Complete Wedding Planning Checklist
12-9 Months Before the Wedding
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.
Chose 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
Pick a wedding dress
It’s about to get exciting. Picking the actual dress will make the wedding seem very real. Browse the internet and magazines for general ideas. Keep the style of the event in mind. The dress should be a good match. If your wedding will be edgy, a traditionally elegant gown may not fit the event. A beach wedding will require a different type of dress than a wedding at an exclusive club. Keep your theme in mind as you contemplate your options. Your wedding dress does not have to be white and flowing. It should reflect who you are, not what the magazines say you should be. When visiting bridal shops, take a few trusted people with you, but not too many. If you bring all relatives or friends, you will probably be overwhelmed by differing opinions. One or two family members and one or two friends may your best shopping entourage.
Start signing first contracts
By now, you should have a list of potential vendors. It’s best to interview and hire your vendors in a specific order. A photographer can only do one photoshoot at a time, so that becomes top priority. There are plenty of church musicians and florists, so they get hired last. Makes sense, right? Below is a rough order you should be using: a. If you haven’t hired a caterer, now is the time b. Officiant c. Photographer d. Videographer e. Dance band or DJ f. Florist g. Decorator Interview at least three in each category (you won’t be interviewing the officiant). Review samples of their work. The most important thing is that you like and relate to their style. Don’t be afraid to bargain about the price. Discuss exactly what is included in each contract before you sign. Can the photographer provide engagement pictures? Extra photos? If there is a florist whose shop you’ve passed and noticed, stop in and discuss your floral needs. Check out their portfolio. Keep in mind that certain blooms may not be in season for your wedding, so discuss alternatives. If you have a picture of your wedding dress, it will give the florist a definite idea of your style.
Choose Your Officiant
Even if you are getting married in a house of worship, you can choose a special officiant. This is a special honor to a dear friend who means a lot to you and can add a very personal touch to the ceremony. Your officiant needs to be responsible. The person with the lampshade on his head at every party may be your dearest friend, but will he or she make the best officiant on your special day? Anyone can become ordained online for a nominal fee. Make sure your officiant understands his or her duties.
Order Your Wedding Cake
A wedding cake is more a piece of art than a dessert. You want something worthy of Da Vinci. Check with your florist for a recommendation, as florists and cake makers frequently work together. Some caterers have their own pastry chef. Come prepared with pictures of cake designs that have caught your eye and be sure to look at several samples of his or her work. Discuss flavors, icing, and other decorations. Opinions may differ, but it seems a wedding cake can never be too decadent. Have your cake maker prepare at least three sample mini cakes for you and your fiancé.
Check Flights for Your Honeymoon
You don’t need to book your flights at this time. However, with airline prices fluctuating daily and frequent rock-bottom specials, you should be keeping an eye on ticket sales several times a week from now on. When you see a low price, book it immediately.
Now’s the time for your first dress fitting. Do not skip this step. The most expensive gown will look inadequate if it doesn’t fit perfectly. Bring someone (Mom or your maid-of-honor) along as a second pair of eyes. Don’t forget to also bring all the undergarments you will be wearing with the dress, as well as the shoes, or at least shoes of similar height. It’s smart to not wear any makeup for your fitting. You don’t want to smudge your beautiful dress.
Bridesmaids around the world are thankful that puffy sleeves and bustles are no longer a part of the ensemble. As a matter of fact, the number one consideration for bridesmaids is that the dress can be worn again on other occasions. You can order your bridesmaid dresses from your bridal shop or from the formal department of a department store. Since shopping with all your attendants may not be practicable, you and your maid of honor should select three to four styles and send/email them to everyone else. Bridesmaids usually paid for their own dress, they should have a say. Neutral colors (instead of fuchsia or teal) and A-line designs have the most wear-ability. Order your flower girl’s dress at the same time you order the bridesmaid dresses.
You’ll want the perfect accessories for your perfect dress. These can include veil, gloves, garter, undergarments, and shoes. Many modern brides consider a veil old-fashioned. But it’s part of the romance of a wedding, so go for it. There are many styles from which to choose, so you will be able to find a perfect match for your dress. Don’t forget a tiara or other headpiece to keep the veil attached. Shop for your bridesmaids’ accessories at the same time for some efficient time management.
Design your invitations, RSVP cards, place cards, thank you notes, ceremony program now. While only the invitations are urgent (you need to send them out!), you can take care of all the “paperwork” at the same time. The quality of the paper and font do matter. Invitations and programs are keepsakes, so make them worth keeping. Off-white or ecru quality paper and elegant calligraphy are always in style. Bring your invitations and other paperwork to the printer now.
Look at Wedding Bands
This is a special moment between you and your husband-to-be. Both of you’ve been busy with wedding plans, so make this a special day, or at least a half-day. There are many different wedding band styles for both of you, so spend some time visiting jewelers. This is something you’ll be living with for decades to come. Once you’ve found the perfect wedding bands, ask about warranties and repairs. Once you’ve chosen your wedding bands, end your day with a romantic dinner for two. You’ve earned it.
