As I've mentioned before, I use some of the free online tools offered at TheKnot.com and similar sites to organize things like my guest list and my seating arrangements, mostly because it's a pretty sizable list and there a lot of details to manage, and a database like that makes it so much easier to keep track of, add and edit information.
I also use Microsoft Excel to keep track of budgeting and expenses because I can input formulas that will automatically tell me information like how much I've spent in a certain category and our total expenditures so far. Seriously, anything that can keep track of numbers and do the math for me is a worthwhile endeavor.
NOTE: Sites like TheKnot.com do typically have free budgeting tools as well, but I have found that most of them work off of a very specific set of assumptions in terms of what your wedding will include, average prices and "typical" budget allocations for each aspect of the event that do not necessarily fit in so well with a more "frugal" approach. Basically, their capabilities and usefulness seem to be a bit limited and don't adapt well to different scenarios, particularly planning on a highly limited budget, so I have not found them particularly helpful for my situation.
But for most other things, I still kick it old school with a legal pad and a clicky pen. The first list I made was a very broad, abstract list of pretty much every idea in my head - possible themes, favor ideas, first dance songs, color schemes, etc. I then broke this list down into categories:
- "Basics" - This would include date, colors, themes, and approximate size.
- "Ceremony" - This would include location, officiant, music, rings and decor.
- "Bridal Party" - This would include names of all bridesmaids and groomsmen, flower girl and ring bearer, and any pertinent information like dress and shoe sizes.
- "Attire" - This would include all the dresses (bride, bridesmaids, flower girl) and tuxes (groom, groomsmen, ring bearer) and accessories (head pieces, shoes, bags, etc.).
- "Stationery" - This would include save-the-dates, invitations/response cards, guest book, escort cards, place cards and table numbers.
- "Reception" - This would include location, food and drink, rentals (tents, tables, chairs, etc.), decor and centerpieces, music and cake.
- "Gifts" - This would include favors and bridal party gifts.
- "Other Services" - This would include things like transportation rentals, hair and make-up, tailoring, photography, etc.
- "Etc." - This would include anything not covered by the above categories (i.e., honeymoon, wedding night, marriage license, etc.)
I really believe that the key to a successful budget wedding is a combination of patience, persistence and organization, but also a sense of humor. Always keep in mind what the day is about and what really makes a wedding great. Maybe it would be nice to have the fanciest caterer and the most decadent desserts and the biggest floral arrangements, but it's really about the people and the vibe and the love, as corny as that sounds.
Lists are important. The numbers are clearly important. Just make sure that you don't take the joy out of the equation. No one is going to care how great their prime rib was if they didn't have any fun.