Spoiler: you need a wedding planning timeline. You might not want a wedding planning timeline. You might think “Oh, I’m a freewheeling, fun, creative person, who’s not super traditional. I can just figure this out on my own.” Or maybe you’re super type-A and your plan is to get everything done at once. But the truth is: you need a plan. You need a rough idea of what order you should do things in, when they need to be done, and what you shouldn’t forget. Having a sensible wedding planning timeline is what stands between you and wedding burnout.
There’s a reason most engagements last anywhere from a few months to a few years. It’s so that you can break out your wedding planning timeline into manageable chunks. But where do you start?
How To tackle your wedding planning timeline
Sometimes the hardest part of wedding planning is being reasonable with yourself about your deadlines. We reached out to Brooklyn-based wedding designer, Michelle Edgemont, for how to break up your wedding planning timeline into a manageable set of deadlines. She says, “You will have lots of to-dos to check off on your 12-month (or 9-month, or 6-month) wedding planning timeline, so be smart about what needs to get done when. Grab a big poster-sized calendar so you can see the whole year at once. Then cross off any days or weeks that you know in advance you won’t be able to get any wedding to-dos done: days and weeks you might have vacations, work trips, super busy times at both of your jobs, holidays you don’t want to be fussing with wedding to-dos, and personal milestones (your BFF is having a baby, you are moving, your sister is getting married, etc). Then start writing in your to-dos, making sure to give yourself some breathing room, i.e. three weeks to tour venues and book one, then the next two weeks could be for researching photographers, one week to find a stationery designer, etc. This way, you can visually see on your calendar what you need to get done when and when you mentally won’t be able to dedicate time to wedding planning.”
And remember: we created this wedding planning timeline around a twelve month engagement. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still get it all done in six months. Or four weeks. Or three years. Or, really, however much time you have. Everything that follows here is merely suggestion, and you should feel free to cross things off, re-order them, and otherwise make it your own.
the twelve month wedding planning timeline
When You’re Freshly Engaged
- You’re engaged! Pop Champagne, have a romantic dinner for two, and tell your loved ones the good news.
- Take a minute to enjoy being engaged. You don’t have to start planning this thing right now.
- Grab copies of the A Practical Wedding Book and the A Practical Wedding Planner. Read the book first (cover-to-cover, seriously: it’s designed to be an emotional guide to the process) and keep the planner handy for when you need it.
- Come up with a wedding planning mission statement. This is where you’ll decide the priorities that guide your celebration.
- Optional: Have a party, drinks at the bar, or some other celebratory occasion to mark your engagement.
- And lastly, think about whether or not eloping might actually be the best kind of wedding for you and your partner. If it is, feel free to ignore everything else on this list.
12 MONTHS Out From YOUR WEDDING
- Gather your tools. Get a binder, notebook, or Google Doc. Then head over to the APW Timeline Spreadsheets and start customizing them.
- Download a planning app. We like Zola for their all-inclusive features and customizable wedding planning checklist.
- Sit down and talk with your partner about your guest list expectations (we’ve got more on that here)—and remember your parents probably have a list of their own, so ask them for that now.
- Figure out your wedding budget, and ask your parents or other family members if they plan to contribute.
- Start narrowing down ceremony and reception venues.
- If you think you might need (and can afford) a wedding planner or coordinator, find one who will be a good fit for you and your partner.
Pro planner tip: Jessica Goldblatt of San Francisco’s Dreams on a Dime Events recommends always starting with your guest list first before you pick a venue. She says, “If budget is the determining factor for how large your guest list will be, consider some non-traditional ideas—lunch or a weekday event, maybe a smaller formal event for family and closest friends then a larger, more casual event for everyone.” And Baltimore-based planner and event designer Jess Rutherford of Sentimental Fools adds, “Get the money talk out of the way up front. The last thing anyone wants is to feel blind sided in this process. Figuring out who is paying for what and where you can be flexible on budget actually saves stress in the long run.”
11 months Out From your wedding
- Start touring the reception and ceremony venues you narrowed down earlier (and don’t be afraid to ask questions!)
- Pick your wedding date and book a venue.
- Start looking for a wedding photographer (and consider booking now, if photography is high on your priority list).
10 months out from your wedding
- Start shopping for your wedding outfit. If you’re buying a traditional wedding dress, remember that the lead time on delivery can be really long (like ten months). When you’re ready to hit up your appointment, we’ve got plus-sized dress shopping advice too.
- Research your food options. Interview and book caterers. Or if you don’t want a caterer, start to look into self-catering or having a potluck wedding.
- If you’ve already booked a wedding photographer, get engagement photos taken (especially if you want them for save the dates).
- Finalize your guest list. If you’re struggling, we have everything you need to know about them here and handy spreadsheets for organizing them too.
- Create a wedding website (even if it’s just a landing page).
- Design and order your save the dates.
