Now that you’ve had time to celebrate your engagement, it’s time to start wedding planning!
Beginning the wedding planning process is often the first marital test for a newly engaged couple. Between creating a wedding budget, navigating family dynamics, and prioritizing each other’s wants and needs, couples have the opportunity to practice many of the relationship-building skills that will be invaluable in their next stage of life as a married couple.
Read on for the ultimate wedding planning timeline and checklist, including when to book a wedding venue, when to send out save the dates, and more.
When in doubt, a professional wedding planner can help create a customized wedding checklist for your specific wedding vision, so you can decide when and how to get all of those important decisions made.
Wedding Planning Timeline: 10 to 18 Months Out
I. SELECT YOUR WEDDING DATE AND VENUE
“Couples should book their venue as soon as possible after the proposal. Because of the quantity of reschedules and postponements, many venues have really limited availability,” says Shannon Tarrant, co-founder of Wedding Venue Map.
We recommend considering a day other than Saturday for your wedding. Off-peak days are a great way to open up availability at your dream venue during some of the most popular times of year. For example, wedding venues in St. Augustine see a huge search in popularity during the Nights of Lights holiday season.
Not only that, choosing a lower-demand day often means you can save money across the board on your wedding venue and wedding vendors. (Hello, extra cash in the budget for that open bar!)
Bride Daphne Durmaz says, “Having the wedding on a Thursday allowed the guests to spend the remainder of their long weekend trip exploring their beautiful surroundings.”
At the Lightner Museum, we offer an inclusive Intimate Wedding Package tailored for weddings on Fridays and Sundays in 2023 and 2024. This package has all of the amazing venue benefits of a custom Saturday wedding, but with services from some of our top vendors at a reduced rate!
II. HIRE A WEDDING PLANNER
In addition to booking their wedding venue, couples should also book their wedding planner at the beginning of the wedding planning process.
You want a wedding coordinator by your side to help you navigate communication with vendors, create a realistic wedding budget, keep your wedding planning timeline on track, and deal with any unexpected surprises.
“Lindsay and her team were incredibly responsive to the many, MANY questions we had leading up to the big day and always gave [us] their time and attention. We were guided throughout the entire planning process from securing vendors to managing communication with our guests and everything in between. They go above and beyond and we’ll never forget how amazing it felt to fully enjoy [our day] knowing Lindsay and her team were right by our side. You honestly can’t ask for more when it comes to planning one of the most special days of your life in the midst of a pandemic!”
Emma Betz, Wedding Planner and Event Coordinator at Coastal Celebrations shared this advice:
“Our timelines as planners are the master timelines. With this being said, we reach out to every vendor to ensure that everyone’s timeline matches up! This helps not only your vendors, but it also helps our clients visualize their day.
III. HIRE YOUR HIGH-PRIORITY WEDDING VENDORS
During the early stages of wedding planning, you will also want to select a majority of your primary vendors, including a caterer, photographer, videographer, and decorator/florist. The style, level of service, and options for these wedding vendor categories can vary widely, along with their availability.
Often, couples and their families have a specific idea of what is most important to them when choosing these essential vendors. We recommend booking them in order of importance, as early as possible, to ensure that they are available for your wedding day. Many venues have a preferred vendor list that they request you choose from, so be sure to obtain this information early on in the wedding planning journey.
Wedding Planning Timeline: 9 to 10 Months Out
I. FIND YOUR WEDDING DRESS
Another important to-do on the wedding planning checklist is to say “yes” to your dream wedding dress! Wedding dresses can take up to nine months to be designed and delivered. In addition to this, you will need about two months to start alterations. Be sure to contact your local bridal shop to learn more about their specific delivery dates.
II. SEND WEDDING SAVE-THE-DATES
When it comes to save the dates, you can never give too much notice. Consider sending them out anywhere from six to eight months in advance.
If you’re having a destination wedding or if your wedding falls on a holiday, send your save the dates even earlier, with at least 10 months’ notice. This will give your guests extra time to plan their travel and accommodations. This is a great time to start thinking about ordering your formal wedding invitations as well!
III. COMPLETE YOUR WEDDING REGISTRY
Don’t be shy when it comes to completing your wedding registry. It’s actually a convenience for your guests, as it makes shopping easier for them. We recommend choosing a minimum of two retailers. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon, and Zola are all great registry options!
Wedding Planning Timeline: 6 to 9 Months Out
I. CHOOSE WEDDING PARTY ATTIRE
Sometimes it can be tough to agree on bridesmaids’ dresses and outfits that suit all body types. This can take time and several visits before anything is decided upon. You’ll want to choose outfits with plenty of time in advance for your bridal party to get accessories and alterations.
II. MEET WITH YOUR OFFICIANT
Don’t have anyone in mind to officiate your wedding? This is a great time to review the ceremony plans, religious and non-religious traditions, and arrange for any necessary documentation. Don’t forget to discuss custom or pre-written vows.
