A Guide to Planning a DIY Wedding

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So there's a wedding in your future - congratulations! Once you've stopped bouncing off the walls in excitement, you're going to embark on one of the most daunting tasks of married life: planning the wedding. Unfortunately, there's a lot of negative social stigma attached to planning a wedding these days. You've likely heard of the horrendous cakes, or bridesmaids who hate their dresses with unbridled passion, or scrambling to find a ridiculously overpriced bridal dress in time. Don't panic - planning a wedding can actually be a lot of fun, and if you do it yourself, there's no reason why it has to sound the death toll for your pocketbook. The key is to start early and stay calm, and to help you along, you can follow these planning guidelines.

16 - 9 Months Before

- Announce your Engagement!

Assuming you haven't already, it's time to let your friends and families know the good news! Consider an Engagement Photo Shoot. Besides providing a tender memento for you and your sweetie, engagement photos can do double-duty as engagement announces. There are tons of online services that will create postcards or greeting cards with your personal photos. If you're not keen on the pricing or time it'll take to label and send all the announcements, a website or email with an attached photo will do the trick just as well.

- Start a Wedding Binder

You're going to have a lot to keep track of over the next few months, so make it easy on yourself and get a wedding binder. They don't have to be expensive - a cheap one from an office supply store will do just as well - and they'll be a lifesaver. At this point in time, all you're doing is looking for detail inspiration. If you see a dress you like in a magazine, clip it out and put it in the binder. Same goes for flowers, bridesmaid dresses, shoes, favors, themes, etc. It may also be a wise idea to invest in binder dividers; they'll save time while you're planning, and it will be a great place to store venue and vendor receipts. Speaking of which...

- Book the Venue & Officiate

It seems like your wedding is far off, but it'll be here in no time. Sit down with your partner and figure out when and where you want to have your wedding, and who you want to officiate. Spring or Winter? Overseas adventure or backyard simplicity? Now is the time to make these decisions, and once you've got a date planned, you'll have the basic building block for planning everything else.

- Determine Your Budget

Wedding budgets are tricky. Some cost $40,000 and are disasters, and others cost $500 and are fantastic parties. Thing is, whatever your budget for the wedding, decide on it now. This will make it easier to pick venues and photographers (and your dress!) if you know what the cutoff point for each is.

- Draw Up a Guest List and Wedding Party

It's a safe assumption that the majority of people who receive your engagement announcement are going to want to know if they're invited or involved. The guest list is fairly straightforward - who do you want to share your celebration with? - and selecting the wedding party takes care of two tasks at once. As the bride, you'll be choosing your Maid of Honor and your bridesmaids. The Maid of Honor can be (and usually is) a bride's best friend in the months leading up to the wedding. She can help with planning, provide feedback, and will usually organize a wedding shower or bachelorette party. Bridesmaids can be called upon to help out on the day of the wedding, so choose your backup team with care and consideration.

8 Months Before

- Create a Wedding Website/Register

A rising trend with marriages is to create a website for the event. In addition to providing guests with instant information and updates on the wedding (which can satiate the inquisition of persistent family members), a wedding website can also have a link to an online register, where guests can peruse and select the gifts they'd like to give you. It's the couple's discretion whether or not to have a register. If you don't, you risk, at best, terrifically creative gifts or, at worst, an elephant-shaped coffeepot that you'll never use. It can take a lot of stress off of you and your guests if you provide them with a gifting guideline.

- Bless a Dress

Most brides will buy a dress, and if this is what you'd like to do, start shopping now, as you'll need to schedule a few fittings and check-ins in the coming months to make sure that your dress is as perfect as you want it to be. If you're one of those crafty brides blessed with a talent for sewing, you should also start now - sewing a wedding dress, unless you're going for a simplistic toga, takes time and concentration. By starting now, you can whittle away on it a bit at a time, and have it finished well before the actual day.

- Meet the Caterers

Whether it's your mom, yourself, or your favorite food company, determine how you're going to feed your guests. Let whoever it is know the venue and the date, and figure out what sort of food you'd like served at the wedding.

