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I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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7 Things You Should Do When You Start Planning Your Wedding

April 8, 2020

YOU’RE ENGAGED…AHH!!!!! I know you are FREAKING out. You get to spend the rest of your life with your best friend AND you get to celebrate with all of your favorite people!!!

I know I’m about to give you a very practical, task-driven list of things to do, but before you dive into that make sure you’re taking the time to just be excited. All of the questions about dates, venues, photographers, and dresses will start to roll in, but don’t let that overwhelm you or take away from the huge step you two just made!! 

When you’re ready to start talking wedding planning, it can go from “omg I can’t wait to do this!” to “it’s going to cost how much?” to “I have no idea what I need to do next” real quick. That’s okay. You aren’t supposed to be a professional party planner! That’s what you lean on the actual professionals for –– it’s literally our job.

I start talking to brides pretty early on in the planning process, which I love because I get to help in a ton of ways. I’ve made a list of a few of the things you should start thinking about and doing as soon as you’re engaged and starting to plan to really get the ball rolling in the right direction.

1. Decide On Your Top Priorities

This is the most important and necessary thing you can do when planning your wedding. This is the hill I will die on, lol.

You will have a budget that you want to spend. You will have things you absolutely do not want to compromise on. You will have things that at the end of the day you don’t *really* care about, or at least your day won’t be affected if it’s not exactly what you pictured.

It’s really important to decide what your top 3-5 priorities are so that way when you get to a place where you have to compromise (because you will eventually), you are prepared to make a decision confidently.

Everyone has different priorities. Some brides care about their photos the most. Some really want a gorgeous venue, are all about the flowers, or have a very specific date in mind. Some are really concerned about their guests having the time of their lives, and some really want to save money so they can invest in something else in their life.

It truly is up to you two and should be decided by only you two. This should be a team discussion because you and your groom may have different priorities –– that’s okay too! This is where the compromising and planning starts 🙂

2. Prioritize All Of The Other Aspects Of Your Day

Now that you have your top 3-5 most important things, you can start to prioritize the things that didn’t make that list. Whether you want to truly organize them in order of importance or just have buckets for things you really care about or are willing to adjust on, it’s just in how you’ll want to think about it. 

Well, what even are the things I should think about prioritizing??? 

Here’s just a quick list of different aspects of typical* wedding days:

  • Date (season)
  • Venue (Ceremony and Reception)
  • Coordinator/Planner
  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • DJ/Entertainment
  • Dress
  • Groom Attire (Tuxedo/suit)
  • Flowers
  • Hair and makeup artists
  • Catering (Servers)
  • Alcohol/Bar (Bartenders)
  • Desserts/Wedding Cake
  • Linens and centerpieces
  • Ceremony decor
  • Reception decor
  • Signage
  • Rehearsal Dinner location and catering
  • Officiant
  • Transportation
  • Invitations, paper goods, thank you notes
  • Lighting
  • Bachelor and bachelorette parties
  • Gifts for bridal party and family
  • Vendor tipping
  • Backup Plans (tents, etc)

*You may not want all of these things or you may want to add a few special surprises and traditions to the list, but this is a good start!

It’s best to really have an idea of all of the things you envision for your bid day so you don’t forget the things that may not have been in the forefront of your mind (like planning and paying for a rehearsal dinner and gifts for the bridal party).

3. Determine What Your *Realistic* Budget Is

Now that you have the list of items you need to have your dream wedding day AND have them in order of priority, you can start to really define your budget. Start with the higher priority items and how much you are willing to invest –– for me, I have very specific people and places in mind and I know how much they cost, so I will be able to work my budget around them. If you aren’t drawn to a specific person or place yet, you can start with a budget and find someone/something to fit within that budget.

A quick note as you are figuring this all out: there really isn’t a thing as a “reasonable” budget. Reasonable is relative. What may be low to you may be high to someone else or vice versa. There isn’t any shame in having a budget that fits your situation and what’s reasonable FOR YOU.

What you will need to think about is making sure that your expectations match your budget. The goal is to get to the sweet spot of finding the perfect vendors that will give you the experience and quality you’re looking for and can fit into what you’re willing to spend –– even if you have to make adjustments…that’s where your priorities come into play!

People invest in the things they value!!!

4. Get An Idea Of What You Want Your Day To Look Like

On to the fun part…actually designing your day!!! You’ll need to start thinking about what you want your day to look and feel like –– from the style to the guest list size. 

