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The Ultimate Wedding Timeline: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Big Day

Meet your guide to the perfect wedding day timeline.

wedding-planning checklist
Wedding

Woohoo! Your better half finally asked, and you didn’t hesitate to say "Yes!" Now, as you strut down the road to marital euphoria, it’s time to milk your engagement for all it’s worth. First off, pop some bubbly and bask in the glow of being newly engaged—trust us, it’s a pretty big deal. Next up: Dive headfirst into the wedding planning madness!


Prepare yourself for an avalanche of to-dos: sending invites, taste-testing more cake than you ever imagined, tackling the dreaded seating chart, choosing decorations, and a whole lot more before you can party down and make it official. And don’t panic—we’ve got you covered as you weave through the chaos.


Get Started

Get ready for a whirlwind tour of wedding day timeline prep, from over a year out to beyond the big day. This foolproof wedding planning checklist will keep you sane and smiling—and don’t worry if something on the list doesn’t jive with your vision. It’s your day, so only take note of the tips you find helpful in creating a personalized wedding plan. Think of it as your step-by-step guide to a perfect day, the start of your happily ever after and some really freaking gorgeous photo books you’ll enjoy the rest of your life! And we’ve also created this printable checklist to make things easier on you. 

Plan 12+ Months in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list a year or more in advance.

Engagement Party

Many couples kick things off with a celebration of their engagement, so why not?! The pics will make a great photo book and be useful for your wedding website (or your Save the Dates).

Save Your Engagement Party Pics
The Best Way to Save Your Memories
Save Your Engagement Party Pics
Start Working on Your Guest List

If the task of deciding who to invite (and exclude) from your wedding risks either depleting your savings or causing conflicts within your families, numerous wedding planners advise focusing on the individuals who truly matter. Try not to think of inviting wedding guests as fulfilling a social duty, but rather as an opportunity to be surrounded by those who hold genuine affection for you and vice versa. 

For couples unsure about inviting certain individuals, reflect on who you’d ideally want to share your special evening with, rather than feeling compelled to invite every colleague and person your parents have ever introduced you to. Most importantly, think about who will make your pictures look like a million bucks when you print them in your wedding photo books (just kidding!).

Set a Budget

Before you start planning anything, it’s key to figure out how much you want to spend (and realistically afford). Traditionally, the bride’s folks foot the bill, but let’s be real, that’s not always how it goes these days. Have an honest conversation with your parents and your partner's to see if they’re planning to chip in, how much they're thinking, and what they’d like to cover. This is also a great opportunity to ask them what they’re expecting (they may expect to invite all their friends to your reception) and to set boundaries.

Research and Book Venues

Before researching or visiting wedding venues, be sure to have a rough draft of your guest list. It’s a total bummer to fall for a place, then realize it's too small. Every venue’s got something going for it, but the goal is to find one that’s just right—the right vibe, size, location and price.

Got your heart set on an outdoor party? Make sure your plan for rain is just as awesome as your sunny day plan, so you're not left stalking the weather channel. This may mean you need to put a security deposit down on a tent at least six months out. That way, you're not freaking out at the last minute. If it turns out sunny, you can always ditch the tent (losing your deposit is a small price for peace of mind, right?).

wedding day timeline
Set a Wedding Date

Once you’ve found the perfect venue, you can nail down a date. Try to steer clear of holiday weekends because not only is travel pricier for your guests, you could end up shelling out extra to pay staff for working on a holiday.

Book the Caterer, Photographer, Band or DJ and Hotel

As soon as you have a venue and a date, you can start booking everything else. If your spot doesn’t include food, you’ll wanna start scoping out caterers. And when it comes to picking your photographer or videographer, make sure you ask to see an example of an entire wedding they’ve shot, not just a portfolio of highlights to get the real “picture” of what they can do. Lock down your tunes—be it a DJ or a band—to keep the party going just the way you like it and think about reserving a block of hotel rooms for friends and family coming from afar.

Wedding Planner

If you opt for the wedding planner route, one of the best parts about hiring a wedding planner is that they can help you source and negotiate with vendors who can complete your vision. But don't just hire anyone—chat with your potential planner first to see if you're both dreaming the same dream wedding. It's also smart to check how they talk and work, and if they've pulled off other weddings on a budget like yours.