- Hire a Photographer or Videographer

There are multiple "required" shots of weddings: "first look" pictures, the wedding party, the bridal couple, even "trash the dress" after-wedding pictures. If you want pictures of your special day, you're going to need to find someone to take them. Make sure that you preview their work first - your Aunt Mabel may be the go-to for vacation photographs, but if you'd like your photos to have an artistic edge, consider going pro.

- Time to Entertain!

The wedding ceremony is the main event, but the reception is where guests will spend most of their time. Will you hire a band or a DJ? A friend with an iPod and sweet speaker system? Maybe a balloon-twister for any kids in the audience? Make your decision now, and start hunting around for the entertainment for the wedding.

7 - 6 Months Before

- Save the Date!

If you didn't already do so with your engagement photos, now is the time to send out Save the Date notices. As with the engagement announcements, there are many online printing services that can provide cute, quality save-the-dates at very reasonable prices. You should also start thinking about actual wedding invitations. They can be traditional, modern, complex, understated, and every shade in-between. Decide now if you're going to hand-letter all of them, or if you're going to hire a calligrapher or someone with better cursive skills. It's also a good idea to include a self-addressed RSVP card - most people have the best of intentions and just forget to pop it in the mail. By doing some of the work for them, all they'll need is a stamp.

- What Will Your Gals Wear?

Ah, the bridesmaid dresses. One of the most feared hurdles of wedding planning. The good news is that there is no law that says your bridesmaids have to be dressed exactly the same - you may want to consider asking them to just wear their favorite blue dress (or whatever color matches your wedding theme). If you want them to be more traditional, allow at least six months to pick out and arrange the delivery of their dresses.

- Floral Arrangements

Do your research on this one. Different florists will have different prices, and unless you happen to have a rose garden in your backyard, any DIY for this segment will probably involve fabric flowers. If you want real ones, look around now. Figure out what blooms you want for your bouquet, boutonnieres, and table centerpieces, then find a florist who can deliver what you want within your budget.

- Oh Honeymoon

In the planning hubbub, it's easy to forget that more celebration time - private celebration, that is - comes after the wedding. Talk with your sweetie and figure out where you want to go, what you want to do (rock-climbing, basking on a beach, etc.), and if it's out of country, don't forget to make sure your passport is up-to-date!

- Create a Timeframe

What time of day do you want to get married? Will it take time to get from the wedding to the reception venue? How long should everyone hang around and eat and dance? Create a game plan for your guests and wedding party.

5 -4 Months Before

- Let's Rehearse

Just like giving a presentation in school, you're going to want to know your lines and rehearse for your big day. Pick a rehearsal day (and after-rehearsal meal, if you so desire), and let your wedding party know so they can save the pre-wedding date.

- The Cake

It's a terrible plan to order a cake the week of the wedding. Go cake-shopping now (and don't forget to try cake samples) to figure out what kind and style of cake you want. This can be a great date for you and your partner - like window-shopping, but with pastries! Once you find something you like, either order it or, if you're doing it yourself, buy the supplies to make it.

- Choose your Groove

Draw up a music plan for the ceremony and reception (assuming you want music at either of them). Let your DJ or band know, and don't worry about trying to please everyone in attendance. Even if Great-Uncle Joe can't stand anything that doesn't have a saxophone solo, it's your wedding, and he's just going to have to deal while you and the bridesmaids rock out to "Dancing Queen".

- Something Old, Something Shoe

So you've got the dress picked out, but what about your feet? As Dorothy and Cinderella taught us, shoes are an important part of your wardrobe. Look for something that will be comfortable, but pretty, too. After all, you're going to be on your feet all day, and you'll have a much better time if you're not wincing in pain with every step. Alternatively, if you just can't part with the heels you've found, plan for a pair of backup reception shoes, in case your toes start to get sore.

- Sitting Pretty

Go ahead and schedule hair and makeup appointments with cosmetic artists. Doing it yourself or asking a savvy girlfriend to help can save money, but this is usually the one area that brides almost never skimp on. You want to look your best, right? If you need to save money, serve chicken instead of lobster - don't cut yourself short on your wedding day.

