First, congratulations! Getting married is so exciting!
Since your wedding is about 3 years away, I would not start actually wedding planning for at least 18 months. The reason is that you may change your mind about what kind of wedding you want. I know I did, and my engagement was only 9 months!
When you do start, the first thing you will want to do is find your venue. The venue sets the tone for the whole event. You could start doing this about 2 years out, but don’t book anything right away. Just once or twice a month, go and look at a venue. The more popular ones will book 12 – 18 months in advance, so be prepared for that.
Then you’ll get your photographer, caterer, florist, musicians, DJ, cake baker, and officiant. You can do that 9 – 12 months in advance, as the more popular – and expensive – people book fast. A good thing to note is that if you book someone with little experience a year before your wedding, they will have signed a contract for a lower price. But in between that year, they will gain more experience. In fact, they could as much as double their price during that year.
You should start to dress shop about 9 months before the wedding. Expect at least 1 – 2 months to find the dress, 4-5 months for it to arrive, and 1 – 2 months for alterations. Bridesmaid dresses should be ordered at least 4 months before the wedding – 3 months to arrive, and 1 month for alterations.
All the decor, DIY projects and little things can be done within the year before your wedding. STD’s should be sent a 9 – 12 months before the wedding. Invitations should be sent 8 – 10 weeks before the wedding. Tuxes should be chosen and paid for 2 – 6 weeks before the wedding. Premarital counseling should be completed at least 6 weeks before the wedding. You should get your marriage license 2 – 6 weeks prior to the wedding.
But you don’t have to do it like this!! You can have a lovely ceremony in a park or a beach, and then a BBQ or clam bake afterwards. You can DIY your whole wedding (I am!). If any of your relatives has a huge backyard or lovely vacation house, you could do it there so cheap.
And you don’t have to go to a bridal salon or a florist or a traditional caterer. You can get a China dress, order flowers and food from Whole Foods, and make everything yourself. You could get married for less than $5000. It depends on what is important to you.
But I wish someone had told me that I wouldn’t care what the wedding was like. Now, I just want it over with. I wish I was more low key. I wish we had a simple JOP ceremony and lunch at a great restaurant. But that’s me. Think hard about what is really important – a fancy wedding or just being married. Good luck – you can do it!