You just got engaged and you couldn’t be happier. It’s a thrilling time for couples but this period of wedding planning can also be super stressful. Whether you’ve decided on a low-key affair or you want to rival Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for “wedding of the century”, there is plenty to do to get ready for the big day.
Part of the stress can be trying to remember everything that needs to get done in preparation for the wedding and when is the appropriate time to do it. It would be a shame to miss out on a dream location or scoring the hottest live band because you didn’t act quickly enough. Let us help you take some of the stress out of planning with a guide to what you need to do and how long before your special day.
12 months or more
Outline a budget
It’s listed as number one because it is so very important. In fact, just about everything else you book, buy, or do hinges on this. Unless you are lucky enough to have an unlimited budget (and in that case congrats again and just move on to the next point), you need to know exactly what you have to spend and where you want to spend it. Keeping a spreadsheet will allow you to stay on budget and keep track of what you are spending. Keeping account of your budget also allows for you to make adjustments if something you must have exceeds what you’ve allowed for it, and you can see what other areas you can borrow from in order to make sure you stay on budget.
Pick a date(s)
Also super important because you can’t confidently book or plan anything else until you are absolutely sure which date it is happening on. You may want to choose a few suitable dates in case certain key aspects like the reception or ceremony site is booked on your first choice of dates. It’s also a good idea to check with important people (like parents, siblings, potential wedding party members, the officiant, or anyone else who you can’t do without on your wedding day) to make sure everyone is free to come and celebrate with you on the dates you choose.
Book your venue(s)
Another biggie, no wedding date is truly the date until you’ve actually booked your ceremony and reception venue(s). Whether you are doing the ceremony and reception at separate venues or they will be in the same place, you want to book as soon as possible. Venues can book up fast during popular “wedding season” months or if you are having a destination wedding during tourist or peak season times. Even if you are planning a wedding during a slow season (like winter), all too many have been lulled into a false sense of security that no one else would want their date. It would be tragic to lose out on celebrating your marriage at the perfect place because you waited too long.
Ask your wedding party
It’s a thrilling honor to be asked to stand up as a bridesmaid or groomsman for a loved one, and it can be just as fun to ask. Doing it in advance gives everyone enough notice to make sure they are available and can schedule time for wedding related events including dress/suit shopping.
Start your guest list
Even though the actual invites won’t go out for quite some time, making up a guest list can be a bit of a time-consuming process. You may also want to do this before you book a venue to get an idea of how many people you want to invite. This will ensure that you find a venue that can accommodate the number of guests you want, or you are not paying too much for an oversized venue (some venues have a minimum guest count so if your guest list is 100 and the venue minimum is 150, you’ll end up paying for 50 phantom guests).
A great time to share of few laughs, shed of few tears (of joy and perhaps frustration, too), and bond with the girls, shopping for your wedding dress can be a very enjoyable task. It can take some time to find THE dress, however. According to Weddingwire.com, the average bride tries on 4-7 dresses before they say I DO want this as my wedding dress. That can mean shopping at multiple stores, even over the course of more than one day. Once you do find the perfect dress, it can take months to come in from the time you order and then it will take more time to do fittings and alterations (plan on at least 2 fittings and one alteration sandwiched between). The sooner you can order your dress the more time you have to make any necessary adjustments.
Book your photographer and/or videographer
Of course, you’re going to want an expert who can curate the perfect pics and capture every special moment. Heck, you might even want your day to be filmed like a cinematic masterpiece to thrill your (future?) kids and grandkids. Before you commit to an artist, make sure that they can see and work with your vision and that their style will jive well with yours.
Florists can also get very busy during peak wedding months and may have limits on how many orders they can handle. Now, you might have surfed the internet and seen some beautiful DIY floral ideas and plan on doing your own—that’s great! But there is a warning there. Beware of falling into a Pinterest fantasy vortex, unaware of the reality of the time it will take to perfect the arrangements as you see them and the reality of your skill level in this area. Now there’s nothing wrong with this if you are on a strict budget and possess the time and craftiness to get it done the way you want. But for anyone else, finding a florist that will work with your style and budget is possible and can take some stress off of your “to do” list (remember that any arrangements with fresh flowers can only be done 1-3 days before the wedding). Include discussion for centerpieces, flower arrangements for other tables, flowers for the ceremony, bouquets, and boutonnieres.
This can help protect any of the deposits you’ve made. Up to this point, you’ve probably put larger sums down on some major things, so if you are planning on it, getting insurance now will give you peace of mind.
Music and Entertainment
Deciding whether to go with a DJ or a band can be a tough decision, but you know that entertaining your guests (so you can party til the break of dawn, of course) is an absolute must. DJs may be a bit easier to come by, but if there is a particular DJ you have in mind, you want to make sure he can book your date. Great live bands, on the other hand, tend to book up more quickly. In fact, some of the best are booked 12-18 months in advance. So even though we’ve put it in the 9-month timeframe, if you want a live band, start looking and booking as early as possible.
Not to be forgotten under the music category is music for the ceremony. Will you have a DJ or emcee who can reliably play the pre-recorded music of your choice? Will the romantic, magical music of live musicians accompany you down the aisle? If you do choose live music, will you have a soloist like a harpist or guitar player, or go with a band such as a string quartet or jazz band? Plenty to think about.
Register for gifts
Your bridal shower might not happen for several months, but there are many reasons why guests want to shop for presents early.
