Click the box below to download or print a free PDF master wedding planning checklist and add it to your wedding binder.
The average US engagement is 16 months long (or in my case 15 months). My husband and I got married August 15th, 2014 and we lived through many wedding planning hurdles. My goal is to help you with some of your own planning perils. Okay, its not as dramatic as I make it sound, but planning a wedding is no walk in the park either. It is inevitable that you and your partner will go through ups and downs and if I can pass along my knowledge of having planned my own wedding, then I have done my job.
A close friend gave me a great tip – do not leave everything to the last minute. If you can book it, rent it, or pay for it, then do so now and don’t wait until the last minute.
Please understand that the wedding planning checklist below is a living document. It will be amended as I do new posts or find new companies that I believe can better help you through the wedding planning motions. I will also feature some amazing companies that helped make mine and my fiance’s wedding planning process easier, memorable and unique. So stay tuned for all the good stuff to come.
Firstly, 15 must read tips for your wedding day, to get you started!
Then, here is the checklist of the good, the bad, the I don’t want to but have to, and personal tid-bits that will help smooth out the process and get you thinking of things you might not have otherwise thought about.
Time Before the Wedding: 12-16 Months
- Engagement Party (Optional): Usually hosted by the bride’s parents. Keep in mind that whoever you invite to the engagement party should probably be invited to the wedding as well. We struggled with this one because the engagement party was shortly after the engagement, and long before any discussion of guest list planning for the wedding. You will get wrapped up in the moment and invite everyone – even the neighbors who you know full well won’t be invited to the wedding. Just avoid having to use the awkward line ‘we have decided to have an intimate wedding’ and only invite those people who will truly be invited to your intimate affair.
- Create a Wedding Binder: Right away! Keep all copies of every contract and L&L’s handy dandy condensed printable master list in your binder and keep a running “to-do-list” on the front.
- Eliminate Assumptions and Unknowns: Sit down before hand to create a list of 3 things you both must have at the wedding. For example: a photographer, type of food to be served, or perhaps one of you has your heart set on a particular venue. Not only will you both get a concrete understanding of each others wishes, but your budget will become clearer once you know your must-haves.
- Set a Budget: This one in and of itself can be tricky. If you know exactly what you want for your wedding, and are not looking for unsolicited advice or opinions of what the day should look like, then you better start saving your pennies. Let everyone know upfront that you are paying for the wedding yourselves, which means you will be planning the wedding the way you want. On the other hand if you have received/accepted money from parents or loved ones who want to contribute then be ready to hand over the reins a little bit and accept input.
Read More: 12 Best Ways to Cut Wedding Costs
- Make a Guest List: This one will change, and change again, and then probably change 5 more times! Making a guest list is probably the most difficult part of the whole wedding process. Knowing who makes the lists and who doesn’t can be extremely frustrating. Just remember to invite the people who’ll make your wedding day special. You don’t have to invite everyone – especially Bobby your third cousin once removed!
- Research and Reserve a Venue: If you are fortunate enough to have a cabin, church, or parents’ backyard that you both agree you will get married – more power to you. If you don’t, then may I suggest that you both run off and elope! Just kidding, this can be a tricky one though. When researching your venue make sure you know your budget, style, and start contacting venues sooner rather than later. Just keep in mind many venues have preferred catering lists and rules that you will need to follow. When I was looking for a wedding venue down in Napa Valley, a couple of venues felt as though I was being sold a time share. I knew right away “this isn’t it!” Also, make sure to read over the contract. Don’t sign before you understand the additional fees, insurance, and deposit/cancellation policies.
*Tip: Parking can be an issue, so make sure you ask if there is guest parking. If not, ask about additional parking options*
- Set a Date: Once you have chosen a venue, it is time to choose a date. Availability can be an issue, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. Waiting to book your venue will mean less openings to select from.
*Budget tip: Venues can be more flexible with timing and fees can be much cheaper if you have a weekday wedding (& most of the time this will include Fridays)
- Choose your Wedding Party: Check this wedding out! 11 Bridesmaids and 10 groomsmen. Now that is a bridal party! It is really up to you how many you would like to have just remember the more you have the more money you will be shelling out for presents and any other expenses you are willing to pay for when it comes to the bridal party. At the end of the day don’t forget what the ceremony is really about.
- Take engagement photos: (optional) And send them to L&L of course!
Be Inspired: Our Huge Collection of Engagement Shoots
Time Before the Wedding: 9-12 Months
- Plan the Honeymoon: This one is self explanatory, but with everything else going on don’t forget to arrange for necessary country visas and/or renew passports.
Read More: Guide to 10 Types of Honeymoons
- Hire a Wedding Coordinator (optional): If you have room in the budget for a wedding coordinator, than a professional hand is always helpful. They will know the local ins and outs and have insights into vendors. If you have a close group of family and friends that are willing to help, this option works too. Just be careful because this is where Bridezilla can surface. For my engagement party I had a grand vision of what it should look like. By the end, my close friend said he felt like he was in a cult and I was the great almighty visionary.
