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Wedding Planning Timeline
Wedding planning can feel overwhelming, and it helps to stay organized. That's why we've compiled this list to help you get started. Need some sanity-saving tips? Pick up a copy of Meg Keene's A Practical Wedding and remember it's your wedding and it can be as simple or elaborate as you want!
12-16 months ahead
- Pick a wedding date, or a couple of possible options. Keep in mind the season and regional weather conditions, particularly if you are planning an outdoor wedding.
- Start a wedding file. This is where you'll keep your ideas, potential DIY projects, contracts and timelines. Begin scouring magazines, blogs, Pinterest and other resources for inspiration.
- Decide on the style, size and level of formality of your wedding. Be sure to discuss with family members who are going to be involved in planning and contributing to wedding costs.
- Start a rough guest list including addresses. Remember you'll need to combine your list with his list, as well as those of your parents. If the number of guests you can invite is limited by your venue or budget, give each set of parents a fixed number of guests they may invite in advance, and try to keep that number even on both sides. We recommend using a spreadsheet program that allows online collaboration, such as Google Docs, so multiple people can edit the list.
- Decide on a wedding budget. Adjust your guest list, time of year or venue ideas accordingly.
- Hire a wedding planner, if desired. It's a good idea to do this early in the process, as the planner can help you pick a venue, hone in on your style and identify vendors who are a good fit for your vision.
- Select a ceremony venue and reception site that fit your style, guest count, and time of year. These will often be the same location but if they're not, be sure that both venues are available on your wedding date. Put down a deposit to reserve the date. Take photos for planning and styling purposes, get a floor plan and measurements and find out if there are any limitations on hanging decor and signage. Confirm set-up and breakdown times, and book extra time for set-up if you'll need it.
8-12 months ahead
- Order a wedding gown. Remember that fittings and alternations take time, and custom gowns are not refundable so it pays to shop for one you love. Also look for matching accessories such as a veil and shoes.
- Choose attendants and request their participation. Begin shopping for attendant attire so they have plenty of time to order custom items if needed.
- Refine your style and color palette.
- Make a list of DIY projects and a DIY timeline, and begin sourcing materials.
- Identify your DIY crafting team—this is your core group of friends or bridesmaids who will be helping you with craft projects. Get started on some of the larger or more time consuming projects, such as making pom-pom strands.
- Continue to compile and refine your guest list, and organize/verify addresses.
- Book a caterer. Often the caterer is dictated by the venue, but if they are not, interview several candidates and attend tastings. Do not scrimp here: the caterer ultimately calls the shots behind the scenes at the wedding reception (they control the timing of food and beverage service), so be sure to evaluate their efficiency and organizational skills along with the quality of their food.
- Book a photographer. This is perhaps the most important vendor, since they will determine how the wedding is remembered. Evaluate portfolios, but also be sure to meet with candidates personally to make sure you feel at ease around them. You can also book the photographer for an engagement photo shoot at this time. This is a great way to get comfortable with the photographer, and you can also use these photos for your save-the-date cards, if desired.
- Book a florist. Review portfolios, and be sure their personality is a good fit with yours and that they're open to your style suggestions and to incorporating your DIY ideas. Flowers are a big (and expensive) part of the wedding d%eacute;cor, so spend time doing your research.
- Book music for the ceremony and reception. Remember that the ceremony, cocktail hour, and dinner reception are all distinct portions of the event and may call for different music or musicians. If budget allows, hire a live band or professional DJ for at least part of the reception. While it can be fine to "iPod DJ" a portion of your wedding (say the ceremony, the after-party, or the later part of the evening), remember that you still need a professional sound system and someone to manage the iPod. And, you should mix the wedding songs in advance to ensure a good variety, remove long lead-ins, codas, and awkward silences.
- Book a lighting designer. An oft-overlooked element of the wedding, lighting is incredibly important to setting the mood, particularly if you are having an outdoor or tented wedding. The lighting designer can also coordinate "pipe-and-drape", e.g. fabric draping that can create distinct areas in your reception, such as a lounge area, or cover up unsightly wall hangings or fixtures.
- Throw an engagement party (or have friends or family throw one for you!). This is a great way for everyone to start getting to know each other, so they'll have more fun on your wedding day!
6-8 months ahead
- Make or order and mail out save-the-date cards, if using. Set up a wedding website, if using, and reserve hotel room blocks for out-of-town guests.
- Start working on DIY projects, beginning with those that are either time consuming or require multiples (e.g. pom-poms or garlands, votives, drink flags) and/or those that aren't depending on knowing a final guest count (e.g. ring pillow, flower girl garland or headband, bridal party accessories).
- Order a wedding cake.
- Book an officiant. Interview a few, and consider friends and family members. Choose one who fits your beliefs, style and the tone of your wedding.
- Plan and book your honeymoon.
