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Before you can begin planning your wedding, you need to decide what your dream wedding will look like. Do you want a small wedding, a large wedding, or something in between? Do you want a formal, black-tie wedding, or a casual, backyard wedding? Do you want a themed wedding - think Indian with pashmina wedding scarves or Roman with togas). This is the most important wedding-planning decision you will make because it will dictate every other decision from here on out. Here are your possibilities:

Formal: The bride is in a full gown with train, and the men wear tuxedoes with tails. All the guests are expected to wear tuxes and gowns as well. The meal should be a full, sit-down meal, served by staff also dressed in black tie.

Semi-formal: The men often wear tuxes, but the women have the choice to wear full-length dresses instead of gowns. Dinner should still be a sit-down, served meal.

Casual: Everyone has a different definition of casual; ultimately, the bridal party should still wear gowns, and the men can choose tuxes or suits. The guests are expected to dress nicely, but not in full-length dresses or tuxes. The dinner can be served or can be buffet-style. It is a good idea to be careful when telling people that your event will be casual — you do not want them to end up at your wedding in jeans and a tank top.

Cocktail reception: This generally falls under the rules of casual affair; guests, however, can expect hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and dessert (the wedding cake) only. This is an excellent way for a couple to save money while still having a large wedding.

You may find one of these is exactly what you want for your wedding —or that none of them is appealing. That is fine. You do not need to back yourself into a wedding-planning corner. This is your day, and if you want to have a backyard barbecue with your dearest friends and family, that is what you should do. Just make it clear to all your guests what they can expect on your wedding day. Nobody wants to be the one to come to a casual wedding in a top hat and tails.

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While you are choosing the atmosphere you want to create at your wedding, you should also start considering potential themes or color schemes. If you choose a theme, it will help guide the rest of your wedding planning. Popular themes center on locations, such as the beach or the mountains. Other themes may center on a specific flower, holiday, or season. As you plan your wedding, this theme should be incorporated.

The location of your wedding will have a lot to do with creating a particular atmosphere. You and your fiancé should discuss what types of details are important to each of you in choosing a location. Maybe you want to get married in your childhood church, or maybe you want to get married on your favorite beach. Also consider if you want to have your ceremony and reception located in the same place, or at two different sites. Use this location worksheet to figure out what types of locations you want to consider for both your ceremony and your reception.