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You're Engaged, Now What? First Steps for a New England Wedding

Congrats! You are recently engaged and ready to start making big plans. Perhaps you are feeling excited, nervous, overwhelmed, confused, or all of the above. Maybe you've been to your friends' weddings and you have a sense of what you want or don't want, but how do you get from where you are at the very beginning to where you want to go, blissfully happy on your wedding day? Come with me on a journey to start your planning process.

xo, Sarah

Owner of Olio

About me: I've been planning weddings for 10+ years as owner of Without A Hitch and now Olio: Modern/Industrial Event Space and have worked with over 400 couples. Though our scope is limited to day-of coordination at Without A Hitch, here's the advice I give my friends, family, and colleagues when they first get engaged.

Bride Groom in front of Olio windows Event Space in Peabody Massachusetts on their wedding day
Mark Davidson

First: Enjoy.

Seriously. You won't miss out on massive wedding opportunities if you don't start planning immediately, so take your time to dive in. Maybe plan an engagement party or admire your new jewelry. Maybe just hang out and feel all the feelings.

Bride and groom celebrating flower petals in Olio industrial modern event space wedding day
Lindsay Hackney

Next: Partner Meeting.

This sounds serious because it is. My suggestion to all couples, off the bat, is to sit down with your partner and figure out what's important to you. Like a mission statement for a nonprofit, your priorities will help to guide the many (many!) decisions that you have to make over the course of a project like wedding planning.

There are lots of ways to approach this, but here's my best suggestion: each of you should sit down separately and create two lists....

🖤 The Top 3-5 Things I Want at My Wedding and

❌ The Top 3-5 Things I DO NOT Want at My Wedding.

Then, open a bottle of wine or grab a plate of nice cheese and share your lists with each other. Discuss each item and write down a combined priority list for the two of you for "wants"/"do not wants." Put it on the fridge or the cover of your wedding planning binder.

If there are other key stakeholders (ie parents), you might consider repeating this activity with them. Ultimately, having everyone on the same page from the start will be very important for your sanity and the smoothness of the planning process. It will also act as a guide to come back to when there is confusion about choices.

Bride and groom kissing at altar, just married at Olio Wedding venue in Peabody Massachusetts
Charity Hope Photography

Wedding Planner: Yea or Nay?

Next big question is.... are you hiring a wedding planner?

Keep in mind that you can hire a planner basically at any time in the process. You will generally get more value and support from a full-service experienced wedding planner if you hire before you move on to the next step, but you can always change your mind later and bring a team in. A full service planner will help you to set priorities, budgets, and take over a lot of the initial outreach which can be time consuming. If you aren't sure if you want to hire a planner, go back and look at your priorities. Think about what the next few months and years look like for you professionally, personally. Some couples report spending in excess of 200 to 300 hours planning their wedding without a planner. Having planned my own wedding, start to finish, I can tell you that this sounds pretty reasonable.

Is that time and energy that you currently can fit into your life or do you want to outsource this work to an expert?

Remember: wedding planners come in all shapes and sizes, everything from day-of coordination to partial planning to full-service planning with design and guest/vendor management. You may be able to customize packages to your needs.

If you are booked at or considering Olio, reach out to us directly for a referral list of planners who have been successful in our space.

Bride and groom at altar with white drapery in modern industrial event space in Peabody Massachusetts New England
The Gowans

The Big Four: Budget, Date, Guest List, Venue

This next step is kind of confusing because it's chicken/egg with how interconnected each of these components is. I encourage you to have your priority list handy as you go through these Big Four choices.

➡️ Budget: while you may not know what everything will cost yet, you have to approach planning knowing (approximately) what you plan to spend. There are options for every price point, and setting expectations up front is essential. Make sure to have early conversations with any stakeholders who may be contributing to the cost of the wedding about the nature of the contribution as well as the expectations that may come along with it. Check out our wedding budgeting tips/tricks.