9 months out From your wedding
- Send out those save the dates.
- Research wedding invitations. If you think you want to go the DIY route, read our manual first.
- Figure out who’s going to stage manage your wedding. If you can afford a day-of coordinator, hire one. If you can’t, ask a friend.
8 months Out From your wedding
- Consider your options for music. Do you want a DJ or a live band? If you’re thinking about tackling a DIY playlist, we have wedding playlists for pretty much every occasion (and good taste, if we do say ourselves.)
- Start thinking about who you might want to officiate this celebration.
- Talk about what kind of wedding dessert you might want, and then drool over cake options (because cake, amiright?)
- Figure out who’s going to host your bridal shower (assuming you even want one, feel free to skip if you don’t). Then send them our APW-approved shower ideas and party games.
7 months Out From your wedding
- Hire a wedding florist, if you’re using one (we’ve got tips on how to do that right here!)
- Book the DJ or band we talked about earlier.
- Book a videgrapher, if you want one.
- Research hair and makeup artists and decide if you want one.
- Take a break from all that research and check writing and start thinking about your honeymoon.
Pro Planner Tip: Goldblatt says that when it comes to prioritizing your vendors, “always spend the ‘big money’ first and fill in with the ‘little money’ vendors afterwards. In other words, don’t spend several thousands on fancy transportation for the wedding party (not necessarily a necessity) then realize you’re a few thousand short for booking that band you really wanted. You’ll find yourself in a position of either having to compromise on things you really didn’t want to compromise on or going over your budget.”
6 months Out From your wedding
- Start to think about what you might want for your rehearsal dinner (we’ve got lots of non-traditional options here). Now is also the time to start planing any extracurricular wedding events like a welcome party or post-wedding brunch.
- Finalize your guest list (we’ve got spreadsheets for that. Or if you downloaded the Zola app earlier, you can collect guest addresses there or upload your spreadsheet directly to the app.)
- Meet with your officiant and discuss what you want out of your wedding ceremony. Start talking with your partner about your wedding vows and ceremony ideas. Or if you want a friend officiate your wedding, now is a good time to ask them.
- Begin marital counseling (if relevant).
- Set up your wedding registry. Again, we really like Zola for their universal registry.
- Have a meeting with your wedding day support crew and make sure they know what is expected of them on the day-of (those spreadsheets and Google docs you created earlier should be helpful for this.)
- Find a baker for your wedding cake. If they are the kind that lets you schedule cake tastings, do it. Because cake.
- Send these tips to the person throwing your bridal shower (if applicable)
- If you’re ordering traditional bridesmaid dresses, start shopping for them now. (Most traditional bridesmaid dresses take 3-4 months to arrive.) We’ve got tips on coordinating your wedding party here.
Pro Planner Tip: When it comes time to pick out your wedding party outfits, the idea you had in your head when you were busy Pinterest-ing, might not match up with the reality of your wedding. Sentimental Fools’ Jess Rutherford says, “Let the season and venue dictate your fashion. Be kind to groomsmen in summer heat. Velvet looks great in photos, but isn’t worth heat stroke.”
Wedding Planning Timeline Under 6 Months
5 months Out From your wedding
- If you’re having a honeymoon after the wedding (and we recommend it, even if it’s just a staycation… you’ll need an emotional break) start planning that now.
- If someone (or many someones) in your wedding are wearing suits, think about whether you want to rent or buy them and start researching your options.
- Look at wedding rings and decide what (if any) kind you and your partner want.
- Figure out whether you need party rentals, and then place an order (you can always adjust it later, so book what you need now!)
- Research whether you’ll need a wedding tent and then reserve one if you do.
- If you’re hiring professional stylists, schedule your trials for hair and makeup (don’t forget to coordinate with your wedding party or friends if they’re also getting the professional glam job.)
- Reserve hotel blocks for your wedding and make any other wedding night reservations as needed.
4 months Out From your wedding
- Finalize your rehearsal dinner plans and book any accompanying vendors for it.
- Buy your wedding rings.
- If you’re traveling internationally for your honeymoon, confirm that your passport is current.
- Book wedding transportation.
- Create a spreadsheet for RSVPs and guest list addresses (if you’ve signed up with Zola above, you can also email people for their addresses and import them directly into the app).
- Talk to the person in charge of bachelorette festivities, and make sure they have our party checklist.
3 months Out From your wedding
- Mail your wedding invitations (don’t forget to check that you have the right amount of postage! Wedding invites can be tricky, y’all.)
- Buy or rent any ceremony accouterments you might need like a chuppah, wedding arch, aisle runners, etc.
- Start writing your wedding ceremony script.
- If you’re DIYing anything for your wedding, get hot gluing now or get your red pen and cross it off your list forever (you’ll thank us later).
- Schedule your dress fittings (as needed) and make sure bridesmaid dresses are ordered if you’re getting them from a traditional bridal shop.