Do you want something timeless or trendy? A huge party with all of your friends or something a little more intimate? Do you want a specific vibe? Coastal, industrial, city, or southern? Tons of colorful flowers or greenery? Inside or outside? Near things to do or out in the country surrounded by fields?

You’ll want all of the parts of the day to flow so it’s easiest to start with your highest priorities and work your way down. If you’ve always dreamt of an elegant ball gown then a rustic location won’t necessarily make sense. That being said, your budget will probably have some adjustments made once you start to see if you overestimated or underestimated things based on your preferences.

I’ve always gone back to Pinterest when I’m looking to get inspired. It can be easy to fall in love with so many things and then realize that they don’t all make a cohesive design, so having a board with the things that originally inspired you will help!

If this is really just not your strong suit, then I highly recommend hiring a wedding planner!!!

You’ll want (read: NEED) a wedding coordinator either way to make sure that all of the details come together and the timeline runs smoothly on the day of. I recommend a month-of coordinator at minimum so they are able to tie up all loose ends, start communication with your vendors early, and make sure there wasn’t anything you missed.

If you bring them in from the very beginning and let them assist in the full vision, it’ll make the process even smoother!

5. Decide On A Date And A Venue

One of the first and biggest decisions to make will be deciding on a DATE.

You may have a sentimental date in mind, or just know you definitely want to get married during a certain season. There are pros and cons to every season, but ultimately the date (like everything else) is totally up to you.

You can learn more about what to expect in every season in this YouTube video!!!

Keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid big events in the locations that you want to get married (ex. The Azalea Festival in Downtown Wilmington) and know that holiday weekends will likely result in additional fees from multiple vendors. If the crowd you’re inviting is all really into things like football, basketball, or hunting, you’ll want to decide if you’re okay having a wedding during those seasons.

You’ll also want to think about the style of your wedding, the typical weather during every season, the temperature outside, major storm seasons, etc. when choosing your date.

If you’re okay with being a little more non-traditional, you could look for non-Saturday dates to potentially save some money or be able to invest more in other areas of your day!

Once you have a date in mind, you can start to reach out to different venues. If you are interested in a really popular venue and/or you want to get married during a popular date, reach out as soon as possible and be ready to be flexible if you’re really in love with their space. 

In North Carolina, the most popular wedding dates are in May and October and most of those book up to a year in advance!!

If you have a vendor that you absolutely MUST have at your wedding, make sure they are available first before officially picking your date and booking your venue.

Of course I will feel that way about my future photographer, and I would be devastated if she couldn’t come!

6. Start Reaching Out To Vendors

Now you can start reaching out to vendors and crossing things off of your to do list!! Again, start with your higher priorities so you can start to piece together everything you’re looking for (and what can fit into your budget).

I personally believe it’s best to really connect with your vendors and work with them because you absolutely love their work or are impressed with their service. I know when you are looking at so many dollar signs that it can be easy to get caught up in that, but this is truly about your EXPERIENCE. Wedding vendors are people to and we genuinely love and want to serve our couples. 

When you’re reaching out to different people, do your research and ask questions about how their processes work. Don’t be afraid to get on the phone or meet them in person to talk through your vision.

If you’re having a hard time coming up with the right questions to ask, be honest about that too! I have brides all the time say they aren’t totally sure what to ask, so I walk through my entire process first so they can either learn things they didn’t know they needed or think of new questions to dig deeper. It helps a ton!!!

7. Remember It’s Your Day

You’re going to hear this from so many corners –– “it’s your day! Do what you want! Don’t listen to everyone else!” Depending on your personality type, this can be easier said than done…but it’s true and it’s necessary.

Just because your mom had favors at her wedding doesn’t mean you have to. Just because your friend had fireworks doesn’t mean you have to. Just because all of the weddings you’ve been to served only beer and wine doesn’t mean you can’t have an open bar! 

Plan for and invest in the people and things you and your fiance love and value and your day will be exactly what you’d dreamed of 🙂

If you need someone to bounce ideas off of, I would love to help! I love hearing all about my couples’ visions for their wedding days and seeing if there are areas I can help with or give advice on after attending a wedding almost every weekend. Also, all Dakota Hersey brides are added to their own Facebook group to be able to talk with each other and get recommendations from their fellow brides!!

Happy planning and congratulations again!!!


I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer Helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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