Planning a wedding can be stressful, trust me, I’m in the midst of doing it myself. And you have probably scoured the internet for the perfect wedding checklist to get things in order. But every wedding planning checklist was different so you don’t know which to use or even worse…you have to pay for one. Ew.
The questions that went through my head that I’m sure are going through others were “Where do I start? What do I need? How will I pay for it? How do I book things? In what order do I select vendors?”
Wedding checklists can quickly become overwhelming because when you are planning an event this big there’s too much to do — things get forgotten and fall through the cracks if you don’t have everything written down ahead of time.
There’s a lot to do to plan a wedding and it can get overwhelming fast, to say the least … especially if you are doing it alone.
But it shouldn’t be. You’re engaged to the love of your life. This is supposed to be fun and magical and amazing and such a wonderful time in your life. You should be enjoying it.
So for you to not get overwhelmed by the wedding planning monsters as I have been, I have put together a free wedding checklist of everything and anything you need, want, or can think of right here.
The Ultimate Wedding Checklist:
Up To 12 Months Out: These things need to be done within 7-12 months out from your wedding.
1. Figure Out Your Budget
There’s really one question that will determine your budget no matter what vendors you choose which is: How big do you want your wedding? Once that question is answered start doing your research into what couples spend on weddings of that size in your area. Next, you need to ask some harder questions. Figure out who’s paying for what and what the necessities for this wedding will be? What are priorities and what can you cut? These will help you create a spending plan and give you the wedding you want.
Pro Tip: Since your budget will change throughout the process it’s smart to keep a spreadsheet or ledger where you have all of your numbers written down so you can stay on top of things.
2. Finalize a Guest List
This is important because all of your vendors will be asking you what your guest count is to help you determine what you will need from them and what that vendor can do for you. Many venues also do pricing based on guest count so this is a number you need early on.
3. Hire a Wedding Planner
This one is optional depending on your budget. If you can afford one, I’d recommend using one. These are professionals that can hold your hand through the process and guide you in the right direction as well as take a lot of trivial things off your shoulders like the vendor contacts. If you do hire one, look for a 24/7 wedding planner so they are always available to you. However, if you can’t hire one that’s okay, you can get help from friends and family if you want it. There are also a ton of free wedding planning apps that are the next best thing like Wedding Wire and The Knot.
4. Decide on Your Wedding Vibe
Here comes the fun part. You should sit down with your significant other and have a heart to heart about what you want your wedding style to be. That is what formality are you doing, the theme, and the overall vibe/aesthetic of your wedding.
Start a Pinterest board and start creating your wedding vision. Start pinning your color pallets and inspirations to help give your vendors a feel for what you are looking for.
5. Book Your Venue
Your Venue is probably the most important vendor on the list so we start there. Most venues that cater to weddings book up quickly so you need to do this one early about 10-12 months before your ideal wedding date. The venue will almost always decide how many people you will invite to what kind of flowers you’ll use. It’s also going to be the biggest chunk of change you are going to spend so take your time choosing the perfect venue for you.
6. Select a Caterer
Your caterer will be next on the vendor list. This is because your wedding is literally the biggest dinner party of your life, so what food you offer is important. When it comes to your caterer you need to go with someone you can trust will deliver. You don’t want to get stuck with no food at your wedding. Yikes! What’s good about already having a venue is that they will most likely have local vendors they recommend that they have worked with before to help you out.
7. Hire Vendors Who Book Up Quickly
These vendors include your photographer, videographer, Band, DJ. These are the vendors who will help keep you having fun at the wedding so they are pretty important but they do book up quickly so get in there early. Do your research and ask every and any question you have. This is the industry where there are absolutely no stupid questions and the vendors will happily answer every one of them because they know this is new for you.
8. Start Looking For Your Wedding Dress
You should start looking for your dress about 10 months out from your wedding date. Finding a salon isn’t that hard a quick google and recommendations from friends will do well in this department. Finding your dress will go either one of two ways. It’ll be that you know exactly what you want or you will have the trial and error approach. Both are great. You should definitely have your dress by 8 months out to allow time for alterations and avoid rush fees.