- Research your local marriage license, civil union, and domestic partnership rules (don’t forget that most states have a waiting period between when you get your license and when you can sign it.)
2 months Out From your wedding
- Really get cracking on those wedding vows.
- Make sure everyone in your wedding party has the appropriate attire they’ll need for the day (and harass any procrastinators who have failed in this task.)
- Figure out what you’re wearing to your rehearsal dinner and start working on your honeymoon packing list (if you’re having one).
6 weeks Out From your wedding
- Practice walking around in your wedding shoes, as needed
- Update your wedding registry and spreadsheets as gifts arrive; send thank you notes as things arrive. Future you will thank you.
- Confirm that out-of-town guests are all set with hotels and lodging
- Figure out if you want a guest book, and buy/make/order one (don’t forget to test your pens and make sure they work!)
- Write thank you notes for your shower gifts. If you registered with Zola, you can export a list of who got you what and when, so all you have to do is put pen to paper. And then do the same again with wedding gifts down the road.
- Finalize your wedding ceremony and finish writing your vows
- Confirm the final menu with your caterer
1 month Out From your wedding
- Arrange your seating chart and create escort cards or a seating chart sign
- Finish outlining your ceremony
- Create a day-of wedding timeline
- Confirm any final appointments, like mani/pedi or spa appointments
- Confirm how much your vendors still need to be paid and when (don’t forget tip amounts!)
- Create your wedding playlist, if you are doing your own music
- Communicate any critical information about your rehearsal dinner or wedding to any VIP guests like your wedding party and immediate family
- Put your final dress fitting on the calendar
- Order or make wedding programs (if you plan on including them)
- Confirm and adjust any rental orders you’ve placed
- Meet with your wedding stage manager or day-of coordinator and walk through all the details for your wedding day
- Pick up your marriage license
- If you want a wedding hashtag, make one up!
two weeks Out From your wedding
- Check in with guests who haven’t sent in their RSVP yet.
- Communicate final head count, menus, and delivery with your caterers and bakers (don’t forget to include vendor meals with this!)
- Put together a shot list for your photographer (or at minimum, let them know who your important family members are and make sure they have a copy of your wedding planning timeline.)
- Confirm delivery times for anyone dropping something off at the wedding (rentals, flowers, cake, etc.)
- Send a transport schedule to anyone providing transportation on the day-of
- Clean or press any clothing that needs it
- Make sure you’ve got a plan for wedding venue setup and breakdown
one week Out From your wedding
- Pack an overnight bag. You may want to include: a toothbrush, birth control/condoms, something to sleep in, an outfit for the next day, honeymoon luggage, and your passport.
- Send a copy of your honeymoon plans to a family member or friend
- Put any final payments or tips for vendors inside clearly labeled envelopes, and then give them to someone else to hand out on the day-of.
- Get your wedding day “oh shit kit” put together (you’ll want aspirin, makeup, safety pins, mints, snacks, etc.) Or you can always buy a pre-assembled one too.
- Pick up your wedding outfit and try on your full wedding ensemble with shoes and accessories
- Provide your vendors with an emergency contact number for the day-of (it should be someone other than you or your partner!)
- Assign someone to be your photographer’s point of contact (it’s helpful to pick someone who knows most of your close friends and family.)
- Give your wedding planning timeline docs to your wedding stage manager or coordinator (including a copy of the vendor delivery schedule, set up times, and vendor contact list).
The Day before your wedding
- Practice your ceremony with anyone involved (officiant, wedding party, immediate family, etc.)
- Double check and confirm any honeymoon logistics like taxis, airport drop-off and pick-up, etc.
- Get your wedding manicure and pedicure (if you’re getting one).
- Set your alarm (and maybe one or two backup alarms too).
- Print out your vows, write them down, or memorize them.
- Leave any reception items like favors, menus, seating charts or place cards with your caterer or venue
Wedding Planning Timeline last-minute things you might Have Forgotten
(AKA, download this checklist out and stick it to your front door)
- Marriage license
- Wedding Ring (Yours)
- Wedding Ring (Your Partners)
- Vows (plus a backup digital copy)
- Wedding playlist
- Wedding Dress(es)
- Suit(s) or Tux(es)
- Socks, underwear, bra
- Comfortable shoes
- Snacks and water
- Tips for vendors
- Drivers license
on your wedding day
- Make sure you take a moment to pause and appreciate your your guests and your partner
- Don’t forget to take a breath every so often and enjoy the moment. Hug your friends, dance your ass off, enjoy what you’ve created.
- GET HITCHED
After the wedding
- Send out your thank you notes (for gifts and to people who helped with the wedding.)
- Make sure all your vendors are paid up in full
- Email your photographer for an ETA on when you’ll get your images back
- Double check that everything has been returned (as needed). This might include rentals, clothing, and accessories.
- High five each other! You did it! You’re married. Now take a nap.
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