3 Months Before

- Select Your Favors

Wedding favors can be sweet (homemade jam) or silly (glow-in-the-dark bubbles), but whatever theme you go with, figure it out now. Making your own favors can be fun, but it's also time-consuming, so if that's the decision you go with, give yourself time to put it together. Alternatively, if you'd like them professionally done, most companies will need time to make and ship your favors to you.

- The Ring Thing

Contrary to cinematic belief, rings do not magically appear, perfectly sized, on the ring bearer's pillow as he walks up the aisle. Buy the wedding rings now, and you'll have time to resize or engrave them if you need to.

- Flowers, Food, and Formalities

Are you happy with your food and flower choices? Good. Let the vendors know - if you want changes made, or if someone in the guest list just revealed they have a terrible allergy to peanuts, let the vendors know that, too.

- Your Boudoir

You want to feel the best you possibly can on your wedding day - make sure your undergarments are as pretty as your dress. In addition to boosting your own confidence, your partner will sure appreciate them later that evening! One popular trend that brides are starting is boudoir shots (portrait photos of you in your wedding lingerie). These can be great wedding gifts to your significant other, or you can save them and surprise your partner on a one-year anniversary.

- All Booked?

Go over your list and check it twice. Is there anything you've forgotten? If there is, don't sweat it - you've still got a few buffer months left to book.

2 Months Before

- Send Out the Invitations!

Time to send out the formal announcements. Make 'em, address 'em, and send 'em on their way.

- Know Your Photographer

Schedule a day with your wedding photographer to loosely plan what sort of shots you'd like on the wedding day. Detail shots of flower arrangements and shoes can help add to the ambiance of a photo album, but they aren't necessarily pictures that you'd think of to take offhand. Plan what photos you want. If there are any special locations, or if you want any specific poses, now is the time to tell them.

- The Bachelorette Party

Your Maid of Honor will usually take care of this one, but if you need to, let her know who you'd like invited to the girls' night out, and if there's anything you absolutely don't want to do, let her know that as well.

- Touch Base with the Music Crew

Check in with your music crew. Review the songs and playlist, and discuss any changes or tweaks you'd like made.

- Check on Your Vendors

Make sure they - and you - don't have any unanswered questions.

1 Month Before

- Do the Paperwork

It can take about a week for a marriage license to go through, so it'll be less stress on you if you take care of it now. If you're changing your last name, you'll need paperwork for that too, so address that early.

- Dress Tweaks

Make sure that your dress is exactly as you want it. Make sure it fits and is comfortable.

- Mail Rehearsal Invitations

Send out the formal rehearsal invitations. This will serve as a helpful reminder to your party, and can help add to the "let's celebrate" atmosphere of the next month.

- Assign Seats

You don't have to painstakingly figure out who will sit where (although that's certainly an option if you'd prefer). You can simply assign families or couples to tables, and let them figure out their own seating arrangement. Alternatively, if your wedding favors are doubling as placeholders, figure out who will be where.

- Treats for the Crew

It's tradition for the bride to present her bridesmaids and Maid of Honor with gifts at the reception. Go shopping for those, and make sure they're presented nicely.

Week of the Wedding

- Last Vendor/Photographer Check-In

Make sure that everyone is prepped and ready to go!

- Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!

You've had enough on your plate for the past few months, so when your Mom calls and asks if there's anything she can do on the wedding day, don't be afraid to assign her to the gift table. Same goes for your brother - ask him to greet people at the door. Involve your wedding party; they'll be happy, and you'll be stress-free on your big day!

- Collect the Dress and Test Your Shoes

Get your dress and make sure it's nice and wrinkle free, and wear your wedding shoes around to break them in a bit. Practice walking in them (and if you haven't already, practice walking in your dress with the shoes on!).

- Pack for the Honeymoon

Grab your suitcase and all the clothes you'll need. Make sure you have all necessary travel documents, and that everything has been checked and double-checked.

- Relax! You did it!

Guess what? That's it! Your last task is to pamper yourself - this is your day, and your time to relax. Book a spa treatment, or a massage, or a manicure, or all of the above. Sit back, relax, and get ready to have a wonderful wedding!