One of the most important aspects of planning and organizing your wedding is the timeline so pull out that calendar and get ready to start planning! Certain aspects must be done to as early as possible, while others can be put off until weeks before the big event. Nearly every wedding Web site has one of these lists (see the Online Resources page for a list of Web sites). Many people print off the list and check off the items as they go, such as this checklist by Wedding Zone. You can easily punch some holes in the print outs and put them into your binder, stick it into an organizer, or download them to your PDA or computer depending on how you stay organized. Wedding sites such as The Knot or TheWeddingChannel.com allow you to update on the Web as you complete items on your list. This can be very helpful if you are constantly on the move and you don't want to carry around paperwork.
If you recently got engaged and you have time to plan, give yourself from nine to 12 months to plan the big event. This time frame is ideal, since it gives you plenty of time to figure things out without too much stress. That way, come the month preceding the wedding you can breathe a little. Under no circumstances should you let stress overshadow the joy of becoming a newlywed! However, sometimes people find themselves with as little as three to six months to plan. This can work and sometimes it is even desirable depending on how much free time you have, how quickly you can figure things out, and how much money you have on hand. Hiring a wedding planner speeds up the process and take some of the burden.
Below you'll find a thorough and comprehensive planning checklist suitable for those with at least six to nine months available for planning. Keep in mind that '''you don't need to follow the checklist exactly'''. Everyone moves at different speeds and certain people can skip steps depending on their situation. Do what feels right to you. Further below you'll see the bare minimums to complete if you are in a rush. See the Twelve Week Countdown.
Wedding Countdown: 9-12 Months
First Things First
* '''The Engagement'''
** Announce your engagement and inform the newspapers (optional).
** Making a plan for the family to meet if they haven't met already is a good way to formally announce the engagement.
** Take your engagement photos (optional).
** Plan your engagement party. You'll need to set a date, make a guest list, and send invitations.
* '''Wedding Pre-Planning'''
** Spend time with your spouse to consider what you want the wedding to look like.
*** Start researching themes, colors, and attire by browsing through magazines or on the Web.
*** Consider how you want it to feel; small and family-oriented or large and formal.
*** Do you want a local wedding or would you prefer leaving the state or the country? See the guides on destination weddings and choosing a wedding location for some pointers.
*** Do you have any traditions or cultural elements that you feel strongly about and that you want incorporated into the wedding?
** Discuss a potential date for the wedding. Be sure to consider the convenience of the date for your friends and family, but also for yourselves. Timing can have a big influence on cost; holidays are cheaper, Saturday nights in the spring and summer months are most expensive.
** Start organizing yourselves.
** Establish a budget and decide who is contributing to the wedding and how much.
** Discuss prenuptials and whether or not you are interested in premarital counseling.
** Make a guest list and make sure that it coincides with your budget. Don't forget to ask your parents for their lists to take into consideration.
Nine to Twelve Months
* '''Find a Location'''
** Scope out a reception hall or location, book it, negotiate your contract, and leave a deposit. You might also want to see the guide on finding a reception hall online.
** Find a ceremony site and reserve it. Hire an officiant and possibly schedule when you will have the rehearsal.
** The sooner you find a location, the better.
** Double check if you need any particular permits or licenses, such as when marrying outdoors or abroad.
* '''Consider Decoration Ideas and Work on the Details. '''
** Interview potential wedding consultants or planners if you want to have one. Otherwise, start envisioning what colors or themes you might want to incorporate into the wedding.
** With your plans for decorating and ambiance in mind, start
** scouting for vendors.
*** Meet, select, and book a caterer. Be sure to get samples before settling on one or the other as well as a rough price per head estimate. You may also need to start scouting for a cake designer if your caterer or reception site does not offer a cake as part of the package.
*** Select a florist if you have the time. Otherwise, this can wait until up to six months prior to the wedding.
*** Decide on the music you'll want to have (whether it be live or recorded) so that you can interview and hire musicians. You may also need to hire someone for playing music at the ceremony.
