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Wedding Preparation Checklist: 29 Helpful Tips for Planning a Wedding

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! You or your partner popped the question, and now you’re enjoying engagement bliss. But before you say “I do,” the exciting journey of planning your wedding begins. Regardless of your wedding budget or timeline, these tips on how to plan a wedding can help you put together a beautiful day you’ll never forget!

Create a Wedding Inspiration Board

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Putting together an inspiration folder or vision board is one of the best things about planning a wedding. Start collecting images for colors, decorations, invitations, food, flowers, and more from bridal fashion magazines to create a wedding inspiration board for your big day. You can also browse social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest for even more wedding planning inspiration! Make sure to consider your desired wedding aesthetics with your partner early on, since this will set the stage for the next steps in planning your wedding and bringing your vision to life.

Set a Wedding Budget

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Setting a budget is arguably the most important part of your wedding to-do list. Before you choose your dress, venue, or decor, put together a wedding budget to make sure you don’t overspend. A simple spreadsheet or even an online wedding budget calculator can help you visually organize your expenditures. Take stock of you and your partner’s current savings and, if either of your families have offered to help pay for the wedding, ask them what they’re able to contribute before making plans. Once you’ve determined what you can afford, you can dive deeper into the wedding planning process!

Explore Potential Dates

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One of the first items on your wedding planning checklist should be deciding on a timeframe—though you’ll likely need to wait on setting a specific date until you’re ready to book your venue. Wedding season is usually in the late spring through early fall, with peak season between June and September. If you get married during those months, venues and vendors may be difficult to schedule, and you may find some charging more for their services because of the higher demand. If you’re hoping to save money on your wedding, consider planning for a late fall or winter wedding.

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Consider Hiring a Wedding Planner

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Hiring a wedding planner can help streamline your planning, making the process less stressful for you and your partner. Plus, wedding planners have established relationships with vendors, which can help with finding great deals on catering, entertainment, venues, and more. Talk with your partner to see if choosing a wedding planner is the best choice for your needs and budget. If so, set a consultation with potential candidates as soon as possible—typically at least 12 months before your wedding date. Be sure to ask them questions to figure out if they’re the right fit for you!

Use Wedding Planning Tools

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Staying organized is key when it comes to planning your special day. If you’re not hiring a wedding planner, use a wedding planning website, wedding planning spreadsheets, or a wedding checklist to keep track of your budget, schedule, and deadlines. You can also keep checklists and documents in a DIY wedding planning binder or use wedding planning apps like The Knot and Joy.

Put Together Your Invite List

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Once you’ve decided on the type of wedding you want to have, you can start creating your wedding invite list. Even if you don’t have an exact number right away, estimating the number of guests can help you choose the appropriate venue size, as well as prepare for your overall food and beverage costs.

Select Your Wedding Party

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Choose wedding party members as soon as possible so they can lock in the date and help you prepare for your wedding! The typical wedding party consists of the following roles:

  • Maid, matron, or man of honor
  • Best man or woman
  • Bridesmaids or bridesmen
  • Groomsmen or groomswomen
  • Flower girl or boy and ring bearer
  • Ushers

Members of the wedding party are usually responsible for a list of duties, including planning pre-wedding events like the bridal shower and bachelor/bachelorette parties. When choosing members of your wedding party, pick close family members or friends who are reliable, friendly, and committed to helping you plan the perfect day!

Attend a Wedding Expo or Bridal Fair

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Attending a local bridal fair or wedding expo is a great resource for helping you plan your wedding. One major advantage is that bridal fairs host multiple wedding vendors, making it easy to meet professionals like caterers, photographers, and florists all in one convenient place. Many exhibitors also offer free samples, hold giveaways, and offer discounted services in an attempt to bring in potential clients. Some bridal fairs even host bridal gown trunk shows, where you can talk with the designers and find incredible deals on dresses. You can also consider bringing along members of your wedding party for valuable opinions and advice!

Find & Reserve a Venue

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Once you have a time of year in mind, as well as an idea of how big your wedding party and guest list will be, it’s time to choose a location that fits your vision. This might be a venue nearby, or one that’s further away if you’re planning a destination wedding. Wedding venues can book out up to a year in advance, so try to reserve your choice as soon as possible. Make sure you tour venues and ask plenty of questions about each before signing any contracts. Thinking about having an outdoor wedding? Public parks or your own backyard are affordable wedding venues—just be sure to take weather into consideration when picking your date and attire for the wedding party. Opting for a venue with both an outdoor and indoor space as a backup plan for inclement weather is a top tip!

