So, you just got engaged?! Congratulations!!! This is going to be one of THE most exciting times in your life, and it’s just the start of your adventures together as a soon-to-be married couple! You should definitely take the time to revel in what just happened. I mean, you’re engaged!!!! Once you’ve let that sink in, you’ll want to start planning the best party EVER. But where to begin? Let this wedding checklist help you navigate the way!
Each section below is listed in the order we feel is most important for your schedule…and sanity! The timeframe is going to be different for everybody, and this is important: IT’S NOT THERE TO STRESS YOU OUT. Trust us, we have seen hundreds of brides plan a gorgeous wedding in less than four, heck even two months. It IS possible. Also, your wedding checklist timeline might not include half of these things. For instance, you might already know exactly where and when you want to get married before you even said “Yes!” which is great! But if you ARE starting your wedding planning from scratch, this list or priorities will hopefully help, especially if you have a year to plan it. After you’ve told your closest family and friends (and shared that engagement announcement on Facebook you’ve been so patiently waiting to do) here’s what we recommend focusing on:
Set a Wedding Budget
Whether your parents have offered to pay for your wedding or you’re doing it all yourselves, before you start planning you should know how much you have to work with. I recommend creating a list of priorities to go along with your budget as well. If WHERE you get married is more important than WHEN, or if how many people you can invite takes precedence over everything, it will help you figure out how much you can spend on what. Check out these helpful online wedding budget tools to get you started! Plus, check out this $50,000 sample wedding budget, here.
TIP: Is your engagement ring insured yet? If not, make sure you’re protecting it by doing these three things.
Pick a General Date Range
First decide on the year you want to get married and pick at least two different months you are open to. Talk about whether you want a day or evening wedding, and if you are open to days besides Saturday (IE: a Friday or Sunday) if you find a wedding venue you love but a) it’s too expensive and you need to pick a cheaper date or b) your ideal date is not available. The more flexible you can be re: a date at this point, the better, but it’s good to know what your options are.
Compile Your Favorite Wedding Ideas
If you haven’t already, head to your local bookstore and pick up several wedding magazines, books, and start a wedding Pinterest board (plus be sure to follow us on Pinterest and Facebook for fun ideas!). Pin wedding venues you love, ceremony and reception ideas that make you swoon, as well as wedding dresses you dream about wearing. You might start to see a theme emerge as well as colors and styles you gravitate towards. Plus, you might soon realize that you love super modern ballrooms vs. rustic barns, or outdoor garden weddings instead of funky art museums.
Draft a Guest List
You don’t have to have your final guest list set in stone just yet, but you should know approximately how many people you want to invite. If your husband wants to invite his entire extended family your guest list might be closer to 200 than 150, which will eliminate certain venues right off the bat. So, grab a notebook and pencil and sit down with your future spouse and talk about who (and who not to) invite.
Stuck on your guest list? This will help you figure out who to invite to your wedding in less than a minute.
Create a Separate E-mail Address for Wedding Planning (and think about Setting Up a Credit Card with Benefits)
These are both wedding hacks we love that will keep your wedding life organized, and in the case of the credit card could also help you pay for a dream honeymoon. Set up a Gmail address such as SmithWedding2018 or AndyClaireinVermont and start e-mailing any wedding-related e-mails with it so all your wedding correspondence is in one place. In terms of setting up a new credit card with travel perks, we love this idea because you can pay for certain vendors with it and start accruing points towards airlines or hotels. We think these 6 credit cards have the best travel benefits for your honeymoon.
Find and Book Your Dream Wedding Venue
In our opinion, this is THE hardest part of wedding planning, so give yourself enough time to research, visit, and book your ceremony and reception locations. We recommend booking a venue as close to 12 months ahead of time as possible, as a lot of wedding venues will book up more than a year in advance. However, if you have less time than that don’t worry! It might take a bit more planning on your part but you will find a location, trust us. We help brides with this every day. Look through our favorite wedding venues and read our wedding venue reviews here to start. (Check out our list of the Best Wedding Venues in the U.S., too.)
Don’t sign a contract for a wedding venue before you go over these 16 Questions You Should Ask a Wedding Venue before you book.
