The question is popped, the ring is on, stars are in your eyes…but now what? With so many tasks to take care of and details to arrange, planning a wedding can seem overwhelming. But, if you give yourself enough time to plan and sort the tasks month by month with a Wedding Planning Checklist and wedding timeline, the job becomes more fun and less stressful.
By breaking down the tasks into a calendar month by month, you are taking on the planning process in bite-size pieces and it will be far less overwhelming.
12 Months Out
Determine Your budget
It’s time to do the math and crunch some numbers. Before you get started you have to figure out who’s paying for what and determine your wedding’s bottom line. From there, you’ll want to break down said—what’s a priority? What’s not?—and start allocating funds accordingly. (A little market research here comes in handy.) And since these numbers will change as you plan, it’s smart to create a spreadsheet from the get-go. This will help you keep track of your spending and make it easy to adjust numbers along the way. Tips to Creating Your Budget
Make a Guest List
If only you could invite any and everyone, right? Chances are, you can’t, which is why you have to put a cap on dishing out invites. When deciding your head count, consider your budget (how much can you afford?) and your venue (how many people does it fit?). Also, who’s paying for what? From there, figure out how you’re going determine how many each family will invite. If you and your partner are paying the bill, assume you’ll get 70 percent of the invites, while both sets of parents will split the other 30. But if mom and dad are contributing, it’s protocol to give all involved parties—your parents, your partner’s parents, you as a couple—one third each.
Next comes eliminated the obvious, then negotiate with your finance & family, and then cut some more until you reach a final number.
Start Shopping for Your Wedding Dress
You may know exactly what you want or you might not. To get you started, pick up a Brides magazine and determine the styles that you prefer. Make appointments with different bridal stores and use their expertise on what shapes/styles fit your body type. Often they will know exactly what to to show you.
Hire a Wedding Planner
Again, this will depend on your budget. (Fair warning: Most everything will.) But if your funds allow—or if your peace of mind depends on it—now is the time to find a manager for your big day. This person will be your right-hand woman (or man) and will guide you in all decisions, from selecting a venue, to tracking your budget and handling all the logistics.
Decide Formality and Overall Theme
Now’s the time to sit down and have another heart-to-heart conversation with your fiancé. After all, the style of your wedding needs to be a mutual decision between you both. What’s important to you and why? What do you value? The venue you choose should reflect your style and will somewhat dictate your formality.
Reserve your Venue
Okay, you know who you’re marrying. Now the real question is where? Choosing the venue is one of the most important decisions you’ll make right now. Seriously, the location affects almost everything else, from how many people you invite to what kind of flowers go on the table. Chances are, it’s also the biggest item on your budget you’ve put down, like ever. That’s why you want to explore your options, visit the top contenders, and ultimately select a place that fits your guest count, style, and budget.
While selecting your venue, create a pros and cons list and trust your gut—this decision is about how you feel when you’re there.
Choose a Color Theme and Start Thinking of Overall Design
Pull up your Pinterest boards for inspiration. It’s finally time to make decisions, select a color palette, and create a mood board. If you’re struggling for inspiration, look for things you already have in your life; like how you’ve decorated your house, what you are liking on Instagram, etc.—and draw inspiration from that.
8 Months Out
Hire Vendors Who Book Up Quickly, Including Your Photographer, Band, DJ, and Videographer
These are the people who will make your night fun—and all those memories last forever (aka, they’re important). Do your research before you hire, ask all the right questions. It’s important to compare professionals based on value. Not all professionals offer the same services so asking what’s included for their price is important.
Select the Caterer
Your wedding is the best (and largest) dinner party of your life. So how exactly do you feed 150 of your nearest and dearest? Well, start with hiring people you trust to deliver—whether that’s the venue’s in-house caterer, a preferred caterer recommended by your planner, or even your favorite taco truck. And don’t be afraid to get creative with your menu. Your guests will enjoy tasting your specialty cocktail as much as they will your wedding cake
Book Hotel-Room Blocks for Guests
It’s a thoughtful gesture to block out rooms (and secure a discounted rate) for your guests. If you aren’t providing transportation to and from your wedding venue you should choose a hotel close to the reception. This will ensure the safety of your guests getting back to their rooms after enjoying your party.
Create Your Wedding Website
Get your site running now because you’ll need to put the URL on save the dates next month. This is a wonderful location to share your registry, how you met, images of your life together, introduce your wedding party, and more.
Take Engagement Photos
Now is a great time to get comfortable in front of the camera, especially since most photographers include a session in your package. But don’t fret: your photographer is the expert here. They will help you with posing and expression.
