Timeline to Your Perfect Wedding: A Guide for the Big Year Leading Up to the Big Day

(Prostock-studio/ADOBE STOCK)

Getting married is a monumental occasion in anyone’s life, and one that you want to go off without a hitch. The proposal is only the prelude to several months of planning to make sure your wedding goes perfectly. Planning ahead is paramount when it comes to curating a venue, catering and decorations, so spacing out the process over a year can help grooms- and brides-to-be manage the stress of the occasion.

Here is a timeline for a typical 12-month engagement, and ideas for what to focus on leading up to your big day.

12 Months Out

Get Insured
While far from the most glamorous part of planning a wedding, getting insurance can save you a major headache later down the line. Weddings are major investments, after all, and if something goes wrong, it could spoil the occasion. You should insure your engagement rings in case you accidentally lose one. You can also buy wedding insurance for if anything goes wrong on your big day.

Start Budgeting
Determine the scope of your wedding and how much you can afford. You and your partner should discuss what aspects of your wedding are most important to you, so you know what to prioritize and what you can save on. With a larger budget, you may even be able to hire a wedding planner, which can take some strain off of you during the planning process.

“People should make sure their wedding planner is there for their whole event,” says Aubrey Canale, owner of Simply Created Events in Baltimore. “Whether they hire a planner for full planning or month-of services, it is important that the planner is there to see the whole event through and make sure everything gets handled at the end of the night.”

Research Venues and Caterers
Wedding venues can be booked several months in advance, so getting in on your wedding venue of choice is important.

“If a couple wants to get married in spring, in fall or on a holiday weekend, then they should secure a venue at least a year in advance, if not more. Some of the most popular venues may be booked for up to 18 months in advance,” notes Briana Dixon of Baltimore-based Nouvelle Weddings. “If the couple is looking at a summer or winter wedding, they may be able to start planning within a shorter time frame, since dates don’t book up quite as quickly during those months.”

While many wedding venues will also offer a catering service, some do not. In this case, you’ll have to look for catering separately.

11 Months Out

Hire Vendors
So you’re already eyeing locations and food for your wedding, which is great. But it takes more than catering staff to make a wedding happen. While you can pick and choose which are most important to you, DJs, photographers, florists and other wedding staples can book up quickly. Securing these vendors far in advance ensures that nothing will get in the way of them being at your wedding.

Think About Aesthetics
A unique aesthetic, theme or color palette can help to personalize your wedding. It influences everything from the venue decorations to the invitations to even your wedding attire, if you’re so inclined. If you are working with a wedding planner or decorator, they can help you curate an aesthetic for the reception. Otherwise, there’s no shame in browsing wedding-themed boards on Pinterest and getting ideas from there.

10 Months Out

Shop for Wedding Attire
Your wedding is your big day, so you’ll want to wear something that makes you feel beautiful and special. Starting your search for a wedding dress or tuxedo early allows for more time for potential alterations and helps you to avoid rush fees. Be sure to determine your budget and wedding aesthetics before starting to search for an outfit, as they can help you narrow down your options.

Book Hotel Rooms and Transportation
Having housing ready for wedding guests traveling from afar is a thoughtful gesture, and will save them additional headache while traveling. Hotels will often offer special rates for those blocking out rooms for their weddings. Depending on the hotel, you may have to wait until later down the line to get rooms settled, as some hotels will not book rooms this far in advance. But it’s still good to start thinking about it early. If your guests will not have their own cars available, you can look into booking private buses to shuttle them from the hotel to the venue.

While you’re at it, you should also consider booking a hotel room for yourself on your wedding night.

Take Engagement Photos
If you have not done so already, taking engagement photos or hiring a photographer for them can be helpful when choosing wedding invitations and building your wedding website. It’s also a great opportunity to practice being in front of a photographer in advance of the big day. And if you’re happy with your engagement photographer, you can even hire them for your wedding.

9 Months Out

Create Your Website and Registry
Start thinking about the gifts you want to receive on your wedding day. You’re likely spending a lot on your wedding to begin with, so don’t be shy about dreaming big when it comes to gifts to include on your registry. A website can house this registry and other details about your wedding, as well as serving as a commemoration of the event that you can look back on for years to come.

“Creating a wedding website early on is a great way to keep guests updated on wedding details,” says Canale. “You can share it on your save-the-dates and invitations.”

Choose Invitations
Print invitations are also important. If you want, you can send out smaller save-the-dates in advance before sending full invitations. There are many companies you can work with to create personalized invitations, or you can hire a graphic designer to do so.

8 Months Out

Order Bridesmaids’ Dresses
You want your bridesmaids to be as well-dressed as you are during your wedding—after all, they’re going to be the ones supporting you on your big day. Schedule fittings, too, in case any potential alterations need to be made. You can wait a few months before ordering suits for your groomsmen, as they usually require fewer alterations.

Think About Your Honeymoon
In the midst of all this booking and purchasing, take a moment to think about your and your fiancé’s dream vacation after the wedding. Discuss potential locations with them, and if you want to be prudent, start researching travel and hotel costs for where you want to go. You can also hire a honeymoon travel agent if you’re too busy planning your reception.

