First of all, huge congratulations to you! Whether you’re planning a wedding, or you’re planning to start planning a wedding, it can definitely be overwhelming. I’ve worked to put together a comprehensive list of everything you’ll need to think about, month-by-month, when planning your wedding. This list is based on a 12 month engagement period, but if you end up with a significantly longer engagement, I would recommend going ahead and knocking out the “12 month” section as soon as possible, and then you can wait on the rest. If you’re having a shorter engagement, just start working through the list until you get up to your current timeline!
12 Months out (or when you first get engaged)
Set a Budget
This is a huge first step to take when planning your wedding celebration. Sit down with your fiancé, and your parents if they’re helping to pay for the festivities, and discuss what your budget is going to be. From there, you’ll start the process of booking vendors, and be able to do so with a final cost in mind. One of the best tips that I give my couples is to sit down together at the very beginning of wedding planning, and talk about what their wedding day priorities are. Pick 2-3 elements of your wedding day that are absolutely the most important to you both, and then decide how to prioritize everything according to budget. If you know you want beautiful photos more than anything else from your wedding day, you’ll need to put a high budget priority on your wedding photographer.
Book a Wedding Planner
After you decide on a budget, getting a wedding planner booked is the best next step. Your wedding planner is going to play a huge roll in the success of your wedding day, so I recommend putting a lot of time and thought into this decision. Ask around for glowing recommendations, and if you’ve already booked any of your vendors, ask who they’ve loved working with. I personally have a list of 4-6 wedding planners at all times that I recommend to my couples. When looking for a wedding planner, the top things to keep in mind are style and personality. If you’re hoping for a high-end luxury wedding, and your wedding planner appears to do only mood mountain elopements, you probably won’t be a great fit. Just as importantly, if you’re fun and witty and value a good sense of humor, look for a wedding planner’s website that shows some real personality! Your wedding planner is the person that you’ll work the most closely with during your entire wedding process, so you want to make sure that you actually connect well with them.
Book Your Venue
Your venue will help determine the entire look and feel of your wedding day – if you’re getting married in a historic French chateau, your decor will follow along in a similar look. If you’re getting married in a modern venue in the middle of New York City, you’re going to pick decor that is more clean and minimal. Knowing the general look and feel of your wedding day will also help your wedding planner book the rest of your vendors. Keep in mind that venues, especially well-known venues in bigger cities, tend to book out pretty far in advance, so maybe approach your venue with flexible date options.
Book Your Photographer
I may be a little biased on this one, but I definitely believe that your wedding photographer needs to be one of the vendors that you book first. Your wedding photographer is the one who will determine how every single memory of your wedding day is framed and captured, and that’s a huge thing to think about. When looking for a wedding photographer, take into account the style of the images you see on their website and social media – are they bright and airy, moody and heavily contrasted? Beyond that, I also think you should take into account the types of images they show – if your potential wedding photographer is only showing highly styled images of brides from an editorial shoot, then that’s probably what they want to be showing instead of you cracking up at your fiancé’s jokes. If you like the style of someone’s work, but aren’t sure what they actually deliver, it’s always helpful to ask to see a full gallery of their images. One of my favorite things that I’ve had my brides say to me is that they could really see themselves in the photos I showed on my website, and I think that’s the mindset you should have when looking for a wedding photographer.
Decide on Formality and Theme
Are you dreaming of a black tie wedding? A formal destination wedding? Or something a little more casual, intimate. This decision will inform all of your decisions moving forward with your wedding planning, so it’s one of the first ones you should make. I don’t think you necessarily have to base this decision on your planner, venue, or photographer as you can have a less formal and very small wedding at a gorgeous venue with top-notch vendors. But most of your other vendor decisions will be based on what you’re planning for the feel of your wedding to be.