6-3 Months Before the Wedding
Your printer should have returned the proofs of your invitations and other designs. Be sure to proof everything carefully before placing your order. When you receive your order, it’s time to address the envelopes. While it is convenient, please don’t mar the beauty of your invitations with computer-generated labels. They should be hand-addressed. For a special touch, hire a professional calligrapher. Your invitations will consist of heavy-weight paper, RSVP cards and return envelope, so don’t assume a standard postage stamp will be enough. Take an invitation to the post office to determine the exact postage. Then mail them out.
Plan Your Honeymoon
You don’t have to book your destination just yet, but you want your honeymoon to be a memorable experience. Spend some time discussing possible locations with your finance. Keep in mind that you will be exhausted after a year of planning and the wedding itself. Even if you and your fiancé are active types, perhaps a part of the honeymoon should be spent simply recovering. Perhaps that is why cruises are a popular honeymoon choice Your budget will influence your honeymoon location. However, it is perfectly proper to list your travel agent on your wedding registry. This can help defray the cost of a pair of first-class tickets.
Book Your Rehearsal Dinner Venue
The rehearsal dinner traditionally takes place the night before the wedding. It usually only includes the wedding party, but the rules are more relaxed these days, and you can include anyone you want. The rehearsal dinner is the lead-in to the main event, but you want it to stand apart. The best way to do that is to draw a few clear lines between the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. If your wedding is formal, you’ll want an informal rehearsal dinner. If your wedding reception is a buffet, make your rehearsal dinner a sit-down affair. Keep the dinner relaxed. Wine tastings or bar-b-ques make for enjoyable rehearsal dinners. Don’t forget that the following day will be a long one, so don’t let the evening drag on too long.
Choose Your Wedding Vows
Many couples want to personalize their vows. You and your fiancé can sit down and discuss what words and thoughts would make the ceremony more meaningful. They don’t have to be religious, but they should express your deepest feelings. Unless you are a writer, putting words on paper can be difficult. Rather than flying blind, you can visit a bookstore for creative inspiration. Many couples pick personal passages to read. Your choices are limitless – pick a verse from a favorite song, a poem, or passage from a beloved book. The only thing that counts is that it expresses your deep feelings about each other.
Your own wedding attire should be well under control by now. It’s time for the groom and his attendants to order their tuxes. The only real requirement is that the groom’s attire matches yours. If your gown is formal, he should be wearing a tux. If you are dressing more informally, then a dark suit is perfectly appropriate. Vests and boutonnieres are ways for men to get creative in their wedding attire. Just a note – it seems that men remember to buy everything but will forget a pair of dress socks. Be sure your husband-to-be is properly "socked."
Proof Menu, Seating Cards, and Wedding Program
If you haven’t already done so when sending out your invitations, you should proof your wedding dinner menu, seating cards and program for the wedding. If everything is correct, place your order with the printer.
3 Months Before the Wedding
Plan Your Bachelorette Party
You’ve been busy, so you deserve some fun. The bachelorette party is planned and organized by the maid of honor, so get together with her, and other members of your wedding party, if possible. The only rule is, anyone can pay except the bride or groom. Discuss your bachelorette party guest list with your maid of honor. It’s best to keep it small, and everyone invited must be invited to the wedding. The maid of honor and bridesmaids are in charge of the party, but you should be allowed some input. If you don’t want a stripper, say so. If some Thunder From Down Under is for you, your maid of honor will surely oblige.
Update Your Website
Your guests will be looking up directions from the airport to their hotel, and directions from the ceremony to the reception, including addresses and phone numbers. If you have airline discounts for out-of-town guests, these can be posted. A brief description of the entire wedding itinerary is nice and helpful.
Make Your Hair and Makeup Appointments
Determine if you and your attendants will have someone come to your home or if you will go to a salon. Give yourself plenty of time.
Plan Your Bridesmaids' Lunch
It’s called a lunch, but it can be a breakfast, brunch, dinner, or day at a spa. This is a gesture to thank your bridal party for their hard work and support. The gathering can also include mothers, other female relatives, and anyone who has been especially helpful. It’s time for some fun.
Arrange for Dressing Room for Your Attendants
If your dressing room will be different from your attendants, you need to contact your ceremony venue and arrange to reserve a room for your attendants to change and make up.
2 Months Before the Wedding
Final Fitting of Wedding Gown
Your wedding gown should fit perfectly. Think about of what you want to do with your dress after the wedding. If you are planning to store it as an heirloom for your own daughter, you need special cleaning and preservative measures. (Did you know Princess Diana’s wedding dress is not expected to last more than a few decades?) Your dressmaker can guide you to the best place. Be aware that cleaning a wedding gown takes special skills and can cost up to $200 or more.