III. ORDER YOUR WEDDING CAKE
Many specialty wedding cake designers require long lead times. If you are meeting with your cake designer in person, bring photos and inspiring ideas to your appointment.
Some bakeries offer virtual meetings with couples who are unable to meet in person. Don’t forget to ask about cake tasting options! If you’re planning a destination wedding for 2023, the bakery can help you figure out the best time to plan your tasting.
IV. BOOK YOUR REHEARSAL DINNER VENUE
Wedding Planning Timeline: 4 to 6 Months Out
I. SEND YOUR FORMAL WEDDING INVITATIONS
Wedding invitations should be sent out at least four months before the wedding. For destination weddings and international guests, we recommend six months in advance.
You want to include plenty of extra time to receive those late RSVPs and leave some wiggle room for those who need a little more time to make arrangements. Your vendor team will thank you for having a solid number before the wedding!
II. ORDER WEDDING FAVORS AND WEDDING PARTY GIFTS
If you are planning on doing wedding favors, four to six months before the wedding is a good time to check this off your to-do list. Personalized gifts like koozies for the bar and sweet treats at the table are always a fun way to surprise and delight your guests!
Some couples have opted to forgo favors and contribute to an important cause they would like to support. It’s also traditional for the couple to give a gift to their bridesmaids and groomsmen. Etsy has a wonderful variety of creative gift ideas, and you can always check social media for inspiration!
Wedding Planning Timeline: 3 to 4 Months Out
I. PLAN YOUR BAR TASTING AND CATERING MENU TASTING
Several months before your wedding, you’ll want to coordinate with your venue, caterer, and potentially your cake designer to do your tastings. Tastings not only offer the opportunity to sample your wedding menu and drink selections, they also allow you time with your vendors to discuss other important planning details and ask questions.
The Lightner Museum offers complimentary bar tastings for our couples to sample their bar selections and add signature cocktails and specialty bars!
II. APPLY FOR YOUR MARRIAGE LICENSE
Researching how to obtain your marriage license is one part of the process you don’t want to forget!
You typically have to file your marriage license application in the county in which you’ll be getting married, and different states and counties have unique laws and requirements. Make sure you know where to go, what to bring, the cost, and how long the process takes.
III. COMPILE RSVPS AND ARRANGE SEATING
Creating a seating chart for your wedding reception can be time-consuming. If you hire a wedding planner, part of their services may include helping you create a wedding venue floor plan and seating chart.
If you are planning your wedding at the Lightner Museum, make sure to ask your event manager about our tools for assisting you with your wedding floor plan and seating chart.
IV. CONFIRM ALL VENDORS
At three months out, we recommend sending an email out to all of your vendors to confirm all of the decisions that you have made with them up to that point. You should also review your ceremony and reception timeline as well as finalize all payment plans and schedules.
Your wedding planner will typically create a schedule of vendor delivery and setup times at your venue, along with contact information for all of your vendors.
Wedding Planning Timeline: 2 to 3 Months Out
I. START YOUR WEDDING DRESS ALTERATIONS
It’s time for your alterations! Standard wedding dress alterations will begin about eight weeks before your wedding. Remember to bring your wedding-day shoes and all accessories to your appointment!
II. HAIR & MAKEUP TRIAL RUN
Help your stylists get an idea of what you want for your wedding by researching any hairstyles or makeup looks in advance. Try looking on Pinterest, Instagram, or Google for wedding hair and makeup for inspiration!
Wedding Planning Timeline: 2 Weeks to 1 Month Out
I. ORGANIZE CHECKS AND CASH
Write out any final vendor checks in advance. Talk to your wedding planner or a designated individual who will handle any final payments and tips at the end of the reception.
II. SUBMIT FINAL GUEST COUNTS TO VENDORS
Most venues and vendors ask that you submit your final guest counts two to three weeks prior to the wedding date. Make sure to follow up on any of those missing RSVPs so there aren’t any surprises on the day of your wedding.
Wedding Planning Timeline: 1 Week Out Through Your Wedding Day!
I. RELAX AND ENJOY TIME WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS PRIOR TO THE WEDDING
If possible, try to take some additional time off the week before the wedding, especially if you are traveling. Take that time to enjoy time with your family and friends. It’s rare that you’ll have so many people you love all in one place!
We recommend planning opportunities for guests to meet one another prior to the wedding day, such as a welcome party. The more comfortable guests are with each other, the more fun the wedding day will be!
II. WEDDING REHEARSAL AND REHEARSAL DINNER
Head to your venue with your bridal party, ceremony readers, immediate family, and your officiant at the ceremony site to rehearse. Get familiar with the venue, and iron out any last-minute details. This is also the perfect time to give any bridal party or family gifts!
III. SAY I DO!
Your big day is here! You’re married! Congratulations! Don’t forget to relax and enjoy the moment. Months and years of planning have led up to this moment!