Maybe you’ve just got engaged and you’re wondering how on earth to start wedding planning, or perhaps you were engaged pre-pandemic, and it’s finally time to plan the Big Day of your dreams. Whether you’re still blinding friends with a brand new sparkling rock, or you’re looking down and wondering when you last cleaned your engagement ring, I’m so excited that you are ready to plan your wedding.
Wedding planning has changed over the past few years, and although the pandemic caused devastating disruption to thousands of New Zealand couples’ wedding plans, I do believe there is a silver lining too. Times have changed, we have had more opportunity to think about what is important to us, and probably attended fewer weddings over the past few years than we would have otherwise. The benefit to that is that rather than be influenced by the choices of friends’ nuptials, when you start wedding planning this year, you can really focus on what is right for the two of you.
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve made changes too, with a focus on simplicity and inclusivity. No longer does our wedding planner suit only ‘Bride’ and ‘Groom’ but rather uses inclusive language such as ‘Wedding Party’ and ‘Attire’ – and of course the biggest change is that we are no longer called “She Said Yes” – because a) there’s not always a ‘She’ involved, and b) even if there is, how outdated is the expectation that it’s always a woman saying ‘Yes’ in the first place.
In 2023, it’s your wedding, your rules.
Wedding Planning in New Zealand – First Steps
1. Find Your ‘Why’ – Prioritise and Plan the Wedding for the two of You!
Although the first step to planning a wedding are considering your wedding budget and guest list, the most important thing to think about really is your “why”? What is important to you about getting married, about spending (usually) around a year of your life emotionally and financially investing in this one big celebration of your relationship, and about doing so in front of all your family and friends. In fact, that’s one of the key questions to ask yourself right off the bat, do you really want all your family and friends present, or are you finding yourselves swayed already by the wishes and suggestions of others?
The key to wedding planning in a stress-free, enjoyable way is to never have to second-guess yourself about the choices you make – you have to really, really want whatever you are committing to – whether that’s a big budget, a big guest list, or a teeny, tiny elopement with just 10 people you feel closest to.
As of this moment, set aside any expectations from others (even if they are offering to contribute to the cost) and think about what you both really want from your Big Day. From there, talk about your non-negotiables, your must-haves, your wedding priorities. See How to Priorities your Wedding and Plan with Purpose for more guidance.
Our wedding planner book is a simple one, it doesn’t instruct you on exactly what we think a wedding should look like, but instead guides you as you plan the one that is right for you – starting with questions curated from our couple’s journal our love story, things like ‘what are your favourite memories together’ and ‘what do you love and value most about each other’. You can download a sample of the little white book here, for more of an idea – but however you find inspiration, it’s important to get on the same page about what you both want. Wedding Planning in 2023 is not about ticking every possible box for wedding rituals, traditions and decor (or inviting every cousin unseen since 2019).
2. Balance Your Expectations around Wedding Budget and Guest List
You can’t do a thing without at least an approximate wedding budget, nor does a budget really mean anything until you have an idea of your guest list. Put simply, your wedding budget will be divided between the number of guests you have. Although there will be big ticket items such as photography, wedding attire (dress/suit/jewellery/shoes) for each of you and your wedding party, and a venue hireage fee, the bulk of your wedding budget (at least 30-40% will usually go on catering for food and beverages).
So, before you look at wedding venues, consider how far your approximate wedding budget will stretch, if catering was around $150-180 per person (a fairly average cost for catering a wedding in 2023 in New Zealand) – and with that in mind, work out how many guests you can afford (on the basis of 30-40% of your total wedding budget going to catering).
Though the ‘average cost of a wedding in New Zealand‘ is commonly cited as $35,000, most couples actually plan the weddings of their dreams for less than that, while more expensive (6-7 figure weddings) increase the ‘average’. To take an easy number, for a $30,000 wedding, with 35% on catering and a $150 per person budget, you could have 70 guests.
So, at this stage, rather than try to finalise a wedding guest list, discuss with your partner how best to balance your budget, and your expectations around inviting friends and family. If you are choosing to accept financial contributions from others, of course they will want their ‘say’ but in my experience, and in conversations with wedding planners, it’s extremely important to be clear on every expectation from (most often) parents who wish to pay for part of the wedding.
In my opinion, you should begin by envisioning the wedding you both want, according to how much you can afford, and approach parents or other contributors with your wishes (perhaps being ready to negotiate a little) rather than taking the money immediately and planning the wedding that they want. Return to your ‘why’ – are you really getting married just so that your parents can plan the party of their choosing, with the guests they wish to impress?
