If you’re currently planning a wedding, congratulations! You’ve found the love of your life, probably endured at least a few highs and lows, and are now moving forward to build a life of together. Those are all amazing accomplishments!
But now it’s time to dig your heels in, because your work is only half-finished. Unless you plan on eloping (not a bad idea, by the way), you most likely want to organize some kind of event to share this momentous occasion with friends and family.
The level of planning you need will depend on how extravagant an event you want. While most brides tend to get overwhelmed by the details of wedding planning, it doesn’t have to be that way!
There are lots of online tools that can help you coordinate your vendors, to-do’s, guest lists, and more. But a great place to start is by reviewing our 12-month wedding planning checklist below!
Your 12-Month Wedding Planning Checklist
The ideal length for an engagement, according to most wedding planners, is 12–14 months. Now, if you don’t have that much time, don’t panic: I’ve seen some fabulous weddings organized anywhere from 2 months in advance to 18 months out.
That being said, the following tips will help you organize your tasks if you’re on a 12-month timeline, but regardless of how pressed for time you are, you can use this checklist as a reminder of all the things you might want to consider.
12 Months Before
Around one year before your wedding, you should try to:
Set your budget.
Before you start searching for vendors or walking into Rodeo Drive dress shops, work with your partner on figuring out a budget that you both agree on (and both agree to stick with!)
It’s not unusual for weddings to end up running slightly over-budget, but in order for that to happen, you need a starting point! If you don’t keep track of your spending, it’s very possible that you’ll get an unpleasant surprise in the form of a very lengthy bill. And the last thing you want is to start your new life together $50,000 in debts!
According to Wedding Wire’s 2019 newlywed report, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. was $38,700 last year. (Note that this number includes the average cost of an engagement ring, honeymoon, and ceremony/reception).
You might be lucky enough to have parents or in-laws footing the bill, but even so, chances are that you or someone else will want to stick to some sort of budget.
Do some research and start a detailed spreadsheet with the projected costs of each item mentioned on this list, then keep track of your actual expenses in another column.
Draft a guest list.
Part of what can make or break your budget is the number of guests attending, since venues and caterers tend to charge based on a final head count.
While you might want to go crazy with your invite list, keep in mind that whoever is footing the bill will be paying per person. That means some negotiating will probably be in store between you, your partner, and perhaps your parents or in-laws.
This step usually comes hand in hand with venue selection (see below), since your venue likely has a cap on the number of guests it can accommodate, and they can also tell you more about their estimated costs per person.
If you’re worried about offending people by excluding them from the guest list, remember that you should invite the people whose presence truly makes you happy on your big day. Friends and acquaintances whom you haven’t seen in a few years will likely understand, anyway, since most people know that the cost of a wedding is largely based on the number of guests.
Hire a wedding planner.
This step is optional, since many brides go it alone and manage just fine. However, if you do plan on hiring a wedding planner, now is the time to do it, since they can help you coordinate with vendors and ensure all deadlines, deposits, and other details are taken care of.
But even if you don’t want to hire a full-on wedding planner, a day-of coordinator is definitely recommended. Basically, their job is to ensure that everything runs smoothly, from cueing up the music, to making sure that the bridal party knows when/with whom to walk, to coordinating the cake-cutting or first dance times.
These details might seem minute, but when your big day comes, you certainly won’t want to be worrying about them, or for your mom or maid of honor to be figuring it out (they’ll probably have enough duties!) You’ll want your guests and party to be enjoying themselves, not barking orders into walkie talkies.
How do you plan a wedding without a wedding planner?
Sites like The Knot and Wedding Wire do a lot to help couples prepare for their wedding, providing checklists, a platform to find and communicate with vendors, and other tips, which can really help to alleviate the pressure if you’re not hiring a wedding planner.
Select your venue.
Finding the right venue for your tastes and budget is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your wedding.
Start checking out and visiting venues about a year in advance, and once you’ve found the one that’s just right, lock it in.
The location affects virtually all of the other decisions to come, since you’ll need to know in which areas you should be searching for DJ’s, makeup artists, and caterers.
Select your caterer.
This is also the right time to figure out how you want to handle catering. Your venue might have an in-house caterer, or you might have your own favorites that you’d like to use.
Don’t be afraid to get creative! Many couples have joined the trend of hiring food trucks or using other fun sources that will add a unique touch to your wedding. (And who doesn’t love a taco truck?)
11 Months Before
Around 11 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Select your color or theme.
While some couples really love to customize every aspect of their wedding with a specific color—from the invitations to center pieces and table linens—it’s tradition that at least the bridal party coordinates with a specific color.
Choose your wedding’s color enough in advance that you can advise your bridal party on the colors they should wear (if they’re responsible for their own dresses/suits).
If you want to add your color to other details, you should definitely let your other vendors know, too.
Hire vendors that tend to book up quickly.
If your wedding is going to feature a DJ/musician, photographer, and/or videographer, now is the time to book.
These artists get a lot of their business form the wedding industry (if not all their business), and as such, they tend to book up anywhere from 8-12 months in advance, depending on how in-demand they are.
