Complete Wedding Planning Checklist

12-9 Months Before the Wedding

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Announce Your Engagement

You may be tempted to blast the good news on social media immediately but wait a bit before you do. As a courtesy, and to keep Mom from reeling when she peaks into your Facebook account, the parents should be the first to know. If they haven’t met your fiancé, it could turn into a re-creation of “Meet the Parents,” or “Father of the Bride,” so be prepared for a bit of levity. Gather everyone for dinner and cheerfully announce, “Mom, Dad, John and I have some news for you.” Let the toasting begin. Grandparents and other close relatives should be next in line with a phone call or email. Be sure to send a picture of you and your beloved. Only after you’ve informed the family should you broadcast the news to the world. As soon as you’ve spread the joyous news, invest in a notebook or prepare a spreadsheet. There is lots to keep track of, and you don’t want to miss anything.

Decide on Your Wedding Style

Before talking specifics with a wedding planner, you should have some idea of what type of wedding you want. The possibilities are endless. Perhaps you’ve been dreaming about it for years, so you’re already full of ideas. If not, check out wedding magazines and websites for anything that speaks to you. These days, weddings come in all kinds of forms. There are destination weddings, beach weddings, formal weddings, rusting weddings, and, yes, spectacular weddings in castles with you arriving in a horse-drawn carriage. This is your day, so make your dreams come true. Keep an approximate budget in mind. A castle venue may not be possible, but you can plan on a fairytale wedding gown and still feel like a princess. Compromise without settling.

Determine Your Budget

You may be currently floating on a cloud of bliss, but financial reality needs to carry you back down to earth. It’s best to discuss your budget with both sets of parents present. They will undoubtedly announce how much they are able to contribute to the big day. Add what you and your fiancé can afford, and you should have an approximate total. Keep in mind that families are dealing with their own financial situations and may not be able to help as much as you expect. It’s nice if they can provide you with a dream wedding, but remember, they aren’t obligated to do so. When creating a budget, your venue (with food, etc.) will take up about 40 percent. The rest pretty much gets split evenly on the other important things. If you find your budget simply can’t cover everything, find the two or three priorities – number of guests, venue, etc., and determine what is the most critical. Ask yourself, "Will anyone notice if this isn’t there or if this isn’t happening?" Be sure to make a list of all anticipated expenses, starting with estimates, then final amounts as they are known. Allow at least 10 percent for extras, tips, and the unexpected.

Hire a Wedding Planner

You are now ready to consult with a wedding planner. Your wedding planner can save you a lot of time and headache and provide you with as close to a stress-free wedding as possible. It’s important to find a wedding planner you can trust. He or she may be extremely personable, but if their vision isn’t compatible with yours, you could be in for a rough ride. Be sure to ask a lot of questions, such as how long they’ve been in business; how much staff they are able to provide; exactly what services will be included, and what expenses are extra; how a destination wedding will be handled; and, most important, what the fee is. Don’t hesitate to ask for references. Talking to three or four previous clients will give you an excellent idea of the wedding planner’s style, personality, and how he or she handled last-minute emergency situations. Sign a contract only after you are completely satisfied that you have found the right person.

Prepare Your Guest List

Your budget and venue should give you a broad estimate of how many guests you will be able to invite. Think of your list as a rippling pond – there will be a core must-invite group, and the ripples will keep going further out to the maybes and B-list guests. Family members and close mutual friends are obvious “must-invites.” Then make a list of friends that aren’t mutual. This can include colleagues, old classmates, members of your book club or sports team, etc. Decide on a number and start compromising – you’ll eliminate anyone from high school if he leaves out his bowling league. If you’re still uncertain whether to invite someone, ask yourself how you would feel running into this person a few months after your wedding. If the answer is mortified or embarrassed, put them on your list. A good rule of thumb to remember is that 10 percent of invitees will send regrets. Unfortunately, invitees who did not respond may show up anyway. Be prepared for a few extra couples.

