A Complete Wedding Planning Checklist from Start to Finish
Congratulations on your engagement! You have finally taken that big step, and now the fun begins. The months ahead will bring lots of excitement as you plan every detail of your wedding day. But with so much to do leading up to the big event, it’s no wonder many couples feel overwhelmed at times!
From the typical questions like “When should we send out our save-the-dates?” and “What kind of flowers will I need for my centerpieces?”, to the not-so-typical ones like “Who should pay for what when it comes to the rehearsal dinner?” – there’s a lot to think about, so I’ve put together this lovely organised wedding planning checklist to help you out!
While you can always ask your wedding planner or Google whatever is on your mind, I’ve rounded up all – or a lot of the questions you might have in one place so that throughout your planning process, you can refer back to this wedding planning checklist and feel confident that you’re on track.
So, whether you’re just getting started or are in the thick of things, here’s everything you need to bring your dream wedding to life.
12 Months Out Wedding Planning Checklist
Have A Realistic Budget
While it’s true that your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life, it’s also true that it will cost you a lot to host a wedding. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead and set a budget.
The first thing to do is to determine how much money you’re willing to spend on your dream wedding. It can be tough, especially if you’ve only been dating for a few months, but try to envision how you’d like your special day to look and feel and then try to estimate how much money that would cost.
Then think about what parts of the wedding are truly non-negotiable—your dress, the food, the venue—and add some extra money just in case. You’ll want a little wiggle room when it comes time to send out those save-the-date cards!
Make a Guest List
This will be determined by a number of factors—your budget, your venue’s capacity, and how many people you’re willing to have in your wedding party. Once you’ve figured out those basics, then it’s time to start making some tough decisions about who gets an invite and who doesn’t. Family members can be tricky (you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings!) but try to remember that at the end of the day this is YOUR day, and you should invite the people that mean the most to you.
Moreover, be reminded that wedding venues often have minimums, so if you’re planning on inviting 50 people, it doesn’t make sense to pay for the 100-person venue. Make sure everyone who’s really important to you and your fiancé will be invited before adding in anyone else— it’s all about prioritizing!
Have a Professional Wedding Planner
This isn’t for everyone, but if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the thought of planning your own wedding (or don’t have anyone else to help out), it might be worth considering hiring a professional. Wedding planners can often get discounts at vendors and venues, which means they could save you money in the long run. They’ll also handle all the nitty-gritty details on your big day so that you can relax and enjoy yourself! After all, your wedding is a celebration of your love, not another stressful to-do list!
Decide on the Formality and Overall Theme
Ahh, the fun part. This is often one of the first things couples think about when they start wedding planning, but it’s actually not that important in the grand scheme of things. Whether you want a formal or informal affair should be based on what will make YOU and YOUR GUESTS most comfortable. If everyone would have more fun at a backyard BBQ than a stuffy ballroom reception, then go for the relaxed vibe! The same goes for your overall theme – if you’re not into “theme” weddings, don’t force it just because someone told you it would be cute (trust me, I’ve seen some cringe-worthy results).
The important thing is that you’ll be married at the end of the day, so focus on what will make that happen as seamlessly and stress-free as possible. From a logistics standpoint, it’s usually easier to go with a more formal wedding since there are fewer variables to worry about (food/drink, music, decorations, etc.). But if you have your heart set on a certain type of ceremony or reception, then by all means go for it! It’s YOUR wedding after all. 🙂
Select the Venue & Caterer
Once you’ve got a good idea of what kind of wedding you want, it’s time to start thinking about where it will take place. If you’re having a formal affair, then chances are you’ll need to rent out a banquet hall or similar type of venue. For more casual weddings, there are tons of great outdoor locations that can save you money on rental fees (just make sure to have a backup plan in case the weather doesn’t cooperate!). And don’t forget about the food! Whether you opt for full-service catering or just some finger foods and drinks, be sure to choose something that fits both your budget and your guest list.
The most important thing is not to stress too much over the details – at the end of the day, as long as you’re married to the love of your life, everything else is just icing on the cake.
11 Months Out Wedding Planning Checklist
Choose a Color Theme and Start Thinking of Overall Design
Once you’ve figured out your date, location, and guest list, it’s time to start thinking about the overall design of your wedding. Your color palette is one of the first elements you’ll want to decide on – this will also help you pick bridesmaid dresses, flowers, and other decorations that fit both your personality and your budget. Keep in mind that darker colors can actually make spaces feel more intimate (and less expensive!), while lighter colors tend to make spaces feel airy and open. If you’re not sure where to start with color, consider bringing a few photos of locations or Pinterest boards with you when meeting with vendors – they may have some suggestions based on their experience working in similar venues.
