Congratulations, you’re engaged!
Your 12-Month Wedding-Planning Checklist
12 Months Out
Determine your budget
It’s time to do the math and crunch some not-so-fun numbers. Before you can start anything, you have to figure out who’s paying for what and determine your wedding’s bottom line. From there, you’ll want to break down said budget—what’s a priority? What’s not?—and start allocating funds accordingly. (A little market research here comes in handy.) And since these numbers will change as you plan, it’s smart to start a detailed spreadsheet from the get-go. This will help you keep track of your spending and make it easy to adjust numbers along the way.
Make a guest list
If only you could invite any and everyone, right?! Chances are, you can’t, which is why you have to put a cap on dishing out invites. When deciding your head count, consider your budget (how much can you afford?) and your venue (how many people does it fit?). Also, who’s paying for what? From there, figure out how you’re going to divvy up the list. If you and your partner are footing the bill, assume you’ll get 70 percent of the invites, while both sets of parents will split the other 30. But if mom and dad are contributing, it’s protocol to give all involved parties—your parents, your partner’s parents, you as a couple—one third each. Next comes cutting, negotiating, and cutting some more until you reach a final number.
Hire a wedding planner
Again, this will depend on your budget. (Fair warning: Most everything will!) But if your funds allow—or if your peace of mind depends on it—now is the time to tap the manager of your big day. This person will be your right-hand woman (or man!) and will guide you in all decisions, from selecting a venue to tracking your budget and handling all the logistics.
Decide formality and overall theme
Now’s the time to sit down and have another heart-to-heart convo with your partner. After all, the vibe of your wedding needs to be a mutual decision between the two guests of honor. To get the conversation flowing, pour a glass of wine/water/tea and ask yourself: What’s important to you and why? What do you value? Also, know that your venue—more on that, below—is going to affect all of this. (Because, in most cases, we’d argue against a glam, black-tie theme for a barn wedding.)
Select the venue
OK, you know who you’re marrying. Now the real question is where? Trust us: Choosing the venue is one of the most important decisions you’ll make right now. Seriously, the location affects almost everything else, from how many people you invite to what kind of flowers go on the table. Chances are, it’s also the biggest chunk of change you’ve put down, like ever. That’s why you want to explore your options, visit the top contenders, and ultimately select a place that fits your guest count, style, and budget. But when push comes to shove: Throw out that pros and cons list and trust your gut. This decision is about how you feel when you’re there.
Select the caterer
Your wedding is the best (and largest) dinner party of your life. So how exactly do you feed 150 of your nearest and dearest? Well, start with hiring people you trust to deliver—whether that’s the venue’s in-house caterer, a preferred caterer recommended by your planner, or even your favorite taco truck. And don’t be afraid to get creative with your menu! Your guests will enjoy tasting your favorite cocktail as much as they will your grandma’s blueberry pie.
11 Months Out
Choose color theme and start thinking of overall design
Pull up your Pinterest boards, people! It’s finally time to gather inspiration, select a color palette, and create a mood board. If you’re struggling for inspo, planner Jessica Sloane recommends taking a step back to look at things that are already in your world—like how you’ve decorated your house, what you are liking on Instagram, etc.—and draw inspiration from that.
Hire vendors who book up quickly, including your photographer, band, DJ, and videographer
These are the people who will make your night fun—and all those memories last forever (AKA, they’re important). Do your research before you hire, ask all the right questions, and maybe even “date” your photographer. Seriously, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
10 Months Out
Start shopping for your wedding dress
You may know exactly what you want or you might not, which is OK too. because finding a gown may be trial-and-error, but finding a salon shouldn’t be.
Book hotel-room blocks for guests
It’s a thoughtful gesture to block out rooms (and secure a discounted rate) for your guests.
Create your wedding website
Get your site running now because you’ll need to put the URL on save-the-dates next month.
Take engagement photos
Now is a great time to practice being in front of the camera, especially since most photographers include a session in your package.
Start looking at invitations
The wedding invitation is a guest’s first impression of your big day! That’s why you want to put your best foot forward with a personalized preview. If you’re going custom, start working with a graphic designer or stationer now to create your dream suite. If you’re going for a less involved route, you can wait until the six-month mark. (Invites will be sent out just six to eight weeks prior to the big day.)
