7. Hire a coordinator or a planner
Wedding coordinator: I cannot recommend coordinators enough! No matter how well-planned, day-of there will be questions from guests, wedding party members, parents, and vendors. Without a coordinator, these questions will be directed to you (the couple) and your photographer. We want you to focus on the joy of getting married and your photographer to focus on the role of documenting your memories. Coordinators typically begin helping a month before the wedding and are the point person on your wedding day. They make sure all those details go according to plan, answer questions, and troubleshoot as needed.
Wedding planner: Wedding planners help plan your wedding. This can include research, vendor recommendations and communication, style and design implementation, detailed timeline and floor plans, and coordination of hotels and transportation. If you have the budget for a wedding planner, it will save you time, keep wedding planning fun, and potentially help save on other wedding costs. If guest counts and venues feel overwhelming, book your planner from the beginning so they can support you with these.
8. Hire your photographer and other vendors who can work one event per day
Photographer: Your wedding photos will help you remember every other detail you invest in on your wedding day. Your flowers, the cake from your favorite baker, and that dreamy venue will last a lifetime because of these images. And whether your wedding is big or small, it’s likely not often you have all these people in one place. For many of us, it’s the only time. Photographing those hugs between family members and laughter amongst friends is an honor and a gift. Your wedding day will be a happy, beautiful blur, and those images will bring you right back to it.
If you attended a friend’s wedding and loved their professional photos, ask for their photographer’s website. Research wedding photographers in your city (or nearest large city, such as Bellingham or Seattle). Get a feel for which style of images you love and want to remember your day through. My clients and I love bright, true-to-life colors and an emphasis on candid images. Find a photographer with your preferred style, spend time looking through their website and blogs, and get a feel for their personality. Fill out their contact form—the more detail the better! After they respond, set up a time to talk.
Your photographer will be by your side throughout most of the wedding day. It’s important that this is someone you feel supported by and comfortable with. After booking, promptly schedule your engagement session if you plan to use the images for save the dates or invitations. This is a great way to get to know your photographer better, feel more confident in front of the camera, and get photos you can display at the wedding. Using the images in a guest book serves a dual purpose and will be fun to look through on date nights and anniversaries.
Videographer: Unsure whether you want a videographer, too? Consider options such as full-day videography coverage, ceremony video, and speech videos. While including both photography and videography can require more time day-of and feel a bit more like a production, they capture your day in very different, special ways. Images capture the moment in a way that can be enjoyed daily through frames and albums; video captures the words and sound of your voices in a way that individual images can't. Communicate to your photographer and videographer which one is most important to you, and this will help them move around each other accordingly day-of.
Caterer: Depending on the size of your catering company, they may only be available for one event per day. The more important catering is to you, the sooner you should book. Be sure to ask what’s included, such as clean-up or utensils.
DJ: DJs lead the reception. They work with the other vendors to ensure the timeline is on track, adjust the music as needed, and ensure a fun guest experience. They direct guests to be seated, coordinate speeches, and get everyone on the dance-floor!
9. Hire your remaining vendors
Florist: Flowers can set the vibe and color palette for your celebration. They transform the venue’s space and make it yours. If you find yourself struggling to spend on flowers for your wedding, I’d encourage viewing it as an investment in your photos instead. Whether you’re including bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, arbors, aisle arrangements, or centerpieces, these elements will tie the various pieces of your day together and create a beautiful, cohesive wedding gallery. Work with your florist to stay in season if possible. This will provide the best value, eliminate shipping waste, and support local flower farmers. If your heart is set on a particular flower type, consider consulting with your florist before finalizing your wedding date.
Hair and Makeup: Hair and makeup artists set the tone for your morning and will affect your appearance in your wedding images. Choose professionals who will arrive on time or early, and always do a trial to agree upon your desired style. There are vendors who specialize in natural makeup, glam, and hair styles for all genders.
Officiant: Choose an officiant who is in line with what you want out of a ceremony. Traditional or customized to your story? A vow script or your own words? Religious or non-religious?
Dessert: Big or small, cakes can make a statement as a design element in your reception. From macarons to donuts to ice cream bars, there are so many dessert options you can add to the table these days!
10. Send save the dates
Now that you have a solid idea of your budget and expenses, you know if your initial guest count was realistic and can plan accordingly. Be sure to include your names, the wedding date, and the city the wedding will take place in. The official invitations with RSVPs should go out 2-3 months before the wedding.
The biggest pieces are DONE! Take a break from the spreadsheets, take a breath, and get excited.
Thanks for reading! I'm Caylie, a wedding and engagement photographer based between Bellingham and Mount Vernon, Washington. I've been photographing couples since 2011, and I love what I do. Learn more about me here!
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My name is Caylie and I'm a Bellingham and Mount Vernon, WA wedding and engagement photographer. I love what I do!