Hi, loves! Emma here and I know a thing or two (or twenty) about how to plan a wedding. I planned our wedding years back, then went on to plan weddings professionally for couples. In addition, I wrote two books on wedding planning (The Handcrafted Wedding and The Inspired Wedding), so you know how passionate I am about the topic. :)
The number one rule when you plan your wedding is: don’t stress out. It ought to be fun, not overwhelming. And remember anyone who plans a wedding is doing it for the first time and you’re not expected to know how to do everything. Your vendors will help guide you through it all.
So, no stress. Stress = not allowed around here!
It is so easy to look at a wedding checklist and thing, wow, that is a lot of stuff. But don’t forget, you’re crossing these off on your own schedule. If I can do it, anyone can do it, and I know you can plan a wedding you will love.
How to Plan a Wedding
Whether you need advice on planning a wedding in 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, or longer this checklist still applies. You may need to tweak the dates a little to move up your timeline, but you can still get it all done in a record speed if you put your mind to it. It can and will be done.
Here’s our ultimate guide to planning your wedding beginning with 1 year to 9 months before the big day. (P.S. If you have questions along the way, be sure to Ask Emmaline! That’s what we’re here for.)
Plan a Wedding
This checklist will show to how to plan your wedding from start to finish, beginning 1+ year to 9 months before the big day.
HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING: 1 Year to 9 Months Before
Pick out a wedding folder, binder, or get a dedicated wedding planner book. This will help you keep all wedding-related things in one place. I like using a big organizer like this and it has been popular for years for good reason (it’s very organized).
However, choose whatever works best for you. Even a simple notebook will do. The key is to pick something separate from other lists and notes so you don’t get distracted.
Plan a Wedding Budget
Make an estimated budget. How much can you spend? How much are family contributions (if any)? Find out how much you can spend on the budget you have to help determine your guest list.
A wedding budget spreadsheet works for some people best, as it helps you to estimate how much you have to spend and where to allocate your funds. Here’s one to try that is extremely useful for couples and any size of budget.
Make Pinterest boards of your favorites (and follow ours). Flip through wedding magazines and tear out pages that you like; keep them in a folder for inspiration. View Real Weddings to see how actual couples planned their wedding and borrow your favorite ideas.
Plan a Wedding Guest List
Start your guest list. For me, it helped to write out guests in spreadsheet columns with their name, address (for mailing invitations and other correspondence), RSVPs, and gifts. I always recommend people plan guest lists in rounds, starting with the most important and immediate guests first. Then add from there.
Remember, the biggest thing you can do to save money while planning your wedding is to cut your guest list. It’s tough to do, but sometimes you need to keep to a certain number for your budget, size of your venue space, or to cut down on other costs (each guest = meal, bar, favor, stationery, etc.)
If you do have to cut the guest list, here’s how to do it without guilt.
Book Your Officiant and Ceremony Venue
Where do you want to get married? Find the venue space for your ceremony (or ceremony AND reception, if getting married at the same place as your reception) and book your officiant. This way, you’ll have your officiant, your ceremony venue, and the date.
Book Your Reception Venue
If your reception takes place at the same location as your ceremony, you’re all set here. If not, you’ll want to book your reception space now that you have your date for the ceremony venue. Figure out the travel time between the venues and figure out if you need transportation for guests or your wedding party.
Hire a Wedding Consultant
Whether you want to hire a wedding planner for the day-of or the entire wedding planning process, now is the time to do it.
Pick Out Your Wedding Party
Choose bridesmaids and groomsmen to stand up in your wedding. (Wondering how many bridesmaids to have? Read this!) This is as simple as asking them in person or on the phone. Some people like to send bridesmaid gift boxes or groomsmen gifts for a memorable “proposal”. We love the idea of sending any of these A to Z gift ideas — they’re very fun and personal.