Start Looking at Invitations
The wedding invitation is a guest’s first impression of your big day. That’s why you want to put your best foot forward with a personalized preview. If you’re going custom, start working with a graphic designer or stationer now to create your dream suite. If you’re going for a less involved route, you can wait until the six-month mark. (Invites will be sent out just six to eight weeks prior to the big day.)
Buy Your Wedding Dress
It’s time to say “yes” to the dress if you want to avoid rush fees. You’ll want plenty of time for the supplier to deliver your dress and have any alterations made.
Register for Gifts
Involve your better half in this one—after all, you two are building a life (and home) together. When registering, it’s smart to ask for necessary items for your new home, like sheets and pots and pans, and so on—but it’s even more genius to think about what you really want.
6 Months Out
Send Save the Dates
Let everyone officially know when and where you’re making it official. And remember, everyone who gets a save the date gets a wedding invite. No exceptions.
Select the Bridesmaids’ Dresses and Schedule Fittings Within the Month
After browsing Brides.com for initial research, ask your bridesmaids to come shopping with you, if they live close by. It will be helpful for you to see them in the dresses, and you could even ask how they feel in the options you’re considering. (They do have to wear it in front of a crowd of hundreds, after all.) With that said, we’re all about the trend of selecting a color palette and letting your girls choose what they want to wear. Even better, check out our guide to perfectly pulling off mismatched dresses.
Meet With Potential Florists
Much like hiring your other vendors, you want to be simpatico with your florist, as well. In order to do that, we suggest polling friends for recs, scrolling through Instagram inspo, and asking your planner/venue coordinator who they recommend in the area. It’s important that you find someone who is able to deliver on your vision and budget.
Order Rental Items, Such as Specialty Chairs, Linens, Draping, Lounge Furniture, White Dance Floor, Etc.
You may think of these as extras, and we beg you to change this way of thought. Great rentals essentially act as the good bones of your wedding-day décor. Conclusion: Don’t skimp on upgraded chairs and cozy lounge furniture (your guests will thank you) if your budget allows.
Hire an Officiant
If you aren’t marrying in a house of worship, you’ll need to hire someone to make it official. Couples can use a professional or take a more intimate approach and ask a close friend or family member to do the honors.
4 Months Out
Book the Rehearsal-Dinner Venue
Traditionally, the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner so treat this as an opportunity to impress your future MIL if that’s the case. With that said, you still have say in the theme of this party and where it should happen (especially if you’re footing the bill yourself). We love the idea of hosting a family-style dinner at your favorite restaurant—here are some great ones in the region-or even hosting a casual celebration like a clambake or backyard BBQ.
Hire the Ceremony Musicians
If you’re enlisting the talents of a three-piece band, now’s the time to do so. As for the actual music, we say don’t go generic when you can go personal.
This is the most iconic purchase beside the wedding gown. Meet with your baker and taste options. There are numerous styles, flavors, sizes, etc. to choose from. Your baker will help offer advice for your specific needs. It may be cupcakes, cake pops, cookies, pie, or the traditional layered cake. Don’t forget about the groom’s cake; this is where you can have some fun. Don’t stress about pleasing everyone; order what you both love.
3 Months Out
Hire a Lighting Technician or Decor Designer
The most important detail couples forget about is lighting. Seriously, the bulbs and candles you select are what will ultimately light your perfect venue, make your photos just right, and keep the party going—even after the sun sets.
Book Transportation for Guests, If Needed
How do you know if it’s needed? Consider your venue’s parking situation, guests’ access to car services or public transportation, and the cost you’re asking them to incur. Good rule of thumb: If it’s going to run them $20 or more—especially if you’ve already asked them to travel for a destination wedding— think about a shuttle bus. Or, some car services, such as Uber, allow you to book rides on others’ behalf.
Book the Newlyweds’ Transportation (Limo, Specialty Car, etc.)
Time to think about you two. Whether you’re into getting in to a stretch Escalade limo, or all about hopping on a tandem bicycle—get around in a style that’s all your own.
Book the Honeymoon
Traditionally, wedding etiquette states the groom plans a surprise honeymoon for the bride. But, if you guys are tag-teaming your honeymoon strategy, try to have things semi-sorted out by this five month mark. That means being on the same page about budget, timing, travel arrangements, and a semblance of an itinerary. You don’t have to schedule every minute, but each of you should share the most important takeaways you want from this trip, and act to ensure those activities will happen.
Buy or Rent the Groom’s Tuxedo
The groom walks out first, remember? Make sure that first impression on your guests is a good one. Step one is choosing between a tux or suit, based on the formality of your wedding, and then deciding whether to buy or rent. When selecting the actual ensemble, focus on fit and function. A well-made outfit will be flattering, but also allow your groom to show off any and all embarrassing dance moves without fear of splitting any seams.
