The Ultimate Wedding Planning Timeline and Checklist

You’re engaged, congratulations!

wedding planning timeline a funny girl making a face when asked about the plan

Planning a wedding can feel a little overwhelming when you’re first getting started.
That’s why we have put together this wedding planning timeline for you.
By breaking down the tasks into 1-2 month chunks, you can concentrate on a few things at a time.
This will take away a lot of the stress that some couples deal with during the wedding planning process.

There is no exact science to planning your wedding since engagement lengths vary from a a couple of months to a couple of years. We are going to base this wedding planning timeline on the average engagement of 12-14 months.

The Wedding Planning Timeline – Setting Yourself Up For Success

The very first thing to do before you start planning is to set a budget.

funny meme about not having any money for wedding planning

It doesn’t matter if you are getting married in 2 years or in 2 months.
Sit down and come with a number that works for the two of you.

Are you paying for the wedding yourselves?
Are there any family members who might want to help?

It used to be tradition that the bride’s parents paid for the wedding, but this not really the case anymore. 
Nowadays, weddings are paid for by whoever can and wants to help.

So sit down, come up with the dollar amount that you as the couple are comfortable with. Then add in the total of what others can contribute, and you will have your estimated budget.

Now you can start planning!

If you only have 6 months to plan, just do everything in the 6 month and longer sections so you can get caught up as quickly as possible. 

Don’t stress about it. We have talked to many couples who have only had 4-6 months to plan an entire wedding. 

It can easily be done without a lot of stress (a wedding planner can be highly beneficial for shorter engagements).

Here is a wedding planning timeline and checklist based on the 12-14 month planning schedule:

12-14 months or as soon as you get engaged

Make sure that your budget has been decided and set.

Open up a separate bank account and keep your wedding planning funds there.

This will help you stay on track when it comes to money.

Pick a few dates that would be ideal for you.

  • Do you love the fall?
  • Is humidity your worst enemy?
  • Do you love spring flowers?

Come up with 4-6 dates that would be perfect.

Before doing anything else, talk to the VIPs (this is the list of family and friends who absolutely have to be at your wedding) to make sure there are no scheduling conflicts (already planned vacations, other weddings they have committed to, baby due dates, etc.).

Everyone’s VIP list is different. These are the people you can’t imaging not having at your wedding.

If you are going to hire a wedding planner, now is the time to do it.

  • A wedding planner can be very valuable when planning a wedding. 
  • A great wedding planner will have access to the best wedding vendors. 
  • A talented wedding planner will also be thinking 4 steps ahead at all times.

They can save you a ton of time and stress.

If you are going to do it yourself, don’t worry, we have a lot of great planning tips and info to help you out.

Get yourself organized from the start.

You are going to have a lot of receipts, contracts, brochures, magazines, documents, etc..

Start the process by being organized, and you will cut a lot of stress out of the planning process.

  • Use Pinterest for online ideas. Make separate boards for different categories (floral ideas, hairstyles, photos you love, planning tips, dress styles, etc.)
  • Purchase (or make) a wedding organizer. Organize it into categories (photography, flowers, venue, wedding party, honeymoon, ceremony, DJ, etc.).
  • Use Google Docs or Google Sheets for anything you are keeping track of online.

The key to success with staying organized is to make separate sections for each category, and keep the category names the same across all platforms (Pinterest, Wedding Organizer, Google Doc/Sheets, etc…).
This will allow you to quickly access everything you have.

Make your wedding guest list

You have already figured out who the VIPs are.

funny wedding planning meme

Now it’s time to come up with a rough number of everyone else that you want at your wedding.

This will help you narrow down your venue options.

If you plan on having a huge wedding with 250 people, you don’t want to waste your time by looking at wedding venues that only seat 150 guests. 

It’s best to come up with your potential guest list and budget before doing anything else.

We recommend gathering addresses for your guest list at this time. 

Now you know about how many people you are inviting, and the amount you can spend. 