Put Together Your Wedding Party

If you decide to have a wedding party (some people decide to skip this step to simplify their wedding), you’ll want to give them plenty of advance notice to hold the date and book any travel needed. While in the past, many people felt it was essential to have an equal count of groomsmen and bridesmaids, don’t worry if there are few more of one or the other. This is quite common in modern weddings, as well as brides including male friends as attendants and grooms having female attendants.

Book Engagement Photos

Snapping engagement pics is like capturing your love in the wild—before the wedding day turns you into a pair of well-dressed zoo animals. This short phase of blissful pre-wedding chaos is worth freezing in time, so you can reminisce over your engagement photo book when you’re old and arguing over TV remotes. 

An engagement photo shoot is your chance to get all dolled up and flaunt your couple vibes, showing off how ridiculously good you look together, just by being your awesome, quirky selves. It can also be a great way to start building your relationship with your wedding photographer. Plus, they’re great to have for your website and Save the Dates!

Showcase Your Engagement Pics
the best way to save your memories
Showcase Your Engagement Pics
Order Your Dress

Embarking on the quest for the perfect wedding gown can be one of the most memorable parts of your wedding planning journey, but it's also one that requires a fair bit of foresight. The creation of a custom wedding dress is an intricate process that, depending on the complexity and design, can take nearly a year from the time of order to the final fitting. By choosing your dream dress early in the planning phase, you not only secure the gown of your dreams but also sidestep any potential rush fees that can accumulate if you're working within a tighter timeline.

However, if you find yourself in the whirlwind of a very short engagement, there's no need to hit the panic button just yet. There are several savvy alternatives to ensure you walk down the aisle in a dress that feels just as special. One option is to explore the world of sample sales at bridal boutiques, where you can purchase a gown straight off the showroom floor at a fraction of the cost. Alternatively, ready-to-wear dresses available at retail stores or through various resale websites can be both a timely and budget-friendly solution, offering a wide range of styles and sizes to fit your wedding day vision and timeline. Regardless of how you find your perfect dress, remember that it's all about how you feel in it on your big day.

Book the Florist

Consider whether you need a florist or an event designer who does flowers, lighting, and décor. If you’re thinking you’ll need a bouquet and centerpieces—which should be under 14 inches tall or over 24 inches for clear conversation—you may also want flowers for a ceremony arch, cake decorations or chuppah adornments. Stick to seasonal blooms for affordability, or if you're set on specific flowers, plan your wedding when they're available. 

For example, peonies won't be easy to find in September without a hefty price tag. When meeting with your florist, bring pictures of arrangements you like and a list of favorite and sentimental flowers. If some picks are pricey or rare, just sprinkle them in a bit or let your bouquet be the VIP section. This is also the time to decide on your wedding color scheme!

Hire the Officiant

Tying the knot in your church? You probably already know the person leading the ceremony. Mixing traditions? A Unitarian minister can blend it like a pro. Just here for the legal stamp? A judge or justice of the peace is the person for your nuptials. Want your buddy or cousin to officiate? There’s an online ordination for that (check out themonastery.org). Just make sure to ring up your local city or county clerk’s office to ensure you’re covering all your legal bases.

Create a Website

Now that you have the big event details hammered out, it’s a good time to get cracking on your wedding website. A website is the perfect spot for guests to check out travel details and digitally RSVP if that’s your preferred route. Your site can be simple, but keep in mind that you want the feeling, font and photos to jive with your wedding style (casual, formal, etc.).

Book a Hairstylist and Makeup Artist

If you’ll be using a professional hairstylist and makeup artist, book them at least several hours before the main event so you’re not stressed about being ready on time. Many brides also like to do hair and makeup trials beforehand, as well. (And last but not least, don’t forget that getting ready is a fun photo op moment so consider having your photographer there, too!).

Plan 9-12 Months in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list nine or more months in advance.