Consider Staffing Quick-Booking Vendors, Such as the Photographer, Orchestra, DJ and the Videographer
While you may be tempted to save money by hiring vendors who are still looking for bookings, keep in mind that these professionals are usually popular for a reason – they’re good at what they do! Not only will booking early ensure that you get the best possible price from these professional services, but it will also give you peace of mind knowing that your vendor team is already locked in and ready to help make your wedding day perfect.
10 Months Out To Do List
Start Shopping for Your Wedding Dress
The Hunt Begins! Yes, it’s finally time to start shopping for your wedding dress! If you don’t already have a good idea of what style you want, schedule some appointments with different bridal boutiques and try on as many dresses as possible. It can be helpful to bring along a few photos of dresses you like (or even better, links to specific gowns online) so that the salespeople can get an idea of your taste. Also, be sure to ask about alteration fees when trying on gowns – this will help you budget for any necessary changes down the road.
Reservation of Hotel Room Blocks for All Your Wedding Guests
If you’re having a destination wedding or your guests are coming from out of town, it’s a nice gesture to book hotel-room blocks at one or more local hotels. Not only will this help ensure that your guests have a place to stay, but blocking rooms usually comes with perks like discounted rates and sometimes even complimentary breakfast! You can typically reserve room blocks by contacting the hotel directly – just be sure to do so well in advance (at least 6 months), as popular wedding dates often fill up quickly.
Take Engagement Photos
This is a great way to get comfortable in front of the camera before your big day – and it’s also a fun activity that you can do together! Be sure to pick a photographer whose style you love and try to schedule your session for a time when you know the lighting at your venue will be similar. This will help make sure that your photos match the overall feel of your wedding.
Start Looking at Invitations
Traditionally, invitations go out six to eight weeks before the wedding, so now’s a good time to start browsing stationery. If you’re not big on DIY projects, there are plenty of great sites that offer beautiful (and customizable) pre-made Invitations suites that will save you both time and money in the long run. Plus, if you’ve already got your heart set on a particular design or style, getting started early will give you ample time to track down those hard-to-find elements.
9 Months Out
Buy Your Wedding Dress
Wedding dresses can take up to six months to be produced, so it’s best to start shopping early. When you go to your first appointment, bring a few photos of styles you like and a friend (or two) whose opinion you trust. Once you find the one, you’ll need to leave a deposit and schedule fittings. If your dress needs a lot of alterations, plan on making at least three trips to the tailor before your big day.
Send Save the Dates
This matters because the sooner you let your guests know about the date of your wedding, the better. This way, they can save the date and make sure that they are available to attend. Send out your save-the dates as soon as possible so that your guests have plenty of time to plan accordingly.
8 Months Out
Register for Gifts
Be sure to register for gifts at least 7 to 8 months in advance of your wedding date. This will give your guests plenty of time to shop and ensure that you get the items you really want. Most couples register for household items like dishes, towels, and small appliances, but feel free to include anything else you think you might need or want, like camping gear or a new set of golf clubs. And don’t forget to take advantage of any registry completion discounts offered by stores – these can help offset the cost of purchasing the remaining items on your own.
Choose the Bridesmaids’ Attire and Arrange Fittings for the Following Month
Once you have your venue and date booked, it’s time to start thinking about what your bridesmaids will wear. It can take some time to find the right style and color for each of your girls, so start early and allow at least two months for the ordering process. Be sure to schedule fittings well in advance of the big day so that any necessary alterations can be made long before the wedding.
Meet With Potential Florists
Your wedding flowers will play a big role in setting the overall tone and style of your big day, so it’s important to find a florist you click with early on in the planning process. Schedule consultations with a few different vendors – they’ll each have their own unique vision for your wedding, and you can start narrowing down which floral designs fit best with the rest of your plans. And be sure to ask about things like delivery fees, set-up costs, and whether or not they offer discounts for ordering certain types or quantities of flowers.
