Weddings

How Long Does It Take to Plan a Wedding? A Sample Wedding Planning Timeline

wedding cake on table decorated with purple and white clothes and a large paper purple flower

While some people plan a wedding in almost no time at all, the whole process typically takes at least a year. The earlier you start wedding planning, the more likely you can book your ideal venue and vendors. This is especially true if you’re planning a wedding during the busier times of the year on a Saturday. See below for some guidelines on when to get working on the various stages of wedding planning.

12 or More Months Before the Wedding
The Budget

While you may not determine exactly how much you plan on spending for each category, determining the overall budget for the event is the first step in wedding planning. How much can you realistically afford to spend on the wedding and where is the money coming from? Are you paying for it all yourselves, or are family members pitching in to help with the costs? Also, determine which budget items are priorities and which you don’t mind saving money on.

The Guest List 

Another of the first steps in wedding planning is to come up with the guest list. Otherwise, you won’t know the size of the venue you need. The number of guests also has a huge effect on the various budget categories. Sometimes, the easiest way to cut spending is to limit the guest list.

The Date and Time

Before you can finalize any other details and booking vendors, you must know when you want to get married. If you’re flexible within a range of dates, this makes it easier to book the venue. Check with the officiant and your must-have guests before finalizing the date.

The Overall Look and Feel of the Wedding

Decide how you want the wedding to look and feel, perhaps choosing colors and a theme. This makes other decisions during wedding planning, such as the venue and the decorations, easier. Check out wedding magazines, Pinterest, and other sources for inspiration.

The Wedding Planner

If you want to use a full-service wedding planner, book one now. Then you’ll have the planner’s help in making all the other wedding planning decisions and making sure no important details fall through the cracks. Even if you only want a day-of coordinator, booking this professional way in advance ensures they’re available on your wedding date.

The Venues

Once you decide on the budget and the guest list, the next step in wedding planning is to choose your venues. People sometimes book venues more than a year ahead of time, so don’t leave this decision for the last minute. Look for a convenient and affordable venue available on your date that won’t take too much decorating.

The Officiant 

Book the person who’ll be performing the wedding service. You can’t have a wedding without an officiant. In many states, a friend or family member can get permission to officiate if you don’t want a religious ceremony. This may take some time to sort out, however, so take care of this during the earlier stages of wedding planning.

The Wedding Party

Choose the members of your wedding party and ask them if they’re willing to serve in this capacity. This gives the members of the wedding party time to plan and makes it easier for them to help you. Discuss with them any expectations you have for them during the wedding planning so they know what they’re getting into if they agree. This is especially important with destination weddings.

Wedding Insurance 

Think about getting wedding insurance, as this protects you if something goes wrong and the wedding can’t go off as planned. This is especially important if you’re having a destination wedding (or even a wedding near the coast in the U.S. during hurricane season).

8 to 10 Months Before the Wedding
The Gift Registry

If you will register for gifts, this is a good time, as some people plan early. You don’t have to register for only household items, especially if you don’t need these. You can include other items or even a honeymoon registry.

Save-the-Dates

Send out save-the-dates, especially if you’re having a destination wedding or one where lots of people are coming from out of town. Only send them to people who you are definitely inviting to the wedding. Start with those that live far away, as they’ll need the most planning time to attend the wedding. If most of the guests will be local, sending out save-the-dates can wait until closer to 6 to 8 months before the wedding.

The Engagement Party

If you want an engagement party, this is when people have them. Make sure you’ve already registered for gifts and that you only invite people who you are inviting to the wedding.

Wedding Attire

Find your perfect wedding outfit and order it. You’ll want plenty of time to make any necessary alterations and find the perfect accessories to go with it. Purchasing off the rack or buying a sample from a bridal shop can cut the time frame down, but limits your choices.

Hotel Rooms for Guests

Look into reserving blocks of hotel rooms for out-of-town guests. This way, there will be plenty of room for them to stay and they may even get a discount. Consider reserving rooms at a budget hotel and a nicer hotel so people have options depending on their budget.

The Wedding Website

Consider making a wedding website where guests can see any necessary details regarding the wedding plans. Perhaps they can RSVP on the website, get directions to the venues, find links to your gift registry, learn about local hotels, and find out more about the dress code for the wedding.