Start Looking For Vendors
You’ll want to start browsing for your wedding vendors: this includes photographers, videographers, bands or d.j’s, florists, caterers, and bakers. Make a list of favorites, jot down some pricing, and get ideas of who you’d like to hire. You won’t necessarily book them yet, but you can if you’d like.
Plan an Engagement Party
If you’re going to plan an engagement party, there’s no time like the present! Celebrate your newly engaged status and invite guests (but only those who will also be invited to the wedding).
Take Engagement Photos
Get engagement photos taken if you’d like! Now is a perfect time to meet with a photographer for engagement photographs and, who knows, they’ll probably be a perfect fit for your wedding photography (and this is a great way to get a sense of their style and skill).
HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING: 8 Months Before
Use the following points to plan a wedding approximately 8 months before the big day.
Get Finalized on Your Vendors
Now you’ll want to hire your vendors, including photographer and videographer, florist, band or D.J., caterers, and bakeries.
The best advice here is to interview or meet with your vendors before you book to get an idea of pricing and style. I could go into it but we met with a DJ before and he turned out to be not the right style for us. It happens. Then we found another one, more akin to our style of music and entertainment. We were happy to have “interviewed” vendors ahead of time is the moral of the story. Sometimes for DJs, they invite you to go to an event where they’re playing and you can see what they’re like in person. I HIGHLY recommend it.
For your photographer, go over shots you’d like, as well as the obvious things like price, length of time they’ll be hired for, and what is included (photo albums? raw footage? edited files? etc.)
For caterers, TRY THE FOOD! Taste test the menu before you decide on a caterer. This is very important (and fun). The same goes for the bakery. Try the cake samples, they’re free, delicious, and you’ll know exactly what your cake will taste like on the wedding day itself.
Find Your Dress
Or at least start looking for it! Go with your mom, best friend, MOH, or just go solo and try on some gowns. Once you find the one you like (you’ll know it when you find it), order it. This will give you plenty of time to get it properly fitted, shop for veils, jewelry, and other accessories.
If you prefer to buy your wedding dress online (many brides are finding great deals on gorgeous gowns), you can see top-rated wedding dresses here.
Sign up for a Wedding Website
A wedding website is one of the most helpful tools you can have these days, especially as a guest. You can keep your wedding weekend organized online with details on where the ceremony is held, the reception, who’s who in the wedding party, where you’re registered, travel accommodations, and other fun details about your big day (and show off those amazing engagement photos you took!)
I like them both and have used them personally; however, I do like how Minted has wedding websites that match wedding invitations and coordinate wedding stationery, making it easy to match your entire wedding tone and theme from start to finish. You can check it out here.
Reserve Hotel Room Blocks
If you’re planning a destination wedding or something closer to home, you may need to figure out where out-of-town guests will stay. Call two hotels at different price points within a 5-mile radius of the reception venue and book a block of hotels. This gives guests who call in a discounted rate to stay there for your wedding weekend.
Register for your wedding gifts! This is fun and now you can even do it all online. We recommend registering at least two places, maybe even three. One place to register is Amazon since you can get pretty much anything on Amazon and guests love the ease of shipping with Prime. Plus, you can add items from any website to the universal registry/wishlist to Amazon, which makes it a one-stop registry experience. You can create a free registry here.
Other places to register include Crate and Barrel, Target, and Bed Bath and Beyond, Kohls, and you can even register for cash, your honeymoon, or gift cards at Honeyfund.
HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING: 7 to 6 Months Before
Here’s how to plan a wedding and what to do during the 6-month point.
Buy Wedding Invitations
You’ll want to find and purchase your wedding invitations at this time to allow printing and mail time. Plus, once you get them you need to address and assemble them, so definitely give yourself plenty of time to do so. Here’s places to find cheap wedding invitations to stay on budget.