Choose Your Wedding Party
You’ll want to formally ask your friends to be a bridesmaid, groomsmen, Maid of Honor, and Best Man. Tell them your wedding details so far (such as possible date and location you’re thinking about), and see if they are available and if they are interested in taking on the oh-so-important roles. If they are, great! If they are hesitant, don’t take it personally. It can be an expensive task that some people either can’t afford or for whatever reason can’t make the commitment to. Read more about what each role in the wedding party does, as well as fun ways to ask your friends to be bridesmaids!
Start Meeting With Wedding Vendors
With your wedding venue and wedding date now selected, talk to your wedding venue about vendors they know and love (some might even be required). Then, start googling wedding planners or coordinators, caterers, photographers, videographers, musicians, florists, and bakers in your area and beyond, and be sure to view their online portfolios and reviews. You can also search Pinterest and Instagram for real weddings in your area to find vendors whose work you love. Once you have a short list of vendors you really like, start reaching out to each of them and arranging a hopefully in-person meeting. Read a wedding photographer’s tips for finding the perfect vendor for your personality and style. Here’s a list of wedding vendors that will most likely be on your list:
- Wedding Planner or Coordinator (more on that below)
- Food and/or Beverage Caterers (if venue not providing)
- DJ or Band
- Cake Baker
- Ceremony Musicians
While you should take time meeting with as many vendors as possible, don’t delay booking them as, I’m sure you’ve discovered by now, many are snatched up fast…especially photographers in popular wedding months (June-October)! If you have not hired a wedding planner, we definitely recommend hiring at least a day of wedding coordinator (if not a month-of wedding coordinator) as they will make your wedding day as stress-less and smooth as possible by making sure your big day stays on track. Read more about what wedding coordinators do here.
Want to know what wedding planners know? Check out our Wedding Planner Secrets series!
Start Shopping for Your Wedding Dress
After you’ve found your wedding venue you’ll discover the next biggest wedding checklist item that may or may not stress you out is finding your wedding dress (check out our 12 Things Nobody Will Tell You About Wedding Dress Shopping for some great advice). Some women find their dream wedding dress on their first shopping trip, while others (like me) will have to go to over 10 stores to find “the one.” It’s different for everybody but I can tell you this: Be sure to give yourself several months to not only find your wedding dress, but to get it special ordered in some cases, and of course altered, which can take two months or more, according to wedding dress specialists.
Reserve Hotel Room Blocks
If your venue is booked along with your date, you’ll want to work with a hotel or two to secure room blocks, and hopefully discounted rates for guests (which they can book using a special promo code or by mentioning your wedding name). See if your venue has a relationship with any nearby hotels, or you can use a site like Skipper which will help work on your behalf to book the right hotels for your group at up to 15% savings. Once you receive an offer from a hotel we always recommend calling nearby competitors to see if they can beat or match it. If you’re having a larger wedding, hotels will be eager to get your bookings, so remember that when you try to get the rate down.
Create a Wedding Website
Once you have a date finalized and before you send out your Save the Dates you’ll want to create a wedding website. (We’ve reviewed the best wedding websites, here.) On the wedding website you’ll want to include your wedding location, date, fun details about the two of you, and later on your wedding registry (don’t worry about this part JUST yet). Be sure to pick out an easy enough URL, because you’ll want to include this on your Save the Date. More on that, below.
Send Out Your Save the Dates
While etiquette says you should send these out 3-4 months before your wedding, you should definitely do it sooner if you’re having a destination wedding (8 months before would be ideal), and we think even if you’re not having a destination wedding but a majority of guests are having to travel from out of town, you should give guests as much notice as possible. Send out Save the Dates to everybody who will be invited, and include the wedding date, location (even if you don’t have the exact venue booked yet), and ideally your wedding website URL. You’ll also want to address the Save the Date to the guests you want to invite. For example, if a couple is invited and not their children, you would say “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” instead of “The Smith Family.” Read more tips about how to address wedding invitations here.
TIP: If you’re having a religious ceremony you’ll want to make sure you meet with your officiant and plan for any premarital counseling or other requirements around this time.