The Caterer 

Decide what type of food you might want for the reception and research caterers. Keep in mind that some venues have their own required caterer or have special rules caterers need to follow. Have tastings with the top choices and book the one that best suits your needs.

The Entertainment

Decide what type of entertainment you want during the ceremony and reception. Book the band, DJ, or musician. Make sure they can provide the music you want and will include your must-have songs in the playlist.

The Photographer and Videographer

These professionals provide the pictures and videos that will help you look back on your wedding day. Do your research and spend as much as you can afford to get the right professional photographer to handle the task. Couples often regret skimping in this area.

The Flowers

Florists have to plan way in advance sometimes to get the specific flowers you may want. Talk to a florist early in the wedding planning process once you know what type of flowers you’ll need. This is one area where you can often cut costs so book the other vendors first to see how much of the budget remains for flowers.

6 to 8 Months Before the Wedding
The Engagement Photo Shoot

Some people have an engagement photo shoot. This gives you a chance to get more familiar with the photographer and make sure he’s right for the wedding. These photos can also go on the save-the-date cards.

Wedding Party Attire

Choose the dresses for the bridal party. Get input from your bridal party to make sure they’re within the budget and comfort level of all the ladies. This gives the bridesmaids plenty of time to order the dresses and get any necessary alterations done before the wedding. Also, choose the dresses for the flower girls, if you’re having them.

The Wedding Stationery

Decide on the wedding invitations and any enclosures and order them. You may also want to consider wedding programs, but these need to wait until you set the wedding timeline.

The Wedding Cake

Choose a wedding cake designer. Do a tasting to help you decide which flavors and style of wedding cake you’d like. This can be one of the more fun parts of wedding planning.

The Wedding Suite

Some people book a hotel room or suite for the wedding night or to use to get ready the day of the wedding.

The Honeymoon

You may want to start planning your honeymoon, especially if the destination requires passports or immunizations.

Rental Arrangements

If you need to rent a tent for an outdoor wedding, tables, chairs, linens, portable toilets, lighting, or any other items for the wedding, now’s the time to arrange for these.

Wedding Transportation

Rent or otherwise arrange for transportation for the wedding party to the venues. Depending on the parking situation at the venues, you may also want to arrange for transportation for all the wedding guests from the wedding venue to the reception venue.

Wedding Timeline

Plan the timeline for the day. Make sure each essential component has a time slot. Leave plenty of room in between as things don’t always go as planned. It’s good to have some leeway in the schedule to deal with last-minute issues that pop up. Send this to the vendors for their input before finalizing it, as they can advise you if you’ve left too little time for any item on the schedule.

4 to 6 Months Before the Wedding
Dress Fittings

Arrange for dress fittings and get any necessary alterations started. Attend these with the undergarments and the shoes you’ll wear at the wedding.

Wedding Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner

Plan the wedding rehearsal and decide the timing and location of the rehearsal dinner. Make the guest list for the dinner.

Calligrapher

Hire a calligrapher if you want one to address your invitations.

Mail Invitations

If you haven’t already mailed the invites, do so now. People should have at least 6 weeks to respond, and you’ll need at least two weeks before the wedding to give the final headcount to the caterer and venue. Mailing wedding invites on the earlier side gives time to invite people on the B list if people from the first round of invites can’t make it.

Ceremony Planning

Plan out the wedding ceremony. Plan for seating for everyone and some shelter or shade for those who need it during an outdoor event. Figure out who you want to do any readings, who will escort who down the aisle, and any other important details. Consider personalizing the ceremony by opting for less traditional readings and music.

Hair and Makeup

Book hair and makeup appointments. Start hair at least three hours before the ceremony and makeup at least one hour ahead. This limits the need to rush. Book a trial run to go over options and find one that works for you.

Groomsmen Outfits

Order the outfits for the groomsmen. You don’t want them arriving at the last minute in case there are any mistakes in the orders or the sizing is off.

Wedding Favors

If you’re having wedding favors, consider ordering them now. Food favors are popular right now. Guests may be less likely to leave these favors behind than some other options.

Wedding Counseling

If needed, arrange for pre-wedding counseling.

Wedding Rings

Choose and purchase wedding rings if you haven’t done this already.