Pro tip: This is for those brides who are kind of shy, please speak up. Your consultant wants to help you find your dress so tell the consultant what you like and what you don’t like. Don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t like a dress they pulled for you. They encourage it.
Your first fitting will most likely be between two to three months after ordering, and your second one around the six-week mark before your wedding.
9. Block Out Hotel Rooms
It’s a nice gesture to block out hotel rooms for guests and securing a discount rate for them. This is mostly for couples who have guests coming from out of town to attend your wedding.
10. Create Your Wedding Website
We live in a time where the internet is a thing. How lucky are we? Wedding websites are a great tool to use to answer any questions your guests will have. If you are using a wedding planner app most of them let you create the website through them.
11. Take Engagement Photos
Most photographers include this in your package, so let loose and have some fun getting used to being in front of a camera.
12. Order Save The Dates
If you are doing save the dates you should send them out about 9 months out to let everyone know where you are getting married. You can also browse wedding invitations while you do that.
13. Register For Gifts
This should be done 8 months out. You and your partner should do this one together. You should include staples like pots, pans, sheets, towels, etc. But don’t be afraid to tailor your registry to your hobbies and soon-to-be-married lifestyle.
14. Shop For Bridesmaid Dresses
The 8-month mark is usually where you start the fittings for your bridesmaids. So take them shopping and see what dresses you like or don’t like.
15. Book Your Florist
Next on the Vendor list is your florist. You want to find a florist who can deliver your vision while staying within budget. Do the research and get recommendations from friends or your venue coordinator to see who is good within the area.
16. Book Rehearsal Dinner venue
Booking the rehearsal dinner venue should be done 7 months out as a courtesy to wherever you are going so they can block that off. However, if you are doing it at home this isn’t that big of a deal. Traditionally the groom’s parents foot the bill, but you still have control over how you want this celebration to go.
17. Hire Ceremony Musicians
This should also be done 7 months out if you are doing a three-piece band. However, if you are doing a DJ some will have packages that include the ceremony.
18. Order Rentals
If you are renting decor like drapes, specialty chairs, lounge furniture then it’s best to do this 7 months out. Other rentals could include tents, dance floors, linens, cutlery, and dishes.
19. Hire an Officiant
If you are getting married in your church this may already be done when you booked the venue, but if not you’ll want a professional to marry you. Some couples go a more personal route and ask a friend or family member to do the honors, of course, they need to get certified beforehand so ask at the 7-month mark to allow them time to do that.
Up To 6 Months Out:
1. Hire a Light Technician
This is a step if your budget allows it. However, lighting is definitely something most couples forget about. Lighting is super important for photos and the atmosphere of your wedding especially when it starts to get dark. So put thought into the bulbs and candles you pick for the event.
2. Book Transportation
If it’s needed, you should book transportation for your guests 5 months out. This is usually for people who have a destination wedding. You can go with a shuttle bus or car services like Uber who lets you request rides on others’ behalf.
You should also book your newlywed transportation at 5 months out. Think about what the two of you want to get into after getting married. Are you going for a stretch limo? A specialty car? Maybe a tandem bicycle if you both are feeling it? Get creative with it!
3. Book Your Honeymoon
Traditionally, the groom plans a surprise honeymoon for the bride. But if you both are involved the 5-month mark is where you should have it sorted out. By that, I mean, budget, timing, travel arrangements, and an itinerary (if you’re into that). But you should definitely know where you’re going by now and book it.
4. Select and Order the Groom’s Attire
Now that you are situated with your dress, the 5-month mark is where we get the groom together. You first need to decide if you are doing a suit or a tux then buying or renting and then go from there. When buying focus on fit and function. You want it to look flattering but you also want him to bust out the dance moves without worrying he’ll split a seam. When renting be super careful and ask questions.