9 Months Out
Buy your wedding dress
It’s time to say yes to the dress if you want to avoid rush fees.
Let everyone officially know when and where you’re making it official. And remember: Everyone who gets a save-the-date gets a wedding invite. No exceptions.
8 Months Out
Register for gifts
Involve your partner this one—after all, you two are building a life (and home) together. When registering, it’s smart to ask for staples—like sheets and pots and pans, and so on—but it’s even more genius to think about what you reallywant. Are you adventurers? Aspiring chefs? Charity givers? Consider your hobbies and tailor your registry to your soon-to-be-married lifestyle.
Select the bridesmaids’ dresses and schedule fittings within the month
Ask your bridesmaids to come shopping with you if they live close by. It will be helpful for you to see them in the dresses, and you could even ask how they feel in the options you’re considering. (They do have to wear it in front of a crowd of hundreds, after all!) That said, we’re all about the trend of selecting a color palette—like yellow, grey, burgundy, or white—and letting your girls choose what they want to wear.
Meet with potential florists
Much like hiring your other vendors, you want to be simpatico with your florist as well. In order to do that, we suggest polling friends for recs, scrolling through Instagram inspo, and asking your planner/venue coordinator who they recommend in the area. It’s important that you find someone who is able to deliver on your vision and budget.
7 Months Out
Book the rehearsal-dinner venue
Traditionally, the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner so treat this as an opportunity to impress your future MIL if that’s the case. That said, you still have say in the theme of this party and where it should happen (especially if you’re footing the bill yourself). We love the idea of hosting a family-style dinner at your favorite restaurant —or even hosting a casual celebration like a clambake or backyard BBQ. Read this before you start hashing out the details.
Hire the ceremony musicians
If your enlisting the talents of a three-piece band, now’s the time to do so. As for the actual music, we say don’t go generic when you can go personal!
Order rental items, such as specialty chairs, linens, draping, lounge furniture, white dance floor, etc.
You may think of these as “extras,” and we beg you to change this way of thought. Great rentals—essentially act as the good bones of your wedding-day decor. Conclusion: Don’t skimp on upgraded chairsand cozy lounge furniture (your guests will thank you!) if your budget allows.
Hire an officiant
If you aren’t marrying in a house of worship, you’ll need to hire someone to make it official. Couples can use a professional or take a more intimate approach and ask a close friend or family member to do the honors.
6 Months Out
Hire a lighting technician
The most important detail brides forget about is lighting. Seriously, the bulbs and candles you select are what will ultimately light your perfect venue, make your photos just right, and keep the party going—even after the sun sets. Here are 24 bright ideas. And another of 31 of picture-perfect candle displays.
5 Months Out
Book transportation for guests, if needed
How do you know if it’s needed? Consider your venue’s parking situation, guests’ access to car services or public transportation, and the cost you’re asking them to incur. Good rule of thumb: If it’s going to run them $20 or more—especially if you’ve already asked them to travel for a destination wedding— think about a shuttle bus. Or, some car services, such as Uber, allow you to book rides on others’ behalf.
Book the bride and groom’s transportation (limo, specialty car, etc.)
Time to think about you two! Whether you’re into getting in to a stretch Escalade limo, or all about hopping on a tandem bicycle—get around in a style that’s all your own.
Book the honeymoon
Traditionally, wedding etiquette states the groom plans a surprise honeymoon for the bride. But, if you guys are tag-teaming your honeymoon strategy, try to have things semi-sorted out by this five month mark. That means being on the same page about budget, timing, travel arrangements, and a semblance of an itinerary. You don’t have to schedule every minute, but each of you should share the most important takeaways you want from this trip, and act to ensure those activities will happen.
Buy or rent the groom’s tuxedo
The groom walks out first, remember? Make sure that first impression on your guests is a good one. Step one is choosing between a tux or suit, based on the formality of your wedding, and then deciding whether to buy or rent. When selecting the actual ensemble, focus on fit and function. A well-made outfit will be flattering, but also allow your groom to show off any and all embarrassing dance moves without fear of splitting any seams.