Pick Out Your Bridesmaid Dresses
Your wedding venue, time of year you’re getting married, and your own wedding dress will all influence which style bridesmaid dresses you pick out for your friends. Start by pinning photos of bridesmaids dresses you like and sharing the secret board with your bridesmaids to get their feedback as well as any budget restraints. (And be sure to read this guide before you pick out your bridesmaid dresses.) Fun idea? Pick out a color you love (like blush) and have your bridesmaids buy their own dress in varying shades of it. It’s easy and they can buy dresses in their budget. Just be sure to give them guidelines (IE: no strapless, not too short, etc.).
Register for Your Wedding Gifts
With all the wedding planning you’ve been doing, now it’s time for a fun break…it’s shopping time! Read our reviews of the best online wedding registries, and use our 10 Essential Home Products to Register For list as a starting guide!
TIP: Did you know you could create a Target Wedding Registry? You can, and it’s pretty awesome.
Decide on the Groom’s Attire
Will your fiance be wearing a tuxedo or a suit? Does he already own one he can wear? If not, do you want to rent or buy one? My husband bought a tuxedo for our wedding (as well as new, patent leather shoes on sale at Macy’s that were a super good deal), and has worn both a handful of times since our wedding to other events and parties. Keep in mind that a classic black tux or suit, if your husband doesn’t already own one, is a great investment that he’ll be able to wear forever. If it’s in your budget, considering buying one!
YOU’RE HALFWAY THERE! LET’S CHECK IN:
By this point you should feel pretty good (and hopefully have booked) the following:
- Ceremony and reception locations
- Main wedding vendors such as photographer, videographer, florist, etc. (See full list above)
- Additional vendor rentals (such as tents, uplighting, furniture, linens)
- Arranged for valet or other wedding day transportation (such as shuttles)
- Hotel blocks
- Wedding website up and running
Other items that should ideally be checked off your list:
- Your wedding dress
- Bridesmaid dresses
- Groom’s plan for his attire as well as groomsmen
- Sent out your Save the Dates
- Completed your wedding registry
- Decide on your first dance songs, and if you’re going to take dance lessons for it, now is the time to book those as well.
Order Your Wedding Invitations
We are a fan of giving yourself plenty of time to not only research and find wedding invitations you love, but figuring out the proper wedding invitation wording, finding a calligrapher to address them if you’re going that route, and getting them assembled and mailed out at least 6-8 weeks before your wedding date (and around 3 months before if having a destination wedding).
Start Planning Your Honeymoon
Where do you want to go and when? Be sure to check the weather of any honeymoon destination on your list around the time you want to go, and be flexible with the days you fly in/out so you can to take advantage of any airline offers. Have you been using your credit card with travel perks to pay for certain vendors? If so, now is a great time to check in about how you can redeem your points. Looking to stay close to home? We love these 10 Amazing North American Honeymoon Picks. Want to travel abroad? Now is a good time to make sure your passports are up to date.
Choose Your Wedding Bands
Whether you want a diamond or plain platinum wedding band, now is a good time to go shopping for one that perfectly compliments your engagement ring (and your fiance)! Read our guide to buying men’s wedding bands for helpful tips.
Book Your Wedding Hair and Makeup Artists
If you want to hire someone to do your hair and makeup on your big day, the sooner the better. Some brides book their artists a year out (along with a photographer and florist), but if you’ve been delaying it now is the time to locate and book one. Like all wedding vendors, be sure to read online reviews and compare costs to find one that works within your budget. TIP: When booking your first trial–something that usually takes place 2 months before your big day–try to time it for the same day or before your wedding shower or bachelorette party to take advantage of your new style! Read more tips about finding the perfect wedding hair and makeup artists here, and remember to show them photos of looks you love (we recommend creating a separate Pinterest board that you can easily show them on your phone) so they can create exactly what you want.
TIP: To make sure your skin is glowing by the time your wedding comes around, now is a good time to consult with a facialist and start a skincare routine that you can use leading up to the wedding. Just make sure not to start anything new or have any aggressive facial treatments at least two weeks before your wedding day. Same goes for hairstyles and colors.