Tip: If you are not hiring a wedding coordinator for the day of your wedding, make sure you have a friend that knows what you both want. The bride and groom should not be bothered with every little question. This person can act as a go-between and decision maker for issues that may arise.
- Interview and Hire Key Vendors: I would suggest bringing a friend/family member with you, especially for the catering interviews. After all, four ears are better than two! You want to get all the nitty-gritty details and not miss anything. Keep notes and keep contracts in your binder.
- Florist: Check out how to make your own bridal bouquet and a post about choosing silk flowers.
- DJ/Band: Do you want a DJ, band, or both? Deciding on songs can be difficult due to the vast array of choices. You will need to think of songs that mean something to both of you at different stages: to play during the wedding ceremony, your grand entrance, signing of documents, and recessional.
- Wedding Cake Decorator: Don’t forget to find the perfect cake stand. Check out our article on 13 Cake Stands to Fit Any Wedding Style. And here is some cake topper inspiration here & here.
- Caterer: Buffet or full service dinner? Make sure to ask if they offer tastings with part of the food package. *Tip: See if you can supply your own liquor at the venue, check to see if there is a corkage fee and if you are allowed to take what’s left over home with you at the end of the night. This can help immensely with cost.
- Find and Secure an Officiant: This can be a challenge if you don’t belong to a church or know any marriage commissioners. Your best bet is to pose the question to your Facebook friends – that is exactly how Andrew and I found our officiant. Somebody is bound to lead you down the right path.
- Shop for and Order Dress: This topic is worthy of a post all on its own. Stay tuned. Just keep in mind that dresses will need altering and you will probably have 3 fittings.
- Shop for Accessories: Can’t forget about the accessories, especially the bridal veil,which is the finishing touch to any bridal ensemble. If you are looking for that perfect veil still, be sure to check out our sister site Classic Veils. You can customize your own veil too!
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Veil Lengths
- Shop for and Select Attendees’ Gowns: Are you into the mismatched look or going for more of the traditional bridal party uniform? When it comes to foot wear you can either give them a color and let them wear their own shoes or ask that they buy a certain shoe so that they all match.
Time Before the Wedding: 6-9 Months
- Research and book hotels for out of town guests: Most hotels will have a group wedding rate. Make sure you call around and find out what they offer. Also, remind your guests to tell the hotel they are there for a wedding. Weddings are usually in the early afternoon and check in times are usually at 3pm. Your guests don’t want to be getting ready in the hotels lobby bathroom. If the hotel knows you are attending a wedding they will try their best to make sure that your room is cleaned first.
- Reserve all necessary party rentals: Linens, tents, etc.
- Choose Colors: Another choice you both have to make together! Although a lot of the wedding submissions I receive have pink themes, and I am starting to wonder if men do not have a say in this matter. Good Luck! A great way to acquire color inspiration is through Pinterest, our Real weddings section.
- Order Rings: Give yourself lots of time for rings to be ordered, sized, and engraved. One idea for the groom’s ring: browse different rings at the jewelers together and then narrow it down to 2 or 3 rings. Andrew and I did this and I got to pick the final ring. It will be a nice surprise the day of the wedding for him! Also check out Blue Nile– A trusted, easy to use, and service oriented diamond jewelry website that has been around since 1999. I love playing with the build your own ring and earring tools to see different cuts, color, carats, and clarity of a diamond. My brother in law used Blue Nile to buy his wife an engagement ring with great success. A Pacific Northwest based diamond jewelry company that I definitely recommend.
- Register for gifts: This is my favorite part of the wedding process! Department store + scanning gun + no regard for price tags = Girl’s biggest dream. Sign me up!
Read More: My Top 10 Wedding Registry Tips.
- Order Invitations, Save-The-Dates, and Stationary: This goes back to your theme and color schemes. The save-the-dates/invitations are the first encounter your guests will experience and really set the tone for your wedding. Wedding stationary can add up quite quickly when you start including postage costs. To cut down on costs check out our awesome and FREE Download Printable section. Although, sometimes it is easier to buy then DIY! If you think so too, then be sure to give our Wedding Stationery Comparison Tool a try!
Time Before the Wedding: 4-6 Months
- Mail Save-the-Dates: With guests coming from far and wide to attend a wedding, it is important to send your save-the-date for out of townguests that need to book time off work, arrange flights and book hotel rooms. Don’t forget to add the city and venue name to any save-the-date cards.
Read More: How to Address Save the Dates.
- Book Transportation: Nowadays there are all sorts of modes of transportation you and your newlywed partner can be whisked away on. I’ve seen the whole gamut from limos, vintage cars, horse and buggy, to a romantic bicycle for two and even a scooter.
Read More: Departing your Wedding in Style!
Time Before the Wedding: 2-4 Months
- Buy undergarments, shoes and garment bag for the wedding dress fitting.
- Purchase Toasting flutes, guestbook, flower basket and ring bearer pillow.
- Decide on your something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.