Lock Down Your Wedding Vendors

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Planning a wedding means working with a variety of vendors to make sure your day goes off without a hitch. These are some of the potential wedding vendors to consider:

  • Caterer
  • DJ/band
  • Florist
  • Hair and makeup specialist
  • Photographer/videographer

Use a wedding vendor timeline to make sure you hire your vendors far enough in advance. A few weeks before your wedding, follow up with your vendors with last-minute details. For example, ensure your wedding DJ has access to any special songs you want played—and that they’re aware of any songs you’d prefer they keep off the playlist!

Reserve Accommodations for Guests

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If you have guests traveling from out of town to attend your ceremony, consider reserving accommodations for them. One common option is reserving a hotel block for your wedding, which will require you to estimate how many people from your guest list are likely to need a room. Many hotels offer a discount for multiple rooms, and some even provide shuttle services to nearby venues! If your wedding is planned during peak vacation season, the holidays, or during a large event that draws in out-of-town visitors, reserve the rooms as far as ten months to a year ahead of the date to ensure you get the rooms you need. And don’t forget to consider reserving transportation for your wedding party and other guests!

Design a Wedding Website

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Creating a wedding website is the easiest way to keep your guests and wedding party in the loop, manage RSVPs, and stay organized. Include information like the date, venue, directions, and hotel details—and as you continue planning, update your site with other important wedding day info like the schedule, a link to your gift registry, attire recommendations, and more. You can also treat your website as an extension of your wedding’s aesthetic by adding personalized elements like photo and video galleries. There are a variety of free wedding websites you can check out, as well as unique web design options from sites like Minted, Squarespace, Wix, and Zola. While you’re designing your site, it’s also a good idea to decide on a wedding hashtag for your social media so guests, friends, and family can see updates, photos, and more!

Send Save-the-Dates

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Save-the-dates should be sent around six to eight months before your wedding—or as much as a year in advance for a destination wedding—to give guests plenty of time to secure their attire, hire babysitters, make travel accommodations, and so on. Though there are plenty of save-the-date ideas available to purchase, making DIY save-the-dates is one way to save money on your wedding budget! Remember to include the link to your wedding website so your guests can stay up-to-date as plans develop. Additionally, send save-the-dates only to people who will also be receiving an invitation, so you don’t hurt the feelings of anyone who won’t be invited to the wedding.

Select Formal Wear

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Typically, wedding dresses should be bought six to nine months out, while bridesmaids dresses, groomsmen tuxedos, and the groom’s tux should be bought or rented about four to six months out. This provides enough time for everything to come in and to set up alterations appointments before the big day. There are a few ways you can save on formal wear:

  • Buy wedding dresses off of the rack or shop online for gently-used gowns
  • If you don’t mind the bridesmaids wearing different dress styles, ask them each to find an affordable dress in your preferred color
  • For tux rentals, take advantage of group discounts (usually with the groom’s tux free) and coupons for off-season rentals

Additionally, consider whether you’re going to create a dress code for other wedding guests to follow so they can find their own attire to match your vision well in advance.

Schedule Hair & Makeup Appointments

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Wedding hairstylists and makeup artists can book out months in advance, particularly during peak wedding season. Schedule these appointments as early as you can in your wedding planning process, or ask a friend to do your hair and makeup. You’ll want to make two appointments with your preferred stylist and makeup artist—one will be a trial run to make sure you love the look for your wedding day, and the other will be for your actual wedding day!

Get the Right Wedding Officiant

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Choosing an officiant often gets left at the bottom of a wedding planning checklist. But booking an officiant ahead of time will help you choose someone who can deliver the right message for your ceremony. Ask potential officiants questions about any ceremony restrictions they may have, what their fee is, and if you can meet with them prior to the ceremony—and don’t forget to discuss availability for the rehearsal! Alternatively, if you prefer to have a friend officiate your wedding, check the legal requirements for where you’re getting married and ask your friend well in advance so they have plenty of time to get properly licensed.

Create a Wedding Registry

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It’s important to create a wedding registry early enough to give guests time to purchase gifts. Great places to set up registries include Target, Amazon, Williams Sonoma, and Pottery Barn. Can’t decide on one specific store? Blueprint Registry allows you to create an online registry with items from different retailers. In general, consider what you and your partner will need once you begin married life together. Go room-by-room and take note of what things you have, what things you want or need, and what things need upgrading. Remember to select a range of potential gifts across various price points so more of your guests can contribute. You can also set up a honeymoon fund as part of your wedding registry, where guests can gift you cash for flights, hotels, travel expenses, and things to do in your desired honeymoon destination.

Go with DIY Wedding Decor

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Adding a few DIY touches to your wedding can keep the day personal while saving you money. Once you’ve chosen a decorative theme, items like wedding table centerpieces, DIY chalkboard signs, DIY candle holders, and even DIY wedding favors like candies and lip balms can be easily and affordably made while still looking elegant and stylish. Ask for help from friends or family members so you don’t get overwhelmed!