See more at Wedding Budget Guide, Planner and Samples, and How to Start Your Guest List
3. Consider Wedding Venues, Find a Suitable Date and Make your First Booking
There is so much more to wedding venues than the more obvious ones – vineyards, garden venues and hotels. Think about whether you may wish to bring your own alcohol, which may involve a ‘Dry Hire’ venue (see How to Organise a Marquee Wedding for more advice on this), and open yourselves up to wedding venues that are a little out of the ordinary, especially if you need to be clever about your budget. Public gardens, beach weddings, gallery or museum, lakeside restaurants, golf club, rooftop function venues, boathouse, family homes, woodlands, rustic barns, inner-city urban spaces, distillery, community hall, the zoo, and of course destination weddings – see Alternative Wedding Venues and Destination Wedding Guide.
Considerations for your venue of choice might include
- nearby accommodation for out of town guests
- do you need any special access, such as wheelchair accessibility?
- do you want an all-inclusive package (and possibly a venue manager to co-ordinate the day for you)
- would you prefer a ‘blank canvas’ that you can fully decorate in your own way? Do you want to put your own stamp on something (possibly with a lot of cost/work for yourselves) or find somewhere perfectly suitable ‘as-is’
- will you be having children present – is the venue safe and suitable for them?
Don’t write off a potential wedding venue just because it doesn’t have amazing photos online. For our wedding in 2016, we hired an incredible private home (you can see our actual wedding budget breakdown here) and the photos on the website simply did not do it justice at all. See if you can find images of the wedding venue on photographers’ websites or on wedding blogs like ours.
Once you have a shortlist of wedding venues, I suggest using the questions in our wedding planning pack to narrow down your options, and also to fully understand what is included in your venue hireage. From simple things like ‘What is your cancellation policy from both sides?’ to ‘Is the glassware included with the fee’ and ‘will we have exclusive use of the venue for the entire hireage time’ to things you may not think of, such as ‘will you have enough staff to serve drinks all evening’, ‘is there a safe place to store our personal items’ and more.
Of course, once you have found a suitable wedding venue (it may not be the ‘perfect’ wedding venue, but one that will work for you), you will have to find an available date to suit your schedule – consider availability of accommodation nearby (especially if near to public holidays), all possible weather, and any possible work commitments.
Once you have got through these three ‘first steps’, celebrate your achievements – you have made a brilliant start to wedding planning, and hopefully the rest will ‘fall into place’ a little more easily.
4. Choose your Wedding Photographer
You don’t need to rush into finding all of your wedding suppliers, but if photography is of importance to you, then you may wish to lock them in first. Of course, a photographer can only shoot one wedding per day, so (especially if you’re getting married on a weekend during the key summer ‘wedding season’ months, start making enquiries ASAP.
Choosing your wedding photographer isn’t just about the style or aesthetic they take (which is of course important) but also how you feel with them. Of all the people at your wedding, you may spend the most time with your wedding photographers, they will be responsible for directing you, making you feel comfortable enough to relax, be yourselves, be intimate and be open to trying new things. It’s not often we have personal photo shoots, and your photographer will probably have some ideas of shots to get, but you need to be able to trust their advice and at ease following their advice.
Browse photographers’ websites, get a feel for their photography style and ask for recommendations from friends. 2023 is already seeing a trend of very natural, almost ‘documentary’ photography, with less of the ‘filtered’ look that we had seen over the last few years. Talk to any short-listed wedding photographers about their packages, how many hours of coverage there will be, whether there are any ‘extra’ costs after the wedding, how long they will take to supply the photos, who will cover them if they get sick on the day of the wedding, etc.
As a ballpark figure, budget for approximately 10% of your wedding cost to go to your photographer.
5. Secure your remaining Wedding Vendors (but don’t rush)
Before you book any other Wedding Vendors, return to your ‘why’ and think about what’s really important to you. Your remaining wedding budget can now be divided across a multitude of wedding vendors’ services, and physical items for your wedding, but which will mean the most to you?
You can spend tens of thousands on wedding flowers, or you can spend a few hundred dollars on wholesale flowers and do it yourself; you can spend almost an unlimited amount on a wedding dress to rival any royal wedding, or you can pick up something stunning and chic off-the-rack (or buy second hand). Once you have booked your wedding date and venue, and photographer booked, think about the top 3 things each of you want for your Big Day, and of those 3, which would be each of your ‘big ticket’ item, if there is one.
To be able to afford these top 3 things, you may need to be smart elsewhere about allocating your wedding budget. There are lots of ways to save money on your wedding, with thoughtful use of decor, flowers, stationery and more, so head to our wedding planning step by step guides, choose just one thing to tackle at a time, and try not to dive headfirst into every trend that catches your eye!