Planning 101: Intro to Planning Your Own Wedding

the how Jun 06, 2023

All of wedding planning can be condensed down to 5 elements; the combination of these elements creates The Epic Wedding Formula:

  1. Your Budget
  2. Your Time
  3. Your Options
  4. Your Vision
  5. Your Heart & Mind

These elements are tied together. Each one affects the others, and all are required to create your event.

Once you understand what they are and how to use them, you can increase or decrease the importance of one or more by changing how you use the others.

Your Budget

A wedding budget is probably the most misunderstood area of wedding planning. There are thousands of articles, infographics, and posts about it, and almost none of them provide any meaningful information.

First, a budget is NOT a list of how much money you're able to scrounge from various sources. Yes, you need to know how much money you have available from your own savings, future earnings, contributions from others, and (not advised) debt.

A real budget is a list of how much each item you need will COST, at the quality level you desire. What YOU need is not remotely the same as what someone else needs. Building a budget involves knowing what you'll get at various price points, so you can self-select the product and service levels that are best for you.

Secondly, developing a wedding budget is HARD. If you see a checklist of wedding planning tasks that says, “Month 1: develop your guest list and your budget, and book your venue”, trash it immediately! Our clients spend several weeks developing a budget that works for them, a few more developing their guest list, and sometimes a few months finding the right venue. Not because they are going slow and not because they can't make decisions, but because we've helped them understand how much easier the rest of their planning experience will be if they do these first steps in a specific way.

The reason developing a wedding budget is so hard is that there just isn't good information out there about pricing. How do you know how much you need to spend on flowers when you don't know how much flowers cost? When you don't know how to manage that cost to meet your needs? When you have no idea how much a florist with the right skill level for you will charge? To create a wedding budget, you need to know a LOT about wedding vendors and supplies.

Your Time

There's a reason that most couples spend just over a year planning their wedding. Most of them have jobs. Most of them want to sleep 8 hours a night, go to the gym, visit with friends and family occasionally, and watch Netflix. We are already so busy living our lives and trying our best to take care of ourselves that most couples can't drop everything and focus 8 hours a day on event planning.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that planning a wedding is just a fancier dinner party. The fact is most people I know who throw dinner parties are excited to send out the invites but are MISERABLE in the few days leading up to the dinner. Even a dinner party is a lot of work, and a wedding is more like an industry conference. When you invite 100 people to gather in one place at the same time, the CRAZY tends to come out in them. Almost every part of wedding planning is more intense than other types of gatherings you've planned.

The average couple spends about 528 hours planning their wedding. Most people I know have a hard time returning phone calls within a week. 538 hours of extra activity in your life can be absolutely miserable if you don't give yourself the time to absorb it into your schedule.

Why does it take 528 hours? Well, it doesn't for some people (which we discuss below). For most, you have to research, contact, communicate back and forth with, negotiate, and then manage 6 to 12 different types of professionals. You have to buy more stuff than you'd first imagine, and if you can't find the stuff in the colors, shapes, and sizes that you envision, you sometimes have to go back and redesign elements you thought were already off your task list. You have to answer 50 or 100 or 300 people's questions, sometimes over and over and over again. There are ways to make all of this easier, but most couples end up spending a huge amount of time executing it all.

Your Options

Wedding planning would be a lot easier if you only had 1 florist to choose from, 1 venue, 1 cake baker, 1 DJ, etc. But then you wouldn't be able to customize your event very much, and you certainly couldn't look for options that allow you to manage your budget better.

Having lots of options is great for letting you search for just the right skill set, product offering, or pricing, but that search takes TIME. For example, searching through 200 venues to find your shortlist takes a lot of time. Very few venues post critical information online, so you have to engage in dozens (if not hundreds) of back and forth emails trying to understand pricing, policies, amenities, etc. Then venue tours typically take 60-90 minutes each, and they impart so much information that most couples are burned out after 2 tours per day. If you have a full time job, that means you can reasonably tour 4 venues per week. If you have lots of great options and want to make certain you've made the best possible choice, this phase of planning can end up taking several months. More choices = more time, but more choices can also equal a better outcome.