2 to 4 Months Before the Wedding
Wedding Party Gifts

Choose something useful that the wedding party will enjoy. This could be jewelry to wear for the wedding for the bridesmaids, for example.

Wedding Incidentals

Order all the other random items you may want or need for the wedding, such as a garter, guest book, toasting glasses, cake knives, and unity candles.

Wedding Shower

Attend the wedding shower if someone throws you one.

Vows

If you’re writing your vows, get started. It can take some time to come up with just the right words.

Dance Lessons

If you want to do something special during the first dance, consider taking dance lessons to work out the details.

Toasts

Arrange for people to give toasts at the reception.

Newspaper Announcement

If you want your wedding announced in the newspaper or on the newspaper website, check out the rules. Submit the announcement and photo.

One Month Before the Wedding
Marriage License

Apply for your marriage license in the town where you’re getting married. Don’t forget this essential element of the wedding planning or the wedding won’t be legal.

Final Fitting 

The bride should have her final dress fitting, have the dress pressed, and bring it home. Find out how to bustle it for the reception.

Wedding Programs

Create the wedding programs if you’re passing them out to guests

Vendor Check-In 

Check in with the vendors and finalize any remaining details.

Bridal Party Check-In

Make sure all the ladies have their dresses and anything else they need for the wedding, such as matching shoes and jewelry.

Thank You Cards

Write these out for any early gifts received so you don’t have to handle it all after the wedding.

Rehearsal Dinner Invitations

Send these out. Evites are okay for informal rehearsal dinners.

Change of Address 

Let the post office know if you’ll be changing your address after the wedding.

2 Weeks Before the Wedding
Review RSVPs

Contact anyone who hasn’t yet RSVP’d.

Hair Appointment

This should be the last time the bride gets a haircut or color before the wedding. This leaves time to fix any mistakes that could happen.

Finalize DJ Details

Give any song requests and a list of any songs you don’t want the DJ to play.

Finalize Photography Details

Give the photographer a list of must-have shots, including who to include in the posed shots and where to take these pictures.

Wedding Traditions 

Do you have something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue for the wedding day?

Break In Shoes

There’s nothing worse than blisters on a wedding day because of wearing brand new shoes for the first time.

1 Week Before the Wedding
Final Head Count

Give this to the venue and the caterer. Include meals for vendors.

Seating Chart

Plan the seating chart if there’s assigned seating at the wedding.

Place Cards and Table Cards

Print these out or have the calligrapher write them out.

Groom Haircut

Take care of this to look your best at the wedding.

Vendor Requests

Pass these requests on to the venue so they can take care of them. This includes setup spaces needed by the vendors, a table for the DJ, setup and delivery times.

Bachelor/ette Parties

Attend these parties and have fun!

Honeymoon Packing

Get started on this as the days right before the wedding may get hectic.

Point Person

If you don’t have a wedding planner or day-of coordinator, assign someone to be the point person for the vendors and any guests with questions.

Emergency Kit 

Have the maid of honor put together and bring an emergency kit to the wedding. Include things like stain remover, bobby pins, ibuprofen, baby powder, earring backs, deodorant, and a sewing kit.

1 to 3 Days Before the Wedding
Wedding Essentials

Make sure these are all laid out and ready to go for the big day, including rings and the marriage license.

Vendor Tips and Payments

Figure out the proper amounts and get them organized in clearly labeled envelopes. Arrange for someone in the wedding party to deliver them at the end of the wedding.

Belonging Collection

Have someone gather up all your belongings and gifts after the reception.

Rental Return

Arrange for someone to return the groom’s tux and any other rented items after the wedding.

Rehearsal and Dinner

Attend these to make sure everyone knows what to do and everything goes smoothly on the big day. Hand out gifts for the wedding party during dinner.

Day Of the Wedding
Wedding Bands

Give these to the best man and maid of honor to hang onto until the ceremony.

Officiant’s Fee

Give this to the best man to hand off after the ceremony.

Wedding Gown

Plan for someone to take this for cleaning.

After the Wedding
Thank-You Cards

Send these out ASAP, including thank you cards to any vendors that went above and beyond.

Name Change

Fill out any necessary paperwork if you haven’t already taken care of this.