The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Wedding Ceremony

You’ve finally found your forever person, the question has been popped, and you can practically hear the wedding bells ringing. But now comes the hard part — planning your special day! Weddings are a time for joy, celebration, and most importantly, love. Your ceremony should reflect these things and create memories that will last you and your loved ones a lifetime. Strategically planning your wedding is a crucial factor in relieving any cause of stress on the big day. This guide to planning your wedding will give you some insight and offer key suggestions that will help you make one of the most magical and meaningful days of your life enjoyable and stress-free.   

If You Can, Hire a Wedding Planner 

First things first — hire a wedding planner if you can afford to do so. It is tempting to try to do everything by yourself, but in the DC metropolitan area, the average couple will spend between $33,300 to $40,600 on their wedding (The Knot). When someone makes an investment of that magnitude, it is essential to have a professional on your team to help you manage everything. 

We are not shy about our stance on the many reasons you should hire a wedding planner

“Even with the best intentions, planning a wedding without an experienced professional can be a little more complex than you think. And although a wedding planner costs money, trying to execute a wedding without a wedding planner can cost you more in the long run. Here are some of the top reasons why you should hire a wedding planner:

  1. Peace of Mind During the Planning Process
  2. They’ll Bring Your Wedding Day Vision to Life
  3. Wedding Planners Save the Day and Save Money
  4. They Can Help You to Stick to Your Budget
  5. Connections with Other Wedding Vendors
  6. They Keep You on Schedule

Set Your Wedding Budget 

Knowing when to set your wedding budget is tricky because we want to acknowledge that hiring a wedding planner is expensive. You may want to examine your budget before hiring a wedding planner, however, don’t allow the price tag to scare or deter you from engaging one. A wedding planner is an excellent investment to ensure the smooth execution of your wedding. 

Either way, your wedding budget is a top priority because it sets the tone (and reality) of everything else. To start, assess what you have in your personal savings, the amount you can set aside from your current income, and any friends or family that you know will assist with contributing to the cost of the wedding. From there, you can set a realistic budget and come to terms with what you need to do to move forward with the planning process. You may also come to terms with the fact that you need to prolong your engagement to allow your budget to stretch a little more. You are not alone should you decide to go this route — over 50% of couples prolong their wedding ceremony and reception to get what they want without going deep into debt by using credit cards or taking out a loan. 

One significant way to make your budget work in your favor is to use one vendor for multiple services. If you book through a professional talent agency like Entertainment Exchange, you can take advantage of discounted service offerings instead of securing a different vendor for each task.

For instance, our clients typically book our bands and DJs to play during the wedding reception. Since bands and DJs come with their own sound equipment for that service anyway, we offer clients a discounted “add-on” for A/V service for the wedding ceremony and pay the band or DJ a small fee for coming a few hours early for an event they would have already attended later in the evening anyway. The small upcharge is less than what you would pay for another vendor, especially since you will avoid multiple setups and delivery fees. 

We not only represent some of the best bands and DJs in our region, but we also represent lighting professionals, photographers, videographers, and more. We would highly recommend researching local talent agencies and getting pricing early on. 

If you need to find other ways to cut costs, here are a few additional options from our friends at 

  1. Edit the guest list — Each attendee costs far more than his or her meal when you consider the invitation, welcome bag, transportation, slice of cake, and favor. “Never have a B-list, and be ruthless with your A-list,” says Clark. For the average 135-person reception, shrinking the guest list by 15 people saves you approximately $1,300.
  2. Go off-peak –Have a winter wedding. Choose a Friday or Sunday. Or celebrate with mimosas over brunch instead of hosting a four-course, wine-paired dinner.
  3. Host the ceremony and reception in the same place — Doing so could save as much as $4,000 on transportation for the wedding party and guests.

Find Your Wedding Ceremony Venue

Next on your list – find your wedding ceremony venue. We stress this part of the planning process because it is the key to securing the remaining parts of your wedding planning process. You cannot book any other vendor until you have a date for your wedding. Your date depends on the location availability, so you need to secure the location to do everything else on your list. 

When it comes to budget, another way to save on cost is to host your ceremony and reception at the same location. You can save an estimated $3000 – $4000 because you will eliminate transportation costs, and you could possibly get a discount for hosting both events at the venue. 

Another thing to consider is whether you will decide to have your wedding ceremony and wedding reception at the same location. Some couples opt to have their ceremony at a church or sentimental place then have guests transition to another site for the reception. There are different reasons for this – one being the ability to have the reception during later hours. The other reason couples choose to have their wedding reception at a separate location is to avoid issues like playing offensive music at a house of worship. Should you decide to host your ceremony and reception at a place of worship, remember to review the guidelines and rules of the venue. 

When it comes to issues with music at your venue, we found this tip from,

 “If the venue of choice is a house of worship, there are set rules that will affect your choice of wedding music. Rules include prohibiting certain secular songs, types of instruments, and even beat and tempo. Although the ceremony is yours, the venue isn’t, so respect the rules. Speak to your officiant before booking your musicians, especially if you are having your ceremony in a church. If you are doing both your ceremony and reception at the same venue, this is rarely an issue.”