- Assemble and address invitations
- Select the attire for the groom and groomsmen
Read More: 30 Wedding Bow Tie Ideas
- Purchase gifts for the wedding party
- Plan the rehearsal dinner: If you have a big wedding party you may be able to get a group rate for whichever restaurant you choose, especially if you plan to have brunch the morning after the wedding.
- Send the guest list to whoever will be hosting your shower/Bachelorette Party
- Finalize the menu and flowers: Often times your chef won’t be able to give you an exact idea of your menu until closer to the date. This is due to the fact that food and flowers both depend on what is available during the season.
- Reception Toasts: Choose wisely who you want to make a toast during the wedding reception. Give them lots of notice and time to get prepared for all the lovely things they will have to say that day.
- Order favors
- Print out Menu Card as well as Ceremony Programs. (optional)
- Give the timeline to all your vendors
- Review your music playlist
- Write vows: If you plan on exchanging personal written vows I would give yourself lots of time for edits and reviews so that you are not scurrying last minute. This is the biggest speech of your life, you want to make it meaningful and well thought out.
- Schedule pre-wedding beauty appointments: If you are having an outdoor wedding, make sure to tell your hairstylist so they can plan a style that can handle wind! If you are planning on wearing a veil and you are the one that will be putting it in, make sure you play with it and see what feels and works best in your hair. Do this long before the big day, because once the big day arrives you won’t really have a chance to do so.
Read More: How to Properly Wear a Wedding Veil
- Pick up rings
Time Before the Wedding: 5-8 Weeks
- Final Dress Fitting
- Mail Invitations: Send out invitations and leave lots of room to receive the RSVP. You know there are going to be slow pokes that leave it to the last minute.
- Meet with officiant
- Purchase gift for the groom/bride: You would present these gifts during the rehearsal dinner.
- Obtain a marriage license and other legalities
- Day-of Timeline: Write up a timeline for the day of your wedding. This will be a loose guide because plans are fluid – especially at weddings! At least if there is a time slot for things like dinner, cake cutting, or the first dance, then your MC should be able to speed things up or slow things down to get everyone back on track.
*Tip* Keep in mind, some guests will run fashionably late. A good idea is to state on your invitations, “the ceremony starts a X pm, please arrive 15 minutes early to allow time for parking/seating/etc.”
Time Before the Wedding: 3-4 Weeks
- Enter all your RSVP into your guest list database: You know you are going to have to make some phone calls to last minute stragglers.
- Stock the bar fridge: If you are allowed to stock your own liquor make sure you arrange prior to the wedding date who will be responsible for taking it home at the end.
- Assigned seating chart (optional): Create a layout of the tables and use pink/blue sticky notes to write each guest name. This will be much easier and will leave you with a clean eraser-free mess.
- Print out directions for the transportation company: That way the driver can calculate all the routes and will know where you should be at appropriate times. Especially useful if you are going to take photos in a separate location.
Time Before the Wedding: 1-2 Weeks
- Get a hair cut
- Pack bags for wedding night and honeymoon
- Give the timeline to all those involved in the wedding
- Pick up wedding dress and prance around the house wearing it!
- Delegate wedding day tasks: All hands on deck! If you assign small tasks to different individuals then no one person will be over loaded. Confirm who will: bustle your dress, carry your things, be in charge of the gifts, and take home the leftover alcohol and the top tier of the cake!
Tip: Make sure whoever is in charge of gifts has scotch tape on hand in order to tape envelopes to gifts. You will thank me later!
- Finalize the guest count with your caterer: Caterers will usually ask for the exact guest count prior to reception.
- Break in new shoes: Break those new shoes in. It is a must! The last thing you want on your wedding day is sore feet and blisters, we have all been there.
- Update gift registry
- Payment: Pay any remaining balances to whom you can up to this point. Arrange with a parent or friend to make final payment with cheques at the end of the reception.
- Layout wedding day clothing
- Buy a monogrammed wedding day shirt: To wear while getting your hair and makeup done.
Day Before Wedding
- Time for pampering: Mani & pedis
- Vendors digits: Make sure that either one of your bridesmaids or your wedding professional has a list of all vendor contact numbers with them on the wedding day. Just in case!
- Pick the cake up: Make sure that somebody picks up the wedding cake and delivers it to the venue.
- Attend rehearsal dinner
- Get a good sleep!
- Give yourself ample time to get ready
- Give wedding rings and the officient fees to best man
- Remember to savor each moment as it comes
After the Wedding
- Return all rentals
- Wedding dress to preservationist or cleaner
After the Honeymoon
- Send Thank-you Cards: The wedding is finished and you can finally put your feet up and relax. Suddenly, you are reminded that you have one more major task to do before you can officially hangup your bridal veil – write wedding thank you cards! Taking time to write thank you cards is an important final step in the wedding process. Each of your guests deserves recognition for the support they provided during this special time in your life. Unique wording for each thank you card allows you to express gratitude for the gifts you received.
Read More: How to Word Your Wedding Thank You Cards
What are your best wedding planning tips and tricks? Leave a comment below!