This Is The One Free Wedding Checklist That Won’t Add To Your To-Do List

Whether you have a six-month or six-year engagement

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

When I first starting planning our wedding, I signed up for a certain big website that shall not be named, with the intention of getting a wedding checklist going, so I could plan this thing. Logging in again six years later, I can see that clearly my good intentions did not last long. Most of the tools, but particularly the available wedding planning checklist, just didn’t feel applicable to our event, and I gave up on them quickly in favor of flying by the seat of our pants. And while checklists have changed a lot since 2008 (yay for apps), the feeling I get when I look at them, which waffles between panic and overwhelm, hasn’t. What if I don’t need all the things? What if I don’t have eighteen months to plan? At which point my brain goes, “Shut it down” and I resolve to live a checklist-free life once again.
Free Wedding Checklist

Except, living a wedding planning checklist-free life and planning the whole thing by the seat of your pants is often what gets me (and my fellow non Type-A planners) into deep logistical trouble and lots of last minute arm flailing. (You’re telling me I shouldn’t create the world’s most amazing menu before figuring out where my wedding will take place and how many people will be there? But whyyyyy?) So we set ourselves out to create a more APW-friendly wedding checklist, one that could be applicable for weddings being planned in six months, or weddings being planned over the course of six years, with All The Things, none of the things, and places in between.

And thus, the wedding planning order of operations was born.

The Traditional Wedding Checklist, Reimagined

The problem with most wedding checklists is that they assume a certain wedding standard. Obviously you’re having X, Y, and Z; you’re getting married!

Our wedding planning order of operations is intended to be more flexible, while still helping you prioritize the things that should come first. And bonus: you can totally use it in conjunction with a more detailed wedding planning checklist if your brain can handle all that information. Here is our downloadable wedding planning order of operations (it’s perfect for your fridge), but let’s break it down in detail.

Download our free alternative wedding checklist below:

Free Wedding Planning Checklist

Start with the Big PICTURE

Obvious, right? Except with Pinterest, it’s so easy to convince yourself that you start with details, which is the wedding equivalent of designing a whole kitchen remodel around the your plates. So before you sign a single contract or accept an offer of help from family, take a big step back and ask yourself what you want out of your wedding. What’s your big picture wedding mission statement? Do you want something intimate and fun? Big and laid back? Are you willing to accept input from your parents if they help out? Hello, do you and your partner have different ideas about what your wedding should involve, that maybe you haven’t talked about yet? This is the time get real (see example below).

Once you’ve got that figured out, set a budget. It’s hard to make decisions about anything unless you know what you can afford. (A good lesson for life, in general, I’ve found. But again, not exactly one supported by Pinterest.) For more tips on budgeting, and avoiding the dreaded budget surprise, which is when you realize halfway through planning that you didn’t set a realistic budget, check out this post.


People, Places, then Things

The easiest way to keep your priorities in check while wedding planning is simply to remember: People, Places, Things. Always in that order. And here’s why: figuring out your guest list first isn’t just about staying under budget or not being able to fit an extra table into your venue. What you really don’t want is to have to choose between your grandma and your dream venue when you realize that your dream venue won’t accommodate her wheelchair. What you really, really don’t want is to realize it after you’ve put a deposit down. Because that dilemma will make you feel like a terrible person. So guest list first, then venue, then everything else.

The Nitty Gritty

Much like when my inbox at work hits that scary number of unread messages, my brain processes wedding checklists as too much to do and no idea where to start and then it sort of… casually directs my attention to the rest of the Internet where I don’t have to make decisions. So here’s my recommended approach to “everything else” for the easily distracted: first, figure out which vendors matter the most and which ones have finite resources available to them. For example, most service professionals (i.e., photographers, coordinators, planners, etc.) have a finite number of weddings they can book each year. So if one of those vendors is your tippy top priority, lock it down. Similarly, if you’re getting married in a small town and there’s only one tent rental place for miles and you know for a fact you’re going to need a tent? Book it as soon as you can. On the flip side, if you aren’t hiring out, but DIYing a super important part of your wedding, start your research and/or getting commitments from people good and early.

Once you get your first priority vendors out of the way, you can move onto secondary vendors and/or DIY research. And the good news is: you get to decide who and what matters most. With one exception: some thing have cut and dry production times (like that bespoke dress I talked about earlier), so make sure to do your research before setting your heart on anything that needs to be created from thin air. If you’re planning a super short engagement and your favorite dress designer can’t make a dress in fewer than eleven months? Time to re-calibrate your wants (off-the-rack?) or get creative with your sourcing (eBay?).

And then after all that is the fun stuff, like decor.

Don’t Forget The Ceremony

Start planning your ceremony as early as you can. It matters way more than anyone ever admits and you don’t want to leave it to the last minute. Trust.

Download an editable version of our wedding checklist in .doc format right HERE or save to your google drive right here.

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • Grace from England

    This has officially become the first APW post I will send my engaged friends who say “where do I start? HELP!”. It’s exactly what I have to tried to tell the, but written down.

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  • Libby

    This is great. I wish I had this six months ago! Although it pretty much summarizes the process recommended in the APW book, it’s so nice to have it all laid out in such a simple graphic organizer. The last line (marriage license, etc.) won’t show up in the edited version for some reason.

    • I was playing with it to see if I could get the last line text to show up and discovered that when I reduced the height of the table from the bottom, it shows up.

  • Eenie

    And this answered my question about booking a photographer before the venue. No unless you really like the photographer.

    • Meg Keene

      Even if you love the photographer, you have to have your date locked down before you book them. And until you book a venue, you don’t have a date… even if in your head you do. You don’t. Till you know what days that venue has free.

