Jan. 11 2012 12:00 AM

A little advice from one bride-to-be to another

Whether you got engaged last week, last month or last year, the next step for most couples can be a daunting task: planning your big day.

Growing up, I never realized how many decisions had to go into planning a wedding (as I am doing). From color combinations to cake cutting fees to gown fittings, there seems to be a never-ending list of things to do, people to see and ideas to consider. So where does a young, first-time bride start?

Let me share some tidbits of advice that I have picked up as I start planning my big day. I hope they will help you as you plan yours.

Utilize the Web: Ah, the beauty of the Internet! You can find everything from bridal dresses to cake designs to the hippest new bridal hairstyles. Utilize that resource to help you envision your dream wedding. Print photos of everything so that you can talk to specific vendors about what you want to see — and hopefully find a way to work it into your budget.

Figure out the basics first and then plan around them: The biggest constraint on planning your perfect day is most likely money. Talk to your future spouse and family to see what you can realistically set for a wedding budget and then base everything else around that. Avoid the heartbreak of going into a bridal salon and trying on $2,000 gowns, only to realize you only have $1,000 to spend. Take a breath, step back and plan ahead. It will prevent a lot of headaches later.

Set your guest list: I’ve been doing a lot of research online and gathering tips to help me plan my wedding, and one thing comes up again and again — set your guest list early. The most expensive part of your wedding will most likely be the reception; the most expensive part of that reception is feeding your guests. Have a tight budget? Whittle down that 500-person guest list and watch the prices become more doable. Your guest list determines many of the main aspects of your wedding, from food costs to the size of your ceremony and reception venue to the number of invitations, envelopes and stamps you have to buy. Honing in on the number of attendants will give you a good basis for budgeting and venue-picking, so set a number early and try to stick to it if you can.

Ask family and friends for help: Have an aunt who just got married? Sit down with her and talk about her planning process. What hidden costs should you watch out for? How affordable were those beautiful centerpieces adorning every table? Have a cousin in the photography business? Maybe they will shoot your ceremony at a reduced rate. Grandma loves to cook? Maybe she had her heart set on baking your wedding cake. Utilize the skills of your family and friends. It keeps your costs down and gets them intimately involved in the celebration.

You’re not in this alone: While family and friends can be helpful, expert advice is always welcome — especially if a wedding planner isn’t in your budget. There are a number of websites and online communities that offer advice and encouragement as you plan your big day. I joined TheKnot.com and instantly had access to thousands of photos from real, everyday-people weddings from all over the country to provide me with inspiration. The Knot also has tons of message boards to help with all your wedding concerns, from wedding etiquette to planning a budget wedding. A great resource for me has been the Lansing area message board, where I can get the lowdown on local photographers, florists, caterers and more by talking to other brides-to-be and hearing about their experiences. Whatever you need, websites like this have the expert knowledge and community support to answer any questions you might have and make your planning that much easier.