➡️ Date: you'll want to decide if there are any non-negotiables here (ie Saturday or bust) as venue availability and budget may both help determine this factor. If you are flexible on exact date, talk to your partner about month/season before touring venues. Look at large local events (ie Head of the Charles, college graduations) or family conflicts like birthdays or travel.

Many couples choose a date 12-14 months in advance, but this is not a requirement; it is based on venue, vendor, and guest availability. Planning something on a shorter time frame is often possible and preferred by couples, just be prepared to be flexible.

➡️ Guest List: Start gathering friend/family names and mailing addresses in a spreadsheet. Add a column for email address, even if you are planning to mail all invitation materials, just to make things easier for yourself down the line. Decide if you will include kids at the wedding. Consider making a "must invite" list and an "invite if budget and space allows" list (aka the B List). Make sure to account for Plus Ones for those who require them. And consult with stakeholders, if they are going to get a say in the invite list. Come up with an approximate estimate of your total guest count.

➡️ Venue: If you have a set date and the venue is unavailable, then it's a no go. If you have a set guest list, and the venue is too small, then it's a no go. If you have a set budget, and the venue price per person exceeds your budget, then it's a no go. Start to reach out directly to venues for pricing and availability and to schedule a tour. Please (!) include your date requirements in your venue inquiry, particularly at venues like Olio that just host one wedding per day, so that we don't waste your time touring if we can't fit you in.

So you can see, these four are super interconnected. If you modify one, you might have to shift the others. Play around and plan to secure your budget, venue, guest list, and date in coordination with each other.

Bride and groom dancing in ballgown and white suit, wood floors and warm lighting at wedding venue

Then... Take a Breath for a Moment

I often say to couples that they can expect there will be a lot of work and decisions in the first few steps of the planning process (see above) and towards the end in the final months (meals, seating assignments, little décor elements, timeline, etc). The in-between can be chill, and you can work on things as you have time and interest in doing so. There are a lot of great planning resources out there that offer step-by-step guides and checklists. My current personal favorite (as the most practical person I know) is A Practical Wedding. Just keep in mind that these are not tailored to the greater Boston area which, as a high-cost-of-living area, may require a more flexible budget and longer lead times than indicated on a national publication.

Two grooms kissing dip in the middle of Main Street, Peabody, Massachusetts, New England on their wedding day
Amanda Macchia

A Few Pro Tips:

  • If there is a specific vendor (ie a particular photographer or band) that you are set on, make sure to prioritize their availability as part of the date selection. Otherwise, after you have the Big Four decided on, you'll move on to booking all of your vendors based on their availability.

  • The guest count is the single biggest determinant of any budget, so make sure that you have a general sense or range of what you are expecting. In addition, most venues have a hard cap (fire code or otherwise) for what they can accommodate. Do not tour venues that are too small for your guest count unless you are really flexible to reduce!

  • If it feels like a lot, leave it alone and come back to it. Ultimately, you will be married to your life partner and that's the important part of all of this. Try to keep your vision and priorities and goals at the center of all of the work!

  • If there are parts of the process that aren't as fun (ugh, budgets) you can see if you can outsource them (see wedding planner above) or ask for help from friends/family. Try to fit in time to do the super fun stuff. For me, that was honeymoon planning (we did Panama!). Other couples relax by doing DIY projects or dreaming about color schemes or creating a killer playlist. You do you.

  • Sometimes the work of wedding planning falls to just one member of the couple. That's can be natural as in any relationship, maybe one of you is more of a dreamer and the other a do-er. With any project of this scale, try to split off responsibilities into discreet tasks (ie reach out to 5 wedding DJs for quotes or work with the invitation designer to create a proof) to the extent you want to try to balance the scales a bit.

Bride and bridesmaids, wedding party group photo outside with dresses and bouquets
Max Evans Photo

So what do you think? Was this helpful to start you off?

If you've made your list of priorities, then you are ready to come tour Olio with me, your resident wedding expert! Schedule a tour today and don't forget to tell me your date preferences on the inquiry form :).

- Sarah

Sarah Narcus owner Olio entrepreneur weddings Boston Massachusetts


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