That was the hardest part. You did it! Give yourself a pat on the back. 

There are still many things to take care of but you have already checked off the two items on your wedding planning timeline that are the most difficult.

Choose your wedding venue

When looking for venues, try to envision your wedding day. 

  • Are you picturing a very formal wedding with guests in tuxedos and fancy dresses?
  • Are you looking for a more relaxed feel with guests playing corn hole during cocktail hour?
  • Is your ceremony going to be a church?
  • Are you hoping to get ready, get married and dance the night away, all at the same venue?

As a couple you will want to talk about this before you start looking at venues.

You will quickly figure out which direction to go in.

Now it’s time to visit a few of your favorite wedding venues!

According to couples we talked to, these are the best wedding venues in Lancaster PA

If you have a preferred officiant who has to be a part of your wedding, you should talk with them about your potential dates before booking a venue.

If you are going to be hiring a separate officiant that you don’t know, this is not as important.

Choose your wedding photographer

I would not procrastinate on this. Just like venues, many of the best photographers book up 12-18 months in advance. Once you find the photographer that is the right fit for you, book them.

bride and groom photo kissing in middle of road
Photo courtesy of Thomas Beaman Photography

Create a mood board

Pinterest is the best place to do this. 

As mentioned earlier, make a different board for each category (photography, hair styles, dresses, decor, planning tips, etc.)

If you try and stuff every idea into one or 2 Pinterest boards, it will become cluttered and extremely disorganized. Do yourself a favor and make a separate board for each category.

Pick your color palette

Decide on your wedding party

  • There are no set rules for this. Some couples have 22 person wedding parties, some couples have 3 person wedding parties. 
  • Do whatever you want.
  • It doesn’t have to be the same on both sides. 
  • If one of you has 3 people and the other has 7, go for it. It doesn’t matter.
  • The tradition of matching wedding party sides is long gone.

But how do we make a lopsided wedding party look good during the ceremony?

First, your guests will be looking at you.

But if this is truly a concern, consider having a select group stand during the ceremony (like the maid of honor and best man), and have the others sit in the front row.

Select a caterer

Hire any other vendors that are important to you (DJ, video, band, florists, cake, makeup, transportation, etc.)

One question we get asked often is, “when should we hire our vendors?”

The honest answer is right away. If it’s important to you, choose them right away.

The best wedding vendors book up fast!

Once you have your date, venue, and budget, there is really no reason to wait on booking the other vendors that are important to your day.

This video below gives some great info on when to book vendors. The only thing I disagree with is waiting until 2-3 months before the wedding to hire makeup and hair. Jamie even corrects this in the comments after talking with a few makeup artists. Treat makeup and hair just like any other vendor. If it’s super important, book them as soon as you can. No need to wait. Definitely check out this video. Jamie gives some great tips and advice.

8-12 months – The Wedding Planning Timeline

Go shopping for your dress (Check out these amazing bridal shops in Philadelphia or these awesome bridal shops in Lancaster, Harrisburg and York)

Purchase the rest of your attire and accessories after you have picked out your dress (shoes, clutch, jewelry, etc…)

Room blocks for guests

Wedding website

Register for gifts

Friends and family will start sending gifts at the first party thrown in your honor ( probably an engagement party). 
To make it more convenient for your guests, we recommend registering with two national stores and one local store.

Have your engagement photos taken (If your near Harrisburg, PA, check out these awesome locations for your engagement session).

Book your officiant

Send out save the dates if you are having a destination wedding, or if you are having your wedding over a holiday weekend (you can even do this up to 12 months in advance if it’s going to be a lot of travel for lots of guests).

Otherwise you should send them between 6-8 months before the wedding.

Shop for and purchase bridesmaids attire 

Start planning your honeymoon

Meet with potential florists

6-7 months – The Wedding Planning Timeline

Order invitations

Purchase wedding bands

Send save the dates (do this at 9-12 months if having a destination wedding or if your wedding is over a holiday weekend)

Figure out transportation for guests and wedding party
How is everyone getting to and from each location?