Book Rentals and Guest Transportation

If you need tents, tables, linens or chairs, now’s the time to book ’em. If you’re having a destination wedding and your event is far from the hotel where guests will be staying, book transportation if you can. Same goes for if your reception is far from where your ceremony is being held (and be sure to provide shuttles back to the ceremony location post-reception for guests to pick up their cars). Providing guests with transportation can be a huge expense, so it’s not requirement!

Begin Registering for Gifts

From the moment you announce your engagement, friends and family may begin to send gifts your way. To streamline this process and make it as convenient as possible for your guests, it's a wise move to organize your registry as early as possible. By selecting items from your wish list and spreading items across two well-known national retailers, as well as one local store, you provide options that cater to various guest preferences and logistical needs. This thoughtful approach not only aids your loved ones in choosing the perfect gift but also ensures a variety of selections that align with your tastes and needs.

Send Save the Dates

After you’ve shot any necessary photos, it’s time to send out those Save the Dates. They’re super handy for weddings where guests need to plan a bit more, like destination getaways or anything that involves a bit of travel. But honestly, these days most folks send them out for any old wedding style. Why? Because it kicks off the anticipation and gets everyone hyped for your big day!

Plan 6-9 Months in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list six to nine months in advance.

Pick Out Invitations

Even more so than your website, your invites are basically the sneak peek trailer of your wedding’s vibe. So, if they scream backyard BBQ but you’re planning a "black-tie gala," guests might show up looking more picnic than posh. And hey, if you want those names written fancier than your aunt’s best handwriting, now’s the moment to snag a calligrapher before they’re booked.

Order Bridesmaid Dresses and Groomsmen Outfits

When it comes to bridesmaids dresses, are you going solid or print? Matchy-matchy or fashionably uncoordinated? Long, short, or midi? For groomsmen, are you thinking bow ties or skinny ties? Navy, black or linen? Or, full-on formal tuxes? Now’s the time to pick and nudge your crew to get measured and send you their sizes pronto and/or get their order in themselves. For groomsmen, they can often rent what they need if you want everyone to match or wear tuxedos.

Plan Your Honeymoon

Planning a trip can be like waiting for your favorite band to start playing—you think you have time until suddenly, you don’t. Decide on your destination and start locking things down. Remember, the longer you wait to book flights and hotels, the more expensive they can become!

Print Your Honeymoon Photos
the best way to save your memories
Print Your Honeymoon Photos
Plan Your Rehearsal

Reserve any venues or dinner spots you’ll need for post-rehearsal celebrations and consider whether you’ll want to hire a photographer for this event, as well. And, of course, don’t forget to nail down who’s coming to the rehearsal dinner because those invites will need to fly out the door soon. 

Plan 4-6 Months in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list four to six months in advance.

Finalize Party Details

Who says receptions have to get through a stuffy five-course meal before guests can bust a move? Why not mix it up with a brunch bash, a swanky cocktail soirée, or a cozy family-style shindig? Just remember a few key ingredients: food that feels like the couple, a cake that's as unique as your love story, and tunes that'll get grandma grooving. Line up your cake, nail down the grub (taste-test mandatory!), and pick your playlist.

Plot Out Your Reception Timeline

Here’s a standard timeline you can use to decide what works for you:

Immediately following the ceremony

Cocktail hour: this can mean everything from passed drinks and appetizers to an open bar and appetizer station

30 minutes to an hour after the ceremony 

The couple enters and has their first dance

90 minutes after the ceremony

If you’re having a sit-down dinner, this is typically when the first course would be served and speeches start (the host, parents and best man, maid of honor). While guests are eating, you can intermix father-daughter dance, mother-son dance and any other special dances with the speeches.

3 hours after the ceremony

Plan on about 90 minutes for dinner. Immediately following dinner, or about 3 hours into the reception is typically when the dance floor opens.

4 hours after the ceremony

The cake is cut and dessert is served

4 hours and 45 minutes after the ceremony 

The bouquet is tossed

5-6 hours after the ceremony

The party starts winding down and bride and the groom depart

Plan 2-6 Months in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list two to six months in advance.

Choose Your Wedding Rings

Sure, the engagement ring typically steals the show, but the ceremony is about exchanging vows and rings so make sure you don’t forget your his and hers wedding bands (and ensure they fit so they’ll slide on easily!).