Begin Premarital Counseling
Whether you come from a religious background or not, pre-marital counseling has worked wonders for countless couples. (The experts say so, and so do the couples.) It’s helpful to have an objective third-party encouraging you to address issues that haven’t come up yet in your relationship. And, counselors can provide you with healthy conflict resolution tactics so you’ll be ready when the inevitable disagreement does present itself. Plus, some states offer a discount on your marriage license if you undergo counseling.
2 Months Out
Select the Groomsmen’s Attire and Schedule Fittings Within the Month
Do you want the groom and his guys to be matchy-matchy? How can you ensure the entire entourage gets fitted on time if they live all over the place? What else could go wrong? Breathe. You’ve got this, and don’t be afraid to get the groom involved. He may be able to easily pull rank and get his men in line—a very neat, orderly, and well-dressed one, at that.
3 Months Out
Order the Invitations and Hire a Calligrapher
There are a few ground rules when it comes to ordering your wedding invitations: Order enough of them and account for some mistakes, make sure they will arrive in time, set up a system for recording RSVP replies, and confirm all addresses and spelling. But when it comes to design and wording, the options are endless. Need a little advice to rein it all in? Keep reminding yourself that the theme of your invites should match the vibe of your wedding and express you as a couple. If you have the option with your stationer pick up your outer envelopes early. This will give you plenty of time to address them without rushing (this leads to poor handwriting). Hiring a Calligrapher is one way to ensure a beautiful gift to your guests but make sure you have allotted enough time for your calligrapher to get them done.
Create or Plan Your Menu
Once you’ve undergone a successful tasting, you’ll have a good sense of your caterer’s style and offerings, so you’re ready to finalize your food. Maybe you’re the couple who’s hand-selected every hors d’oeuvres, main, side, dessert, and drink situation. Or, perhaps you just told your chef to “handle it” and called it a day. Either way, now is the time to stamp your approval on a completed menu that fits your budget, tastes, and timing.
Brainstorm Guest Favors and Gift Bags
You don’t have to do favors or gift bags, but now’s the time to decide. Go forth!
Write Your Vows
If you’ve opted to write your own promises to one another, start thinking about what those should sound like for you two as a couple. You don’t have to memorize your vows; many couples read theirs. Repeating vows guided by your officiant will take the stress of making any mistakes. Either route you take discuss with your officiant to ensure things go smoothly and you speak the vows YOU want.
Meet With the Officiant and Invite Him or Her to the Rehearsal Dinner
Lots of things to consider when asking someone to marry you, but your main concerns are availability, eligibility, fee, and fit. Can your officiant of choice lawfully, affordably, and meaningfully help you two become one? Once you’ve chosen, make sure he or she is on the same page as you about your expectations and the overall tone you want for your ceremony.
Start Crafting Any DIY Items If You Haven’t Already
Whew! Let’s hope you were able to control yourself scrolling through your DIY inspiration and only have a few projects to tackle at this point. Get to crafting—enjoy the process with good friends, good music, good food, and good breaks regularly.
2 Months Out
Send the Wedding Invitations (With RSVPs Due One Month Before the Wedding)
You already did the hard part—the selection process and hopefully have everything addressed. Now its time to add the stamp and get them in the mail. USPS offers many different designs or you may order custom printed stamps with any image on them. Please make sure you have your invitation weighed at the Post Office before you send them out; you’ll thank me later!
Send Out Rehearsal-Dinner Invitations (These Can Be Included With the Wedding Invitations If You Like)
If your partner and his or her family are handling the rehearsal dinner, make sure you give them an accurate list of addresses, and feel free to discuss the design and overall aesthetic of the rehearsal dinner. The formality of the invitation & venue will dictate attire.
Hair and Makeup Trial
Help your stylists help you by researching some particulars before you come in for your trials. Look back at old photos of yourself so you can find something that’s worked before and ensures you still look like yourself. Next, feel free to search social media for other inspiration; just don’t delude yourself with highly-filtered Instagram expectations.
Bring photos and be as specific as possible about what you want and don’t want.
First Dress Fitting
Your first fitting should be anywhere between two to three months after ordering, and your second one around the six-week mark.
Pick Up Your Marriage License
Ah, the fine print. There are four steps to getting your marriage license, and it’s important to know where to go, what to bring, how much it’ll cost, how long it’ll take, and how long it’ll last.
Every state has different laws and requirements, so Google yours. If you’re having a destination wedding, whether domestic or international, you’ll need to research those paperwork requirements as well. Then, make sure you as a couple, your witness(es), and your officiant sign it.
Have Your Final Tasting With the Caterer
At this point, you’ve discussed many options for your menu. Now it’s time to taste what they’re really made of. The tasting has become increasingly important as more and more couples choose to customize everything from their signature cocktails to their desserts. If you’re nervous about heart-eyes obstructing your taste buds’ judgment, bring your planner or consultant. They’ve likely attended dozens of tastings, and will be your clear-eyed troubleshooter—paying attention to the detailing of the food and the attentiveness of the service, while you’re crying over crab cakes to bae about how “It’s just starting to feel so real, you know?”