Limiting your options is great for making wedding planning much faster, but often at the expense of your budget. For example, hiring a full service wedding planner removes almost all of the time you would otherwise spend hunting down your best options. By increasing your budget, you've decreased your options (in a good way) and decreased the time needed.

See how each part influences the other and can be used to compensate for the other?

Your Vision

Your vision isn't just your color scheme and overall theme. It's all the subconscious ideas you have about what a wedding SHOULD be. For example, if I told you not to have a photographer, what would you think? Or not to have dinner and instead do a short reception for an hour or so? Most people have a preconceived notion about what should be included in a wedding (just ask your future MIL), and that can put a lot of pressure on your budget, your guest list, your options…everything.

Your vision is also a reflection of who the two of you are. Each element of the wedding should reflect the two of you in very real and subtle ways. For example, if you are water and wilderness people, your wedding will be very different than the couple who is mostly about international travel. Betraying your core selves, which many couples do in order to feel fancier or to follow trends, will come off as hollow, and the energy of your event won't feel the same.

The challenge for most couples is that they don't spend enough time upfront thinking through their vision, and they start locking in vendors. Once you're legally and financially obligated to a certain size wedding or location (the venue typically sets the theme), you'll find it difficult to change the feel of the event. Get your vision right before you do anything else at all, and you'll avoid most of the mistakes couples later regret.

Here are some elements of a strong vision to get you started:

  • How introverted or extroverted are the two of you? What size wedding would make you most comfortable?
  • What are you each passionate about? And do your friends and family know you within the context of these interests? What environment would best reflect this?
  • How formal are you? Do you feel most like you in athleisure wear or a blazer? Your wedding should be fancier than every day, but not so fancy that it doesn't match your personalities.

Your Heart & Mind

Your heart and mind have two sides. On one, it's about maintaining strong boundaries and taking care of yourself throughout a process that can bring out the strange in the people around you. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, “I had heard that wedding planning was stressful, but I had NO IDEA it was going to be this hard emotionally. And the people who have made it most difficult are the last people I thought would be difficult”. It's safest to assume that wedding planning is going to push some of your buttons and the buttons of those around you. Very few couples go through the process without some friction between themselves and each other. Strong boundaries and an active decision to care for one's self are the only good way through it.

On the other side, it's about understanding people well enough to show the right kind of consideration for them. Group psychology is one of the major considerations for a wedding planner. The timeline, the activities, the location, and so many other things need to acknowledge how guests will interact in the space, with each other, and with you. Making guests comfortable from the moment they arrive at the event will allow you to build a real bonding experience. That, along with taking care of your own mental health, is at least as important as each of the other elements of wedding planning.

How They All Work Together

Picture a pie chart with 5 equal elements using The Epic Wedding Formula.

In an ideal world, you would have just enough budget to match your vision. You would have just the right amount of options in your area to meet your budget and your vision without overwhelming you with choices. You would have enough time to plan at a leisurely pace and still feel like you were getting it all done on time. You would have the time to still relax, celebrate, be romantic with your partner, gather with friends and family, and generally take care of yourself.

The idea of it is so beautiful. I wish it happened for every couple that way, but for most couples, you're going to have quite a few imbalances, like a big vision and a small budget or a tight timeline and too many options.

Here's the good news! Each element can compensate for another element. So if your budget is small, just expand the time you give yourself to plan and the options that you consider. Time allows you to search for the best possible deals (it takes a LOT of time to do this), it allows you to DIY things, and it allows you to earn more money! More options allow you to check your vision and see if there are areas you could adjust to be more budget-friendly and still make you happy. Time lets you take care of yourself and be considerate of others while you figure all this out.

What if you really hate the stress of planning and want to do as little of it as possible? Money helps with that! You can get married sooner or just spend less of your time working on it, and pay someone to find your vendors, buy or rent all your decor, and even put your vision together for you.

If you're super busy with your career, you can get MORE TIME just by having a longer engagement.

Each element of wedding planning can be the size it needs to be in your life as long as you know how to leverage the other elements to compensate. Just remember that all 5 do need to be present. Think through how you want to handle each one, and you'll have an approach to wedding planning that truly works for you.


We take you through how to use The Epic Wedding Formula in Wedding Foundations — the first video series in The Epic Wedding Complete Planning Program. 


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