Everyone says wedding planning is one of the most exciting times of life­– an opportunity to plan the wedding of your dreams, expressing you and your fiancé’s style, passion and faith.

And when I say everyone, I mean everyone on the Internet, which is where I had to turn after being one of the first of my friends to get engaged. I had no idea what I was doing; I merely had to rely on the random voices on the Internet telling me how special this process was. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the whole “special” thing. I was hardcore stressed out.

After the congratulations have worn off and the excitement of engagement has lessened, panic sets in. It seems no matter how far out you plan your wedding, the days just tick by faster than ever and decisions get made much more slowly than you prefer. Suddenly, you count down the days and realize your big day is WAY sooner than you thought.

Realistically, wedding planning isn’t going to be stress-free at all times. Venues will be booked, second-choices will have to be put into action and someone will back out last minute.

When you’re in your twenties, all these blunders and hoops seem like a lot bigger deal, because you (most likely) have less money and are at a very new point in your life. For me, I’ve just started a new job, and will barely have enough vacation time to go on my honeymoon. In short–wedding planning when you’re younger needs to be more strategic and cost-effective, while still achieving the romanticism and atmosphere you desire.

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Below are my best tips and the spreadsheet I used to track my expenses, contacts, and wedding details throughout the planning process. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been 100% worth it.

Get Organized.

I am not joking: go to Office Depot and buy everything (Okay, I’m joking. Don’t buy everything).

1. Brainstorm. After the initial “I’m engaged” shock goes away, stock up on spare paper, a large binder, tab dividers, highlighters and tape. The best way to picture your wedding is to use ideas from magazines to cut and paste a real-life Pinterest board. This will help you determine your colors, the kind of venue you’re looking for, the kind of dress you want and more.

2. Research. After having this brainstorm, get tactical. Now that you know what you want, research possible venues that might work, jot down their information and start contacting them. Continue to run through things that might need to be tackled ASAP, like finding a dress and booking a caterer. There are great wedding planning timelines online as well!

(P.S. This doesn’t have to be done in one day. Maybe give yourself a few days to brainstorm and go through ideas with friends and family before you start digging into deeper research).

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If you’re looking for an easy way to start organizing everything in one place, check out our free resource–The Wedding Planning Checklist.

Use Your Resources.

Just a guess–if you’re in your early twenties like me, you don’t have $30,000 to drop on a wedding (or a honeymoon). While it’s great to get some support from your family, it’s also a good idea to look at outside resources. 1. Figure out where you can slash your budget. If your venue is strict on certain parts of your budget, such as a high food and beverage minimum, see if you could cut budget somewhere else. Perhaps instead of hiring an expensive videographer, you could ask your high school friend who you’ve seen has just started a video business if he’d help you out. Here is a great article Janine wrote on where to splurge versus save on your wedding expenses. 2. Ask around. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from others as well. Many times, vendors will give discounts for referrals. It’s always better to get ideas from someone you trust than what a brochure says. 3. Check out Craigslist or rent your decor. When it comes to saving money on things like décor, Craiglist is a great spot for cheap, local decorations. If you’re worried about waste and spending money on décor that will only be in use for one day, check with the vendor and see if you could rent the items instead.

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Breathe.

I’m not saying wedding planning has to be super fun, but you’re not planning a funeral. This is YOUR day, and you have to enjoy it, no matter how hard it is to get to where you want to be. Believe it or not, it will all come together. Things will work out, and none (or very few) of the nightmares you’ve been having will come true. And if not, your wedding could end up as a viral sensation on YouTube, so win-win right?

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