Another option to keep in mind when choosing your venue location is whether the ceremony will be held indoors or outdoors. The right décor and decoration can transform any space into a beautiful and magical setting – whether inside or outside. But when deciding between specific venue types, pointed out essential elements and tips to keep in mind with outdoor venues:  

  1. Be clear on your invitation – Outdoor weddings can significantly affect your guests and their experience at your wedding. So being clear on your invitation and possibly making suggestions can ensure that guests properly prepare themselves for the event. Subtly suggesting wearing a light jacket/shawl or bring a fan gives your guests all the information needed to prepare themselves to be comfortable and able to enjoy your ceremony.
  2. Choose safe lighting techniques – Depending on the time of year, location, and time of day you plan to have your ceremony, specific accommodations may have to be made to ensure that everyone can see and are comfortable. Heating lamps are a helpful addition to ensure that guests are warm if your wedding is not during your typical hot seasons. Proper and adequate lighting is also a critical factor to consider if you are thinking about having an outdoor evening wedding and/or reception. This ensures that guests, photographers, and videographers can see and share in your special moment. 
  3. Have a backup plan –  As much as we would like to, there is no way to plan for or control Mother Nature. There are a number of things that can occur that could alter the wedding ceremony. Ensuring that you (or your wedding planner, if you choose to hire one) have a backup plan for any wedding day hiccups is essential for removing stress and worry. Creating and discussing possible backup plans can also help decide on indoor or outdoor venues based on your budget. For instance, if you choose an outdoor venue and it starts to rain, is there an indoor space to move the ceremony? Did you budget enough time with vendors to wait for the rain out and possibly start later? Is there any equipment or decorations that would get ruined if rained on? Preparing for questions like these when making your backup plan will allow you to make an informed decision, based on your budget, on whether an outdoor or indoor venue is right for you.    
  4. No matter what you decide when it comes to the venue, choose a location that accentuates you and your fiancée’s personal style and aligns with your vision for the event. 

Create Your Wedding Timetable 

Now that you have hired a planner, your budget is set, and you have found your venue, it is time to create your wedding ceremony timeline. When it comes to your ceremony, timing is everything because running just a few minutes late can throw the entire event off track. Sometimes there is a hefty price tag attached to running late too. Vendors typically attach a late charge when an event runs behind, primarily when most vendors work multiple events in one day. Your event running over time could make vendors late for their next engagement. 

Your best bet is to create a flexible timeline and leaves room for anything to happen — because anything can happen! You may also want to consider asking about additional fees so you can make room in your mind (and wallet) just in case you need to make a decision on the fly.  

Create an Alternate Timeline for Virtual Weddings

If you are hosting an in-person ceremony but still adding a virtual element, you need to create a sub-timeline for your virtual guests. The pandemic gave us all a glimpse into the benefits (and challenges) of hosting events and meetings virtually. That said, a virtual wedding experience and live wedding experience vary significantly in terms of engaging guests. While it may seem that you have more flexibility with a live stream wedding, you still need a plan. You should offer etiquette instructions (stress the MUTE! button), and you can also offer tips on how to prepare so guests can grab food, drinks or ensure their Wifi connection is stable. One of the most important things to remember is to test your live stream in advance. We would recommend hiring an experienced A/V professional to run the live stream, which, like using an event planner, will put you at ease so you can focus on being present during your wedding ceremony. 

Prioritize Your Needs and Wants

This is a challenging but necessary part of the process. Everyone wants the vision of their special day to come to life, but you may have to prioritize your needs over your wants. For instance, if you desire to have your ceremony on a boat, you may have to compromise by hosting your ceremony by the water. You will get a chance to enjoy the atmosphere of the water without breaking the bank of renting a boat or yacht. 

If you are struggling to prioritize your needs and wants, make a list of your wants first, then make a list of the elements you know you need to make your wedding happen. In the end, add your top 3-4 wants to your overall list and work from there. If you find that you have room to add more “wants” to your wedding ceremony plan, add them slowly. You will feel accomplished knowing that you met all event needs while still getting a little bit of what you want in the end.  

Register (Before Your Engagement Party) 

Let’s be honest – one of the best parts of hosting a wedding is receiving gifts! It is not the sole reason couples opt to have a wedding, but it is definitely one of the perks. Friends and family have an opportunity to offer their support and show their love towards the new couple in the form of a tangible gift or monetary format. Most couples create a wedding registry in preparation for the wedding, but these couples may be missing out by waiting too long to build their registries. says, “In terms of general etiquette guidelines, most professionals agree that within the seven to nine-month range before your wedding date is the ideal time to register. Within this time, it’s implied that your bridal shower and any other pre-wedding festivities will take place, and with your registry created and ready to go, gift-giving (and receiving) will be a breeze.

This makes it easy for you to not only get the gifts you actually want, but it is one less thing to have to tackle during a nearly year-long process of planning the ceremony and reception. You can also add gifts to your list if you think of additional items later on since it is easier to add things here and there instead of creating a new list three months before your wedding in the midst of planning everything else.  

Create Your Guest List

It is now time to create your guest list, and we won’t lie – this is a challenging task. You have to find the balance between budget, guests having plus ones, and diplomacy with two families. By now, you know your budget will increase significantly if your guest list grows, but you also know that there are just some guests that must be invited. 

Setting a guest limit and having wedding standards with you and your fiancé can ease the tasks of finalizing your guest list. Having a set limit of people you want to invite and sticking to it will help with the budget and trimming down your list. 10% of people typically respond that they “cannot attend,” which is something to also keep in mind when making the guest limit amount and budgeting. Having standards that you stand by, such as “no kids” or whether or not you are allowing single guests to bring a plus one, is a factor that affects the guest list and should be taken into account based on the budget and venue space capacity.    

Overall, planning your wedding ceremony will be a challenge but if you are putting forth effort to do your research and enlist help where needed, you will most surely be up for the challenge! 



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