7 Months Out Wedding Planning Checklist
Book the Rehearsal-Dinner Venue
Depending on your wedding venue, you may have to book a separate location for the rehearsal dinner. In that case, this is a good time to start looking into options in your area. If you’re not sure where you want to have the dinner, ask some friends and family members who live in town if they have any recommendations. You can often score great deals by booking venues during the off-season since they won’t be as busy.
Hire the Ceremony Musicians
If you’re having a religious ceremony, you’ll need to hire musicians for the ceremony. This includes an organist and/or other musicians depending on the type of service and your personal preferences. If it’s not a religious ceremony, consider hiring a string quartet or solo musician to play during the prelude, processional, interludes and recessional.
Hire an Celebrant
Hiring an officiant is one of the most important parts of wedding planning, yet it’s often overlooked. Make sure to find someone who is not only licensed to perform marriages in your state, but also somebody you feel comfortable with and who shares your vision for the perfect ceremony. Once you’ve found the right person, schedule a meeting to discuss all the details and finalize things like readings, vows, and any special traditions you want to include.
6 Months Out
Hire a Lighting Technician
Having a professional manage your lighting can really make a difference in the overall look and feel of your event. Up lighting can transform any room into something truly magical, while carefully positioned lights can help to create an intimate atmosphere. If you’re working with a tight budget, ask your venue if they have any in-house lighting technicians that you could use for the evening. Otherwise, there are plenty of great freelance options out there who would be more than happy to work with you to create your perfect vision.
5 Months Out
Book Transportation for Guests, If Needed
If you’re getting married somewhere where guests will need to travel, like a destination wedding or at a venue out of town for many of your guests, consider booking a shuttle bus to transport people from the airport or their hotels to the venue and back again. It’s best if you can offer this service for free, but if you can’t pay for it yourself, ask if any of your friends and family would be willing to chip in. Then all they’ll have to worry about is showing up on time!
Book the Newlyweds’ Transportation (Limo, Specialty Car, etc.) In Advance
While the bride and groom should be the only two people to arrive at the ceremony in a limo or fancy car, it is often customary for the newlyweds to leave together in style. This can be anything from a sports car to a horse-drawn carriage, depending on your budget and personal style. If you’re thinking of going this route, make sure you book your mode of transportation early – otherwise, someone else may beat you to it!
Buy or Rent the Groom’s Tuxedo
It’s never too early to start shopping for wedding outfits, especially if you’re getting married in a high-demand season. However, most people don’t even think about the groom until much later on in the planning process. If you see something you like, snap it up! That way you’ll have time to get your tuxedo fitted so that it looks great on the big day. Of course, if budget is an issue for you and your guy, you can always rent the tux instead. If that’s the case, make sure to reserve yours and your groomsmen’s tuxes as quickly as possible so that they have time to do any tailoring and alterations necessary.
4 Months Out
Choose Your Cake
You’ll probably want to choose a wedding cake that fits your venue and theme, but don’t forget about the most important part – the taste! Whether you decide to go with a traditional white cake or something more exotic (like chocolate or carrot), make sure you do a tasting first. This will allow you to talk with different bakers and see what their specialty is. If you’re having trouble finding someone in your budget who can make exactly what you want, consider getting an approximate replica made by one bakery and adding small touches like flowers or other decorations from another bakery.
Hair and Makeup Trial
A hair and makeup trial can be a great way to test out different looks for your wedding day. The best thing about this is that you can do it from the comfort of your own home! If you’re not sure what style you want, try going online and looking at some pictures of brides. You might even find one whose hairstyle or makeup look like yours.
3 Months Out
Order the Invitations and Hire a Calligrapher
Once you have the details of the wedding nailed down, you can send out the invitations! Don’t wait too long to order them, though, or else you’ll have to pay for expedited shipping. Also be sure to order extra: You’ll want at least one for your own keepsake box and another for any guests that don’t RSVP.
Create or Plan Your Menu
Your menu should be created with your venue in mind. You will want to take into account the time of day, whether or not people will be sitting down, and what type of atmosphere you are trying to create. If you are having a formal sit-down dinner, you will need to choose between a plated meal or buffet style. Plated meals are more expensive but can often be seen as more elegant. Buffets are less expensive and give your guests the opportunity to mingle more during the event.
For smaller weddings or those held at lunchtime, hors d’oeuvres may suffice instead of a full meal. Your menu will also need to be appropriate for the season, as well as your venue. A catered event in Australia in July is not well-suited to a heavy stew and mashed potatoes, and an outdoor wedding in Melbourne in November can benefit from a hot cocoa bar instead of ice cream sundaes.