Start Making a Guest List
… and, understand that this will be a running list for the next couple of months. But by starting it early, that gives you and your fiancé plenty of time to add to and cross out, based on budget and the total number. One easy way to do this is to order and giant whiteboard, and hang it somewhere that you both have access to. That way, as you think of names, you both can add them on there, and then cross off as needed. It also helps to be able to step away and actually look at the list together, so you can get a better idea of numbers and groupings. When creating this headcount list, helpful things to keep in mind are the seating capacity of your wedding venue, as well as how much of your overall budget you have allocated to for food and drinks. It’s also helpful to be mindful of who is paying for what, as that will make some difference in your guest list – if you and your partner are paying for the entire wedding, then you don’t need to feel obligated to invite every single friend that your parents’ ever made. If your parents are picking up most of the tab, then their college friends will no doubt have to make a small appearance.
Pick a Caterer
Your wedding is likely the biggest (and most important!) party you’ll ever throw in your life, and what makes a great party? The food. While the little details are going to be what you remember and what matter most to you, the food at your wedding is going to be a huge part of what makes the night for your guests. It may not seem like the most immediate priority, but great wedding caterers book out quite a bit in advance. I recommend at least sending out feelers and scheduling meetings with caterers as soon as possible, so you can start the process of finding the perfect one! No idea where to start? Your planner, venue, or photographer probably has a few great recommendations for you!
11 Months Out
Plan Your Color Scheme
Take to Pinterest or Instagram, and get saving. It’s time to get a general idea for the look and feel of your wedding day, so that you can communicate that to the rest of your wedding vendors as they start preparing. If you’re stuck on how to plan the perfect color scheme, I definitely recommend chatting with your planner to get their ideas and inspiration. Planners not only have an amazing sense of current wedding trends, but they also are able to look at your venue and ideal vendor list and decide what colors and styles are going to work best with the people that you naturally gravitated to!
Hire Your DJ or Band, Videographer, and Florist
Eleven months out is a great time to go ahead and start looking at options for the rest of your vendors. Everyone will have different opinions on how to find the perfect remaining vendors for your wedding day, but here’s my personal opinion – for anything visual (your florist, rental company, videographer, etc), reach out to both your photographer and planner for recommendations. For anything experiential (musicians, DJ’s, lighting, etc), reach out to your venue and your planner for ideas. It’s likely that the vendors you’ve already picked will have a lot of helpful advice when it comes to picking the rest of your wedding vendors!
10 Months Out
Find Your Wedding Dress
In order to make sure that you alterations are completely finished before your bridal portrait session, I would recommend getting your wedding dress no later than 10 months away from your wedding day. You may have an exact style and designer in mind, or you may have no idea what you want. Either way, I definitely recommend going and trying on a few different styles, even if you have a good idea of what you’re looking for. Keeping your wedding style and venue in mind, you’ll be able to tell instantly when you’ve found the perfect dress for your wedding. Need somewhere to start? Here’s a great list about all things wedding dress shopping.
Book a Hotel Room Block for Guests
Not only is this a thoughtful gesture for your wedding guests, but it also helps secure a discount for guests that are already traveling to get to your wedding! If your wedding venue is attached to a hotel, obviously that would be a great place to book a room block for convenience and also less travel fees for your guests. If your venue’s hotel is really high end, you could consider blocking off a group of rooms there, and then also blocking off a group at a more budget-friendly location for the guests who won’t want to spring for a fancy place, or who are traveling with kids.
Schedule Your Engagement Session
Although you may want to plan your engagement photography session based on a certain season, ten months away from your wedding is generally a safe time to reach out to your wedding photographer and plan on an engagement session. Tip from a photographer: even if your sweet fiancé hired a proposal photographer, and you already have some amazing photos of the two of you, I would highly recommend hiring your wedding photographer to do your engagement session as well. First of all, it gives them a chance to connect with and get to know you, and secondly, it means that all of your photos from your wedding journey will be cohesive.
Start Planning Invitations
Whether you’re working with a calligrapher on your wedding invitations, or are going from a template, you’ll want to get a general idea for how your wedding invitations are going to look, especially because you’re going to need to send out your Save the Date cards around this time. You’ll want your Wedding Invitation suite to have a similar look to your Save the Date cards, because your photographer will be placing them all together for a few wedding day detail flatlay photos. Remember that your wedding invitation is the first impression that your guests will have of your wedding day – if you’re having a black tie wedding at a formal venue, Vistaprint may not be the best idea for your invitations. If you are going with a custom suite, though, now is the perfect time to get in touch and start working on design and logistics.
