Planning what could be the happiest day of your life requires creative input from both partners and any family members and friends you've decided to include in the planning, and also rigorous preparations to make sure the day goes smoothly. Wedding planning can be a wonderful part of life but it can also be very challenging and stressful. Indeed, you can be assured that some plans won't go as you'd like them to, so plan for that eventuality too! The key is to stay organized, to stick to a budget and to give yourself plenty of time to achieve everything.
Set a budget. It's important to stick to a budget and to keep your wishes realistic. While this is a very special day in your life, it's not an excuse to be wildly extravagant with money you don't have. Remind yourself when you feel like fretting that you still have many wonderful days ahead and you don't want these marred by paying back an unplanned overspend.
- Aim to never exceed the amount specified as the total of your budget. If you overspend on one item, another item has to take a cut to meet the budget. Be prepared to be flexible and to prioritize the big spends that really matter. You can always make do or DIY on the things that are less important or even the frivolous but desired aspects.
- If your parents or future in-laws are partially or wholly funding the wedding, you have an added help. However, remain conscious to not burden them either. Ask them for their budget ceiling and stick to it.
Set the timeline for planning. Of all things about your planning, this is the most important aspect. Develop a sensible, reasonable timeline depending on how much time you've given yourselves. Begin with a calendar before you and try following a suggested timeline from a wedding guide. You will find such timelines in wedding guide books, magazines, online and even at the base of this article. In general, you're likely to find that most guides assume you have around 12 months to plan your wedding; if you've less time, simply adjust the timeline accordingly (the last three months matter the most anyway). (Timeline suggestions will be provided throughout this article.)
- Don't panic if you don't have 12 months. Generally what planning guides suggest happens in the first few months are things that can be done fairly quickly, such as announcing your engagement, sending the announcement to local papers, purchasing planning books and software, planning the budget, selecting the bridal party and settling on a wedding date.
- One of the principal reasons for a long lead-in time is the wedding and reception venues––the most popular ones are often booked out a year or more in advance and many people have taken to planning the wedding around venue availability. If this irks you or you just don't have a year, look around for great alternatives, from public garden spaces, to lesser known churches and mosques or town halls. Avoid the trap of thinking you have to use the venue every other bride is using this year
Choose a workable method for your record-keeping. You'll need to keep tabs of everything you've already decided and what's planned ahead. Also, invoices, quotes, receipts, seating plans, photos of desired decorations/clothing, patterns, instructions, etc. will need to be kept in one place, so have at least one large plastic pocket to keep these in one place. If you're more organized, use a few pockets to separate by categories.
- Wedding software or planning apps can work well for digital planning. If you have tech-savvy friends helping plan the wedding, you might even consider making a wedding wiki open only to those of you helping with the planning. This can help enormously with shared planning and strategizing. On the downside, software and wikis need to be maintained through the inputting of information and scanning in documents, while a notebook can be taken anywhere and you can jot down things quickly and you can simply add the growing mound of papers to a binder. For many people, both digital and paper planning tools combined are the best of both worlds.
Decide on the size of your wedding. Remember to talk this over with your fiance. A dream wedding for one may not be right for the other. You'll need to know how many people are going to attend for the purposes of venues, catering and invitations.
- As part of this decision, choose your bridal party. How many bridesmaids and grooms do you want? From one to a dozen, the choice depends on what you have always dreamed of and what space you'll have available for everyone to stand in at the ceremony. Remember that your total number of guests includes your bridal party.
- This decision is usually done at around the ten-months-to-go mark.
Choose the venue. The sooner this is done, the better, so that you know you have the place you really want. Check out the spaces offered, the catering deals, the marriage fees, the ability to decorate a church or synagogue, wedding space, etc. Find out whether the prices quoted cover everything or whether you'll be expected to pay for extras.
- Be aware that even church and synagogue venues may charge fees.
- Research into venues for the wedding and reception usually starts around the 12 months-to-go mark, with bookings occurring within the month once you've made up your mind
Set the date. The factors in choosing a date include the availability of your venue, friends and family. Think about who you must have at your wedding, and try to set the date with their availability in mind. Most people will do their best to accommodate a wedding, so unless you know this person has major surgery or a competing wedding in their calendar, you should be fairly right with directing their calendar.
- Send out "save the date" cards to your guests. Once the venue and guest lists are confirmed, let everyone know what's coming up. Send emails if you know people will read them, otherwise, send cards to their postal addresses.
- Setting the date usually occurs at the same time you've confirmed the place of the wedding and the place of the reception. Finalization of the guest list should be done when there are about seven months to go. Do expect some cancellations and possibly some last-minute additions due to illness, pregnancy, overseas travel, etc. It often can't be helped, so go with the flow.
Choose a theme. It doesn't have to be anything really specific, but a successful event tends to have a consistent feeling throughout. Choose a theme that is easy to plan and decorate. Everything should be consistent with the theme.
- You can usually hire someone that will decorate your wedding, but it can be expensive to do so.
