You’ve done it. You got engaged. The sun is shining, birds are chirping and you feel light as a feather. But after announcing your engagement to family and friends and celebrating, it finally dawns on you. You have to start planning for the wedding. Where do you even start?
As you can probably guess, a wedding isn’t something you can plan over a weekend. There are countless considerations, from venues and vendors to color themes and party favors. The first step is to take a deep breath. You can do this. The key is to break the complicated process into easy, manageable steps.
In this guide, you’ll learn all of the planning steps you need to take during the 12 months leading up to your wedding.
12+ months before
- Work out your budget. There was a time when the bride’s family would pay for the entire wedding. In today’s world, the cost of your wedding will likely be split in some way between you, your partner and your respective families. Consider how much each party will be contributing to arrive at a realistic budget for your big day. Deciding your budget is a key first step that affects the size of your guest list, your venue and which vendors you can hire.
- Create your guest list. It’s time to make some tough choices. Before brainstorming your guest list, think about how big you want your wedding to be—and what your budget can handle. Sit down with your partner and start listing all the most important people in your lives. After that, carefully narrow down your list until you reach an appropriate head count.
- Choose your wedding party. After the guest list comes the wedding party. These are your maid of honor, bridesmaids, groomsmen, immediate family, ring bearer and flower girl.
- Decide on a wedding planner. Is a wedding planner necessary? Not always. But if your budget allows, bringing in a professional can take away the inevitable stress of planning everything yourself.
- Pick your wedding theme. Do you want a more traditional wedding in a house of worship and a formal reception, or are you more interested in a rustic wedding in the countryside? Get together with your partner and discuss your dream wedding theme. While you’re at it, brush up on ceremony and reception order of events.
- Choose a venue. After you decide on your wedding theme, it’s time to start perusing through venue options for the ceremony and reception. Shop around until you find a venue that hits your theme goals and your budget. Once you have a winner, get a reservation ASAP.
10-11 months before
- Start hiring vendors. With a budget, guest list and venue firmly in place, you have a solid foundation for your big day. Now it’s time to track down vendors! Things to consider: caterer, florist, photographer, videographer, band and DJ.
- Start dress shopping. When it comes to shopping for a wedding dress, the sooner your start the better. Browse Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration and start reaching out to dress makers.
- Work out guest accommodations. If you’re having a destination wedding or expect several guests from out of town, now would be a good time to look into booking hotel rooms for people on your guest list.
- Get your wedding website up and running. You don’t need to be a computer whiz to build your own wedding website. Web page builders like Wix or Squarespace can help you create a snazzy, personalized wedding page without the headaches.
- Start shopping for wedding invitations. By now you should have a theme in mind for your wedding. Look for invitation templates that fit your theme.
8-9 months before
- Purchase your wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses. It’s not easy to narrow down all those amazing dresses you’ve been looking at to one choice, but 8-9 months out from the wedding is when you need to make a final decision.
- Send your “Save the Dates.” You’ve probably announced the big news to most of the important people in your life. Now’s the time to send some official “save the date” cards. Double-check your guest list before sending these out.
- Start your gift registry. You might have mixed feelings about having a gift registry, but your guests will thank you for making gift shopping that much easier for them. As a bonus, consider putting a link to your registry on your wedding website.
6-7 months before
- Don’t forget your rehearsal dinner. In the excitement (and stress, perhaps) of planning your wedding, you might have overlooked the party before the party. Go ahead and reserve that rehearsal dinner venue.
- Hire your vendors. Go ahead and hire a photographer, videographer, florist, and any DJs/musicians you have in mind.
- Make sure your passports are ready. If you plan on jetting overseas for your honeymoon, file any passport applications while there’s still plenty of time.
- Order all the extra rental equipment. Chairs, linens, lighting equipment, and other decorations should be squared away about 6 months before the wedding day.
- Find an officiant. If you aren’t getting married in a house of worship, you’ll need to hire an officiant. If you’re having a friend officiate your wedding, make sure they have all their paperwork ready.
