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  • Writer's pictureElena Bespoke

"We're Engaged! ...Now What?" Wedding Planning First Steps

A Getting Started Guide for the Newly Engaged & the Wildly in Love


An engaged couple walks hand in hand


Ten years ago today (as of writing this in 2024), I was wildly in love, engaged, and stressed the hell out. I had checklists from popular wedding websites, an online community of nearly weds to vent to, and a long list of to-do’s.


At the top of that list? Secure a venue that won’t break the bank. Everything about a wedding was exciting, but crazy expensive. Joyful, but intimidating. Beautiful, but filled with pressure. The engagement was a happy occasion. The celebration? Not so much.


After getting several discouraging quotes, coming to terms with my small budget, awkward family dynamics, and a general sense of not knowing what I didn’t know, wedding planning became the stuff of nightmares. I met nothing but obstacles as I tried to pull a wedding party together, hire a photographer, and plan out  invitations. That’s because I had a blurry vision.


First… who am I? My name is Keilah (pronounced Kayla) and I’m a wedding planner in Kansas City. I canceled my wedding in 2014, and opted for an alternative, intimate celebration instead. After 10 years of working behind the scenes of events (and figuring out how to apply those lessons to the planning journey), I started up this wedding planning boutique to help intentional couples break outside of the wedding template to create something uniquely magical.


So… engaged? Congrats! That’s a cool place to be. If you’re reading this, you’re probably curious about wedding planning first steps. I’ll break it down into your first few actionable steps, all based on my philosophies and experience as a wedding planner for the offbeat and wildly in love.


Tip: Don’t Start with the Venue


It all starts with a vision.


I wish I could go back to my 22 year old self and save her a world of heartache. The first thing I would do is give her a big hug. The second is pry the thrifted wedding planning book from her hands, and tell her to cancel the venue tours. The venue step is actually at the end of a thoughtful process, and I wasn’t ready to move onto such an important step before developing a vision.


A venue “locks in” many things that cannot be easily changed, including your date, guest count, and budget. It will determine the format of your day, your timeline, and the types of vendors you’ll need to hire. Without an accurate breakdown of your budget, it will be difficult to contextualize pricing, and you could end up with more work that you imagined, or a much larger than expected total bill. This is how your guest list creates drama, your budget triples, and your priorities get lost in the mix.


Vision work helps you explore venues, and every other detail of your wedding, with context and clarity. A strong vision has four main pillars: intention, format, guest list, and budget. These pillars will work together to hold up the foundation of your celebration and give it form. They also create some “checks and balances”, helping you weigh many decisions in context with others. I go through this process with each of my couples in the first phase of wedding planning, which I call Vision Work. It not only helps me and my couples connect with their story and create something magical, it also makes wedding planning smooth and seamless. If you want a piece of Vision Work for yourself, you’ll find it in this article. Ready? Let’s dive in.



I: Intentions


A moody black and white photo of an adoring couple on their wedding day


If you want your celebration to be personally meaningful, you identify your intentions. This ensures that the wedding fits you, and not the other way around. You get to weigh what you want in a sea of endless decisions.


Some weddings have the ability to surprise and delight, while others connect and deepen. Some weddings creatively honor old traditions, while others create new ones altogether. Your celebration might feel fun, light, moody, or free. What determines that are your intentions.


You know your wedding is intentional when it is personally meaningful, with clear priorities. You know why you are having a wedding, and the needs you endeavor to satisfy. Start by having a series of conversations about what this really means to you, what you want, and how you can align your choices. Here are a few questions to get started:


  • What kind of experience do we want to have?

  • Who is this experience for?

  • What is important that we say or do while we are gathered?

  • Why are we choosing to celebrate in this way?

  • What are our top priorities?


This is also a great time to decide how you plan to approach the wedding planning process. Who are your support pillars? How are you managing planning responsibilities? Who gets a vote? Will you use a planner? If so, an intentional planner will help guide you through the next steps of building your foundation.



II. Format


A bride and groom cheer during a game

Every gathering has a form. For the sake of a celebration, you want to consider where it will take place, when it will take place, and what you will do. The answers to the questions above will help carve out a path.


Time and place set the scene and the mood. A wedding is very rooted in place, with unique access to backdrops, aesthetics, vendors, price points, sentimentality, and possibilities depending on where you are in the world. You want to narrow it down to a  general location (like a city), and then perhaps a certain setting (mountains, city, riverside) within a metropolitan area. A time of year sets the mood, whether you’re picturing something cozy with a bonfire in the Fall or a warm sunset with live music in the summer.


