25 Golden Rules for a Perfect Wedding

How will you pull off the celebration of a lifetime? Just follow these simple guidelines for easy, stress-free planning.
Denise Schipani

While I was planning my wedding, I worked for this very magazine, and I considered myself lucky to have some inside knowledge about how to do it right. Even so, no bride's an expert until after the fact.

There are just so many things to cover, from choosing the right reception site and finding reliable vendors to sticking to a budget, not to mention taking care of creative details like the food, flowers, décor and so on. It takes a lot of work to get it all done, and you're probably getting nervous just reading this. But relax! We guarantee this comprehensive guide to your most important wedding planning moves will help make your celebration — and your first stint as a party-throwing diva — a resounding success.

1. Discuss your "vision"
Sit down with your fiancé and talk about your idea of a "dream" wedding. Cover as many details as you can: Will it be big or small? Formal or casual? At home or away? Will the reception have a theme — say, all winter white, with glittering crystal everywhere? Check out the most popular wedding themes ►

white wedding
Photo Credit: John Labbe/Wedding Planner: Preston Bailey

Don't leave anything out, no matter how extravagant (you've always envisioned arriving at the church in a horse-drawn carriage). Doing this will identify what's important to both of you and also help you decide what's feasible.

2. Establish a budget
Unless you just won the mega-million-dollar jackpot, there's no getting around drawing up a budget when you're planning a wedding, says Brian T. Kiefer, social and corporate event planner for Food for Thought Catering, in Chicago .

First, figure out who's paying — you and your fiancé, your parents, or maybe some combination. Find out who traditionally pays for what ►

Then divide that sum among the following categories: reception, including the site fee, and catering and alcohol costs (40%); honeymoon (13%); photography and videography (10%); bridal gown, tux and accessories (6%); music (5%); flowers (3%); invitations (2%); ceremony (5%); wedding rings (6%); and the rehearsal dinner, limos, attendants' gifts, tips and miscellaneous costs (10%).

While it's okay if these figures change a bit once you get going, try never to go above your total limit. You don't want to start out your marriage feeling regretful that you overspent — and carrying the burden of debt.

3. Find your style
Before you book a single appointment or make a wedding-related purchase, start browsing through magazines (not just bridal books, but home décor, travel and fashion magazines, too) to generate ideas about the general look of your affair, advises Alison Hotchkiss of Alison Events in San Francisco.

For instance, maybe you'll be inspired by the Mediterranean colors and flavors in a travel story about . Or, perhaps you'll see a handbag, a shoe, or even a couch in a color scheme you'd love to re-create in your floral arrangements or cake decoration. As you do research, you'll notice that a theme will begin to emerge, which can be a jumping-off point to choosing the individual elements. Check out 25+ of the most unique wedding themes we've ever seen ►

moroccan wedding theme
Photo Credit: Donna Newman Photography/Wedding Planner: David Tutera

4. Get it in writing
Repeat after us: Contracts are a bride's best friend. Study the fine print on anything a vendor asks you to sign, and be sure that you understand what you've agreed to. For example, your band or DJ may be willing to stay past the established stop time — for an overtime fee. If so, the terms should be stipulated in the contract so that you don't end up with a several-hundred-dollar surprise at the end of the night.

Similarly, it's a good idea to ask that taxes also be included — these fees can really add up. Any changes you make after you've signed the contract should also be in writing, not just verbal agreements. Let's say, for instance, that you've decided you want orange roses in the bridesmaid bouquets instead of yellow as previously planned. Follow up your phone call to your florist with a fax or e-mail, and be sure you get a confirmation back. Find out more unexpected wedding costs ► 

5. Dare to be different
Want to make your celebration stand out from all those cookie-cutter weddings you've been to? Think personalization — that's the term industry professionals use. It can mean incorporating ethnic traditions into your ceremony, having your bridesmaids choose their own dresses so they don't all look alike, inviting your beloved dog to the reception, asking your caterer to prepare a special family recipe for dinner or even having your cake decorated with your new married monogram. You're only limited by your imagination.

dog high five with bride
Photo Credit: Arte De Vie

Next: How to Stay Organized, Choose Your Vendors, and More ►