Buy Your Wedding Rings

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Engaged couples often shop for their wedding bands around three to four months ahead of the wedding date so they have enough time to pick the best options, order them, and get them resized or adjusted as needed. Special ring customizations like engravings or particular metals and gem stones may need to be factored into your wedding timeline. Focus on picking comfortable wedding bands that match your personal style and taste. If the rings you choose are fairly pricey, you may want to get a warranty or even purchase wedding ring insurance.

Find Gifts for Your Wedding Party

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It’s common for couples to give gifts to their wedding party to thank them for their help and time. Some great gifts for bridesmaids include jewelry, clutch purses, or cozy robes for getting ready on the wedding day. Gifts for groomsmen could include personalized flasks, cigars, or cuff links. Be sure to check online stores like Etsy for other unique wedding party gift ideas!

Plan Your Honeymoon

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Planning a wedding can be stressful enough without thinking about another trip! But think of planning your honeymoon as your reward for all that hard work. Talk with your partner to choose a location, book tickets, and lock down accommodations so you’re all ready to go after the wedding. Looking for budget-friendly domestic trips? Book an affordable beach vacation, or go off the beaten path with unique vacation ideas!

Mail Wedding Invitations

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Wedding invitations are usually sent six to eight weeks before the big day. Choose a wedding invitation theme that fits your style and budget. There are a number of amazing affordable wedding invitations that look extravagant. Or you can even design your own invitations on sites like Shutterfly, VistaPrint, and Canva for a fraction of the price. Be sure to include a link to your wedding website and registry so invitees can easily access them.

Set Details for the Rehearsal

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The rehearsal dinner is typically held the night before the wedding so your wedding party can run through the ceremony—and rehearsal dinner invitations are typically sent out four to six weeks beforehand. The first step in planning a rehearsal dinner is to decide where it will be hosted. Choose a location near your wedding venue so it’s easy for guests to attend, or host the dinner yourselves if it’s within your budget. If you choose a restaurant, book your dinner about three to six months in advance so you can alter details if needed. The details will also need to be set with the venue, the officiant, invitees, and any musicians who may be playing music for the wedding.

Finalize the Guest List

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A little less than a month before the wedding date, take time to collect all the invitations you’ve received back, and call anyone who hasn’t sent an RSVP to find out if they’re coming. Get the exact number of guests for your venue and caterer so they can prepare adequately. It’s also good to have a few extra place settings or meals prepared in case guests bring children or dates they didn’t account for in their RSVP.

Put Together a Seating Chart

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Before creating your seating chart, determine how many tables and seats your venue can handle. Then, use a wedding seating chart tool to quickly figure out the logistics! Wedding seating chart etiquette typically puts people who know each other together—parents are grouped together at a table, the wedding party sits at the head table, and extended family and friends can be arranged together. Once you’ve finalized the seating arrangements, be sure your venue and caterer are sent the chart, and have escort cards or place cards made so guests can easily identify where they’re sitting.

Get Your Marriage License

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With all of the excitement of finding a dress, choosing a venue, and tasting cakes, there is one very important wedding planning step that can’t be forgotten: getting a marriage license! How to get a marriage license varies from state to state, so make sure to do your research in advance and obtain all the necessary documents and information.

Write Your Wedding Vows

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If you’re not planning to use traditional wedding vows, writing your own wedding vows is an intimate alternative. Wedding vows are unique for each person, but common elements include stories about how you met, things you love about each other, and promising to commit to each other. Start jotting down ideas three to five months out and have a first draft a few weeks before the ceremony—this will give you time to workshop and memorize it. Some people choose to incorporate a wedding reading, where they recite passages from literature, songs, movies, poetry, or religious texts to express how they feel. Whatever your plans, be sure to let your officiant know ahead of the ceremony.

Form a Wedding Day Game Plan

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The day of the wedding has a lot of moving parts, and it can quickly get hectic! To reduce stress, create a wedding day timeline for everything from hair and makeup in the morning to the arrival of guests before the ceremony begins. Typically, the wedding planner or the maid of honor and best man are in charge of making sure things stay on schedule. However, keep in mind events don’t always go according to plan, so be sure to create a series of backup plans, including putting together a wedding day emergency kit that contains things like sewing kits, toiletries, medicines, and more.

Enjoy Your Wedding Day

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Planning your dream wedding will be stressful at times, but don’t let that ruin your big day when it finally arrives. Remember to focus on your partner and your new life together, have fun with your friends and family, and allow beautiful memories to be made. You deserve to have a good time!


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