Mail Out Your Wedding Invitations
Be sure to take a fully assembled wedding invitation (with any accessories it might have on it, such as wax seals, etc.) to your local post office to have it weighed. You’ll also want to inquire about special services like hand-cancelling and pick out postage stamps you love as well. Read what I learned while buying/mailing my own wedding invitations here. TIP: Try mailing one to yourself before sending out the others if you really want to see what the finished product will look like.
Select a Rehearsal Dinner Location and Decide on Whether to Have a Postwedding Brunch
You’ll want to create a separate rehearsal dinner guest list and, whether you are arranging it yourself or if you are helping your future in-laws do it, find a restaurant that can accommodate your budget and party size. Remember that when finding the perfect restaurant you’ll want to compare prices, just like you did for a wedding venue. For instance, when I was searching rehearsal dinner locations I told the restaurants what our per person budget was and called to negotiate with each contender until we found the right one. TIP: Even though my in-laws were paying for the rehearsal dinner, we bought and mailed Rehearsal Dinner invitations, which are generally much, much cheaper than wedding invitations. I used Wedding Paper Divas.
When it comes to a postwedding brunch, this is a personal decision you’ll have to think about, and it will largely come down to budget and time. We chose not to have a postwedding brunch, and I’m still really happy about that decision. My thought process was that some people (ahem, most of our friends) might be a little too partied out to come down for breakfast after the wedding anyway. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t text friends or family the morning of to get together to eat at the hotel, but often a pre-arranged brunch can add a couple thousand to the wedding tab that isn’t always necessary, especially when guests might be tired and/or worried about travel plans they might miss if they stay too long. Again totally your choice, as wedding brunches can be awesome. But then again so can sleeping in! 🙂
TIP: As wedding gifts start to come in, be sure to send Thank You Notes on time (if it’s before the wedding, you would send Thank You’s within two weeks of receiving the gift). Use this Guide to Writing the Perfect Thank You Note for more info!
Have Your First Wedding Dress Fitting
Be sure to bring all your undergarments and other accessories you’ve picked out for your wedding dress (such as veil and shoes) so you can get an accurate fitting. Arrange for a second fitting, typically 1 month from your wedding date.
Have the Best Bridal Shower and Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties Ever
Aim to have both parties 1-3 months before your wedding date, and if you’re having a destination wedding or wedding where guests (and your wedding party) are already having to do a lot of traveling, consider combining your shower and bachelorette parties into the same weekend. Also, having your bachelor/bachelorette parties on the same weekend is often a convenient/fun idea, too. I remember meeting my fiancee at the airport on the Sunday we both flew back after having my shower/bachelorette party and his bachelor party in different cities, and having a fun time comparing notes (and also both recovering from having a little TOO much fun.)
Finalize Your Wedding Songs/Playlist
If you’re working with a DJ or wedding band they’ll often have you submit songs you love, as well as a Do Not Play list. This is a great thing to work on ahead of time, as well as figuring out the music you want for your processional, recessional, cocktail hour music, as well as first dances.
Crafting the perfect playlist? Listen to these 20 Unique Wedding Songs That Aren’t Played to Death. Or perhaps you want something with a little more twang? You’ll love these 15 Best Classic Country Love Songs. PLUS: Going the more traditional route? Listen to these Catholic Ceremony Songs and see which one you like the best.
Order Your Wedding Favors and Welcome Bag Goodies
Do yourself a favor (pun intended) and don’t spend too much time (or money) agonizing over which wedding favors to send. In fact, cutting out wedding favors (or going for cute but cheap wedding favors) will save you a ton of money. Read more about these 9 Wedding Hacks That Will Help You Save. Still deciding what to buy? Guests will love these 30 Unique Wedding Favors That They’ll Actually Use.
For welcome bags, we recommend something simple yet thoughtful. Create a wedding weekend itinerary for guests and include water bottles and a snack. See what I put in my wedding welcome bags here.
TIME IS MOVING FAST! LET’S CHECK IN:
By this point consider yourself a planning star if you have purchased your:
- Wedding favors
- Bridesmaid and groomsmen as well as family and officiant gifts
- Welcome bag essentials
- Additional wedding decor (DIY and otherwise)
For other milestones, plan on already having:
- Had your bridal shower, and bachelor/bachelorette parties
- Had your second gown fitting, where you brought up any weird fit issues and planned for a final fitting and pickup 2 weeks before your wedding date.
