More than 40% of couples get engaged from November through February (starting around Thanksgiving and going through Valentine’s Day), which means with spring around the corner, it’s officially time to start planning your wedding. March signifies the start of wedding-planning season, but organizing a celebration for everyone you love can be nothing short of overwhelming. Getting the ring is just the beginning of the journey.
From booking a venue to hiring a planner and having the discussion about money, there’s a lot to navigate. Getting off on the wrong foot can make for an entirely disorganized process. Lucky for you, as the founder and CEO of Carats & Cake, I’m surrounded by the experts, so I asked a few of them to create the ultimate engagement checklist to jump-start the process. Read on below to learn what to do first, from figuring out the budget to tackling the guest list.
Protect Your Bling
“Ensure that ring—ASAP! You just received one of the most meaningful and beautiful presents you will ever receive. Make sure you have insurance on it just in case.” — Elizabeth McKellar, owner and creative director, The Nouveau Romantics
Figure Out Your Organizational Structure
“Create a means to organize yourselves before you get started, and figure out who the decision-makers (and payers) will be and if this will include outside help. With or without a wedding planner, there is a fair amount of project management involved with wedding planning, and having a method that both you and your wedding-planning team are comfortable with really helps when life gets busy.” — Kate Whelan, owner and senior event consultant, Kate Whelan Events
Talk About the Budget and Guest Count
“After clinking champagne glasses, the first thing you will need to do following your engagement is to establish your budget and guest count. The two go hand in hand—your budget may dictate how many guests you can invite, or your expected guest count might dictate your budget.” — Mary-Frances Hurt, founder and CEO, DFW Events
Hire a Wedding Planner Ahead of Time
“Planning a wedding on your own is hard work! Hire a professional to help you. Everyone deserves a non-emotionally involved third party to manage their event. Some clients are great at decision-making and planning their event on their own, and others need a little more guidance. You can find a professional to help you at any level of need, but at the very least, you need someone to manage the day who is not family or a friend.” — Valerie Gernhauser, principal planner, Sapphire Events
Savor the Moment
“The entire process from planning to the actual wedding will fly by. As much as you might want to jump right in, don’t forget to take a few moments here and there to just enjoy being engaged. Try and give yourself a full year of planning if it’s possible.” — Jordan Payne, owner, Jordan Payne Events
Don’t Impulse-Buy Too Soon
“Don’t start buying everything on Etsy or from your local craft store on day one. There is always room for personalization in a wedding, and although most DIYs can be cheesy, many times a small nod to something thoughtful and handmade is just the right touch. However, starting out planning or decorating right after the engagement is absolutely a no-no. Wait on all décor items and purchases of $10 items until all other major vendors are in place and you can clearly see your wedding vision come to life.
You also will probably find it cheaper to use what your floral designer already has in-house or can get at wholesale cost and rent it from them than a binge shop at Hobby Lobby.” — Laura Ritchie, principal designer, Grit & Grace
Think Seasonally First Before Picking a Date
“Summer, fall, winter, or spring—you can now start to envision what your wedding will look like and choosing a time of year will help you choose the best day for your wedding!” — Jennifer Zabinski, founder and president, Jennifer Zabinski Events
Collect Blackout Dates
“Collect blackout dates from your VIP guests: your family, siblings, best friends who you would die if they weren’t at your wedding. It’s easy to forget in your excitement that your sister’s boyfriend is graduating from law school in May or that your sister-in-law-to-be is a maid of honor on the same weekend you were eyeing in September. Rather than get upset later, factor in other people’s plans now.” — Kait Rovnyak, senior wedding planner, AaB Creates
Start Scouting Venues Before You Set a Date
“The most important things to confirm first when planning a wedding are the date and venue. Depending on location, there can be many options to choose from, so I always suggest the couple create a wishlist of what they want in a venue. Do you want an event space that has a view or the option to have the ceremony outdoors? Do you want a more classic or modern style? That will help them narrow down the options and give them a clearer vision of what they are looking for. Once the venue and date have been confirmed, everything else can somewhat fall into place.” — Leah Hoos, director of catering, Mandarin Oriental New York
Find Your Photographer
“Once you have a wedding date and location, you should start reaching out to photographers to find out their availability and pricing. There are so many moving pieces, but securing the right person to capture your day will ensure you have the memories for years to come.” — Jocelyn Filley, owner and photographer, Jocelyn Filley Photography
Think About Your Other Vendors
“Once you have a date and venue as well as photographer in the works, start thinking about the other creative partners you want to work with on your wedding from the florist to the caterer. Making sure you have a date as well as a location first will help make sure you hire the right partners to execute your vision.” — Melanie McKinley, creative director, Mayhar Design
Plan Your Bridal Party Early
“One of the best parts about a wedding is surrounding yourself with family and friends, and what better way to jump-start the festivities than by selecting your bridal party? Picking friends who will be supportive and helpful through the process, as well as an integral part of the celebration, will make the planning process that much more fun.” — Renny Pedersen, owner and creative director, Bliss Weddings & Events
Get a Head Start on Dress Hunting
“Finding the perfect wedding dress takes time. Once you find the one, it can take up to six months to receive it after the order has been placed. Once received, it is likely the dress may need slight alternations, which can involve multiple appointments to ensure the perfect fit on the wedding day. Allow four to six weeks for this process.” — Kelly Clark Leonard, owner, Event of the Season
Take Engagement Photos
“Kick off your engagement with engagement photos! You can send out an announcement with these photos, and it will also give you and your fiancé a chance to be in front of a professional photographer in preparation for the big day.” — Terri Eaves, owner, Bash
What is on your checklist? Share your must-do list below.