8 Months Out
Register for Gifts
Although you still have quite a while before your wedding, you want to make sure to have a registry set up sooner than later. Many of your wedding guests will go ahead and start shopping for your wedding present early, especially if you’re getting married in the middle of a busy wedding season where they may be attending a couple different events. While there are a lot of things on this list that you’ll likely be crossing off without the help of your fiancé, this is one that you definitely will want their input on. This is the perfect time to think about what you both really need in your day-to-day home lives, and also register for a few fun things that are non-essential!
Send Out Save the Date Card
9-8 months away from your wedding day is the perfect time to send out your Save the Date cards, depending on when you get your engagement photos back.
Plan Your Honeymoon, and Begin Booking Travel and Accomodations
While you’ve doubtlessly been dreaming of your honeymoon location for a while, now is the time to sit down together and actually get to the nitty gritty of planning – researching flights and hotels, and if you’re anything like me, planning all the restaurants where you want to eat on your trip. Although you don’t need to plan the finer details of your honeymoon trip yet, like booking excursions or spa days, having a general idea of where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and when the trip is will make the coming months much less stressful.
Pick Your Bridesmaids Dresses, and Schedule Fittings
To ensure that your bridal party looks exactly the way you were hoping for, and that they have plenty of time to schedule their fittings, this is the perfect time to communicate with your girls and start planning for their wedding day attire.
7 Months Out
Pick Your Rehearsal Dinner Venue
Although it isn’t quite as crucial as your wedding venue, rehearsal dinner venues play a huge roll in the celebration weekend. Traditionally, it’s the groom’s family that pays for the rehearsal dinner, venue and all, so I definitely recommend being in communication with your future in-laws when it comes to the theme and location of a rehearsal dinner. Since a wedding day tends to generally be mostly planned and styled by the bride, to fit her style, often the rehearsal dinner is more focused on the groom. Have fun planning a party based on things your fiancé loves (which, yes, includes you), and focusing on the things you enjoy doing together to set the theme. Depending on how many guests you plan to have, a rehearsal dinner can range anywhere from a family-style dinner to a full blown affair, so be sure to take into account the guest list and budget when planning for this.
Hire the Wedding Ceremony Musicians
If you’re planning on having live music as you walk down the aisle, now is the time to get that booked! Your venue likely has some incredible recommendations, based on the acoustics of the space and also the size. This is also a great time to start brainstorming creative and personal songs that you’ll want to consider walking down the aisle to.
Hire an Officiant
Ok, so month 7 isn’t the most glamourous, but you’ll be grateful that you got these little details out of the way when you’re working closely on decor and finalizing guest lists. This is the time to reach out to different officiants, if you’re not getting married in a church or other religious place with an in-house officiant. If you’re planning on using a family friend or another person close to you as your wedding officiant, make sure they have the necessary paperwork to make your marriage legitimate.
Order Your Rentals, Furniture, Etc.
Now is when you’ll want to start browsing different options for soft seating, linens, ceremony seating, etc. Rentals serve as the bones for your wedding day decor, so this isn’t the place to skimp if your budget allows for a little extra! All of the beautiful florals in the world won’t mask folding chairs, so make sure to find a good balance between your rentals and your other vendors. Your planner will be an excellent resource for this, please listen to them! I promise they know what they’re doing.
5 Months Out
Hire Transportation for Guests, If Needed
If your ceremony venue is more than a comfortable walking distance from your reception venue, figure out how you’re going to get your guests from Point A to Point B seamlessly. Does your venue (either one) have difficult or limited parking? Do your elderly guests run any risk of getting lost? Is getting around and parking, etc, going to cost your guests more than around $20 on your wedding day? If the answer to any of these is yes, consider arranging for transportation for your guests. Additionally, if you know that most of your guests will be staying at the same hotel, consider getting buses to take them back to the hotel from the reception in different waves.