*** Choose and hire a photographer and/or videographer. Always ask to see samples before hiring.
* '''Start Shopping for Attire'''
** Search for wedding gowns. You may prefer to do this online or go to bridal shops. Either way, spend time figuring out what you really want and how it will fit into your budget.
** Decide what you will need for your wedding day attire including headpieces, jewelry, shoes, lingerie, and accessories.
* '''Other Details'''
** Register with one to three gift registries.
** Finalize the guest list and mail save-the-date notices, especially if your wedding is out of town.
** Choose your bridal party attendants and inform them that they have been chosen.
Six to Eight Months
* '''Decorations and Ambiance'''
** By this point you should have chosen vendors. Now you'll want to get down to details by coordinating plans with all of them so that you will have a continuous look throughout your wedding. You will want everything to match from the ceremony and reception sites to the decorations and food that will adorn them. Check out the guides on color schemes and themes to get more ideas.
*** Finalize music selections with your band and/or DJ.
*** Order any decoration items that you might need. This includes any items for throwing after the ceremony, including rice, birdseed, confetti, rose petals, or even bubbles.
*** Search for and purchase favors and bridal party gifts.
*** Talk to your florist about your options and order flowers.
*** Reserve rental equipment that you may need including tables, chairs, or tents.
* '''Lodging and Travel'''
** Budget and book your honeymoon. Then let your employers know when you'll need time off. Also be sure to get a passport if you don't own one, or check the expiration date on your old one in case you need to renew it.
** Reserve a suite for your wedding night.
** Book travel and lodging arrangements for those coming in from out of town.
** Start pre-wedding exercise routine. You might also be interested in signing up for dancing lessons.
** Order the wedding gown and bridal accessories, including lingerie and hosiery.
** Search for bridesmaid dresses and accessories. Order them now or give yourself a little more time (no later than four months prior to the wedding). Make sure to notify the attendants of when they will have their fittings and schedule them with the dress shop.
** Finalize details for the groomsmen's tuxes, the flower girl and ring bearer's attire.
** Confirm delivery dates for all attire.
** Research which wedding bands you and your spouse are interested in.
* '''Paper Goods'''
** Write the ceremony program, and figure out how to word your invitations and other printed material.
** Look at different stationery designs, colors, themes, paper stocks, and fonts. Decide which you like and put in your order. Make sure that you order extra envelopes.
** Arrange for a calligrapher for creating table cards or other paper materials, if desired. Otherwise, be certain to have printing arrangements.
** After receiving a sample of the stationery you ordered, be sure to review it for any mistakes, misspellings, or design flaws so that it can be adjusted if needed.
** If you are having a destination wedding, be sure that the save-the-dates have been sent.
* '''Talk to Your Vendors'''
** Find a baker and select a cake (if it's not included with your reception price).
** Discuss the menu and liquor to be served with your caterer. If you are providing the alcohol, check out what you need to stock a bar.
** Select music for the various parts of your wedding, make a playlist, and discuss your choices with your band or DJ.
** Arrange transportation details for the day of the wedding.
* Schedule bachelor(ette) party and rehearsal dinner.
* Confirm honeymoon details.
* Get ideas for wedding day hair and makeup by looking online or in bridal magazines.
* Make welcome baskets if you are having a destination wedding.
* '''Beauty and Fashion'''
** Book a stylist or beauty professional for the day of and before the wedding and make an appointment to meet ahead of time to discuss your options. You may also want to make appointments for other beauty details to have completed during the month before the wedding, including hair cuts, coloring, facials, and waxing.
** Help mothers shop for their dresses.
** Buy wedding rings.
** Buy wedding gifts for each other (optional -- you just want to save the money for your honeymoon).
** Buy gifts for the bridal party if you haven't already done so.
** Purchase ceremony extras such as the unity candle, toasting glasses, etc.
** Get a guest book and a nice pen.
* Write your wedding vows.
* Schedule an appointment to get a blood test, if needed (this varies by state).
Two to Three Months
* '''The Bride's Duties'''
** Arrange for a final gown fitting. Plan to bring all your accessories, lingerie, and shoes with you.
** Make sure that the attendants have all the attire and accessories they need, including their dresses or tuxes, shoes, and jewelry.