5. Begin Premarital Counseling
This is one some people don’t know is a thing. Whether you come from a religious background or not premarital counseling is strongly encouraged because it really does help couples in the long run. Through this counseling, you can learn healthy conflict resolution tactics when the two of you do eventually disagree on things.
Pro tip: Some states offer discounts on your marriage license if you undergo counseling.
6. Go To Cake Tastings and Select Your Wedding Cake
Four months is when you look for your cake/baker. Decide amongst yourselves what look and flavor you want to go with and then find the best baker for the job. Do not stress about satisfying your guests with the cake. This is your cake as a couple, this is about you both so get what you want.
7. Find and Order Wedding Bands
You should buy your wedding bands at the four-month mark to allow for budgeting and payment plans. Definitely look over the styles and see what you both like.
8. Select and Order Groomsmen Attire
Discuss what they will be wearing and schedule fittings within the four-month mark. If you have a hard time making sure they are all getting it down, have your groom get them in line.
9. Book Your Bridal Hair and Makeup Trials
Four months is usually when you start looking for a hair and makeup stylist. Of course, this is if it’s within budget. If you are doing your own hair or having a friend or family member still do trials with them to see what they can do and what you want. The same goes for if you are booking a stylist. You need to know what they can do and they need to know what you want. You are encouraged to bring photos and be super-specific.
10. Order and Send Out Wedding Invitations
At 3 months you should order the invitations. When ordering you need to order more than needed to account for mistakes, make sure they arrive in time, set up a system for recording RSVPs, and confirm all addresses and spelling. A rule of thumb is that the theme of your invitations should match the vibe of your wedding. If you are hiring a calligrapher make them prove that they know how to do it before booking.
These should be sent at 2 months out with an RSVP deadline of a month.
Pro Tip: Send out rehearsal dinner invites at the same time so you don’t forget about it.
11. Select Guest Favors
Brainstorm what it is you will be giving to your guests at the 3-month mark. You absolutely do not have to do guest favors but it’s a nice touch on your wedding if the budget allows it.
12. Finalize Your Photo Booth Rental
If you want to be a part of the photo booth trend you need to book at 3 months. These are fun and create lasting memories, but it’s not necessary. You could do the same thing with a hanging backdrop, some props, and a phone if you want the experience on a cheaper budget.
13. Write Your Vows
You want time to work on the vows, especially if you are writing your own and not doing the traditional “in sickness and in health” vows. Start at 3 months and put your writer hat on; go through a few drafts before finalizing them.
14. Select Readings For Your Ceremony
Bible verses are great for these. But if you aren’t going the religious route there are plenty of options to pick from. If you are letting your readers pick then give them as much guidance as possible.
15. Start Any Do-It-Yourself Projects
You should start on these at least 3 months out. Enlist help if you have a lot to do, but don’t make it suck. Get some wine, music, food, and schedule some breaks in between the crafting, please.
16. Get Your Marriage License
The marriage license is important because without it you cannot get married. When going to get the fine print it’s important to know where to go, what to bring, how much it’ll cost, how long it’ll take, and how long it’ll last. Do a quick Google because each state has different rules so read up on yours.
If you are doing a destination wedding make sure to fill out all the appropriate paperwork for that destination as well. Make sure you as a couple, your witness(es), and your officiant sign where necessary too! And whatever you do, please for the love of God, don’t lose it.
17. Buy Gifts For Your Wedding Party
The price point on these will vary according to your budget, but whatever you get them, it should be personal and thoughtful. It’s a thank you to them for participating in your special day.
18. Talk Music with Your Musicians
At the two-month mark, you need to either hand over your music list or have a sit-down conversation with your music vendors to talk about what you want and don’t want.
19. Buy the Little Things
These are the tiny things you may not think about. For example, table numbers, toasting flutes, cake topper, cake stand, cake knife, guest book, card box, ring-bearer accessories, flower-girl accessories, a cute hanger for your dress, baskets, signs.” This should be done at the 2-month mark.