- Had your hair and wedding makeup trials
- Worked with your wedding coordinator on processional guides and wedding day timeline
- Picked out your ceremony songs and reception must-haves (like first dance and father/daughter songs, etc.)
- Booked your honeymoon. We recommend buying a folder and keeping all your plane tickets and hotel confirmations as well as tours and other itineraries in one place and ready to go on the day you leave. You’ll also want to make sure you have the perfect luggage to get you there. We love these honeymoon luggage sets.
- Make sure your bridesmaids and groomsmen have their attire and accessories, or a pickup date if they are renting them.
- Any ceremony and reception cards or menus printed (including escort cards)
- Wedding toasts and other readings arranged
- Your something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue picked out
TIP: Want to pack a carryon for a two-week honeymoon? It’s not impossible! Read these packing tips here!
If you asked for guests to return their RSVPs 2-3 weeks before your wedding date (we actually recommend a month to give yourself PLENTY of time), you should have a pretty good idea of who is coming. If you have not received all your RSVPs yet and it’s past your reply-by date, feel free to call and/or e-mail the stragglers and get their answer. 1-2 weeks prior to your wedding date you’ll want to give your final guest count to your wedding venue and caterer. Be sure to include the number of vendors you’ll need to provide meals to as well. Keep in mind that typically after you’ve given your venue/caterer the final guest count, even if less guests end up coming you’ll still be charged for that original final number.
Seating Chart Finalized
As the RSVPs come in you’ll want to enter them into an Excel sheet, or use one of these fancy online seating chart tools to start figuring out who sits where. Read our tips for crafting the perfect seating chart here.
Finalize Your Wedding Vows
This is something I kept putting off until two weeks before the wedding, and I so wish I gave myself enough time beforehand so I wasn’t freaking out at basically the last minute when my vows weren’t coming together. If you’re writing your own vows, consider having them done around a month before your wedding. It’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about! Read our Guide to Writing Your Own Wedding Vows here.
Create Your Wedding Day Timeline
If you’ve hired a wedding planner or coordinator this is something they will (and should) create for you (with your feedback, of course). If you are doing it on your own you’ll definitely want to make sure you start this as soon as you can this month to make sure everybody from your wedding vendors to your wedding party will be where they need to be when you need them to be there throughout your wedding weekend. Be sure to get feedback from your photographer and hair/makeup artist in terms of how long things will take before you create your final timeline. Read how to create the perfect Wedding Day Timeline here.
Buy Your Wedding Gifts
Cute bridesmaid gifts (as well as something for the groomsmen) shouldn’t be overlooked this month. You’ll also want to get gifts for both sets of parents and perhaps your officiant if they’re a family friend as well (we gave ours a $200 gift card to this favorite restaurant). Some brides and grooms also exchange gifts on their wedding day as well. Honestly, we skipped this part! LOL. By this time I was tired of planning and gifting, and we both agreed not to do anything beforehand.
Get Your Marriage License
Each state has different requirements, such as a waiting period from the time you get it to when you can actually get married, as well as a time they’re valid for (you don’t want to get your license more than 30 days out in some states, for example). Read Everything You Need to Know About Marriage Licenses here first to make sure you’re prepared.
Check in With All Vendors
Whether or not you’re working with a wedding planner or coordinator who will handle this all for you, now is a good time to get a report of anything that still needs to be done. If you’re not working with a planner or coordinator you’ll want to personally check in with all your vendors and make sure that nothing is outstanding and everything is on track, as well as confirming arrival and pickup times with each of them. Make sure your venue has a list of all your vendors and that they are providing site access to them when they need it. When talking to your wedding photographer and hair/makeup artists, be sure you coordinate arrival times for each of them so you can confirm the timing of things like your getting ready photos, first look, family photo time, etc. (Note: The wedding timeline as mentioned above should have this info as well.)