Hire ceremony musicians if needed/wanted

Groom and groomsmen attire

Order all rentals that you need (chairs, linens, etc.)

Dessert tasting (now we’re talking!)

Schedule you dress fitting

Figure out your rehearsal dinner guest list

Book your rehearsal dinner venue

Finish planning your honeymoon

Reception or ceremony lighting

  • Many DJs offer uplighting/mood lighting. Once you have your venue picked out, figure out if you are going to want some extra lighting in your ceremony or reception location. It can add a nice effect to almost any room.
  • If this is not something your DJ offers, there are many companies who can do this for you.
  • Your venue, planner, DJ, and photographer will most likely have a few names for you.
bride and groom enjoying their wedding first dance
Photo courtesy of Diamond Street Photography

4-5 months – The Wedding Planning Timeline

Have your final tasting with caterer

If you haven’t already, choose your cake and/or desserts

Plan your ceremony/service details

Write your vows

Floral meeting

Talk with DJ (Skype or phone is fine) to give “must play” and “do not play” lists. 

Have your wedding party schedule fittings for attire

Book your wedding night accommodations 

Mail invitations (3-4 months prior to wedding date)

2-3 months – The Wedding Planning Timeline

Makeup and hair trial

Talk with all vendors and finalize all details

Order menu cards

Order programs

Track your RSVPS (6-8 weeks prior to wedding date)

  • Ask a family member from each side to call any family who has not sent in RSVP.wedding name cards making fun of guests who did not send rsvp
  • Ask a wedding party member from each side to call friends who have not sent in RSVP

Plan reception seating

Finalize reception details and menu with caterer

Finalize your wedding day timeline. Think of all the little things that you might want to do (and share this plan with everyone):

  • Are the guys going golfing the morning of? 
  • Are you having a catered lunch?
  • Are you doing a first look as a couple?
  • Are you doing a father-daughter first look? Check out these amazing father daughter first look tips (plus photos and video) to get the most out of this special moment.
  • Are you doing a sparkler exit?

Finish gathering decor

Purchase gifts (for wedding party, parents, each other etc.)

Revisit honeymoon plans and take care of anything that you might have missed (passports?)

1 month before – The Wedding Planning Timeline

Final attire fitting (4-6 weeks before wedding)

  • This allows enough time if any other alterations need to be made.
  • We also recommend bringing someone along so they can learn the bustling process

Remind wedding party and parents to have any last alterations done

Organize all of your details

Send all details (day of timeline) to immediate family, wedding party, and vendors. This way everyone has the same info.

Final walk through with venue

Meet with DJ to finalize all music related items (confirm all entrance, dance songs). 

Apply for your marriage license

Pay any vendors that have 30 day last payments

Buy alcohol and any items needed for signature cocktails

bride and groom having their first kiss
Photo courtesy of Steven Dray Photography

2 weeks – The Wedding Planning Timeline

Final confirmation with all vendors

Final guest count to caterer

Have your dress and/or tux-suit in your possession

Make sure everyone is paid

Confirm details with all ceremony readers and make sure they have their readings

Tips and cards for vendors

Practice your vows out loud

Pack a wedding emergency kit (scissors, mints, pain reliever for headaches, bobby pins, tweezers, compact mirror, etc.)

Time to organize and put it all together (run through this checklist and make sure you didn’t forget anything)

1-2 days before – The Wedding Planning Timeline

Practice your vows out loud (again)

Have your ring cleaned

Get a manicure and pedicure

Take your best friend and have a spa day if you can

Gather all getting ready details for your photographer and put them in a bag or box (shoes, invitation, jewelry, clutch, etc.)

Start hydrating

Rest up

Try and take off work the last couple of days before your wedding

We hope that this wedding planning timeline gave you a few ideas to make the next year easier.

The most important part of this entire process is…

Make sure to have fun!

 

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