Pro Tip: Throughout your planning process have a list of all the tiny details you’ll need to purchase. That way you won’t be wracking your head trying to list everything off.
20. Pay Vendors in Full.
Most of your vendors will let you save up money or have a payment plan set up for you. The rule of thumb though is to have everything paid in full by 1 month out. That way you won’t be stressing about getting it in or having people exchanging cash the day of.
21. Create a Seating Chart and Order Guest Cards.
This is a daunting challenge but with skill and strategy, you will handle it with ease. Don’t forget to order the place cards or escort cards, whichever route you choose. Place cards not only tell the guest which table but also which seat, while escort cards just tell your guest which table to sit at. Do this a month out.
22. Have a Final Venue Walkthrough
For this, you should have a list of questions prepared beforehand and you should bring your planner or close friend to bring anything you forget up.
23. Tip Envelopes
Get your tips together and put each into a labeled envelope for those vendors. These will most likely be distributed by your venue coordinator or a trusted person on your bridal party day of. Normally, you don’t need to tip people who own their own business; it’s mostly photographers, videographers, and florists. However, it is customary to tip musicians, DJs, hairstylists, makeup artists, drivers, bartenders, and servers, planners.
24. Break-In Those Wedding Shoes
A month out from your wedding you should start breaking in your wedding shoes. This goes for guys as well. Walk around your house or dance in the kitchen. Do everything and anything you can do to break them in before the wedding. No one wants blisters the night of their wedding. That’s no fun.
25. Final Week Tasks
In the final week of your wedding, you should get these few tasks done. A lot of them are beauty tips like refreshing your hair color, Mani/Pedi, get your eyebrows done, get your ring professionally cleaned, get a massage to relax. There is some important ones like your final dress fitting which you should bring a bridesmaid along so they can learn how to bustle your dress. You need to pack for the honeymoon and chase any RSVP stragglers. If you wrote them practice your vows aloud and write your partner a note.
26. Write Thank-You Notes
After the honeymoon is over you need to get to work writing out the personal thank you cards to all of your guests, especially those who gave gifts.
27. Review Vendors
You should definitely let other couples know what you loved or didn’t love about your vendors. It helps newly engaged couples and vendors.
Common Wedding Checklist Questions:
1. How do I plan a simple wedding?
With care and precision. In all honestly, you plan a small wedding like you plan a big one, you just won’t spend as much or order as many things. But a wedding checklist will always help no matter how big the wedding is.
2. What are must-haves for a wedding?
Must-haves all depend on the couple since each one has individual needs and wants. The obvious is a marriage license and someone to marry you, along with a witness. But other than that everything else is up in the air.
3. What are the best things a bride needs?
So usually the bride will have a tiny clutch she will pack with necessities that she will entrust to a bridesmaid to hold onto all day. This will usually include travel-sized tissues, deodorant, lipstick, safety pins, a small sewing kit, blotting papers, tide stain stick, and aspirin. The bride should also have a robe, water, Water facial spray bottle, and Travel mouthwash.
4. Will the checklist help me if I’m having a destination wedding?
Yes! It will definitely be different since most destination weddings are a whole weekend event, but with customization, a wedding checklist will be sure to help you stay on track of things.
5. What if my wedding details change?
That really isn’t an issue. Most wedding planning apps will let you edit your details and the app will update the rest of it to keep you on track.
However, this checklist doesn’t have exact due dates but more of what you should have done by each month out. So if your wedding day changes you just need to calculate that change.
6. How will we know when to do things?
Deadlines are usually set on checklists like this one tells you what should be done each month out up to 1 year. So you’ll know when things are due to be sent, booked, or ordered.
7. Do we still need a wedding planner?
Honestly, that is completely up to the couple. But I’m all for having a to-do list on hand. It keeps me sane and can also let me know what my planner should be reaching out to talk to me about.
Deauna Nunes is an assistant editor who covers pop culture and news & entertainment for YourTango. She’s been published by Emerson College’s literary magazine Generic. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.