The question’s popped, the ring is on, stars are in your eyes…but now what? With so many tasks to take care of and details to arrange, planning a wedding can seem overwhelming. But, if you give yourself enough time to plan and sort the tasks month by month with a wedding-planning checklist, the job becomes more fun and less stressful.
“By breaking down the year month by month, you are taking on the planning process in bite-size pieces and it will be far less overwhelming,” says Tessa Lyn Brand, the creative visionary behind Tessa Lyn Events. “You can enjoy each step.” (Trust her! Brand has helped more than 120 brides create the weddings of their dreams.)
The ideal engagement length, in terms of planning, is 12 to 14 months, according to Brand. With a year or more to plan, brides will usually be able to book their venue of choice. That’s not to say you can’t get your dream venue with less time; it just gets trickier, of course, as popular venues book up quickly.
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. (Here are the best venues we’d recommend again and again). 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. To get you started, here’s an ultimate guide to dress shopping. Also, visit these places in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City—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. Here’s everything you need to know.
Create your wedding website
Get your site running now because you’ll need to put the URL on save-the-dates next month. Follow these rules and make it pretty using Riley & Grey, Squarespace, or Appy Couple.
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. But don’t fret: We have three tips for the camera shy.
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.) Here are 10 of our favorite sites to look for invites.
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 really want. 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
After browsing Brides.com for initial research, ask your bridesmaids to come shopping with you IRL—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. Even better, check out our guide to perfectly pulling off mismatched dresses.
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—here are some great ones in NYC—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! Here are 115 song ideas for the processional, 45 for the recessional, and 135 for the ever-important bridal march.
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—check out this guide—essentially act as the good bones of your wedding-day decor. Conclusion: Don’t skimp on upgraded chairs and 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 (check local listings online on Thumbtack) 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
Read the rest here.