The average couple takes about a year to plan their wedding. That sounds like a lot of time, but when you actually write out your to-do list and see how far ahead some venues book up, a mere 365 days isn’t that long.
To help you achieve the wedding of your dreams, here’s a more in-depth look at our free wedding planning checklist plus some tips on how to tweak that timeline to match your unique plans for your big day.
One year out
Kickstart the wedding-planning process about 12 months before you’d like to get married. This is when you’ll start narrowing down potential wedding dates and venues. You’ll also discuss your budget with your partner, decide a wedding party and ask those chosen few if they accept. Plus, you'll start researching elements of your wedding that you’ll fine-tune later, such as outfits, engagement photos, and vendors.
10-11 months out
Now that you’ve figured out your wedding date and at least the city you’ll be getting married in, it’s time to mail out your save the dates. If you’re buying a designer wedding dress, know that many retailers require 9-12 months to order and receive your dress. This is also the time to book your officiant and hire key vendors, including your:
Photographer and/or videographer
Entertainment, such as a DJ or band
If you’re hiring a wedding planner, do so ASAP. The sooner they’re on board, the less you’ll have to do and the less likely you are to overlook a crucial detail.
8-9 months out
Dedicate most of this month to prepping for your wedding guests. This might include researching hotels (provide guests with recommendations at several price points if possible), car rental companies, and various activities to keep guests occupied throughout their stay. While you’re looking at hotels, consider reserving a block of rooms at a discounted rate if you’re expecting a lot of guests to need accommodations.
6-7 months out
Roughly half a year before your big day, it’s time to do one of the most delicious tasks on your to-do list: the wedding cake tasting! Choose a style of cake that you love and decide on your decorations. You’ll also nail down some of the more finicky details of your wedding-day aesthetic, such as exploring various hair and makeup looks.
Check up on your vendor list and make the final decision on musicians, transportation, and rentals for your furniture, lighting, linens, and décor.
Check in with your groomsmen on their attire (Have they been measured yet or placed their order?) and purchase your wedding bands.
Last but far from least, it’s time to order your wedding invitations! You’ve already browsed through the available styles. Now you can customize and order free samples before you finalize your design. You might as well add coordinating thank-you cards to that order too; some guests who RSVP no will send a gift immediately thereafter and you want to be prepared to show your gratitude.
4-5 months out
Months four and five are for flowers, dress fittings, honeymoon planning, and placing the final order on your wedding cake. Book the venue for your rehearsal dinner and decide who’s coming to that so you can send out a second round of invitations just for that group.
If you’re feeling crafty and particularly generous, think about assembling welcome packages for your out-of-town guests. Tailor the baskets to your wedding and your guests, including items that are fun, helpful, on-theme, or all of the above. Small gifts that represent your city or state are always a good idea, as are snacks, customized souvenirs like can coolers or drinkware, and fun extras like breath mints or candy.
3 months out
Eek! You’re only a few months out, so it’s time to get serious about your honeymoon plans—plus you have to buckle down and set up your seating chart, the event order for your ceremony and reception, and the menu for your caterer. Tack on menu cards and wedding favors here since you’ll be using them for the reception as well, and purchase must-have accessories like your custom serving pieces, toasting flutes, and guestbook.
2 months out
Finalize your guest list and mail out your invitations ASAP! If you’re writing your own vows, now’s the time to start a rough draft as you also fine-tune the ceremony details with your officiant.
Also on the agenda:
Creating the layout for your wedding programs
Finalizing seating arrangements and music playlists
Applying for your marriage license
Doing your final or semi-final fittings for wedding dresses, tuxes, etc.
Booking spa treatments for you and your bridal party or at least a hair and makeup trial if you’re planning on doing them yourself
Booking wedding day transportation for the bridal party
1 month out
Are you beside yourself with excitement yet? If you’ve stuck to your timeline, you’ll find that you’re already well on your way to being wedding ready, but there are a few things left to do. This is mostly your “make sure” month, meaning you’ll be double-checking timelines and contract details with your vendors, confirming honeymoon reservations, picking up your wedding rings and marriage license, attending your final fittings, and ordering wedding programs if you haven’t already.
2 weeks out
This is right around when your caterer will be asking for your final guest count. Tally up your RSVPs and contact guests who haven’t given an answer to see whether they’ll be attending. Make time for self-care. In fact, put this at the top of your list, because you deserve it. Massage, wax, haircut and color, nail touch-up — whatever your heart desires!
Get some help by delegating someone to take care of wedding day and post-wedding details so you don’t have to worry about monitoring the gift table or returning tuxes.
1 week out
Get final payments to your vendors and take out some cash to tip them on the big day. Ensure your bridal party and vendors know about last-minute instructions — including scripts — and put together a wedding-day emergency kit that includes bandages, antacids, clear nail polish, and headache tablets.
Finally, it’s the day before your wedding and hopefully all you have left to do is greet your guests, attend your rehearsal dinner, and get to bed early for extra beauty sleep.
Remember, the timeline above is a sort of best-case scenario. Use it as a starting point for your own customized checklist and schedule rather than pretending it’s set in stone. Here are some reasons the one-year standard might not work for you and what to do instead.
You want a destination wedding
Destination weddings are amazing, but they introduce a bunch of elements that require an extended timeline. You’ll likely want to send out your save the dates a few months earlier than you might’ve otherwise to ensure guests have enough lead time to request off work and save up for airfare and lodging. The same goes for invitations — if you want people to come, they need more than a month or two to get their affairs in order.
You have your heart set on a popular venue or high-demand wedding date
Some venues book up years in advance, especially if you want a weekend date or plan to have your wedding during the fall. Nearly half of all weddings take place in September, October, or November, and trying to compete with the masses could leave you without your first choice of location unless you put down a deposit far in advance.
There’s a pandemic
Let’s hope the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the wedding industry, large gatherings, and travel dissipates soon and is never, ever repeated. But just in case, know that these kinds of widespread social and cultural events can blow up your wedding plans in a heartbeat. It may be harder to find your ideal venue or book vendors due to labor shortages and issues with our national supply chain. Or, you may have all your plans in place and suddenly need to make major alterations.
Use change-the-date cards to clue in guests if you need to make last-minute changes, and don’t be afraid to postpone indefinitely if you won’t get your dream wedding otherwise.
You’re short on time
Perhaps you or your sweetheart is being deployed. Maybe you’re expecting and want to get married before the baby comes. Perhaps you have a loved one in ill health and want to make sure they can attend your ceremony. Or maybe you’re just so in love you can’t wait to say, “I do.” When time is of the essence, condense your wedding planning timeline to match.
You can skip save the dates and go straight to your wedding invitations. You can technically do everything in just a month — or even less if you’re flexible on venue, catering options, dress, and décor. Use a wedding website for RSVPS (digital messaging goes faster than snail mail when you’re waiting to confirm your guest count) and offer streaming video of the ceremony for anyone who can’t attend.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but in an ideal world, it’ll give you a solid place to start your planning. Above all, remember to relax and soak it all in as it happens. Your wedding day — this wedding day — only happens once. Enjoy it to the fullest.