The average wedding in the U.S. will set a couple back about $34,000 and that’s not even including the honeymoon. Needless to say, if you’re getting married soon you want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. That all starts with careful planning.

Pulling off the big day is no small feat. You need a step-by-step guide to make sure you don’t miss any important details. Here are some tips on how to plan the perfect wedding.

Start Early

Although you’ll want to share and soak up the happy news with family and friends, you should really start thinking about planning your wedding as soon as you’re engaged. Even if you’re not planning on tying the knot for a couple of years down the road, venues and vendors get booked sooner than you may think. The first big step is to choose a date range for when you’d like to get married and start researching locations for your ceremony and reception.

Your date and the general location where you want to get married will dictate what you and your wedding party will wear for attire. Summer weddings, obviously, can include an outdoor ceremony and photos and call for a lighter bridal dress unless you’re planning on moving the party into an air-conditioned indoor location. Fall weddings can be beautiful, but you may end up with a chilly day.

Many couples hire a wedding planner who can specifically keep tabs on everything that needs to be done. However, there are many free wedding apps available that can create lists and timelines for you so you can do it yourself with a little work. This will also help you save some money.

Choose a Budget

Speaking of money, weddings aren’t cheap. You and your future spouse will need to decide how much you can realistically swing for the wedding of your dreams. If it’s more important to save money for a downpayment on a mortgage, then you’ll need to set a budget and be diligent about sticking to it.

If you’re planning a wedding on a budget, be willing to compromise on certain details. Chances are there are many local wedding venues near you that can deliver just as much of a memorable experience as a destination wedding. You may be able to save money on flowers and photography by hiring an experienced friend to do the job versus going with a well-known florist or wedding photographer.

You’ll also need to create a guest list and have a limit on how many people will be invited to your wedding. This is one area that is easy to go overboard on, so you and your partner will need to stick to your guns about not exceeding your limit. It’s important to set a budget so that you don’t end up with regret when those credit card statements arrive in the mail.

Think Outside of the Box

Your wedding reception doesn’t have to take place at a hotel or country club. Many couples are celebrating their nuptials by renting barns, wineries, and even bowling alleys for their receptions. Perhaps there’s a place that has a special meaning to you and your loved one that would be perfect for your wedding.

A unique venue can reflect the kind of relationship you and your partner have and is likely to create a memorable experience for guests. This also means you don’t have to have a traditional sit-down, multicourse meal. You can rent food trucks or have a catering company set up food stations for your guests to enjoy.

Write Your Vows

Another facet of your day of love that you’ll need to plan is writing your vows. Many couples write their own and this can be challenging because you want to write vows that are unique to your love without droning on and boring your guests. A good first step is to think back on when you first started dating your partner and write down the qualities that first attracted you to them.

You can also mention a tough time where your partner supported you and helped you get through it, and perhaps even a brief story that demonstrates the love you have for one another. Be sure to come up with a few promises to your partner that you’ll declare during your vows. Avoid cliches and anything that may come across as overly sappy; you want to stay authentic.

Decide Upon Music and Entertainment

You want your guests to have a great time at your reception, and that includes providing music for them to boogie to. You’ll need to decide whether to hire a DJ or a live band.

Each option has its pros and cons. A live band costs more than a DJ, but many would agree nothing compares to hearing music played live. They should also be able to create a custom playlist for your first dance as a married couple and your guests’ dancing.

A DJ, on the other hand, costs less and usually has a whole arsenal of songs to play including rarities. But they can’t provide that spark that a live band can. In addition to the party music, you’ll also need to decide what you want played during the ceremony and if you want to hire live musicians for that portion.

Entertainment at your reception doesn’t have to be limited to just music. You can hire a photo booth complete with fun props and accessories so guests can snap their own selfies as a special memento of the day.

Choose a Honeymoon Destination

This is probably the easiest part of planning a wedding, but you’ll need to choose a honeymoon location where you and your spouse can celebrate your union. Or maybe you aren’t planning on taking a honeymoon right away to save money and that’s fine, too.

You and your partner can choose to explore a local area that doesn’t require spending money on airfare. Wherever you visit, it should be part of your overall wedding budget.

Now You Know How to Plan The Perfect Wedding

It really isn’t that difficult to know how to plan the perfect wedding, but you do need a checklist that includes deadline dates for booking venues and vendors and making deposits. This guide should help get things moving in the right direction.

If you found this article useful, check out our Beauty and Wellness section for tips on how to look and feel your best in anticipation of your wedding day.

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