Shop for Bridesmaid Dresses and Groomsmen Apparel
We go in-depth on this in a recent podcast. Now is a great time to decide what kinds of bridesmaid dresses you’d like them to wear, figure out a price point, where to buy them from, and order dresses. Once bridesmaid dresses are selected and ordered, you can coordinate your groomsmen’s attire.
Suggestions for Bridesmaid Dresses: We’ve found the best convertible dresses and the coolest selection of mix-and-match dresses to get you started. The mix-and-match are great for coordinating with groomsmen, too.
Schedule a Meeting with the Officiant
Now is a great time to go over your ceremony order of events, vows, and any necessary documentation needed for the wedding. It’s a good idea to finalize the time, location, and the rehearsal date, too.
Send Your Save-the-Date Cards
Now is the time to purchase and send save the date cards. My most recommended save the date shops for our couples are always Basic Invite (low-priced cards for only $0.59 to start!), Minted, and Etsy. If you’d like to send online save-the-date cards and save paper, we recommend Greenvelope.com.
+ Be sure to avoid these mistakes when sending save the date cards.
Plan a Wedding Decoration / Rental List + Book
Need tables, chairs, electrical outlets, or linens? Want specialty welcome signage or chair sashes? These are the things you’ll want to order now. There’s a great shop on Etsy that has tons of linen inspiration and I often find myself dreaming of the table runners and tablecloths for my own home or next party.
Book Your Florist
Meet with and book your florist for your wedding. You’ll go over everything you need with them including styles, colors, bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, and decorations like centerpieces and ceremony decor.
Dreaming of a stretch limo or party bus? Now is when you should be booking any transportation for the wedding day.
Plan an Itinerary
Use one of these wedding itineraries as a guide, then fill it into the template and print. When do guests arrive at the ceremony? When does it officially begin? When is dinner served? These are great questions to answer and include in your itinerary. Send these itineraries to your wedding party, parents, in-laws, and vendors. Besides, it’s helpful to have an itinerary backup in your wedding planner book and/or via email to refer to when needed.
This one coincidentally says, Emma and Andrew! How amazing is that?!
HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING: 5 to 4 Months Before
Purchase Bridal Accessories
Select your bridal jewelry (read: Top 10 Wedding Jewelry DOs and DONTs for helpful tips), shoes, wrap, shapewear, and veil now. It is a good time to start thinking about how you’ll wear your hair on the wedding day, veil or no veil, up or down. :) So many questions, I know!
“Wear In” Your Wedding Shoes
Attend Dress Fittings
You’ll begin dress fittings at this time. Bring with you: your undergarments/shapewear and shoes for a perfect fit. Your veil is optional but can give you an idea of how everything will look on your wedding day.
Book your Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner
Now you will plan the rehearsal time and date with your ceremony venue; also, figure out where to have the rehearsal dinner.
Receive Your Wedding Invitations
Once your printed invitations arrive, begin assembling and addressing them. Add postage to the outer envelopes and RSVP envelopes.
Pick Out Your Cake
Sample it, get inspired, and place your order. Now is a good time to order a cake topper and cake server, too.
While you may not have any help in the bridal shower as the bride, you may be asked to provide a guest list at this time. Shower plans are underway, if having one, so be sure to get your wedding registry completed. Here’s what to add to your wedding registry as a guide.
Choose Your Playlist
Figure out what songs to play at your wedding. This is a helpful resource for picking out playlists for every style of music. I also like creating playlists on Spotify. You’ll need playlists for getting-ready with the bridesmaids, too. :)
For your actual wedding music, you’ll meet with your ceremony musicians and DJ or live band to go over music selections.
+ Fun idea: include a song request line on your wedding RSVPs to “crowd-source” the ultimate wedding playlist! You can also ask for requests through your wedding website in an email.
Book Hair and Makeup Appointments
Make appointments for your hair and makeup on your wedding day and book at least one run-through before the big day. You’ll book appointments for bridesmaids and moms, too, if they’re getting hair and makeup done before the wedding.
HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING: 3 Months Before
Here’s how to plan your wedding with three months left on the checklist. The finish line is ahead!
Wedding favors should be ordered now. Make sure you order one per guest and a few extras just in case. For favors that never go out of style, refer to this post. (Hint: They’re ALL under $5!)
Buy Wedding Welcome Bags
Greet your out-of-town guests with wedding welcome bags. Now is a good opportunity to buy the supplies and assemble them.
Call Vendors to Finalize Details
You’ll finalize the menu, decorations, flowers, and any last-minute details now. Ask any questions you have, like if they have an easel for a seating chart or when you can drop off decorations to have set up the morning of the wedding (or have your wedding coordinator set up for you). Go over things like any toasts being given and when, and make sure your itinerary is correct and up-to-date.
With your officiant, you’ll finalize readings and the order of your ceremony. Let the officiant know who will be an usher or a reader (be sure to ask these people now), and meet with the ceremony musician, if applicable. You should prepare and write your vows, unless you’re reading traditional vows. Ask any questions you have about the ceremony now.
Print Menus, Programs, Table Numbers, and Place Cards
If you’re planning to have menus, ceremony programs (here’s how many to order), table numbers, and/or place cards, order them now.
HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING: 2 Months Before
Purchase Wedding Bands
If you haven’t done so already, purchase your wedding rings. Make sure they fit.
Meet With Your Photographer and Videographer
Make a list of must-have shots you’d like to have included; go over the timeline.
Your wedding invitations should be mailed no later than 6 to 8 weeks before the ceremony.
This is generally when the bachelorette party is being planned or happening and is usually hosted by the Maid of Honor and/or your bridesmaids. Enjoy it. :)
+ Need ideas? Browse our bachelorette party guides.
1 Month Before
It’s getting close!
Gather up your wedding RSVPs as they arrive and enter them into your spreadsheet. If someone hasn’t responded by the date, here’s what to do.
Send Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
You should send invitations to your wedding rehearsal dinner now. Here’s who to invite and why.
Get Your Marriage License
A marriage license from your county is a must-have and can take up to a week. Make sure you have this documentation.
Attend Your Final Dress Fitting
Try it on. It should fit like a glove. If not, make any last-minute fitting changes.
Assign Your Wedding Seats
And make a seating chart or use escort cards. I used paper plates and sticky notes to create my seating charts, making it easy to move people around as needed before it was finalized.
Buy Wedding Party Gifts
Buy Gifts for Parents
If you’re planning to exchange gifts with one another…
Buy Gifts for the Bride or Groom
Wedding Week: 1 Week to Go!
Send Final Head Count to Caterer
Let them know the final list.
Check In With Vendors
Make sure everyone’s on the same page with timelines.
Pick Up Your Wedding Dress
Finally, bring your dress home! Hang it up on one of these hangers, if you’d like. Mostly, keep it away from pets (cats! fur!) and away from direct sunlight. Don’t let it get wrinkled. And keep your veil on one of these handy hangers.
Make a List for Your Bridal Party
This list should include an itinerary of where to be and when; all vendor contact information, in case someone needs to contact a vendor (without bothering you). :)
Put Checks in Envelopes for Vendors
Final payments and tips can be put in envelopes to be handed out at the wedding.
Get a Manicure and Pedicure
If there was EVER a time to treat yourself, do it now. :) Enjoy it!
Get Plenty of Sleep
You don’t want under-eye circles on your wedding day. And you want to be as stress-free as possible, so catch those Z’s!
The Big Day
Enjoy every single minute. You deserve it. It goes by way too fast!
Download this free wedding planning checklist
Want a copy to print or refer to later? Download the FREE checklist here!
Now that you have a complete wedding guide in your hands and know how to plan a wedding, let’s get inspired! Browse our categories at Emmaline Bride for the latest handmade wedding finds, ideas, creative twists on traditional finds, planning advice, and so much more.
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