- Visit the venue and take pictures of how the area looks. You may want to measure the dimensions of the room or area, to allow you to plan where you want everything go and to know if you have enough space.
- As part of the theme, research the flowers you want at the wedding. Find out if they're available during the time of your wedding or if they're out of season (the costs of flying them in can be very high). Finalize flowers around four months ahead of the wedding date.
- Match decorations to the color theme for best overall appearance.
Send out the wedding invitations. Research into the design of your wedding invitations when you still have around 10 months to go, and work on purchasing or ordering their printing when there are about six months to go. Leave plenty of time if you're making your own and always have lots of spares, as making a mistake now and then in writing or making them is inevitable.
- Be creative; you can make your own and add a personal touch or go to a professional.
- Send out invitations around two months prior to the wedding; this should be sufficient time if you've already sounded out your guests and sent them "save the date" cards. (If Jewish, make sure to get kippots made.)
- Make wedding programs. As with the invitations, you can you have your programs professionally printed or make your own. It’s not recommended that you print your programs much more than a week in advance in case there are any unexpected changes, such as changes in ushers or candle lighters. If possible, have your officiant proofread the ceremony portion of the program
Choose your officiant. For a faith-based wedding, you'll be looking for a pastor, priest, minister or rabbi. If they don't charge a fee outright to perform the ceremony, be courteous enough to pay a generous gratuity for their time. For a secular based wedding, choose a wedding officiant, judge or person with authority to marry people who is both available on the date and amenable to any particular special requests you have by way of vows and ceremony.
- Attend premarital counseling. This may take a large time commitment, but it is often worth it in the long-run. Be honest about your desires and expectations for marriage. Both faith-based and secular-based counseling is available.
- If on a 12 month timeline, this is usually begun when there are about eight months to go
Research, design and order your wedding dress. Around the mark of nine months to go, start researching your wedding dress ideas. Are you having one custom made, altering an heirloom dress or purchasing off-the-rack? Whichever way, you'll possibly need several fittings and adjustments to perfect it. Alternatively, make your own or steer clear of traditional wedding dresses and buy a dress that you simply love and know you can wear again after the wedding. You don't have to stick with tradition or spend a fortune on something you'll never use again.
- Select a wedding veil if you're having one. And don't forget the shoes––from flip flops to diamond encrusted satin slippers, what's your preference and do they need special effort or will you buy them ready-made?
- Decide on bridesmaid's dresses at the same time. Are you paying for them or will they pay? You have less say over their choices if they pay but they're more likely to be happy with choosing their own style within your color choice.
- In some religions, it is traditional that the mother of both the groom, and bride comes to find the dress, as well as the maid of honor. This varies widely depending on where you live and what your faith is.
- Get tuxes and groomsmen clothing sorted and ordered about four months prior to the wedding. Send tux measurement forms to groomsmen a month before fittings
Select the wedding rings. This is a fun task to do together, and symbolizes your devotion to each other. Most couples get matching rings to show that they complete one another's soul. If you're having rings specially made up, leave plenty of time and be prepared to get to learn more than you ever cared to know about gold and the origins of it (as in, whether or not it has been sourced equitably and so forth). Make the right decisions by doing your research.
- Wedding ring selection should take place around five months before the wedding, with collection of the rings occurring about one month in advance of the date.
Find a photographer and/or a videographer. Consider using a professional for this special occasion, and make sure that this person is reliable so that you don't have to worry about him or her forgetting your wedding or stuffing up the photos or filming. There are just too many stories of relying on friends or family to photograph or film a wedding followed by years of regret about the fuzzy, out-of-focus shots or no footage at all because the photographer got carried away doing something else...
- Ask for recommendations from friends who have married recently who they'd recommend.
- Ask to see portfolios at the business premises. This will give you a good idea of their abilities and style
Hire your entertainment. Decide on whether you're going to have a quartet, orchestra, band or a DJ. Professional musicians will keep the flow of the event, make announcements, and plan all your special events with you. Each has its advantages and limitations depending on what you're seeking.
- Music students at college/university level are definitely worth considering as they will be at the peak of their abilities and a lot cheaper than professional musicians, and many of them crave chances for a public performance.
- This aspect should not be booked last, because all the good bands and wedding DJs get booked first! The entertainment is crucial and is what makes a wedding one to remember! It's recommended that you sort out this aspect of your wedding at least 10 months before the day.
Decide what type of food and refreshments you will offer at the reception dinner. Try to find a happy medium between what would please your guests and what you can afford. Weigh the pros and cons of hiring a professional caterer, as it's not cheap, but it's one less thing you'll have to handle personally. Some couples choose to base the menu on the culture of the family, or go for something that most people like, such as Italian or Asian fusion.
- Some people favor having a candy as part of a wedding; this allows those with a sweet tooth to consume delicious sweets whenever they feel like.
- At the same time as deciding on catering, make reservations for any additional rental/hire equipment needed, such as marquees, chairs, tables, dinnerware and flatware, linens, arches, etc.