If you haven’t already done so, book a licensed and professional wedding officiant. Whether you are having a secular or religious ceremony, it pays to hire a professional. It might be fun to have a friend give your wedding speech (and some can get certified online to legally marry a couple), but a professional will ensure that all the formalities and legalities are taken care of (some couples have a loved one give the speech and then a legal officiant do the vows).
If you still haven’t found your dress, get on that girl! You don’t want to cut your timeframe too close. That’s a real stressor!
Whether you are having a destination wedding or sticking close to home, chances are you’ll have out of town guests. Blocking out hotel rooms near the wedding site now will ensure the hotel can set aside the number of rooms you need.
Save the dates
The formal invites aren’t ready to go out yet, but you want to make sure your guests have ample time to pen your wedding into your schedule. This is particularly important if you are doing a destination wedding. You want your guests to have enough time to book their travel and accommodations, especially if it’s a busy/touristy time of year for that area.
This might be the most fun part in our book—scheduling cake tastings. Meet with bakers to find out who can give you exactly what you want and meet your budget. Some bakeries can only do a certain amount of orders per week, so once you’ve found the right one you want to make they can fit you in.
Some brides might choose to do this around the same time they shop for their own dress (it’s hard to get everyone in the same place on multiple dates), and the more time the better. Between ordering and alterations, bridesmaids dresses can also take months to be completely ready. They don’t take as long as a wedding dress, so if your girls haven’t ordered them yet, there’s no need to panic. Now is a great time to start.
Book your honeymoon
Whether you are making all the arrangements yourself or you are enlisting the help of a honeymoon travel agent (which can take some stress off your shoulders), there’s no time like the present to get everything booked and settled.
Order your invitations
Though it’s still not time to send them out, start selecting or customizing invitations that show off your personal style or your wedding theme. Order them now so you’ll have enough time to receive, assemble, and address them.
Make-up and hair trials
You don’t want any surprises when it comes to your wedding day look, so many brides choose to do makeup and hair trials with stylists to perfect their hair and makeup styles. It’s also a good time to schedule your stylist for the day of so they have plenty of time to spend with you.
If your ceremony or reception venue isn’t all inclusive, you’ll need to find a rental company that can take care of details such as seats/chairs, tables, linens, china, stemware, and flatware. It’s also the right time to work out whether they deliver, set-up, and breakdown or if you need to make your own arrangements.
Nothing kills a honeymoon buzz like being stopped in your tracks at the airport. If your passport isn’t current or you don’t have one, send in your applications now. They can take a couple of months to process and receive.
The guys might have it considerably easier when it comes to wedding day-wear, but there are still choices to be made. Tux or suit? Rent or buy? Tie or bow tie? Either way, allow enough time for orders and alterations.
Many brides might buy their veil or headpiece around the same time they buy their dress (if not, it’s a good time to start looking), but few think of getting their undergarments and heels this far ahead. Importantly, you’ll need to wear these for your dress fittings so off to shop you go.
Whether you’re making your own or ordering personalized favors, allow time to get them done. Trust us, finishing your favors the morning of the wedding is one of the most stressful things you can put yourself through.
Shop for your wedding rings and allow enough time for orders, fitting, and engraving.
Mail out invitations
Make sure reply envelopes have the proper postage.
If you are writing your own, give them the time and effort they deserve.
It’s traditional to buy gifts for parents, the bridal party and each other to show appreciation for their love and support.
A marriage license is a must-have to make it all legal, and processing times can vary by town. Check with the town bureau where the wedding is being held to find out what they require and how long it will take for them to issue the license.
Final dress fitting
We’re sure you look amazing! Take your maid of honor or bridesmaid along with you so they can be shown how to bustle your dress after the ceremony.
Last minute details
Check with all your vendors to make sure everyone is on the right page and smooth out any necessary details.
Check to make sure everyone has their dresses, has been fitted, and alterations are done.
Chances are there will be stragglers who haven’t responded yet. Contact them to get a firm yes or no.
Final song list
Give your DJ or band leader a final song list including any special songs and DO NOT PLAY songs (a band especially may need a little time to learn any new songs). Also, decide whether you want them to take requests from guests.
Haircut & color
If you are going to get this done before your wedding, you want ample time to fix anything that you don’t like. No wedding day beauty surprises needed.
Finalize photographer/videographer details
If you haven’t already, but we’re sure you’re on top of it all!
Your venue or caterer needs this to know how many meals to prepare. Don’t forget to include the band/DJ, photographer, videographer, or any other vendor who requires a meal.
You know 2 of your cousins can’t be at the same table for 5 minutes without a squabble-fest breaking out. You may have your work cut out for you.
Once the seating chart is done.
Does the florist need extra space? Does the DJ need a table? Photo table? Gift table? Cake table? Check to make sure the venue or rental company knows exactly what you need, and that it will be there.
Confirm with all vendors
Mainly for your own peace of mind and sanity.
Let the ceremony and/or reception site managers know when vendors plan on delivering and planned set up times so the appropriate staff can be there.
If you are doing your own centerpieces or other décor or haven’t finished putting together favors, its time to finish up. If you are decorating the venue(s) yourself, check with the managers to figure out when you can get in and give yourself enough time to set up.
Bouquets and boutonnieres
Have someone pick them up if necessary but many florists will deliver.
Look fabulous and get married