Congratulations to all you newly engaged out there! Being engaged is one of the most exciting times of your life. But can also be overwhelming. While many of the couples we work with bring us on board before making a lot of the following steps, I know many of you are navigating this on your own or hoping to bring someone in to assist after the initial decisions have been made. For those couples, here is a brief outline of the major planning phases of your day in the order to approach each:

BUDGETINGThe truth is unless you have been closely involved with the planning of your sister’s, best friend’s or any other person’s big day, you may be surprised by the overall investment of a wedding. To avoid a lot of stress, determine up front how much you want to prioritize and how much your family may contribute. From there set an approximate budget to use as a guideline when d and hiring vendors. Note that sometimes setting your budget can be arbitrary and you may need to revisit this once you understand your vision, but having an idea of where your comfort zone is, is important.

THE GUEST LISTWhile some couples choose to formulate their guest list around their preferred venue, I highly recommend looking at this list before falling in love with a space that may or may not be able to accommodate your group. I recommend both of you to make a list of people you can’t imagine marrying without, individually, and asking your families to do the same, if appropriate. From there have a closer look at the collective list, negotiate as needed and use the estimated number to determine what size of venue you need to have to accommodate the starting list.

WHEN & WHEREWhere will it be? Do you dream of a traditional wedding in the backyard of your childhood home? Do you want you want to marry with vineyards in the landscape? How about a private estate in the mountains? No matter where it is held, you can’t move forward with the planning until you have a date and location. Narrow down the region or regions you’re interested in and start scouting all of the venues that fit your vision.

HIRING YOUR SUPPORT TEAMAssembling the perfect team of experts for your day is crucial in the success of your wedding day. Remember, it is not only about style and budget, but you need to be able to trust each person in carrying out your vision. Here is a list of the vendors you may consider hiring for your day:

Wedding PlannerCeremony VenueReception VenueCatererFloral DesignerPhotographerCinematographerCake DesignerCeremony EntertainmentReception EntertainmentStylistStationerLighting CompanyLinensRental Company

In an effort to secure your preferred vendors, prioritize your interviews with the professionals that need to be present on your wedding day. For instance, your photographer will only be shooting one wedding per day however your stationer or linen supplier can obviously service more than one couple per any given date. For this reason, we recommend hiring venue, caterer, photography and DJ/Band first and foremost and chipping away at the others from there.

GUEST COMMUNICATIONOnce you have a date, location and some key vendors on board, start thinking about the guests. I recommend aligning the save the date mail date with the launch of your wedding website allowing guests to start planning themselves. If you’re having a destination wedding or a high percentage of guests traveling, don’t forget to secure a room block for the out of town guests. The website is the perfect spot to communicate this helpful information.

THE DETAILSOnce you have your team in place, start thinking about the specifics. What do you want the day to look like, aesthetically? What type of experience are you hoping to create? Will it be black tie or more approachable? What songs will be played during the ceremony? What textiles and florals are you drawn to? If you’re a couple who knows exactly what you want, great! If not, spend some time researching wedding resources, gathering inspiration and talking with your vendors. As a general guideline, work to have all details and decisions made no later than one month before your wedding day. This will allow you to enjoy the days leading up to your union.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTSNo matter what, keep in perspective the true meaning of the day. A more carefree mindset will save your sanity as you try to manage many moving parts, questions from vendors and guests and staying connected to your fiance.

Congratulations again! I’ll be sharing my tips regarding finding the perfect venue, hiring a caterer, photographer and so much more in the upcoming weeks. Until then, happy planning!

Images by the talented Abby Jiu of Uche Nwosu and Clinton Moxam’s Chicago Wedding.