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Don’t Be a Ticking Time Bomb: Use this 12-Month Wedding Planning Timeline

It’s no secret that planning a wedding is hard work. Unless you plan to hire a full-service wedding planner—and even then—most newly engaged couples experience a fair amount of stress and unease along the way. Look, we know even the best-laid plans can go awry. Often, couples contact us at the last minute for wedding storage because, although they meticulously planned each detail of their wedding, they didn’t quite account for all the extra space they would need for the event and for family members traveling from out of town.

With this in mind, it’s best to start your wedding planning a full year ahead of time whenever possible. Check out our 12-month timeline planning guide to help you through some of the happiest—yet chaotic—moments of your life.

12+ Months Before

Start envisioning the wedding. Some people have been doing this since they were kids. Others are just now beginning to think about it seriously. Either way, being able to clearly articulate what you want is key to planning a successful wedding. Still, don’t worry if you can’t do this in a comprehensive way just yet. Having a binder or poster board full of images and details can be a fun and effective way to organize your wedding planning thoughts and discover what you like best.

Before too long, start choosing your wedding party. This gives the maid-of-honor and best man time to plan the events they’re responsible for—be it a bachelor(ette) party, an engagement party, or a dress fitting. Then, start drafting and finalizing a budget. This is an essential step for more than just personal financial reasons: Once you establish a budget, you’ll be able to move ahead on many of the major details, such as finding your dress, venue, and caterer.

8-10 Months Before

This time is well spent compiling your guest list. Once you know how many people you’d like to attend, you can start taking care of number-specific details like food and venues. Not sure where to start? Ask your parents and new in-laws. They’ll be able to provide advice on which family members are essential and how to avoid offending anyone. Browse your Facebook friends, too, to ensure you don’t forget any important friends.

Once you’ve settled on a guest list, set an exact date. The earlier you set it, the better—you might be able to get discounted rates on venue rentals and caterers. If you’re planning to hire a wedding coordinator, now is the best time. Shortly thereafter, send out your save-the-dates. Next, select your officiant. If you want a friend to officiate the ceremony, provide them with the necessary information to get ordained. If you have a religious ceremony, take care of any required pre-wedding counseling.

Start planning specifics. Do you want a DJ for the reception? A band? What about cocktail hour? Create a list of must-haves. Research wedding insurance policies if you’re worried about losing deposits. Shop for and order your wedding dress to give the designer or store plenty of time to make the necessary alterations. Set up your gift registry or honeymoon fundraising account.

6-8 Months

Prepare for your wedding planning to start ramping up. You’ll want to start locking down many of your wedding vendors. Book an engagement photo shoot, especially if you want to include photographs with your invitations. Choose your floral arrangements, and book your florist. Make a final decision about music, and start building a playlist for the reception. Make travel plans for your honeymoon. Once you’ve settled on a destination, book your flights immediately. If you’re going out of the country, renew, get, or double-check your passports. This is also the time to book hotel rooms or reserve a block of rooms for out-of-town guests.

3-6 Months Before

This period starts with research and ends with a flurry of decisions. Find your perfect invitations, start shopping for the perfect wedding rings, and check out your local cake designers. If you can, book a few tastings to experience various bakery offerings. Start taking care of small but important details. Order your wedding cake, have your wedding shower, and rent the men’s formalwear. Hire wedding day transport. Are any of your guests coming in from out of town? Consider hiring a shuttle to and from the hotel. Determine your own mode of transportation—whether it be a limousine or streetcar for you and your crew.

2 Months Before

As the wedding gets closer, start to take care of smaller tasks. Mail your invitations, and start writing your vows. Moreover, this is the best time to book your stylist to test out wedding day hairstyles. You’ll have enough time to find the perfect style while staying on top of your budget. Don’t wait until the last minute. You’d be surprised how much time it takes to settle on the perfect hair and makeup combination.

1 Month Before

With one month to go, this is the time to take care of the smaller, logistical details. Apply for your marriage license, touch base with your bridesmaids to ensure they have their gowns, create your wedding program, and have your final gown fitting. For the final fitting, bring your maid of honor, mother, mother in-law or all three to so they can learn how to bustle your dress for the big day.

2 Weeks Before

This period is all about wedding attendance. Review your final RSVP list and call any guests who have not yet sent in a response. Plan your reception seating chart and name cards for the table. Deliver a must-have shot list to your photographer and videographer. Make sure to include those who should be in formal portraits as well as when those portraits should be taken. Then, provide the reception site and caterer with a final guest head count. Be sure to include all vendors who might expect a meal.

1 Week Before

With one week to go, it’s important to stay in close contact between your vendors and the location manager. Provide the venue with a list of vendor requests, such as a table for a DJ space or additional chairs to line the dance floor. No matter how carefully you consider each detail, as the date approaches, your stress level may go up as your tolerance for last-minute wedding planning goes down. Many couples hire a wedding coordinator just for this last week or two of planning, as well as help directing people and events during the actual ceremony and reception.

Looking for more tips? Check out all our Wedding Planning resources.