Begin premarital counseling
Depending on your church requirements or state law, sign-up for pre-marriage counseling—it might be a chance to get to know your fiancé even better.
4 Months Out
Have your final tasting with the caterer
Now it’s time to taste what they’re really made of. The tasting has become increasingly important as more and more couples choose to customize everything from their signature cocktails to their desserts. If you’re nervous about heart-eyes obstructing your taste buds’ judgment, bring your planner or consultant. They’ve likely attended dozens of tastings, and will be your clear-eyed troubleshooter—paying attention to the detailing of the food and the attentiveness of the service, while you’re crying over crab cakes to bae about how “It’s just starting to feel so real, you know?”
Order wedding dessert
From cake to pie, to cookies and macaroon towers, order the dessert that gets your taste buds singing.
Buy wedding bands
Order your bling in advance and give yourself a chance to proofread engravings or adjust the size. Pick what makes you happy—you’ll be wearing it for a lifetime!
Select groomsmen’s attire and schedule fittings within the month
Do you want the groom and his guys to be matchy-matchy? How can you ensure the entire entourage gets fitted on time, if they live all over the place? What else could go wrong? Breathe. You’ve got this, and don’t be afraid to get the groom involved. He may be able to easily pull rank and get his men in line—a very neat, orderly, and well-dressed one, at that.
Hair and makeup trial
Review salon and stylist options and go for a trial run. Bring photos of hair style ideas and any accessories you plan to wear like a veil or comb.
Test your wedding day style with your makeup artist to ensure you’ll look stunning and natural.
3 Months Out
Order the invitations and hire calligrapher
There are a few ground rules when it comes to ordering your wedding invitations: order enough of them and account for some mistakes, make sure they will arrive in time, set up a system for recording RSVP replies, and confirm all addresses and spelling. But when it comes to design and wording, the options are endless. Need a little advice to rein it all in? Keep reminding yourself that the theme of your invites should match the vibe of your wedding and express you as a couple.
If your budget has room for personalizing your invite envelopes, menus or place cards, pick a calligrapher that matches your style.
Create or plan your menu
Once you’ve undergone a successful tasting, you’ll have a good sense of your caterer’s style and offerings, so you’re ready to finalize your food! Maybe you’re the couple who’s hand-selected every hors d’oeuvres, main, side, dessert, and drink situation. Or, perhaps you just told your chef to “handle it” and called it a day. Either way, now is the time to stamp your approval on a completed menu that fits your budget, tastes, and timing.
Brainstorm guest favors and gift bags
You don’t have to do favors or gift bags, but now’s the time to decide.
Book a photo-booth rental
Photo booths have become a reception staple, but if you’re hoping for something with a little more pizzazz than your standard step-and-shoot, check out these seven creative alternatives.
Write your vows
Draft your wedding vows now, giving ample time for revisions and preparing notecards. When you’re in front of a crowd, notes can be a lifesaver.
Meet with the officiant and invite him or her to the rehearsal dinner
Hammer out the details by meeting with your officiant. Share your visions and love story, and decide on any religious elements.
Purchase or borrow the little details
From the ring bearer pillow and flower baskets, to toasting flutes, photobooth props, serving pieces, dance floor props and unity candles, gather the special details through buying or borrowing.
2 Months Out
Send the wedding invitations (with RSVPs due one month before the wedding)
Properly address your wedding invitations, ensuring accuracy of postage by weighing them and having the envelopes hand canceled for smooth arrival.
Send out rehearsal-dinner invitations (these can be included with the wedding invitations if you like)
If your partner and his or her family are handling the rehearsal dinner, make sure you give them an accurate list of addresses, and feel free to discuss the design and overall aesthetic of the rehearsal dinner. You don’t want it to be an exact replica of the reception that will follow the next night, but you may also want to confirm you don’t show up to an “eat with your hands” BBQ buffet in black tie.
Pick up your marriage license
This is one of the most important components of your wedding planning timeline—you don’t want to say “I Do” without it being official, right? A month before your big day, head to your local county clerk’s office with your ID, paperwork and payment in hand.