Mail Invitations

Get those invites out at least six weeks early, giving your guests enough time to RSVP (or invent creative excuses). This way, you’ll snag a solid head count before you start wondering if you’re throwing a gala or a ghost town. And if you’re planning to say “I do” in a foreign country or over a holiday weekend, getting those invites in the mailbox as soon as possible is key.

Plan Your Ceremony

The classic lineup: groom chilling at the altar, wedding squad strutting in, ring bearer and flower girl adding the cute factor, followed by the bride’s grand entrance. On the seating front, reserve VIP seats for family in the front rows, then tradition usually splits the crowd: bride’s peeps to the left, groom’s gang to the right (flip it for a Jewish ceremony). You can have ushers escort guests to “their” side or let guests sit wherever they like (with a sign that indicates open seating like “Have a seat anywhere!”). 

Make your ceremony uniquely yours by handpicking tunes and readings, or even penning your own vows. Dive into the worlds of poetry, novels, lyrics, and those mushy notes you’ve exchanged for a dash of inspiration. And who says you have to conclude with the same old Canon-in-D norm? Many modern brides and grooms opt for songs that truly resonate with them.

Don’t Forget the Little Things

If you’re doing favors, now’s the time to order them, as well as gifts for your wedding party. Other extras you may want to consider ordering at this time are cake knives, toasting glasses, and unity candles. If you’re doing a garter toss, get your garter. Start breaking in your shoes. Finalize seating charts and toasts and print your programs.

Pick Out Your Guest Book

Whether your vibe is homemade, alternative, nerdy, non-traditional or just fun, we’ve created a list of super creative wedding guest book ideas to fit every theme. Let’s face it: You and your partner are anything but boring. Why settle for a wedding guest book that doesn’t really feel like you?

Unique Wedding Guest Books
The Best way to save your memories
Unique Wedding Guest Books
Plan 2-3 Months in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list two to three months in advance.

Begin Dress Fittings

Kick off your fitting appointments early to leave ample room for tweaks and adjustments. Many tailors and bridal shops don’t begin alterations until a few weeks before the big day.

Plan 1-2 Months in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list one to two months in advance.

Write Your Vows

Don’t forget the main purpose! To publicly declare your love and commitment to your spouse. Get to work on those vows at least a month in advance so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. And make sure you write your vows very clearly (and make a copy!) so they’re easy to read when your moment comes.

Get Your Marriage License

Every state and city has different rules. Make sure you know yours so the moment you tie the knot, you know it’s official.

Plan 2 Weeks in Advance

These are the wedding to-do's you should aim to cross off your list no later than two weeks before your big day.

Finalizions

Last chance for any changes to the wedding photo shot list, adding songs to your playlist or adjusting the headcount with your caterer. This a great time to stat packing the items you’ll need (like accessories or slippers) in totes or bags, including decor you may need to drop at your venue.

Gifts for Your Soon-to-Be Spouse
The Best Way to Save Your Memories
Gifts for Your Soon-to-Be Spouse
Couple Gifts

If you choose to give each other gifts and haven’t picked the perfect present already, consider these sentimental tokens of affection before heading down the aisle.

1-3 Months After Your Wedding Day

After your big day, these are some items you should aim to cross off your list sooner rather than later!

Order Your Wedding Pictures

Every photographer’s got their own pace, but typically, you’re looking at a wait of about four to 12 weeks to get your hands on the final, edited pro shots from your big day to select when creating a wedding photo book (and duplicates for your family members!) that you’ll treasure forever.

Gorgeous Wedding Photo Album
The Best Way to Save Your Memories
Gorgeous Wedding Photo Album
Write Thank Yous

Some say you have an entire year, but the old-school rule book says you’ve got a three-month deadline to write thank-yous for gifts. Better to get them out of the way then to worry about them—or worse, forget—before your first anniversary rolls around.

And there you have it, your ultimate wedding day schedule guide. Use this timeline to design and print your own customized agenda, starting from 12+ months in advance all the way to the big day, for the ultimate wedding preparation checklist. Crafting your tailored wedding plan has never been simpler!

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