Do your research and be sure to ask questions, since these are the people that will be charged with making the night fun and unforgettable for you and your guests.
10 Months Before
Around 10 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Shop wedding dresses.
If you’re the bride, finding a dress that makes you feel both special and comfortable on your big day is pretty important.
Depending on your budget and personal preferences, this can take a few visits and several different shops to find “the one.”
Personally, I chose mine within an hour at the first place I looked, and only went back once the next day just to try it one more time before making the purchase. But, I feel I was very lucky, and you probably shouldn’t expect to find the perfect dress at the perfect price in just an hour, so give yourself time.
Find accommodations for guests.
If you have guests coming from out of town who need accommodations, block out rooms (at a discounted rate, if possible), regardless of who will pay.
They’re traveling (perhaps a long way) to be there for your day, so it’s a thoughtful gesture to give them one less thing to worry about.
Create your wedding website.
Your wedding website will serve as a helpful resource for your guests. It can hold your registry, all the details and info of your ceremony/reception, and can be used by guests to RSVP directly.
You can also personalize it with your engagement photos. Sites like The Knot allow you to build your site for free using their templates.
Take engagement photos.
If you’re planning to take engagement photos, now is a good time to do so, since you might want to send them out with your save-the-dates or invitations, or post them on your wedding website.
Invitations are usually sent out around 6-8 weeks before the event, but if you’re opting for custom invites, you might want to start communicating with an artist now.
Otherwise, you can wait until the 6-month mark and order based on templates from wedding planning sites (which I must say, usually have lots of cute options).
9 Months Before
Around 9 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Buy the dress.
This might seem like it’s wayyy in advance, but 1) if you’ve found the dress of your dreams, why not buy it before it gets discontinued or sold out in your size? and 2) more importantly, any eventual customizations and tailoring can take a crazy long time.
I bought my dress from a pretty large retailer and was told it wouldn’t be ready until 5 months later, and then I’ll still need to allow time for alterations, just to give you an idea. You can usually pay to expedite the process, but if you want to avoid rush fees, try to purchase/order now.
8 Months Before
Around 8 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Build your registry.
Registries aren’t just great tools for the couple—they also help your guests out by telling them exactly what you want without leaving them guessing.
How you register can depend a lot on your situation. If you’ve already been living together a while and own a home, you might already be covered on household appliances.
Modern alternatives include donations to a charity of your choice, a honeymoon fund, a first home fund, or fun, customized experiences, like cooking classes, skydiving lessons, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
Select bridesmaids’ dresses and schedule fittings.
Different brides take different approaches to bridesmaid dresses. Some prefer that all bridesmaids wear the same dress, while some just require that all are the same length and match the wedding color (I’m the latter).
If your bridesmaids live close by, you might all make a fun day out of it and go shopping together. If you’re more lenient on the dress style and/or your bridesmaids live far away, you can request a color swatch from your dress shop and send it to them, that way it’s assured that everyone matches.
7 Months Before
Around 7 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Hire the ceremony musicians.
If you’re enlisting a band or wedding singer, get them booked now. You should also consider the music you want to use for your ceremony (the processional and bridal march), and while you’re at it, you can start thinking about your first dance song, too.
Order rental items, if needed.
More details you might not have considered: you’ll probably need to choose (and most likely rent) stuff like linens, tables, chairs, drapes, a dance floor, etc.
Contact vendors and try to lock that down as soon as you can. The fewer details you have to worry about as the date draws nearer, the better.
In my case, the venue offers its own wedding package with all of these things included, which is saving me lots of time and hassle (and actually some money), so talk with your venue to see if this might be an option.
Hire an officiant.
If you’re not having a religious ceremony, you’ll need to hire an officiant. This is another opportunity to customize the event—you can hire a pro of your choice, or, ask a friend or relative to get officiated (it’s a pretty simple process that can be done online).
6 Months Before
Around 6 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Hire a Lighting Technician.
If your venue doesn’t already have arrangements, you may need to hire a lighting technician. This is important, since your lighting will ultimately set the mood and make the atmosphere for your event after the sun goes down.
5 Months Before
Around 5 months before your wedding, you should try to:
If you’re planning on using limos for the wedding party, or a special car for the newlyweds after the event, at this point you’ll want to think about your transportation to and from the wedding.
Book the honeymoon.
If you’re planning on jetting off to your honeymoon immediately after the wedding (which you don’t have to do), then you’ll want to start locking things in around the 5-month mark.
For the best deals on international flights and all-inclusive packages, you’ll definitely want to plan in advance. Plus, as your wedding date draws nearer, you won’t want to stress about the details for something that should be anything but stressful.
Buy or rent tuxedos/suits.
Once you’ve decided between a tux or suit, decide whether you want to buy or rent the groom’s (and groomsmen’s) attire.
Allow adequate time for fittings and alterations, and decide on the style/color you want for the ties (if you want to match your wedding’s color and theme).
4 Months Before
Around 4 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Do your final tasting.
Your wedding caterer should offer you at least one round of tastings, so you can decide on the options you’ll be offering to your guests.