Brainstorm Guest Favors and Gift Bags
After you’ve decided on the menu, it’s time to start thinking about guest favors and gift bags. These are optional, of course, but they can be a nice way to thank your guests for coming and give them a little something to remember the day by. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, try looking online or even in party stores for inspiration.
Book a Photo-Booth Rental
Photo booths are a fun and popular way to get your guests involved in your wedding and create memories that last. What better way to have pictures of all the people at your wedding than to send them home with instant photos they can keep? They also make great gifts for parents, grandparents or anyone else who couldn’t make it to the wedding.
Write Your Vows
This is probably the most important part of the whole wedding (besides actually getting married, obviously). You can have a beautiful venue, gorgeous decorations and delicious food, but none of that will matter if you don’t spend some time on what you’re actually saying to your future spouse. Start by thinking about how you want to feel during the ceremony – romantic? Funny? Comfortable? Once you get an idea of what kind of tone you want to set for your day, it should be easy to come up with something that fits both your personalities.
Have the Wedding Officiant Invited to the Rehearsal Dinner
Once you’ve decided on the type of ceremony you’d like and booked your officiant, it’s time to invite him or her to the rehearsal dinner. This is not only a nice gesture but will also give you a chance to go over any final details for the big day. If your officiant is comfortable with it, ask if they wouldn’t mind saying a few words at the dinner – this can be a great way to get everyone even more excited for the wedding!
2 Months Out Wedding Planning Checklist
Send the Wedding Invitations
The guest list is finished, the wedding invitations are printed, and you’re ready to start sending them out. When should you send your wedding invitations? Most experts would suggest that you should mail them out about three months before the big day. After all, finalizing the guest list and mailing out invitations is a lot of work.
Pick Up Your Marriage License
Believe it or not, you can’t just show up to your ceremony and expect to be legally married – you need to pick up a marriage license first! Each state has different requirements for obtaining a license, so be sure to do some research ahead of time. In most cases, you’ll need to apply in person at the county clerk’s office (Sometimes this can even be done online). You may also need things like proof of identity, proof of residency, and sometimes even blood tests. Once you have your license in hand, all that’s left is the big day!
Buy Wedding-Party Gifts
The next step is to buy wedding-party gifts. This includes the bridal party, groomsmen, parents, and anyone else who played a major role in your big day. Gifts can be anything from jewelry to personalized keepsakes. Thank them for their help and support with something that will make them smile every time they think of you on your special day.
Buy All Small Items
You have a lot of small items that you will need to buy for your wedding and that’s why having an organized wedding supply checklist is so important. If it is not included in the venue, you will need to rent or buy chairs, dishes, table linens and decorations. These things can add up very quickly. Many couples try to save money by purchasing these items from discount stores, but this can be risky.
1 Month Out
Assemble Gift Bags
While not mandatory, gift bags are a great way to make your guests feel welcome. Fill the bags with plenty of useful items such as sunscreen, Advil and bottled water. You can also include some fun stuff like local snacks, candies or souvenirs. Our guests really appreciated the extra effort.
Pay Your Vendors in Full
Remember that you’ll have to pay your vendors in full before the wedding, so be sure to take that into account when figuring out your budget. If you’re unsure of how much you’ll need to spend, it’s a good idea to set aside at least half of the total amount due when planning for this expense. For example – if you’re planning an elaborate wedding with lots of flowers, you’ll probably want to set aside around $600-$700 for florists and designers. Keep in mind that these are just estimates based on average prices.
You Can Order or Customize Your Place & Escort Cards
Your guests may not realize it, but escort cards are a huge help for them. Not only do they let you know where to sit, but they also tell you what table to head to so you can meet up with your friends and family. Place cards take that one step further, letting each guest know exactly where to sit at the table.
Break in Your Wedding Shoes
So, the big day is finally here, and you’ve got your wedding all planned out. Your dress has been fitted, the guest list has been finalized and seating arrangements have been made. You’re feeling good and ready to take on whatever challenges might come your way—but wait! There’s one problem: You haven’t broken in your shoes yet. Now, don’t panic—we know that’s a lot of information at once! But if you’re worried about being uncomfortable while walking down the aisle or dancing with friends later on in evening then there are ways to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Hopefully our wedding planning checklist has given you a better idea of what needs to be done and when. Just remember to take things one step at a time, and enjoy the ride!