Wedding planning can be a ton of fun but it can also be bonkers stressful. It is not every day that you plan a huge party for all of your friends and family. Add in the traditions, social politics, and money stuff and it’s no wonder most folks end up in a puddle of their own tears at some point along the way.

The amazing thing about secular weddings is that you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT.

That’s right. Anything your big, beautiful heart desires.

Religious wedding ceremonies are fraught with tradition and outdated ritual. Weighed down by sermons and readings that you may or may not actually agree with. Whether its a minister on a soap-box, or patriarchal messages about wives obeying their husbands, you have chosen to ditch it all and have a ceremony that aligns with your beliefs!

What happens when you say “no thanks” to one traditional element, is that you will notice a willingness to cut others as well. When your wedding is not about following a prescribed set of traditions or practices, you can let go of all of it and start from scratch.

Though even freedom can be overwhelming.

Discuss Your Priorities

The very first step in planning a wedding is to sit down with your partner and discuss your priorities for the wedding. Come to this conversation prepared with 3 of your own priorities for the day and a basic idea of how you want your wedding to feel.

Share your ideas and collaborate to create your top three priorities as a couple. This doesn’t mean your own individual wants go out the window, they just get put a little further down the list of “must haves.”

Armed with your list of wants and having agreed upon a overall vibe or mood for the wedding, you can now set about the difficult task of deciding on a budget that you are comfortable with and allows for you to create the day you have envisioned.

Money is a touchy subject and can be hard to talk about, but this is likely you first big financial investment as a couple. Consider your wedding practice for the future. Get a good dialogue going from the start and you will set yourself up for success down the line.

Do not buy into the cultural narrative regarding the budgets and what you “should” be spending on a wedding. Whether you spend $500, $5,000 or $50,000 is completely up to you. You will just have to do some research to make sure that the wedding you envision aligns with the budget you have.

Find an Amazing Officiant

Take some time to research secular or humanist officiants in your area. Also make sure to research the laws and requirements for your state or country to make sure the person you hire or ask to marry you can legally solemnize the marriage.

A good officiant will be able to work with you to create a ceremony that is meaningful, authentic, and personalized to you and your partner.

If you cannot find a secular or humanist officiant and must use a religious officiant, hire someone who will respect your wishes to have a secular, non-religious ceremony. If they push back or say they cannot do that for you, move on to the next person.

If you are concerned about the legality of the ceremony you have in mind, consider getting legally hitched at the courthouse a few days before your wedding, leaving you free to do whatever you want at your ceremony with friends and family.

Your Guest List and Venue

You know what you want to spend to make this happen, you have your list of priorities, now you need to make a guest list! If you find your list getting a bit out of hand or you have family who wants you to invite everyone they ever met, try making an A-List and a B-List. A-Listers get first invite, B-Listers get invited if there is space after the A-Listers start to send back their RSVPs.

Your guest list and venue selection go hand-in-hand. If you know you want 120 people at your wedding, you will have to get a venue to hold 120 people. Or maybe you want a specific venue, but it only holds 75, well that means only 75 people make the guest list. These decisions are so integral that they need to happen roughly at the same time. Rushing to book a venue and then finding out it cannot fit all your guests is a mega bummer.

Your venue will impact many of the other decisions and budget considerations. Make sure that when you compare venues that you are comparing apples to apples. If one venue includes tables, linens, and chairs, and another is simply an empty space, make sure you know the cost of rentals for the second space before you commit to one on price alone. Non-traditional venues can be amazing and cheaper to book, but then require rentals, higher catering costs, and other unforeseen costs like permits or transportation.

Decor, Vendors, & Food

Seeing as this is simply an overview, we won’t get into the specifics of how to find and hire specific vendors in this post. What we will say is that now is the time to jump back to that list of priorities. Did you put “amazing comfort food” in your number one spot? If so, book that caterer right away. If you desperately want to hire a specific photographer who’s style you love, do that first. There are 8 million wedding planning checklists out there that will tell you how many months out from the wedding day you should be booking certain vendors, but we are here to tell you that everything is flexible and relative to your needs and your event.

Do yourself a favor and book a wedding coordinator or planner early on. They can help keep you on track and navigate the more difficult aspects of wedding planning. If you don’t have room for planning services in your budget, reach out to see if you can do a one time consultation to help get started. Most planners offer consults for around $100-$150 to couples just needing a little guidance.

Counseling & Financial Planning

Pre-marriage counseling has long been a requirement of religious weddings and conducted by clergy and as such many secular couples skip it all together. Though pre-marriage counseling can be extremely beneficial and eye opening when you go to a non-religious counselor. Some couples have been having the hard conversations for years, and even still can learn something from participating in pre-marriage counseling. Consider finding a marriage counselor or ask your secular officiant if they offer counseling services.

Additionally, we think it is a totally rad idea to consult a financial expert about how you want to combine or not combine your finances in your new joined family. Everyone’s situation is different and in this age of student loan debt and side hustles, simply merging all your finances might not be the best choice.

Remember to Be Yourselves

Your wedding is about you and your partner. It is not about your mom. It is not about what your best friend did. It’s not about what you saw on TV. Your wedding should represent you completely and authentically. If you ever feel like you might be spinning off course, pump the brakes and return to your priority list and how you want the wedding to feel. Use those priorities and wedding vibe as your touchstone to keep you focused. And remember that a wedding is just the beginning. Spend some time to plan and dream for the marriage ahead as well.

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Erica Greenwold Reisen is the founder of Secularly Wed and is a Wedding Planner based in Chapel Hill, NC. Her Wedding Planning business can be found at

4 thoughts on “Secular Wedding Planning 101”

  1. This is a great article. I especially love the part about finding an Amazing Officiant who helps you create the ceremony that matches your vision (full disclosure, I am a secular officiant, endorsed by the American Humanist Society).

    I love that you highlight the importance of making your wedding ceremony exactly what YOU want – that nothing is set in stone. I love the idea of couples working with an officiant in private with two witnesses (check your state requirements) and then having a big shebang where they marry each other. I love it when couples challenge tradition and make their ceremony their own.

    Something I hear over and over is that couples spent so much time on the details of the reception and everything surrounding their wedding, but their ceremony was their favorite part. This is worth everything to me.

    I agree that premarital counseling can have a wonderful impact on your lives. While I am not a counselor, I can recommend some very wonderful therapists who offer counseling to couples before their wedding. The value in this is huge and while not required, is something many couples I work with are thankful that they invested in – it’s an investment in your marriage, not just your wedding.

    This really is a great article and I know so many people are going to read it and go, ‘I was thinking the exact same thing’. Go with what makes sense to you. You’re a smart person and you are marrying a smart person. You utilize specialists in other areas of your life, and this is no different; I can’t express the importance and value of event planners who live to help couples make their wedding dreams come true while staying grounded in the reality of our abilities and finances. Prioritize, consult, and plan. It’s going to be a great wedding!

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