Buy wedding-party gifts
Say thanks to those who helped with your big day. Show your genuine appreciation by giving bridal party gifts to bridesmaids and groomsmen and personalized wedding gifts to your parents and in-laws.
Do a floral mock-up with your florist
Floral samples vary depending on your florist and your own wedding decor choices, but most of the time they’ll include a mock reception table set-up, centerpiece, and bouquet. Now is also the time to talk tweaks and finalize your delivery and care strategy.
Give the song selections to your band or DJ
Discuss a clear run-down of special songs, key music details and do-not-plays.
Buy all small items
Just off the top of our heads, those include table numbers, toasting flutes, cake topper, cake stand, cake knife, guest book, card box, ring-bearer accessories, flower-girl accessories, a cute hanger for your dress, and a garter. Also consider purchasing pashminas, flip-flops, and/or sunglasses for guests to change into at the reception, as well as baskets to hold them. Then, don’t forget your signs (“Welcome,” “Guest Book,” “Dancing Shoes,” etc.)!
1 Month Out
Plan in-room welcome baskets for out-of-town guests
When guests travel from afar, especially for a destination wedding, consider a welcome basket in each hotel room with items like water, snacks and information about the area.
Pay your vendors in full
The last awkward situation you want to deal with right before your wedding day is a vendor chasing money. Avoid that by keeping careful track of when and how much you pay each vendor. If there are some vendors who must be paid the day-of, or you’re distributing tips, give your most trusted bridesmaid or relative a heads-up that come wedding day, you’ll be counting on them to handle the labeled envelopes you’re going to put together.
Prepare your seating chart and name cards
You thought the guest list was a pain in the hiney, and now you’ve arrived at the seating chart challenge—another daunting balancing act of relationships, egos, potential, and crisis-management. You’ll want to think about your venue’s floor plan, whether or not you’ll have a head table and who will be sitting at it, and choosing a cool design.
First, you should know the difference. While both place cards and escort cards designate where each guest will be seated at a wedding, place cards are more specific—and also more formal—than escort cards. A place card not only directs guests to the table where each will sit during the reception, but also points each guest to his or her particular seat at the table. Whichever you choose, you’ll want your cards to complement the overall theme of your wedding, but again, the possibilities are unlimited.
Have a final venue walk-through
Make a list of questions beforehand, and bring your planner or another close friend or family member to bring up anything you forget.
Put cash in tip envelopes for your planner/delegate to distribute
Remember those labeled envelopes we talked about for last-minute checks or tips? Primarily, you don’t need to tip people who own their own business—such as photographers, videographers, and florists. It’s customary to tip the following vendors: musicians, DJs, hair stylist, makeup artist, drivers, bartenders, and servers. Many couples tip the wedding planner as well.
Break in your wedding shoes
Walk around your hallways! Dance in your kitchen! Do everything in your power to avoid painful blisters on your wedding night.
Take care of things like:
- Refreshing your hair color
- Getting your eyebrows done
- Getting a massage (why not make it a couple’s massage?)
- Final dress fitting (a friend or bridesmaid should come with you so she can learn how to bustle if your dress requires it.)
- Pack your bags for the honeymoon (don’t forget your passport if you’re leaving the country!), and confirm your travel arrangements
- Any edible crafting! Yum!
- Clean your ring (head to your jeweler to get your engagement ring professionally clean so it’s extra sparkly on your wedding day.)
- Chase any RSVP stragglers and deliver the final head count
- Clear your work to-do list so you can only focus on wedding festivities and take it all in!
- Practice your vows out loud
- Write your partner a note
Night Before / Day of the Wedding
The big day is finally here! All your careful preparation and creative planning have come to fruition, and it’s time to enjoy the wedding. Here’s what to do…
The night before:
- Eat a healthy meal
- Pack a clutch or small big of personal items
- Drink water
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Put any boxes, suitcases, bags, and survival kits to bring to the ceremony or reception in the car. (You’ll thank us tomorrow!)
The morning of:
- Stay off your feet as much as possible
- Eat breakfast
- Drink even more water
- Take your dress and veil out of the bag early on and have someone steam them if needed
- Lay out all the items (rings, invitations, etc.) that you want your photographer to capture
- Exchange notes with your partner
- Say thank you to everyone around you!