** Experiment with makeup and hair for the wedding.
* '''Take Care of the Guests'''
** Plan the rehearsal dinner details if you haven't already done so.
** Buy or make wedding favors if you haven't done so already. Leave extra time if you want custom favors.
** Invite people to bachelor(ette) party and bridesmaids' dinner or lunch.
** Address invitations or send them to the calligrapher.
** Book a restaurant or plan the post-wedding day brunch (if applicable).
** Purchase postage for the invitations and thank you cards.
** Mail the wedding invitations -- you should probably pay extra to get this hand-stamped to avoid problems with the postal machines.
* '''Other Details'''
** Add to or update your registry and make sure that thank yous have been sent to those who have already sent gifts.
** Finalize prenuptial agreement, if you are having one.
** Take care of insurance plans.
** Finalize transportation details.
* '''Do Your Paper Work'''
** Get the marriage license.
** If the bride is changing her last name, take care of the necessary details that go along with it: passports, driver's license, credit cards, bank accounts.
** Inform the post office of any change of address.
* '''Make Sure That Everyone Is Up to Speed'''
** Send announcement to the local newspaper about your wedding (optional).
** Send rehearsal dinner invitations.
** Write wedding announcements for those not coming to the wedding.
* '''Details for the Bride and Groom'''
** Do some trial runs on hair and makeup.
** Pick up the wedding gown.
** Pack for the honeymoon.
** Finalize vows.
** Discuss speeches and toasts with all involved.
* '''Vendor Details'''
** Order liquor and wine if you are not hiring a caterer who provides it.
** Make sure that parking is planned and that transportation is set for the day of the wedding.
** Verify that any lodging plans are in order for out of town guests.
** Finalize the guest count and notify the caterer. You may need to give another head count up to a week to ten days before the wedding as well.
* '''Ceremony and Reception'''
** Confirm delivery and order from all vendors, including any details that they should know (times, locations, special circumstances, etc.).
** Discuss details of the ceremony with your officiant (such as the program order and timing) and where you are putting the programs. They should be finished and printed by now.
** Assign duties to the ushers.
** Make sure that your musicians have a list of what to play and what NOT to play. Discuss any final details of the music with them as well.
** Finalize the number of reception guest you are having and give the caterer a head count. Call or email anyone who has yet to RSVP beforehand.
** Make a schedule for the day of the wedding. Print copies and give them to the bridal party and anyone else responsible for bringing items to the ceremony or reception location. You may also prefer to call or email depending on your needs.
* Send rehearsal dinner invitations (if you haven't done so already).
* Confirm appointments for the beauty salon. Make sure to get your roots touched up if you dye your hair and to get a haircut if needed.
* The bride should find her old, new, borrowed, and blue items.
* Wrap all bridal gifts.
* Start writing thank you notes.
* Have a bridal portrait taken, if desired. Purchase necessary accessories ahead of time if you haven't already done so.
* Confirm your honeymoon and wedding night details.
* Pick up the wedding bands.
* '''Bride and Groom'''
** Pick up the headpiece or veil.
** Make sure that your shoes are comfortable and easy to walk in. Break them in!!
** Pick up the tux or suit and make sure it fits.
** Grooms should get a haircut, if needed.
** Pack luggage for your honeymoon. Prepare details for your honeymoon (gather important documents, traveler's checks, currency, etc.)
* '''Reception and Ceremony'''
** Confirm the details with all your vendors including, time, date, location, and payment information.
** Give the last head count to your caterer.
** Make sure that the reception manager knows which vendors to expect so that they can get into the reception location.
** Make sure to give the seating arrangement to the caterer and reception manager.
** Give a schedule and any final details to the officiant.
** Distribute schedules to the bridal party and others who are helping out with the wedding details.
** Adjust the toasts and thanks speeches if needed.
* Arrange any travel details for the honeymoon, if they haven't been taken care of.
* Go to your rehearsal ceremony and dinner.
* Get all items together that you will need on the day of the wedding, including a bride's survival kit.
* Go to any beauty appointments.
* Drop off items at the ceremony and reception locations, if needed.