Hire Newlywed Transportation to/from the Ceremony and Reception
And for the more glamorous transportation situation, use this time to pick the way that you and your future-spouse will be exiting your ceremony and your reception! Do you have a fancy old car in the family? Is your fiancé a huge fan of some car from decades past that you can surprise them by renting for the getaway? Unless you’re staying on the grounds where your wedding will be held, you need to go ahead and plan for an exit from your wedding festivities!
Pick Your Wedding Cake
I would suggest to start with the design, and then pick the baker from there. Once again, head to Pinterest and Instagram and start saving ideas of cakes that you love. Once you’ve found the general look and feel you want for your wedding cake, reach out to your planner, photographer, or head to Google to try and find someone whose style matches what you’ve already picked out.
Schedule a Meeting With Your Florist
Now that you have your venue secured, your soft seating planned, and your cake picked out, it’s time to go ahead and start planning with your florist. Whether you’re planning on having a creative ceremony piece created, your reception soft seating adorned with flowers, or your wedding flowers crawling up your cake, your florist can help you!
Pick the Groom’s Tux or Suit
Step one when planning for your groom’s attire is deciding between a tux or a suit, which ties back into the overall feel of your wedding day. Remember that, short of decor, your groom walking out is going to be the first impression that your guests get from your wedding, so make sure his attire is in line. If you decide to go with a tuxedo, then you have to make the decision on whether you’d like to buy or rent it. Make sure that whatever you go with, it’s well-fitted but still comfortable enough for dancing at the reception.
4 Months Out
Have Your Tasting with the Caterer
It’s getting closer… now’s the time to reach out to your caterer to arrange for a tasting.
Find Your Wedding Bands
This is a great time to make sure that your fiancé knows that the wedding ring isn’t the only thing needed to seal the deal. You’ll likely want to help pick out your wedding band, to make sure it fits cohesively with your engagement ring.
Pick the Groomsmen Attire, and Schedule Fittings
Since it’s much easier to dress men than women, the groomsmen don’t need to start planning their outfits and fittings much earlier than four months away from your wedding day. Thankfully, with a few helpful guidelines, this is one that you can pretty much entirely delegate to your groom. Just make sure he knows exactly how the suits should fit, and any other information he should be communicating to his groomsmen.
3 Months Out
Hair and Makeup Trial, Especially if You Scheduled a Bridal Session
2-3 months away from your wedding day will likely be when your bridal session takes place, depending on the seasons. If this is the general timeline, I recommend using your bridal session as your hair and makeup trial, so coordinate a day with your photographer that will work for your beauty team. Not only will this give you a chance to see how you like your planned hair and makeup for your wedding day in person, but it will also give you a chance to see how it all photographs! Be sure to bring photographs to your hair and makeup trial, and be as specific as possible. Even though it is just a trial, it won’t help your nerves at all to leave feeling like you and your makeup artist are on completely different pages.
Create or Plan Your Wedding Menu
Since you’ve already had a tasting with your wedding caterer, you have a great idea of what they offer and what you loved the most. At this point, reach out to your caterer so you can work closely with them on creating the perfect wedding menu. Whether you’re wanting to hand-pick every single culinary element of your wedding day or you’re asking your catering team to handle it completely, it’s still a good idea to get in touch around three months away from your wedding day to make sure you’re on the same page about everything, and to make sure that the agreed upon menu fits your budget.
Plan Guest Favors and Gift Bags
If you’re planning on having gift bags available at the hotel for your out-of-town guests, this is the time to get those planned and get your items ordered. While neither guest favors for your wedding day or gift bags for out-of-town guests are necessary, they’re certainly a thoughtful addition to your wedding weekend experience!
Plan Outfits for Your Flower Girls and Ring Bearers
Assuming that these sweet little additions to your wedding ceremony are related to someone in your immediate family or bridal party, it’s likely that they’ll have already run options by you for outfits. Just in case they haven’t, this is the time to reach out to them and solidify that detail, to ensure that they’re dressed to match the rest of your ceremony!
