Your Almost-Comprehensive Guide to Planning a WeddingGetting married? The first order of business is… congratulations, of course! But next comes a little piece of advice: hold on tight. Because it’s going to be a wild and bumpy ride.

Planning a wedding is a little like marriage itself. Just when you think things are going as smooth as fresh-whipped cream, everything gets… well… as bumpy as cottage cheese. There’s so much to do that, unless you have tons of money to spend on an expensive wedding planner, it’s practically impossible to make everything turn out perfectly. So before you set even one little plan down on paper, put down your pen, take a deep breath, and repeat after me: “It’s my wedding and it’ll be a beautiful, magical day– even if it’s not perfect.”

All done? Good. Grab that pen, print out this guide to planning a wedding, and let’s get started.

Wedding Pre-Planning

1. Your vision. Before doing any real planning, you need to sit down with hubby-to-be and discuss what you want from your wedding. Are you both dreaming of an intimate ceremony with just family and friends? Or does your 200-guest dream wedding clash with his idea of a “no stress” ceremony?

2. Your budget. It may be unromantic and ordinary, but it’s a necessity– you have to have money to plan a wedding. Calculate a budget and do your best to stick to it.

Planning the Ceremony

1. Date, Time, and Venue. These are the big ones. While you probably have a time of year in mind for the ceremony, the exact date you choose will generally be dependant on the availability of the ceremony and reception venue(s). Tour several venues to decide which you like best, and book your favorite early.

2. Your wedding party. As a madly planning bride, it can be easy to lose track of what a wedding is about: the people. Discuss with your fiancé who each of you want as part of the wedding party, and ask them to take part. Bridesmaids can be a big help in the planning process– get them helping early on.

3. Your gown. This is the fun part! You’ll want to start shopping for your wedding dress early. Find one you love? Ask the botique’s advice on when is the best time to order. Start thinking about tuxes and bridemaid’s dresses, as well.

4. Your guestlist. Especially if you’re planning a small wedding, you’ll be amazed at the way the guestlist tends to… bloat. This one may take a long time to finalize, so you want to get started early.

5. Save the date and invitations. As soon as venue, date, and time for your wedding are firm, send “save the date” cards out to guests– especially those from out of town. Also start planning your invitations, but don’t rush. Invitations don’t need to go out until 6-8 weeks before the wedding.

6. Book ceremony services.

Photographer. Great photographers book up quickly, so be sure to shop for the one you like best early. Keep in mind that budget is a big concern here–photography can be one of your most expensive items.

Florist. Florists also get booked early– if you find a florist who can meet both your tastes and your budget, book her right away. Doing the flowers yourself? Start looking into wholesale flower services.

Officiant. If you’re getting married in a church, the officiant probably comes with the venue. If not, you’ll generally have to book a religious or civil officiant for the ceremony.

Music. You may want a band or instrumentalist to play at the beginning or end of the ceremony. Start shopping now.

7. Rehearsal dinner. Start planning the guestlist, venue, and menu for the rehearsal dinner.

8. Your vows. You want to leave time to both write and memorize your vows. Don’t plan on writing your own? Sit down with hubby to be and go over your options, deciding what kind of vows you tend to like best.

Planning the Reception

1. Your food and drink. Here comes one of the most expensive parts of planning a wedding… feeding your guests! While a full-course dinner and terrific open bar are ideal, sometimes they don’t fit in the budget. Calculate what you can spend, and begin shopping for:

  • Catering
  • Bar services
  • Tableware and place settings
  • The wedding cake

Book a caterer early and start discussing the menu ASAP– it’ll have a huge impact on your budget.

2. The music. First, decide if you want a band or a DJ. Then start checking out your options. There are tons of wedding bands and DJs out there, and they may not all be to your taste. Find one you like? Book him before he’s taken.

3. The tables. Unless you’re doing open-plan seating, you’ll need to decide where everybody is sitting. This can be a big job, so get started early! You’ll also need to create and decide on:

  • Place settings
  • Place cards
  • A seating chart
  • Table centerpieces

4. The transportation. If you’re using a limousine service (especially a specialty limousine service) to take you to and from the ceremony and reception, you’ll want to book them early.

5. The favors. Decide on wedding favors for your guests. Design them around a theme and get started early if you’re making them yourself.

Planning for After the Wedding

1. Your honeymoon. After all the stress of planning a wedding, you’re going to need this! So get planning your honeymoon early. Trying to get Dad to pay for the honeymoon as a wedding gift? Get schmoozing right away.

2. Your name change. If you plan on taking your hubby-to-be’s name after the ceremony, start looking into the paperwork you’ll need beforehand.

3. Thank you notes. The best time to order thank you cards for your wedding is when you order invitations. Get them addressed and ready to go beforehand, and try to send them out two weeks to one month after the wedding.

The Married Life

Congratulations on your engagement! While planning a wedding can be a crazily stressful experience, it’s also a really rewarding one– after all, you’re marrying the man of your dreams. So when you’re feeling a little daunted or a lot overwhelmed, sit down with your hubby to be, have a glass of wine, and relax. If you don’t let yourself get carried away with the details, the stress of planning won’t carry you away.

Good luck!