I've been photographing weddings forever. I came out the womb welding two cameras on my Holdfast, cooing about how much light there is now that I'm not in that dark place. It hurt my mum a whole bunch, but we got some great shots.

I might be exaggerating a tad, but you get me. I've worked at lots of weddings.

When you've been in the industry for a while you start to pick up on some things.

You see patterns emerging. You understand the flow of the day.

Planning your dream wedding can be super exciting, but at the same time, it can be panic inducing and dauntingly overwhelming. Maximizing your time, reigning in the budget, dealing with family members who have an opinion on everything and alllll the little details that go into planning an amazing party, it can be hard work. But I am here for you guys. I've put together this handy dandy list, just for you! There are the things that I've picked up over the years, and also I got some of my favourite vendors involved and asked them their top tip. It's a step by step guide that's in chronological order to make it even easier. 🎉🎉

Let's dive right in shall we?

First up.

#1. Set the budget.

This step is a bit of a drag, but it's necessary. According to lots of sites, the average NZ wedding comes with a price tag of around $35,000. If you haven't heard that stat before, calm the farm, take a deep breath and sit down for a minute. It's going to be fine. While that is the average amount, you can totally save cash in a ton of ways and get your budget in for less. Come up with a realistic sum, as well as a higher 'this-is-our-top-line-we-cannot-go-over-this' sum. Jot down a list of all the things you will think you'll be buying/renting, put an estimate dollar figure next to it, add it all up and go from there. Then pour yourself a stiff drink and just marinate on it for a little while. Let us move onto step two.

#2. Prioritize.

Just sit together for a minute to gather your thoughts. Now open up a dialogue and talk about what you want out of your wedding. What's most important to you as a couple. Is it the ceremony? The celebration with friends and family? The photos? The party? Once you know what is really important to you you'll be able to figure out where you want to spend your money. For some couples the ceremony location isn't is as important as the music and the party. Sometimes the ceremony is the only part that really matters. Some couples want a fine dining experience while others place huge importance on the images/video of the day. Whatever way you want it, it's your day to choose what you want. By getting this settled in the beginning, it will mean you are less likely to be swayed into booking and paying for something you don't value as much.

#3. Your Tribe

Write up a quick guest list to get your approximate numbers. Obviously the more people you have the higher the price tag. Work out who you want in your bridal party.


#4. Sort the big 5.

Now you know what you want, you can sort what I call the Big 5 accordingly.

The Big 5 are the top five things that you need to sort ASAP. Most weddings are planned between 6 & 18 months in advance, so to secure the places and people you want you need to act quick. The Big 5 are as follows.

1: The Date. (well duh) Choose your date plus a back up date in case the venue you want isn't available. Friday's and Saturday's are normal, though Sundays and Thursdays often work well for long weekends.

2: Your venue. You need to choose a place that can accommodate your approximate guest list and one that you really really like. Do you need one where you can BYOB? One that does all of the decorating for you? There are a ton of options and there will be another blog post soon on how to choose the best venue for you, for now though, shop around, visit places in person and check reviews online.

3: Your photographer. I've placed this above the celebrant in the list for a couple of reasons. Photog's book out fast and they spend the whole day with you so there is only one wedding per day for them. Plus they see a lot of celebrants in action and can give you a list of good ones.

4: Your celebrant/minister. Ask around for recommendations and always meet them or skype with them before your day. Find one that suits your personality.

5: Your caterer.

(If you are at a venue that doesn't supply food that is.) Seek quality recommendations and shop around. When considering your catering, make sure that understand what you are getting. A good caterer will have great service as well as lot's of great food. (My local fave is Twenty Four catering FYI).

Currently food trucks are on trend, as are ice-cream vans and sharing platters.

The venue, food, booze and photographer are usually the biggest investments for the day. Get these ticked off your list and you're rolling. Let's move onto the next item.

#5. The guests are alive with the sound of music.

Whether a singer belting out ballads while frolicking on a hill is your thing or if you are more into death metal, the sounds you choose for your wedding is a sure fire way of making it really feel like your day. Bands and DJ's book out fast, so this should be next on the list. Make sure they come with lots of good recommendations and that they can cater to your type of music. If you have hired a band you also need to plan ahead for the music that will be playing before they arrive, during the meal and while you are socialising.