- Focus on this when there are at least 6 months left to go.
Pick a cake. Before settling on a cake it's best to have a tasting first. Also look into a cake that will match your theme, and please both the bride and groom. Sample cakes around eight months before the wedding and select the design at this time.
- Check in on the baker again a few months prior to the wedding to be reassured that your order is still on the books and ready to go as planned.
- It's best to have the cake delivered directly to the reception venue. Relying on a family member to do this places too much pressure on them and should it be dropped by anyone other than the responsible bakery, you have no recourse to a quick solution
Register for gifts when there are about 9 months to go until your wedding. This gives guests plenty of time to check your list and get the gifts. Be realistic about gift pricing. Acknowledge the breadth of wealth by including very affordable through to more expensive items as part of the gift list. And also allow for non-gift list choices; some people really do not appreciate being forced to use one
Choose suitable transportation. If you have multiple venues, plan how you will travel from the ceremony location to the reception location. Some couples may choose to rent a limousine or ride in a classic car. Others like horse-drawn carriages. If it's popular with other people, book early. If it's your own cars, book them in for cleaning and detail a week before the wedding.
- If there will be alcohol at the reception, do you have a safe way for you and your bridal party to get home? You may want to ask a friend or relative to be a designated driver for the night.
- In some families it is traditional to decorate the couple’s vehicle, so if you have a nice car, you may want to keep it at home in the garage
Decide on whether to have a special wedding night room or to leave on honeymoon quickly. Many couples book a honeymoon suite the night of their wedding to begin the feeling of a honeymoon before leaving the town or city of the wedding, while others simply get going straight after the wedding. The choice is entirely your own.
Ensure out-of-town guests have accommodation. You may need to reserve a block of rooms for guests that will be attending your wedding from interstate or overseas. Booking as a group will usually ensure they all get the best rate but this should be done well in advance of the wedding, at least four months in advance.
- Make it clear whether you're footing the bill for guests or not. You can clarify that you've booked rooms at a special rate but expect them to cover the costs if need be. Be careful about expecting too much from far-traveled guests; they already have to fund their journey, so if you can reduce their accommodation costs, that's all the better.
Research the honeymoon when there are about 6 months to go. This will let you take advantage of any special deals and good prices. Book as soon as possible but always build flexibility into the bookings in case of the need for cancellation; it is better to pay a little more and get most of your money back if something prevents the travel (such as illness, postponing the wedding, etc.) than to get back nothing.
Plan the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. This should be planned about five months before the wedding date, including booking the site for the rehearsal dinner. In addition, let those attending know early on that they're expected to be a part of rehearsals. These events are held within the week leading up to the wedding.
- You may want to create a schedule for the bridal party for the day of the wedding, so that they know what time they need to be places for things such as hair appointments, photos, ceremony, etc.
- Rehearsal dinners are a North American tradition that has begun to occur in other Anglo-speaking countries too. If you don't want to hold one, it's not essential.
Develop a final three months countdown so that nothing is left to chance. The plan for these last three months needs to be tailored to your own needs but here are some basics to be considered when putting your plan together:
- 3 months to go:
- Finalize the vows; choose them and write if doing so
- Buy or make wedding accessories, such as the ring bearer pillow, toasting glasses, favors, unity candle, guestbook, flower baskets, etc.
- Book hair, nail and makeup appointments
- Prepare the ceremony program but be prepared for last minute revisions
- Plan the seating arrangements for the reception; again, plan for last minute revisions.
- 2 months to go:
- Mail the invitations
- Schedule a wedding dress fitting, it might be your first or one of several
- Apply for the marriage license (this may vary depending on your location, check local laws)
- Attend showers, if any
- Buy or make gifts for members of the bridal party
- 1 month to go:
- Finalize all plans for the wedding ceremony
- Check that all bookings for hotels, transportation, venues, guest arrangements, etc. are as they should be
- Pick up the wedding rings if you haven't already done so
- Continue with dress fittings (many brides lose or perhaps even gain weight from stress, so final fittings should be as close to the time as possible, to ensure perfect fit)
- 3 weeks to go:
- Write up the place seating cards
- Continue with any fittings
- Check that you have relevant gifts for people
- Chase up anyone who has not yet sent an RSVP to your invitations––you may prefer to have bridesmaids do this
- 2 weeks to go:
- Get the honeymoon packing done so that it's not worrying you
- Have last alterations made to dress; it should be ready by now
- Check all bills and make sure that all of your suppliers have been properly paid
- Follow up any loose ends, especially anything that is worrying you
- Have your hair cut or trimmed
- 1 week to go:
- Aim to stay as relaxed as possible; you should have done most of it by now!
- Collect your wedding dress if not done already, as well as any last accessories and shoes
- Keep everything in one place, covered and away from pets, kids and nosy people
- Enjoy your hen night (bachelorette party) or stag night (bachelor party)
- Attend the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner
- Go over your vows but don't obsess