Pick Up Your Wedding Dress and Accessories
I had my “final” wedding dress fitting only a week before my wedding just because I lived out of town and logistically couldn’t do it sooner, and I’m so glad I did. That’s because with all the planning and I guess everything else going on, I was eating less and lost weight in the 4-week period between my previous dress fitting. If you’re prone to weight fluctuations I would talk to your bridal salon about when the latest date is that you can safely have your final fitting. I would have been swimming in my dress if I had the final fitting any earlier. Be sure to try on your wedding dress before leaving your wedding dress boutique a final time to make sure everything looks great. Then, make sure to ask the boutique about any special instructions re: how to bustle it, what to do if a button goes missing, and how to properly remove wrinkles if there are any a day or two before your wedding. Once you have it in your possession, be sure to keep it in a super safe place until you get to slip it on! That means away from any pets, liquids, extreme temperatures, in the way of housekeepers if you’re staying at a hotel, or anything that could damage it at all.
Have Your Wedding Vendor Tips Ready
Whether you or your parents or other family member are paying for your wedding, you’ll want to make sure that all the appropriate wedding vendors are tipped before, on, or after your big day. Read our Guide to Tipping Wedding Vendors so you can find out how much to tip and when.
Assemble Your Wedding Favors and Distribute Welcome Bags
Most hotels will accept welcome bags (though some charge a fee to hold them) the day before guests arrive. Be sure to check with your hotel about how they will handle this. For your wedding favors, talk to your venue and coordinator about when you can get these over to your reception space so they are checked off your list!
Handoff Any Decor or Paper Goods (Such as Seating Cards) to Venue or Coordinator
This will be one less thing you’ll have to worry about the day-of!
TIP: Be sure to drink PLENTY of water and avoid any foods that might irritate your stomach or skin (such as dairy) this week. You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting enough sleep as possible (7+ hours if you can) and go for daily walks to help clear your mind.
The Day Before
The big day is almost here! By this point you should be checking things off your list and even though you’re pretty nervous, knowing you’ve come this far and are about to marry the person of your dreams should have you also feeling pretty excited (though we know one feeling can often overwhelm the other!). Do yourself a favor and try to smile and laugh as much as possible. This is going to be one of the best days of your life, so get ready to enjoy it. I like to recommend to brides that they take some time to themselves the day before the wedding (even if it’s a couple hours) to decompress and also to really be in the moment. A great way to do this is by planning any one of these things below:
1. Get a manicure/pedicure
2. Get your hair professionally washed or blow-dried. We like this plan because if you’re rehearsal dinner is tonight your hair will look great, and then you’ll have the ideal 2-day hair for your wedding hairstylist tomorrow!
3. Take a relaxing bath, or get a massage (just be sure the therapist doesn’t use any oils you might possibly be allergic to, or does anything too invasive. Tell your therapist you’re getting married tomorrow and they’ll be extra gentle!)
4. Go for a run or long walk
5. Watch your favorite Rom-Com
In terms of a final wedding checklist, if you’ve completed the items below you are GOLDEN and READY TO GO:
- Wedding vows printed
- Wedding dress hanging wrinkle-free in your closet, as well as your veil, shoes, and other accessories nearby.
- Wedding bands safe and secure and given to your Best Man and/or Maid of Honor
- Gifts handed out to bridesmaids/groomsmen (especially if they are accessories to wear the day-of)
- Wedding tips prepared and ready to hand out
- Wedding day emergency kit in your bag (filled with things like needle/thread, bandages, tampons, eye drops, etc. This is also something your Maid of Honor can carry)
- Wedding timeline distributed
- Wedding favors dropped off at venue as well as any additional decor items or seating cards and displays
- Wedding rehearsal and dinner successfully finished (and you and your groom and wedding party refreshed and ready for tomorrow!)
- Confirm with friends that wedding toasts and readings are ready to go
- Packed if you are leaving for your honeymoon the day after
Your Wedding Day
If all goes as planned you’ll have nothing to do today but wake up, eat a good breakfast AND lunch the day of your wedding (if you don’t have time to go and get food, have your bridesmaids get it for you), get your hair and makeup done, get yourself to the venue, take photos, and say “I Do!” Then, dance the night away! (Especially if you have this awesome 80’s wedding playlist!)