Once you've booked your main things, you can slowly go through and get the smaller stuff sorted. The ol' interweb is so awesome for wedding planning. You can order anything you want online, you can find second hand deals (table decorations from other weddings etc) and you can virtually meet your vendors if you aren't in the same location and you can see visual examples of what you like and don't like.

Right. Now for the speed round.

The next lot of tips are short but useful tidbits for you.

  • Hire people that you trust. Then trust them! Let them take care of you, that's what they are there for!
  • Have a break from tradition. If you don't want to make a ceremony out of cutting the cake, then don't! It's your wedding. Do it your way.
  • Allow the right amount of time when planning your schedule. Then allow extra.
  • Shit happens guys. Best be prepared.
  • Consider the heat.
  • If you are having your wedding in peak summer make sure you have a location that has plenty of shade. I've been to weddings where it was 38 degrees with very little shade and it is BRUTAL. Also make sure you have plenty of water for your guests. Sounds like a give in but you'd be surprised.
  • Vendor Tip: Christchurch Weddings . Make a run sheet. A killer run sheet is key to a smoothly running day, especially if you’re not hiring a planner or coordinator. Make sure it lists timings, what’s happening and locations, and throw in an extra tab for a contacts list - It always comes in handy! I personally like to send mine out to my vendors two weeks out so it’s fresh and current.
  • Make sure that someone in every bridal party car has a phone and that it is on. People can get lost and I've seen a couple of older cars break down en route before.
  • Don't be mean to your bridesmaids. They are guests too. Not slaves.
  • Let your photographer know you have planned something rad. Different lenses etc may be needed to capture it properly.
  • Vendor Tip - Debbie Hawker (Kick ass Celebrant) Have the ceremony YOU want. Listen to ideas and feedback but never lose sight of the fact the day is about you and your partner and the love you have for each other. Ultimately we are celebrating love. It is that simple.
  • Don't forget the bug spray and sunscreen. Getting burnt on your wedding day sucks.
  • Stay hydrated. Headaches aren't fun.
  • Make sure you have a basket of food & booze for your bridal party photos.
  • Allow money in the budget for feeding your vendors that are there over meal time (Photogs, video crew, the DJ)
  • Make sure that if you are buying cuff links as a gift, that the shirts you hired/bought actually have cuff link holes. You'd be surprised how often I've seen shirts mutilated.
  • Have warm wraps or make sure your bridesmaids know that they can bring a jacket.
  • Vendor Tip: Samantha Rose Flowers Think about your theme. While you’re free to choose any flowers you want for your wedding, focusing on your theme can really help narrow your search. For example, if you’re hosting a quaint countryside wedding, you may want to fill your arrangements with wildflowers and greenery. On the other hand, if you’re hosting an extravagant wedding you may want to go with simple and elegant florals.
  • Use your wedding cake as dessert. So many wedding cakes go uneaten otherwise.
  • Send out your invites as early as possible. Make sure the RSVP return date gives you plenty of time to organise the seating plan and to let the caterer know if there are any dietary requirements. This is the sort of last minute stress that you can do without. Order the RSVP's online with address labels to save time.
  • Consider a wedding website. There are plenty of choices out there. It's an easy way of updating your guests with important information, especially the stuff that won't fit on your printed invites. There are many other cool things too - like giving your guests an option to choose their favourite song for the DJ and choose their meal options.
  • Dress for success. Your dress/suit can't just look good. It's got to feel good. If it's uncomfortable it will make your whole day harder. Make sure you can sit and move freely, that you can actually breathe, and wear your shoes in and have them stretched if you need to. Wear heel stoppers if you will be on grass and pack comfy shoes for later.
  • Make your list and check it twice. Write down the list of people you want in photos and print out two copies - one for each side of the family. When you don't have a list (or if you forget to bring it) it takes twice as long as normal to get the family photos done. Photographers don't know your family dynamics so don't leave it up to them to create it for you.
  • Have an engagement shoot. E-shoots are important for two reasons. 1: It helps you to get to know your wedding photographer and vice-versa. You'll be spending a lot of time with them on the day so it's important to know that everyone get's on and helps you understand how they work. 2. It helps you to get used to being in front of the camera! For many people, this will be the first time they have had a photo shoot, so by planning a session before your wedding, you'll help eliminate any nerves you have about it.
  • Lastly and most importantly: Que será guys. When your big day comes around, know that you've done everything you can to make it work and let it go. Whatever will be will be, so don't hold onto plans and ideas too tightly if they go awry. Just release that pressure and enjoy the day.

You got this.