Begin to Research Your Vendors

Do your research before you hire your vendors. Your wedding planner is an excellent source of information, and don’t forget to check with friends, family members, and the internet. Don’t be overly concerned about location during your initial search. Most vendors are happy to travel. When browsing the internet, pay attention to the vendor’s style. The best photographer who specializes in elegant photographs may not suit a more laid-back event. Check reviews, but don’t let them be the final determinant. There have been cases when reviews (bad and good) are faked. If the site lists a price, pay attention; however, most vendors are open to and even expect to bargain. Your vendors have a certain priority of importance. Officiants and caterers will take precedence over florists and cake makers, who take precedence over engravers and beauticians.

Select Your Caterer

Next to your gown, the food will be the most important part of your wedding. It will be what your guests will remember most, and you should interview at least three caterers. If you aren’t sure about sit-down vs. buffet, discuss the options with the caterer and ask for suggestions. Review portfolios of weddings they’ve catered in the past. If their best pictures don’t look appealing, the odds are the real food won’t be. Ask about the cost per guest, the number of servers, their alcohol policy (can you bring your own), and whether they can accommodate special dietary needs. How many entrée choices are they able to offer? Set up tastings for both you and your fiancé. Once you’ve decided on your caterer, you’re ready to sign a contract. Be very sure you understand the details of what is and what is not included.

Choose Members of Your Wedding Party

There is no specific number of attendants at a wedding. You can have a wedding without any attendants (with only a maid of honor and best man) or you can have a dozen for both you and the groom. There are no rules. The more members in your wedding party, the greater your cost will be. Your maid of honor will be your main support system throughout the planning and on the wedding day, so pick someone reliable who can handle a crisis. Decide on which family members should be a part of your party. Siblings are the usual choice. Then come close friends. This can be difficult and cause hurt feelings to anyone feeling left out, so choose wisely. A good question to ask yourself is, "Will this person still be in my life 15 years from now, or is she simply a dear friend from the office?" A friend not included in the wedding party can be given other duties, such as welcoming guests to the ceremony or reception.

Create a Wedding Website

Wedding websites have become quite de rigueur for the simple reason that it’s the most efficient way to get information out to everyone involved in your wedding. The site can be simple and should include relevant dates and addresses as these become available. You can also link it to your wedding registry. Your wedding website can also be used to share memories and plans as they develop. Post favorite memories, old pictures, photos when you first met, and keep everyone updated about your plans – "I picked out the dress!"

Mail Out Save-The-Date Cards

Save-the-date cards aren’t a necessity, but they are a thoughtful touch. It gives people plenty of time to make plans to attend your festivities. Although it’s nice, save-the-date cards don’t have to be cards. Emails are perfectly acceptable. If you’ve stretched the wedding guest list to its limits because you didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, these cards can be a sneaky but effective way to trim the list without seeming to do so. Send them to only your “must-invites” and first and second group of invitees. (Remember the ripple effect?) By omitting the B-list of guests, who will still receive invitations, you will likely end up with a few more regrets. Sneaky? Yes. But it will keep feelings from getting hurt and increase the chances that second cousin Irma from Dubuque won’t be able to make it.

Book Your Ceremony Venue

If you are opting for a religious ceremony, you should book the site now. When talking to the minister, ask about the rules. Can you write your own vows? What about decorations? Can you bring your own musician? The advantage to getting married in a house of worship is that you have an instant officiant and music. These may also be disadvantages if you want to use your own. Keep in mind all your options when it comes to a ceremony venue. A beach, a park, a museum, zoo or a boat can all add special ambiance to your wedding day.

Book Your Reception Venue

The most sought-after venues, such as 5-star hotels and private clubs, need to be booked as soon as possible. Discuss your ideas with your wedding planner, who by now should know the type and style of wedding you want. Keep your budget and the size of the venue in mind. You don’t want to squeeze too many people into a small space. If you have out-of-town guests, it’s nice to have the venue near their hotel. The type of venue will depend on your vision for your special day. An art gallery can be very avant guard, while a festive barn can be warm and cozy. Make it your day, your way. If your venue includes wedding packages with food, music, and decorations, it can save you from having to hire these specific vendors. Make sure you know what is included in the package.

9-6 Months Before the Wedding

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6-3 Months Before the Wedding

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3 Months Before the Wedding

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2 Months Before the Wedding

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Six Weeks Before the Wedding

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Three Weeks Before the Wedding

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One Week Before the Wedding

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It’s Your Wedding Day!

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After the Honeymoon

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