The advice you need before embarking on your wedding-planning adventure

The advice you need before embarking on your wedding-planning adventure

First things first: Congratulations on your engagement. Whether you've been anxiously awaiting the big day or were totally blown away by the proposal, it's an exciting time. And it's going to be a busy time, too.

Before the vows are shared and the champagne is poured, there are invites to address, flowers to order and, of course, a dress to find. And we're here to help. Follow these steps to ensure your engagement is relaxed and fun-just as it should be.

Start on the Right Foot

Start on the Right Foot

1. We all know a couple that managed to pull it together in less than six months. That's great (and it is, in fact, possible). But if you're a sucker for details and want to truly enjoy the process, the pros recommend starting 12 months out-set a date, establish your budget, determine your big-day aesthetic and compile the guest list within the first four months of planning.

TIP: Think carefully about your ideal date-is it the same weekend as a marathon, charity promotion or other road-closing event? You can avoid potential traffic nightmares with thoughtful planning.

2. You're going to be asking a lot of friends and family in the next several months, and it's only fair that you share with them important details as soon as you can. Between six and nine months out, send out your save-the-date cards, choose your attendants and start planning the bachelorette party and bridal shower.

3. Within the first few months of your engagement, have an honest conversation with family about the ceremony-what's important to you? What's important to your loved ones? Make sure everyone's on the same page, and then set up a meeting with religious officials if necessary.

Keeping it Real 101

1. Budget. When it comes to wedding planning, it's basically a four-letter word, but it's the first thing you need to think about. And you need to be honest. "Couples need to be very realistic and open about guest count and budget," says Kasey Skobel-Conyers, owner of Bliss Wedding & Event Design. "If we don't start out with a realistic budget, we'll have tension from the get-go, which wastes precious time."

Lauren Lawson, president of VIP Events Management, notes that many vendors (including VIP) have tiers for budgets, from limited resources to "money isn't an issue." Be open with your vendors; give honest feedback and work together to find a solution that works for you and your budget.

2. If you want to have 250 people at your wedding, you need to be certain that this is a manageable goal. Notes Skobel-Conyers, a party this large can make a huge difference when it comes to your venue, your menu and last-minute details like guest favors. Begin compiling your must-include list as soon as you can-often, when couples are aware of costs, trimming becomes easier.

"You want everyone to have a great time, and there's nothing wrong with trimming a guest list in order to make that happen," Skobel-Conyers says.

TIP: Divide your guest list into tiers, like close friends, family, friends from work, athletic club buddies and so on. When you have to trim the guest list, you can do so by group. It makes the process less personal.

Dress Shop with Purpose

1. Lisa Sullivan, shop manager of Big Rock Little Rooster in the Short North, notes that although gown shopping is a blast, it also needs to be productive. It's important that you have your date set-or at least an idea of the season-as well as a venue in mind before shopping for your dress.

"There's a big difference between what will look great at a September barn wedding and what will steal the show at a New Year's Eve hotel wedding Downtown," Sullivan says.

2. As for style, Abby Winland, store manager of Girls in White Dresses, notes that Pinterest boards and images from magazines are quite helpful and give bridal stylists an idea of what you're looking for-even if you can't quite articulate it.

3. Don't forget the essentials. You'll need appropriate undergarments and shoes to try on gowns, as well as a camera (snap some photos in a few poses to determine if it's the right style or fit) and a support system-but don't bring too many people. A couple of family members and close friends should be more than enough. After all, too many opinions are just that: too many.

Pick a Theme . . . or Don't!

1. Lawson notes that themes are fun-if a couple has one in mind. But if you find yourself stressing about a theme, you simply don't need one. "Just make sure you incorporate personal touches and make it your own," Lawson says. "Because that's what people will remember."

2. Skobel-Conyers suggests using Pinterest to inspire an underlying theme, but to keep it subtle. Think of color palette, room layout, flowers, food and even stationary design as cohesive elements that together represent your relationship and your wedding.

Go for What Makes You Happy

Bleu & Fig co-owners Brooke Kinsey and Regina Carmody Prange say the most important planning step is to prioritize the things that are most important to you and your groom. Want a big party? Splurge on a live band. Want to enjoy wedding imagery for years to come? Hire your dream photographer and videographer. As for those looking to host the best dinner party ever, concentrate on the menu and the wine selection, and worry less about hiring the city's premier DJ. Just remember-it's your day and should be done your way.

Consider a Consultant

"You're investing a lot of money in this one day," says Lawson. "You shouldn't have to worry about whether or not the cake arrived or if your mom is doing what she should be-because your mom should be relaxing with you. You can plan, of course, but I'm here to execute that plan."

Wedding etiquette

The expert advice for planning with grace

Not all out-of-towners need an invite to your rehearsal dinner-and in fact, inviting them all can turn the evening into a miniature wedding. The dinner is traditionally just for family, the bridal party and their dates.

How to ask for money: don't. Your best bet is to let your parents and bridal party deliver the message that you'd rather have a monetary gift instead of the latest KitchenAid must-have.

On your invitations, provide guests with as much information as possible-you don't want anyone to get lost and miss your big "I do" …

… But never share registry cards in your invitations. Include that information on your wedding website, or let it be delivered by word of mouth. Trust us, people will ask.

Skip the cash bar-there are ways around the often steep price of an open bar, including limiting what you serve to just beer or wine. Pass on the Champagne toast if necessary, but don't have guests pay for drinks at your wedding.