Buy Wedding-Party Gifts
How much you spend on your bridesmaids’ gifts is determined on an individual basis, but no matter your price point, your goal should be something that’s as thoughtful, functional, and personalized as possible.
Do a Floral Mock-Up With Your Florist
Floral samples vary depending on your florist and your own wedding décor choices, but most of the time they’ll include a mock reception table setup, centerpiece, and bouquet. Now is also the time to talk tweaks and finalize your delivery and care strategy. Your florist can recommend blooms that are in season, which save you money, and can design something truly unique, just for you.
Give the Song Selections to Your Band, DJ, and Ceremony Musicians
You’ve chosen your playlist but don’t forget to share it with your entertainment. Your DJ will also want a copy of the timeline.
Buy All Small Items
Just off the top of our heads, those include table numbers, toasting flutes, cake topper, cake knife, guest book, card box, ring-bearer accessories, flower-girl accessories, a cute hanger for your dress, and a garter. Also consider purchasing pashminas, flip-flops, and/or sunglasses for guests to change into at the reception, as well as baskets to hold them. Then, don’t forget your signs (“Welcome,” “Guest Book,” “Dancing Shoes,” “Thank You”, etc.).
1 Month Out
Assemble Gift Bags/Favors
Follow the same guidelines as you did for your DIY projects to ensure this task is fun, not frustrating.
Pay Your Vendors in Full
The last awkward situation you want to deal with right before your wedding day is a vendor that hasn’t been paid. Avoid that by keeping careful track of when and how much you pay each vendor. If there are some vendors who must be paid the day-of, or you’re distributing tips, give your most trusted bridesmaid or relative a heads-up that come wedding day, you’ll be counting on them to handle the labeled envelopes you’re going to put together.
Create a Seating Chart
You thought the guest list was a pain in the rear, now you’ve arrived at the seating chart challenge—another daunting balancing act of relationships, egos, potential, and crisis-management. You’ll want to think about your venue’s floor plan, whether or not you’ll have a head table and who will be sitting at it, and choosing a cool design. in case that helps, too. Your venue coordinator is a great resource for this; they know the room and what works.
Have a Final Venue Walk-Through
Make a list of questions beforehand, and bring your planner or another close friend or family member to bring up anything you forget.
Put Cash in Tip Envelopes for Your Planner/Delegate to Distribute
Remember those labeled envelopes we talked about for last-minute checks or tips? Primarily, you don’t need to tip people who own their own business—such as photographers, videographers, and florists. It’s customary to tip the following vendors: musicians, DJs, hair stylist, makeup artist, drivers, bartenders, and servers. Many couples tip the wedding planner, as well.
Break in Your Wedding Shoes
Walk around your hallways. Dance in your kitchen. Do everything in your power to avoid painful blisters on your wedding night.
Congratulations! You’ve made it all the way to the final week of your wedding planning. Most of the hard work is over at this point. Now all that is really left is the last minute details. Take care of things like:
- Refreshing your hair color (schedule this at the beginning of the week)
- Getting your eyebrows done
- Getting a massage (why not make it a couple’s massage?)
- Final dress fitting (a friend or bridesmaid should come with you so she can learn how to bustle if your dress requires it)
- Pack your luggage for the honeymoon (don’t forget your passport if you’re leaving the country), and confirm your travel arrangements
- Any edible crafting
- Clean your ring (head to your jeweler to get your engagement ring professionally cleaned so it’s extra sparkly on your wedding day)
- Chase any RSVP stragglers and deliver the final head count
- Don’t forget to add your vendors to the head count for food; they will appreciate it!
- Clear your work to-do list so you can only focus on wedding festivities and take it all in
- Practice your vows out loud
- Write your partner a personal note to read after they get dressed. This creates a magical moment for you and you will want a photo!
Night Before and Day of the Wedding
The big day is finally here. All your careful preparation and creative planning have come to fruition, and it’s time to enjoy the wedding. Here’s what to do:
The Night Before:
- Eat a healthy meal
- Pack a clutch or small bag of personal items
- Drink water
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Put any boxes, suitcases, bags, and survival kits to bring to the ceremony or reception in the car (you’ll thank us tomorrow)
The Morning Of:
- Stay off your feet as much as possible
- Eat breakfast
- Drink even more water
- Take your dress and veil out of the bag early on and have someone steam them if needed
- Lay out all the items (rings, invitations, etc.) that you want your photographer to capture
- Exchange notes with your partner
- Say thank you to everyone around you