- Sign up for a gift registry. We recommend using a registry service like www.myregistry.com, which allows you to add items for any retailer on the web as well as register for cash gifts.
4-6 months ahead
- Reserve rental equipment, such as tents, tables, chairs, linens, dinnerware, glassware and portable restrooms, if needed. Note: it is often best to leave rentals to the caterer, since they are best positioned to know what quantities they will need and can coordinate drop-off and pick-up times that work for them.
- Decide on favours and begin making and assembling them (if they are not perishable).
- Book a makeup artist/hair stylist.
- Book transportation/limousine service for the wedding party and guests to and from the reception. Book or decide on a get-away car, if using.
- Purchase wedding rings.
- Purchase or reserve groom's attire. Make any special accents for the groom and groomsmen, such as pocket squares.
- Book a room for the wedding night.
- Sign up for dance lessons and decide on your first dance.
2-4 months ahead
- Make or order and mail out your invitations; book a calligrapher, if desired, or start practicing! Remember to check the post office for the latest postage rates. Invitations should be mailed 8 weeks before the wedding, 10-12 weeks if you are expecting a lot of out-of-town guests and have not already mailed save-the-date cards. If you have a lot of out-of-town guests, consider asking them to note their arrival and departure dates and where they are staying on the RSVP card. To save time later many brides order their place cards/escort cards at the same time as the invitations and write one for each guest they invite rather than waiting for all the replies to be returned.
- Finalize details of the menu with the caterer. Confirm arrival and departure times and rentals. Decide on server attire (e.g. bistro aprons, striped shirts), if desired.
- Plan the ceremony. Discuss the order of service with your officiant. Choose readings and music for the ceremony. Write your wedding vows, if you choose.
- Schedule a rehearsal time and rehearsal dinner (traditionally hosted by the groom's family).
- Meet with your makeup artist to try out the makeup and hairstyle.
- Buy stockings or any special lingerie for your dress and honeymoon.
- Choose your wedding music. Share your list with your DJ or band, or mix your iPod play list and book sound equipment.
1-2 months ahead
- Make a detailed event timeline, including load-in, set-up, arrival and departure times of all vendors, drop off of welcome bags to guest rooms, shuttle pick-ups, guest arrival times, ceremony start time, order and timing of toasts, first dance, cake cutting, and shuttle departures. This is where a wedding planner comes in very handy! If you do not have a wedding planner, designate two or three attendants to be the day-of coordinators / "cruise ship directors." Make sure they have each other's cell phone numbers. Share this timeline with all vendors.
- Make or order programs.
- Make or order a guest book.
- Make or order menus, if needed.
- Make or order a cake topper.
- Make arrangements for pre-wedding events, such as welcome cocktails, and a post-wedding brunch, if desired.
- Send change-of-address information to the post office, if needed.
- Contact local newspapers about publishing a wedding announcement, if desired.
Two weeks ahead
- Follow up with guests who have not yet RSVP'ed.
- Begin making a seating plan, write seating cards and/or place cards and make table numbers.
- Make additional signage, such as bar or buffet signs, reserved seating signs, bride and groom's seating signs, a guestbook sign and a "Just Married!" sign.
- Write guest welcome letters, if using.
- Notify caterer of guest count.
- Write toasts for rehearsal dinner and wedding reception.
- Confirm where out-of-town guests are staying, and when they are arriving. Prepare welcome bags and letters, if using.
One week ahead
- Finalize seating plan and update seating cars and place cards.
- Make guest welcome bags, if using. Deliver to guest rooms in conjunction with guest check-in dates.
- Circulate finalized event timeline to all vendors and vendor contact list (include cell phone numbers of attendants who will be helping with specific tasks).
- Assign specific responsibilities to attendants, e.g. handing out programs, handing out corsages & boutonnieres, hanging signs, delivering welcome bags, coordinating timing of toasts and the first dance with the DJ, etc.
- Confirm rehearsal plans with attendants.
- Pack for your honeymoon, and gather all necessary travel documents.
- Organize your wedding day attire and accessories. Pack an emergency kit including: sticking plasters, hair-pins, mobile phone, soda water (for stain removal), deodorant, double-sided tape (for fallen hems), extra stockings, ibuprofen, makeup and makeup remover, nail polish and nail polish remover, prescription medications, safety pins, snacks, safety pins, sewing kit, tampons/pads, toothpaste and toothbrush, tissues and water.
- Confirm flight arrangements for your honeymoon.
One day ahead
- Set up ceremony and reception decor, lighting. Receive deliveries.
- Confirm transportation arrangements.
- Rehearse ceremony and attend rehearsal dinner.
- Give gifts to the wedding party.
- Prepare tip and payment envelopes for officiant and vendors; arrange for someone to distribute them.
- Have a manicure and pedicure, and a massage!
Your wedding day
- Have your attendants take care of last-minute details such as setting out place cards, seating cards and programs.
- Give the wedding rings to the best man.
- Relax and have fun!