  • D

    This is great!
    Though honestly, I totally am not planning my wedding according to this checklist.. LOL
    I have been engaged since September, and will marry next September but sealed the deal on the venue just 4 days ago. That’s after we booked the officiant, after we sent out save the dates, and waaayyyyy after we crafted the most amazing menu In The World. So there you go. I wish I would have been able to follow this checklist, but life had other plans. But we did do the talk about our priorities, and we did start with the guest list. (just like the book told me to)

  • Eh

    I took the timelines on an unnamed website with a grain of salt but what I did like about it was I could add, delete and change any of the items and since I could access them from the app I could easily access them from anywhere. I deleted a lot of the items. I also found the the timelines didn’t always work for me so changing the dates also was a good option.

    Going into planning I didn’t think the ceremony was that important. At least half our guests were coming from out of town so I wanted to make sure the party was a good one for them. Then I read Meg’s book and started researching officiants and I decided that I really wanted a nice ceremony that was personal. A friend who was also getting married suggested her officiant who worked out perfectly (it cost us more than a quick and dirty civil ceremony but it was very worth it). The one thing about a personal ceremony is that you have to put thought and effort into it. My husband and I spent a weekend working everything out, but it was great to have that weekend just thinking about us and not other people or other aspects of the wedding.

  • I thought the timelines on an unnamed website were hilarious because according to them the bulk of our wedding planning, including getting down to details like going out three times to look for shoes, should’ve been done months before we even got engaged.

    This checklist looks a lot more realistic and flexible. Yea! And I love starting with the big picture and figuring out what each person wants out of the deal. That’s the way everything should go in a marriage, from planning the wedding to planning the marriage (because the two are related but also not the same).

  • carolynprobably

    I think this is a BALLER resource and mirrors advice I was given and continue to give: book the vendors that can only be in one place at one time first (like photographer) then worry about vendors who can service multiple weddings at a time (like bakers).

    I will add one suggestion/modification, (which might go without saying…) but it is wise to work on the ceremony at the same time as venue. If you are having the ceremony at a separate site, like a house of worship or park, you now have two venues that need to play nice with budget and schedule.

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    • Janes Chiarelli

      Hello. My husband of almost 7 years, cheated on me and left me for her and is living with her now. He said he hasn’t been happy in years but never told/showed me he was unhappy. We have a 4 year old son that missed his daddy so much and cries for him to just come home. Our son even crawled all over his car crying “daddy stay home with me.” And he still left. He just keeps saying “he’s never coming back, no matter what.” I didn’t know what to anymore..he left me 5/7/15, the weekend before mothers day this year and it broke my heart and I keep praying to God and he keeps telling me “be patient” I was still trying my best but it was hard when this was hurting my son so badly. I have told my sister about this and she gave me some advice to contact a very good and powerful prophet who can help me pray for my husband to come back and be happy with us again which i did and i contacted the prophet. he prayed for me and my husband cam home begging me to take him back and now we ar happily living together and a family. all thanks to the prophet and his email is ( May God bless you abundantly!

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  • Great resource! Much better than a list with 100+ items on it that are all overdue when you start planning (with a short engagement).

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  • shannonly

    This is amazing and I really wish I had it a year ago! Will be sending to newly engaged friends so they can avoid our mistakes. :)

    Our wedding is 4 months out and we didn’t always do things in the logical order. And some of the things we initially prioritized (live music) ended up falling by the wayside (still haven’t booked a DJ) as soon as we figured out how much things cost. I had to end up recasting my initial priorities and peeling back the layers. When we said “live band,” what we really wanted was for our guests to have a special experience since so many would be travelling. And we picked an amazing venue that is part sprawling gardens, part museum. Yep, in retrospect it ended up being more expensive then we’d have liked, but it’s going to be freaking awesome. So yeah, if you are like me and your budget ate up some of your priorities, it’s going to be ok. At least I hope :)

  • Lindsay Rae

    One minor exception I made was booking my venue before finishing my guest list. We knew we would have a BIG wedding (big families, lots of family friends, lots of friends… just lots.) so we looked for venues that would accomodate 250+. Our (amazing) venue held 300.. and this helped us keep our (read: family) “must-invites” under control. We ended up inviting 315 and 282 were in attendance. So for me that was how I managed what I knew could be a 400 person wedding if the venue would accomodate!

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    ….All time hit the apracticalwedding Find Here

  • Melody Gundel

    Help! When I download the editable checklist, it’s empty. Anyone have the same problem? Would love to use this as I kick off planning. Thanks!

    • Alison

      I’m having the same problem :(

  • Debora Siqueira

    Awesome resource! really helps, love it!

  • This checklist can be REALLY useful!

  • I agree with you. Your wedding checklist is relatively complete. Here has a complete guide on wedding invitations. It offers more weding details. #amoyshare

  • Микола Колотило

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  • Amy Wang

    It’s great. More wedding checklist along with timeline in

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  • emily s-d

    I’m not able to open the link to the checklist…when I download it, the page open as blank. Is there another link I can use?

  • Parekh

    Every bride dreams of her wedding to be a fairy tale event with a perfect dress and a perfect man by her side. The scenario is rarely like that the planner needs to be meticulously careful to have a checklist of things. Your article is certainly helpful and I am going to use it for my own wedding happening in 2 months.

  • Useful message. I’m preparing my wedding now. So lucky to see the article, cuz I just bought some invitation cards and flowers from Amazon store powerhone. There are a lot of things need to do. Thanks for the article.

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  • Kelli Roscoe

    Maddie, thank you so much for this post! I am just starting to think about planning my wedding and Pinterest has gone from the most exciting and fun resource to the most overwhelming and at times heart stopping (really $50,000 for a wedding???). Your checklist is going to be a huge help and a life saver for this type-A girl! Thanks!!


    Valuable post ! Incidentally if people a WI F-00107 , my colleague saw a sample document here

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