- Consider wedding cancellation insurance. There’s always the chance that nasty weather, a family emergency or some unforeseen event can impact your wedding day. Wedding cancellation insurance can help protect you from an expensive cancellation or postponement.
4-5 months before
- Make transportation arrangements. Transportation totally depends on the details of your wedding. You might need a shuttle bus to get your guests from point A to point B. If you want to ride off into the sunset with your partner in a fancy stretch limo, now would be a good time to arrange for that too.
- Book that honeymoon! Sandy beach or mountain retreat? If you’re planning your honeymoon, about 4 months out is a good time to start making concrete arrangements. If the planning’s up to your partner, feel free to drop a hint.
- Buy or rent tuxedos. The men in the wedding party need to look sharp too! Snag some tuxes or suits for the groom and groomsmen.
- Catch up on the food and drink situation. Sit down with your caterer and go over food and cocktail options (there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be able to sample some things). While you’re at it, choose your wedding cake!
3-4 months before
- Order your invitations. Finalize your invitation order so you can start sending them out to your guest list.
- Lock in your menu. Hopefully you thoroughly sample all the goodies your caterer of choice has to offer. Now’s the fun part. Decide on hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, main courses, beverages and desserts.
- Brainstorm gift bags or favors for you guests. This can include the wedding and the rehearsal dinner. How much you want to splurge totally depends on your budget—feel free to get crafty and go the DIY route.
- Get your ceremonial materials ready. This means writing your wedding vows, selecting which readings you want your officiant to use, and meeting with your officiant to go over your ideal ceremony.
1-2 months before
- Send rehearsal dinner and wedding invitations. Double or triple-check to make sure that everyone who got a “save the date” receives a wedding invitation.
- First dress fitting. A couple months before the wedding day is a good time to do your first dress fitting. You’ll do a final fitting a week before the wedding.
- Secure your marriage license. Like it or not, there’s a legal agreement behind all the magic of tying the knot. Get the marriage license taken care of at least a month before the big day.
- Touch base with your vendors. Visit your florist and ask to see some mock ups of the table and other floral arrangements. Then reach out to your DJ and ceremony musicians to share your list of must-have songs.
- Purchase small items. Brainstorm a list of all the things that aren’t covered by one your rental services, vendors or venues. Then start shopping! Get your gift bags and guest favors ready.
- Pay your vendors. In the final weeks leading up to your wedding, get a list of payment dates for all your vendors to make sure you pay them the right amount at the right time. Now’s also a good time to set aside tip envelopes for vendors and catering crews.
- Iron out your seating arrangements. Pour yourself a glass of wine, this might take awhile. It’s a balancing act to make sure each table will have an experience free of awkwardness or bruised egos. Once you’re satisfied, go ahead and make up some place cards.
1 Week Before
- Make some final self-care appointments. You’ve spent the last year getting your ducks in a row. Time to take care of yourself. Book a hair, eyebrow or mani/pediappointment. You could even go all-out with a full spa day.
- Arrange a final dress fitting. Make sure you bring your shoes and all your accessories along to get the full effect.
- Pack for your honeymoon. Nothing says romance like a couple of pre-packed bags waiting to be whisked away on your secret getaway.
- Confirm your guest list and get a final head count. Go through your entire list from top to bottom and track down those delinquent RSVPs.
- Break in your wedding shoes. Don’t spend your honeymoon with sore feet. Break in those shoes!
- Check in with all your vendors. Double-check with all your vendors to ensure they’ll be at the venue when you expect them.
- Have checks and payments ready. After you’ve checked in with your vendors, get ready to hold up your end of the bargain by having any and all payments ready to distribute.
- Get plenty of sleep. This could be easier said than done, but try to get some rest the night before your wedding. Enjoy a nice breakfast before the madness begins.
- Handle last-minute arrangements. This includes giving the wedding bands to the best man, paying your officiant, and thanking the bridesmaids who have gone the extra mile to help out.
- Enjoy your day! Finally, remember that this is your day. You’ve been diligent in your planning, and now you can forget about appointments, arrangements and logistics and live in the moment.