It is not unusual these days for couples to sign a prenuptial agreement. Arrange for an appointment with your attorney to discuss details. You and your finance should have separate lawyers. This is not a romantic topic, but agreeing on how your assets will be divided in the event of divorce or death can save you from future problems. Consider arranging for wills while you’re at the lawyer’s office.
Buy Gifts for Attendants
You don’t want to leave this until the last minute. Your ladies have stood by you and have done a lot of work. A nice token is a time-honored way to express your appreciation. Something personal, such as a monogrammed makeup bag, monogrammed robe or personalized stationery are lovely gestures. Frequently, the maid of honor’s gift will be slightly different from the rest.
Arrange for Transportation from Ceremony to Reception
Unless you want to ride the bus or subway, you will need transportation from the ceremony to the reception. Many couples get creative, but a limousine or horse-drawn carriage are traditional. Providing transportation for out-of-town guests isn’t mandatory, but a lovely gesture.
Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
Address and mail out the invitations for the rehearsal dinner.
Thank You Notes
Start addressing thank you notes as the gifts begin to arrive. This will save you much post-wedding time. It’s nice to add a personal touch, such as, “Thank you for that exquisite vase,” instead of a generic, “Thank you for your gift.” These note absolutely must be handwritten.
Final Music Selection
Confirm your final playlist selection with your band or DJ.
Bride's Gift to Groom and Wedding Favors
If you thought you were done with the gift-buying, there’s just a few more to go. Buy your husband-to-be a small token to remember the day, such as an engraved watch or a pair of cufflinks. Now is also the time to buy wedding favors for your guests. Many couples give a personalized mug or keychain. But how thrilling is that really for your cousins from Idaho and the people at the office? Some specialty chocolate or cookies will delight everyone, and it’ll give them something to nosh on the way home.
Purchase Clothes for Your Honeymoon
You’ll want clothes appropriate for your destination. Be sure to include at least one dressy outfit for special evenings out. Splurge on some sexy lingerie, slinky nightgown, and a lovely bathrobe. White and blue are lovely colors for a honeymoon. Since you’ll be rushed closer to the wedding, pack as much as possible now. And don’t forget some heavenly scented oils!
Six Weeks Before the Wedding
Confirm Floral Delivery
Make sure your florist is aware of any last-minute changes, such as an extra table, etc. Flowers are usually ordered 2 weeks before the wedding, so your florist should have your final order ready to go out. Provide your florist with all necessary addresses and phone numbers (ceremony venue, reception venue) to make deliveries.
Three Weeks Before the Wedding
Confirm Final Arrangements with Caterer
Your caterer will need a final headcount. Make sure the menu completed. You’ve put a lot of effort into invitations and RSVP cards, but be prepared for a few surprises. Some people have been known to ignore Plus 1 instructions; others are under the impression that RSVP cards are merely a suggestion. To save yourself frustration on your wedding day, add a few plates to your final count.
Confirm Your Honeymoon Travel Plans
Things can go horribly wrong with airline and hotel reservations. Call the airlines and hotel to confirm your arrangements. If you’re traveling during the Winter season, check the weather for your wedding day. You can’t control a snow storm, but if one is forecasted, at least you’re prepared. Perhaps arrange for a night at an airport hotel. Finish packing for your honeymoon.
Pick Up Your Wedding Dress
Your fairytale princess moment is getting closer! Try on your dress one final time at the dressmakers. Be sure to check the dress thoroughly (every inch) for loose threads and buttons, stains and other mishaps. Do not take the dressmaker’s word that "everything is just fine." Make sure the dress is wrapped safely for the travel home. Have a car ready, preferably one that has been freshly detailed. You want perfection.
One Week Before the Wedding
Get Your Wedding License
This should be done 2 to 3 days before the wedding. Check the internet for your area to determine whether wedding licenses are handled at City Hall or the County Clerk’s Office. Call ahead of time and verify what you must bring and the cost of the license. This should include a valid ID, divorce and death certificates if either of you has been divorced or widowed. Just in case, bring your birth certificate.
It’s Your Wedding Day!
Start with a Good Breakfast
It’s going to be a long day. Don’t skimp on breakfast. Make it a happening with your attendants and parents.
Prepare for Your Hairdresser and Beautician
Whether your glam team is coming to you or you and your attendants are going to the salon, leave yourself time. You want to enjoy your princess moment. And you want to make your husband-to-be’s heart beats faster as you walk down the aisle.
In case you needed a reminder, get to your venue and begin your journey as husband and wife. Enjoy the day, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
After the Honeymoon
Your Wedding Dress
Have your dress cleaned, preserved and stored.
Take care of any name changes on your credit cards, passport, social security card, driver’s license, etc.
Final Thank You Notes
Hopefully, you’ve handled thank you notes as the gifts started to come in. Now is the time to send out thank you notes for the last of the gifts. Contrary to some opinions, the thank you notes is not a step you can skip.