Order Rental Items
Many items used to decorate wedding venues, such as seating, lounge furniture, outdoor tents and even the dance floor, are rented and do not come with the venue. Account for what your venue offers, and reach out to rental companies to secure the things they do not.

7 Months Out

Book a Rehearsal Dinner Venue
Decide whether you want to host a rehearsal dinner at the wedding venue itself or at a restaurant, and you can also plan a special menu if you would like. Rehearsal dinners offer a great opportunity for bridesmaids and groomsmen to get to know each other before the big event, as well as the families of the newlyweds-to-be.

Hire an Officiant
You’ll need someone to make your wedding official. You can either hire a professional wedding officiant, or have a trusted friend or family member become ordained by taking an online course or contacting your state’s circuit court. Different states have different rules for becoming an officiant, so research those if you’re going with the latter option. If you are getting married at a church, synagogue or other religious institution, though, you do not need to hire a separate officiant.

6 Months Out

Undergo Premarital Counseling
While not by any means mandatory, premarital counseling can help couples through what is otherwise a very stressful time for them. Speaking with a counselor can help you approach issues you may face in your future married life, as well as giving you a space to openly talk with your partner about any problems or fears you may have.

5 Months Out

Plan Your Menu
Meet with your caterer or wedding venue staff to taste test their options and determine the dishes that are must-haves on your wedding menu. You should also begin thinking about your wedding cake. Some catering services might offer a baker, but otherwise, you should find one that can create the kind of cake you want. Social media is a great place to source ideas for wedding cake aesthetics and flavors.

4 Months Out

Write Your Vows
Consider what you want to say to your fiancé on your wedding day. This may not take a lot of time, but it’s best to not leave these until the last minute. You can also take pre-written vows off the Internet if you would prefer not to write them yourself.

Some couples may prefer to write their entire ceremony themselves, so confirm with your officiant if you would rather do that.

3 Months Out

Send Invitations
If you have your invitations picked out, now is the perfect time to send them.

Buy Thank-You Gifts
You’ve been doing a lot, but your family members and friends have also been working hard to support you and plan events like your wedding showers and bachelor parties. You can show your appreciation to them by purchasing gifts, typically given on or right after your wedding day.

2 Months Out

Apply for Your Marriage License
The marriage ceremony and reception are the most exciting parts of getting married, but a marriage license is what makes it official. Look up your state’s requirements for the application before starting the process. Most marriage licenses only last for a limited time, so remember to sign the license with your officiant on your wedding day so you can file for a marriage certificate later.

Plan Goody Bags and Gifts
If there’s room in your budget, you can order special party favors for guests. Small items personalized to your wedding are popular. For bridesmaids and groomsmen, consider more expensive gifts like jewelry or clothing.

1 Month Out

Make Your Seating Chart
You should have a fair amount of RSVPs from guests by this point, so you can start to choose who sits where. When you’re done planning, give the seating chart to your wedding planner or venue staff so they can plan accordingly.

Pay All Vendors
Be sure to pay all vendors you’re working with, unless they only accept payment the day of the wedding. The last thing you want is an awkward confrontation with a photographer or planner you forgot to pay. And don’t forget to tip!

Canale also suggests hiring or assigning someone to take personal items on the day of the wedding, such as cards, gifts, bouquets, leftover food and other personal items. “This will keep the end of the night smooth so everyone can leave your wedding on a high note, not a stressful one,” she explains.

Dixon recommends hiring a wedding day manager, so there is someone to oversee all of the vendors and ensure you don’t have to think about managing them while you’re getting married.

“Allow yourselves the peace of mind of knowing there is someone in charge who has your best interest at heart and who knows everything about your plans and expectations, so that you can truly relax and enjoy the day with your family and friends,” she says.

One Week Out

Finalize RSVPs
Contact any last-minute stragglers to make sure everyone can make it. You don’t want anyone informing you they can’t make it on the morning of your wedding.

Make Beauty Appointments
Need hair extensions, a manicure or a spray tan? Be sure to book them in advance so you’re not scrambling to do them all at once right before the wedding.

Get Your Wedding Attire Ready
Steam your dress or tuxedo beforehand so you’re all wrinkle-free and ready to go. If you can, you should also try to wear your wedding shoes around the house so your feet aren’t killing you during the ceremony and reception.

The Night Before

Practice Self-Care
Planning a wedding is extremely stressful, so it’s important to take some time off now and then.

“A lot of couples forget to enjoy being engaged, and forget to focus on why they are getting married in the first place,” says Dixon. “We always recommend having at least one day per week where you commit to not discussing the wedding at all. Keep those days to focus on your relationship. … Don’t allow your relationship to be consumed with planning.”

But tomorrow is a big day for you, so do your best to take it easy. Once you’re all packed for your wedding night, eat a healthy meal and breakfast the day of, drink water and get a good night’s sleep. You’ve got this!

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