Write Your Vows
It’ll be much easier to do this three months away from your wedding day, as opposed to waiting the week before and having to stress about it. Go ahead and sit down, take some time to think about the things you love most about your partner, and get to writing! If you still feel stuck, I recommend pulling out old photos of the two of you from throughout your relationship, and trying to re-live those special moments you had together.
2 Months Out
Send Out Official Invitations (With RSVP Cards)
This is the time to send out your official wedding invitations, complete with RSVP cards so that you can get a final headcount ready for your wedding caterer. When ordering this suite, make sure to order a few more than you’ll actually need to send out so that you can save some for your photographer to style on your wedding day. Want to know what else you’ll need to set aside for your wedding photographer? Read more here.
Send Out Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
Although your partner and their family will be handling all of the details for the rehearsal dinner, you’ll need to check in and make sure that these are on track to be sent out. You can include these with your official invitations, if all of the details for both are pinned down, so use that as your excuse for checking in on this little detail. A helpful tip for preparing your guests for your rehearsal dinner is letting them know what to expect as far as dress and feel. If you’re having a black tie wedding but an extremely casual rehearsal dinner, let your guests know so that they don’t show up in their tuxes and evening gowns.
Depending on where you purchased your dress, it’s likely that they’ll have provided you with the necessary information about your fitting schedule. However, typically, your first fitting will fall about two months before your wedding, maybe a little more depending on your bridal session scheduling and when you ordered your dress. The final fitting of your dress should happen close to six weeks from your wedding day.
Get Your Marriage License
Time to get the legal ends tied up! There are four steps to getting your marriage license, and you want to make sure you know where to go, what to bring, how much it will cost, and how long it will take before you start the process. Every state has different laws and requirements, so make sure you take the time to figure out exactly what is needed from you to make your marriage completely legally sound!
Give Song Selections to Your Musicians
Hopefully by now, you’ve picked out the song that your musicians will play as you walk down the aisle, as well as a playlist for your band or DJ during the reception. This is the perfect time to touch base with them, make sure they have the timing squared away on everything you’re planning, and make sure they don’t need any other final details from you!
Buy All the Small Details
This is the perfect time to make sure you have all of the final little details for your wedding day. Coordinate with your wedding planner to go over what may still be needed, by typically these include items like a cake stand, cake knife, a fancy hanger for your wedding dress, a guest book and card box, and any other special little details you’ll want to be a part of your wedding day that your vendors aren’t in charge of bringing.
1 Month Out
Pay Your Vendors in Full
Most vendors will have your final payment scheduled a month out from your wedding day, just to make sure things are seamless and easy for everyone! But if you haven’t heard from one of your big vendors about a final payment, this is a great time to reach out to them and get that squared away so you don’t have to think about it on the week of your wedding.
Assemble Gift Bags
Gather your mother, mother in law, and your bridal party together to start assembling the gift bags to take to the hotel for your out of town guests!
Create a Seating Chart
Now that you have something close to a final headcount for your wedding and rehearsal dinner, it’s the perfect time to get to work planning a seating chart.
Have a Final Venue Walkthrough
Your planner will likely suggest this, but I recommend reaching out to any vendors who haven’t worked at your wedding and scheduling a final walkthrough.
Set Aside Vendor Tips
While many wedding vendors don’t expect tips, they definitely appreciate them! If you feel like a few of your vendors have really done a lot to help make your wedding day magical, then use this time to go ahead and set aside a cash tip in an envelope for them. Trust me, coming from a wedding photographer, I never expect to get a tip but it always means the world when the mother or father of the bride comes up to me at the end of the wedding with a tip. It’s more about the feeling of appreciation than the money.
Break in Your Wedding Shoes
You got a fancy new pair of heels for your wedding day, but make sure that you take the time to break them in before you slip them on with your dress!
Want more details on what exactly you should be doing the month before your wedding? Check out this post I made on just the subject!