While we Westerners often think of a wedding as a ceremony, dinner, photos, and dancing, celebration has many possible festivities and rituals. You might want to create a stay-cation feel, with family and friends all staying at a boutique hotel for scavenger hunts and speakeasy nights. A wedding can be a road trip and series of dinner parties. It can also, of course, be dinner and dancing. What you want to do will help you ultimately determine what sort of spaces to seek out.


You have a strong sense of your wedding’s format when you know which city or metropolitan area it will take place, around what time of year, and you have an idea of the festivities on your celebration’s agenda. Remember to lean into your intentions, making sure you choose things that are personally meaningful and take your priorities into consideration.



III: Guest List


A couple toasts their guests at a woodland outdoor wedding

We often think of weddings as a communal celebration, belonging to the collective of family and friends as much as to the couple of honor. It’s common for loved ones to be invited from all over the world to celebrate together in a once in a lifetime experience. It is a sentimental endeavor, born of the idea of two communities joining as one.


Practically?… it ain’t nearly that simple.


Some view weddings as a communal experience, while others view it as something mainly for the marrier’s to enjoy (“It’s YOUR day!”). For some a wedding is a deeply romantic opportunity to say your vows, while for others it is primarily a religious ritual, and others think of it as an upscale party. People can get absolutely nasty over the concept of child-free weddings, or destination weddings, or elopements. You’ll likely have a good mix of all of the above in your guest list (especially if you have a larger wedding). Which perspective do you align with?


An intentional guest list builds upon the intentions you’ve already defined for your celebration. It defines the room and creates a focused experience for a particular group of people. 


Elope if you want an experience centered on the two of you and a ceremony. Have an intimate wedding if you’re looking for a cozy and connected experience for a select few. Consider a large wedding if you’re dreaming about a community-oriented event with a big party. As the hosts of the celebration, you get to determine the type of experience you’d like to have.


You’ll also want to take practical considerations when it comes to your guest list. A larger guest count requires a significantly higher budget, more time spent communicating, and more peoples’ needs to take into consideration. Some personalities are better suited to a big crowd, or a close-knit group. The people within our communities may clash, or you may have a smaller community than you’d like.


Finally, weddings bring up a lot of ideas about our place within our communities. It’s common to have complex feelings arise around belonging, or family, or age, or values. Remind yourself to surround yourselves with those who feel warm, and supportive, and affirming of why you want to gather in the first place. Remind yourself to take the lessons of this milestone occasion with grace and kindness. You are ready to move onto the next step when you know the general size of the wedding you will have, who you are inviting, and why. You’ll also know that you can practically show each guest a wonderful time, and make peace with any lessons you stumble upon as you gather your people.



IV: Budget


A bride and groom embrace at their first look

When creating a budget, you’ll want to create a line-item budget by dividing each area of spending into different categories. This would look like a budget of $x for a venue, $x on catering, $x for photography, and so on. This will help you make decisions with confidence, knowing how it applies to the big picture.


But how do you create a line-item budget when you aren’t sure what you need, or what it costs?


To figure out what you need, refer back to the “Form” exercise and take note of all the goods and services. You can break it all down into details, like dress, shoes, veil, and alterations. You can also lump some things together, like “Attire”.


For what it costs, you get to set your own budget! There are a lot of guides that will break down how much of your budget you “should” allocate to different areas, but I advocate breaking it down by your own priorities. There is a corresponding service for almost every price point, you just adjust your search accordingly. For example, opting for digital invites vs paper, or 6 hours of photography vs 10. Your priorities should be reflected in your budget, including what you splurge on and what you omit.


If you want to avoid the guesswork altogether, most wedding planners offer individual consultations to support you on your planning journey. Reach out here if you want help creating your budget.


You’ll also want to think about how you’re paying for your wedding. Will you use cash? Credit? Is family chipping in? Are any rules tied to gifts? It’s a good idea to start thinking about the logistics and values around money.


You can have an incredible celebration no matter how much you spend on it. Your budget gives your celebration very real limits and boundaries. Getting real on what you will spend, when, and how, leads to much less financial stress once bills are due.



Conclusion


In many ways, I wrote this article to help my old self. I also wrote it to help couples in similar positions ditch the “wedding checklist” in favor of the profound and the meaningful. While the past is the past, and I can’t redo my wedding fumbles, its lessons are everlong. I hope it  this helps someone in a similar spot find their path to something magical, meaningful, and true.


Now that you’ve got the 4 pillars of a great foundation in place, you’re ready to embark on your journey. Touring venues is the next step, and you’ll have useful context for thinking about your day as you walk through spaces.


While you probably won’t do everything on this list, if you cross a few off you’ll be in a great spot. I hope it helps. Happy planning!


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