You can also taste and decide on the cocktails you’d like to feature (if any), as well as your wine selection.
Choose your cake.
Together with your partner, decide the look and taste you want for your cake. Then, start looking for baker’s in your area who are available on your date, can produce your desired style, and fit your desired price range.
Do a hair and makeup trial.
It’s advisable to do a hair and makeup trial before the big day. Bring photos to show your stylist; ideally, you’ll want to choose a style that is a slightly amplified version of what you normally do.
Your wedding day is not the time to try something radically different; if you do, you’ll risk feeling uncomfortable, or not loving your photos, since you won’t be used to your hair and makeup (even if you loved it on a Pinterest model).
3 Months Before
Around 3 months before your wedding, you should try to:
When you order your invitations, you’ll want to remember a few key things: 1) order enough for each party, plus a few more to allow for mistakes; 2) set up a system for tracking RSVPs (your wedding website can be a great help here); and 3) confirm all addresses and spellings.
Plan guest favors.
While this isn’t necessary, if you do want to offer guest favors/gift bags, now is the time to plan those out. You might even do something as simple as an (affordable) bottle of wine from the town where you’re getting married.
Write your vows.
If you’re opting for custom vows, start drafting those out. It’s likely going to take a few tries! Don’t overthink it, but definitely don’t wait until the last minute for this one.
Start any DIY projects.
Are you working with your friends or mom on handmade centerpieces or other decorations? Pop open some bubbly, invite a few friends over, and get to work. Having these projects out of the way will help you to focus on all the last minute things later.
2 Months Before
Around 2 months before your wedding, you should try to:
Send your wedding invitations.
I know—finally! It feels like we’ve been talking about invitations forever, but now is the time to finally send them out.
RSVPs should be due one month before the wedding, so you can give your final count to your venue/caterer.
Get a dress fitting.
Make sure your dress is in the shape it should be when it’s time for the big day. Anywhere from 6-8 weeks out, you should make sure any little fluctuations in your size won’t surprise you when it’s time to zip up.
Choose your song selections.
Create a playlist for your reception and give it to your DJ/musician, so they have plenty of time to prepare. (Also, the playlist creation might require a bit more consideration than you can imagine right now.)
Buy all your other small items.
Just what you needed, right? More things you probably weren’t considering: the cake topper, cake stand, cake knife, guest book, card box, bridal party accessories, the garter…
So, you’re welcome. More stuff to think about.
1 Month Before
Around 1 month before your wedding, you should try to:
Pay your vendors in full.
To avoid an awkward situation in which a vendor is asking for money on your wedding day, make sure all your vendors have been paid in full.
If there are some that need to be paid the day-of or given tips, trust your maid of honor to distribute your (pre-assembled) envelopes to the right people.
Create your seating chart.
Ah, the wedding reception seating chart. To avoid any family/friend drams, you’ll want to make sure every guest has a seat, and one that won’t step on any toes.
Thus, it’s right to dedicate a little extra time to the seating chart production, since you want everyone to enjoy themselves and for your reception to be drama-free.
Break in your wedding shoes.
Do household chores, walk around your hallways, do anything you can to make sure your shoes are ready for a night of fun and dancing that won’t result in painful blisters the night of your wedding.
The Week Before
Now we’re down to the wire! Here are a few things you’ll want to take care of the week before your wedding:
- Hair color/treatments
- A massage (you’ve earned it after all this planning!)
- Clean your ring
- Deliver the final head count
- Practice your vows
The Night Before
Take it all in! But most importantly, rest. And do these things:
- Eat a healthy dinner.
- Pack a small bag of personal items.
- Drink LOTS of water.
- Get a good night’s sleep (easier said than done, I know).
- Put all bags, boxes, survival kits to bring to the wedding in the car.
Your Day-Of Schedule
Even if you’ve been to quite a few weddings, you might not have paid much attention to the logistical flow to all of the evening’s events.
That’s something you’ll definitely want to have down for your own wedding, especially if you’re not planning to hire a wedding planner.
Here’s a breakdown of a typical wedding day/night timeline to give you an idea of how much time you’ll have to work with:
- Cocktail hour (1 hour)
- Invitation to dinner (15 minutes)
- The couple’s grand entrance (10 minutes)
- First dance (5 minutes)
- Welcome toasts (5 minutes)
- Dinner (45 minutes)
- Wedding party toasts (10 minutes)
- Parent dances (10–15 minutes)
- Bouquet and garter toss (10 minutes)
- Cake cutting (10 minutes)
- Last song (5 minutes)
- Grand exit (5 minutes)
Running Short on Time?
While the ideal length for an engagement is 12-14 months to allow enough time for planning, that’s definitely not everyone’s situation.
If you can squeeze every task listed for the first 6 months into the very first month (it’s possible!), then you’ll be right on time.
Also, everything depends on your location, your vendors, and the kind of wedding you want. (The above is just a guideline; you don’t have to include ALL of the steps!) It’s definitely possible to pull off a fabulous wedding in just a few months, with a mix of luck and resourcefulness!
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!