* Get plenty of rest.
Day of the Wedding
* Thank your parents.
* Spend some private time with your spouse.
* Pay your vendors.
* Relax, celebrate, and enjoy!
After the Wedding
* Write and mail thank you notes.
* Have your wedding gown cleaned and preserved.
* Send in paperwork for name changes, address changes, and all other official details.
Twelve Week Wedding Countdown
''Don't panic!'' If this seems to hard to handle, it would be a very good idea to look into hiring a wedding planner since they are used to throwing together spectacular shindigs in hardly any time at all. If you think you can muster it on your own, be sure to remember that because time is limited, you won't always be able to get everything and anything that you may have originally envisioned as part of your wedding (depending of course on what type of wedding you want). A good approach to take to short notice weddings is to consider which element of the wedding is most meaningful to you and your spouse's happiness. Is it the incredible band, the gorgeous setting, a fantastic menu, or perfect photos and videos of the event? By selecting which criteria you want to highlight, the rest of the tasks won't have such a high priority leaving you more time to focus on the more important things.
* '''Twelve Weeks''' -- Sit down with your spouse for a few hours to figure out the basics.
** Set your date.
** Establish your budget.
** Talk with your partner about what you envision for the wedding.
** As soon as you have a good idea of what you want, start scouting reception and ceremony sites for where you want the wedding.
** Come up with a rough idea of what decorations and food you want so that you can call up the vendors.
** The bride should start gown shopping.
** Start talking about the honeymoon.
* '''Eleven Weeks'''
** Book your reception hall and ceremony location as well as an officiant.
** Hire the vendors you need.
** Make a guest list and choose attendants.
** Order the invitations.
** Order the rings.
** Make honeymoon arrangements.
* '''Ten Weeks'''
** Find accommodations for your guests if needed.
** Make sure that everything is arranged with the vendors.
** The bride should buy the dress and other wedding day items such as jewelry, headpieces, and shoes.
** The bride should also book appointments for the day of and before the wedding to go to the beauty salon, if desired.
** Get blood tests, if needed and check to make sure that you have all marriage license requirements in order.
* '''Nine Weeks'''
** Send invitations.
** Sign up with gift registries.
** Schedule tuxedo fittings for the groom and groomsmen.
** Choose the bridesmaid's dresses.
* '''Eight Weeks'''
** Order wedding favors and any decorations you want to have other than those arranged by a florist.
** Arrange for moving to a new residence, if necessary.
** Make sure the honeymoon arrangements are in order.
* '''Seven Weeks '''
** Plan the ceremony, including the vows, the rehearsal, music, and decorations, if needed.
** Breathe. You're half way there. Take some time to rest. Make sure to spend time with your spouse where you don't talk about the wedding.
* '''Six Weeks'''
** Talk to your caterer about the menu and the beverages to be served.
** Order the wedding cake and cake top.
** Arrange transportation.
** Send those in the bridal party a schedule for the wedding events.
* '''Five Weeks'''
** Discuss the music you want to have for the wedding with your DJ or band.
** Get the marriage license.
** Do the final fittings for the wedding gown and tuxedo.
** Send an announcement to the local papers about your wedding (optional).
* '''Four Weeks'''
** Figure out and name or address changes that need to take place.
** Call all of your vendors to make sure that all arrangements are in place and confirm what needs to be paid, when they need to arrive, locations, directions, and any other important details that they should know.
** Check who has sent you an RSVP. Call or email those who haven't responded to see whether or not they are coming.
* '''Three Weeks'''
** Pick up wedding bands.
** Make seating arrangements.
** Arrange for gown preservation.
* '''Two Weeks'''
** Wrap bridal party gifts.
** Prepare any final touches that you may have overlooked.
** Call bridal party and remind them if they need to bring anything.
** Pickup items needed for your honeymoon and start packing.
* '''One Week'''
** Call vendors to discuss final details.
** Give the caterer a final head count.
** Write checks to pay everyone -- check if you need to pay in cash on the day of the event.
** Finish packing your honeymoon bags.
** Prepare the things you'll need for the day of the wedding and for the rehearsal.