Planning Your Wedding & Some Tips
Timeline, Checklist & Tips
This timeline, checklist and tips are not meant to apply to every wedding, nor to imply one type of wedding is better than another. It is up to you to decide what applies to your situation. Finances, family, ethnic customs and other key information are yours alone to note when applying these timelines and tips.
Life changes affecting weddings may cause extra challenges. More couples are competing for available venues causing weddings to be held on Thursdays and Sundays. Email and wedding sites are being used to communicate with guests. Cohabitating couples do not require the standard wedding gift and cash bars or no alcohol is more accepted. Marijuana is being considered the same as alcohol. Absent and/or divorced parents and grandparents who are at war make dinner seating more difficult. More parents are opting out of the traditional budget roles leaving more couples to fund their weddings.
Weddings are one of the most stressful times in people's lives. No matter the circumstances, we hope this information helps you to plan ahead so you may enjoy your wedding day.
Nine Months & Earlier:
- Choose the type of wedding you will have, date and time. Children or no children. Formal or casual. Expensive or frugal. Full bar, limited bar (beer & wine) or cash bar (guests buy their drinks). Plated dinner, buffet or picnic. Marijuana, cigarettes, cigars or none. Discuss the budget, and who will be paying for what. Historically groom's parents pay for the alcohol at the reception and the rehearsal dinner. Groom pays for bride's bouquet. Bride's parents pay the balance. Now, more couples are contributing or paying for the complete wedding and reception and the groom's family may offer more financial help, so whatever works for your situation. Discuss wedding party and family obligations for attendants.
- Reserve wedding and reception locations. Where will party get ready and how early can they arrive?
- Consider hiring a wedding coordinator or ask relatives or good friends to be your Mistress and Master of Ceremonies. The roles are the same on the wedding day and it is a big job, so ask people with experience on wedding protocol. Older couples are usually best. For a big wedding a bride may ask more than one couple. After they agree to help, make sure they are in on venue rules, photographer, caterer, florist and all vendors. They should also get along with your family and groom's family as they will guide the day along with your photographer. Typical duties for M & M are helping with getting ready, keeping all on schedule and making sure original clothing and "stuff" is put into vehicles and not left behind , handing out flowers and pinning on corsages and boutonnieres, keeping drinking down, sending people down aisle, making sure get ready areas are clean and neat, first to arrive at reception area to make sure all is ready, discuss with bartenders about not service under age people, discuss schedule with caterers and make sure all is ready, check table decorations, confer with D.J., check cake, make sure all vendors have what they need, watch crowd for over-served folks and communicate any trouble brewing. Not sure we listed everything, but you get the idea. These are you "go to" people so you, your mother, and your new mother-in-law can relax and enjoy the day.
- Make arrangements with the officiator. Make clear the kind of ceremony you require. Go over their standard ceremony if you can. If you are getting married in a church where you do not belong, understand procedures.
- Select your wedding dress, veil and accessories. Some brides take moms and grandmothers to this important event, along with female wedding party. Be careful about how many people you bring along. Sometimes having too many opinions make the appointment more difficult. Are you considering something borrowed, something blue? Maybe sewing in a memory of a deceased love one? Consider a small hankie for tears to carry under your bouquet.
- Choose the bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers, and honored roles. Confer with wedding party about attire. Historically female attire takes a longer time to acquire than male attire, so start early by deciding who will stand up with you and your groom. Is your party purchasing their own attire, renting, and are you covering any costs? Are you gifting the jewelry for ladies? Are you buying gifts? If anyone in your party is out of town, are you covering expenses? If you are having a flower girl and/or ring bearer, are you covering those attire costs? Since the Maid of Honor and the Best Man are responsible for planning bachelor and bachelorette parties if you have them, make sure they understand the obligations. Both or either of those parties are not mandatory and can also be planned by another if they want to take up the reins.
- Have a formal photo sitting for invitations, save-the-date cards or magnets and reception guest register. This is a good test to see if you like a certain photographer. You can also judge their work with you two as the subjects. Photographers have historically "run" weddings as they are with you all day and are organized to handle the flow. Their experience is invaluable for a smooth day, so you may want to choose someone who has photographed multiple weddings. Also, experienced photographers will take less time as they have a routine, posing choices and lighting knowledge. Consider a "first look". The positives of a first look are: Most of your couple, wedding party and family photos can be done before the ceremony. Because those photographs take time, the day is much less rushed. You get two romantic moments. One with the first look and another with your groom seeing you walk down the aisle. Many brides agree that a first look did not take away from the aisle moment, so consider it carefully. Discuss with your photographer how you would like to stage it. Alone? With rest of party and family looking on? Lots of choices.
- Send announcements of your engagement to your fiancé’s and your local and hometown newspapers.
- Meet with the florist, photographer, caterer, videographer, and D.J. or entertainment to discuss budgets and options. Be sure to read ALL contracts before deciding and always ask for 3-5 recommendations. Contact the recommendations before you decide.
- Discuss the guest list with fiancé and your families. Start list of names and addresses. Note special relatives, handicap issues, deceased close relatives and how all are to be handled. Weddings are very stressful so it is essential everyone is on the same page about family.
- Decide on wedding theme and colors. Research invitations and wording/verbiage. Options are on our invitation wording page. If you have decided upon a full bar, nothing is noted on invitation. A limited bar may be listed, and a cash bar should be listed as guests will have to make sure they have cash to pay for their drinks. Alcohol is not mandatory.
- Plan reception music. If you hire a D.J., you may want to make a list of Play and Do Not Play for your vendor. Can they take requests from crowd? Go over list to make sure you have the music you want. Confirm your first wedding dance song, the father of the bride with bride dance song, groom and his mom's dance song, and the full wedding party dance song. Grandparent dances are also very nice to schedule if applicable. Although not mandatory, schedule the bouquet and garter toss.
- Contact a rental coordinator for equipment reservations such as tents, chairs, linens, lighting and wedding party background.
- Discuss with Maid of Honor, parents and in-laws who will host showers.
- Contact hotels to block rooms for out of town guests. Also, consider a hotel room (one of the parents rooms) to house children during reception. Hire a sitter and think about entertainment & food and snacks. This small consideration goes a long way with parents when children are not invited to dinner and reception.
- Do you need a location for the rehearsal dinner or will it be at someone's home, If there is going to be a rehearsal and a dinner, who is invited? Wedding party, parents, some family, out of town guests? Some rehearsal dinners are small affairs and some have big numbers. Mandatory for formal weddings, but not for casual. Can be hosted by other than the groom's parents depending upon other factors. Bride & groom have been know to host their own rehearsals as well.
- Book videographer.
Two to Four Months Before:
- Order Invitations. Some companies will address the envelopes. If so, get your excel file (or whatever they need) organized. If you are addressing envelopes yourself, at least purchase reply card address labels or if you are using postcards for RSVP cards, have the printer (hopefully us) print the return address on the card. Postcards will take a less expensive stamp than an envelope. Square envelopes have a surcharge from USPS, so if costs are a factor, be sure to check before ordering square invitations. Invitations should be mailed around six weeks before your wedding for locals, but send out of town guests eight weeks before the wedding. You may want to order matching Thank You cards as they need to be send directly after you receive gifts before your wedding.
- Order cake, cupcakes and any food item you are not getting from your caterer. Decide on cutlery for cutting cake. Borrow or buy? Cake topper or cupcake holder. Candy table, dessert table or cakes/pies as centerpieces. Desserts as centerpieces have double use. Venues who require centerpieces are satisfied, guests have nice desserts, and social interaction takes place as guests move from table to table for different desserts. If this is your choice, have D.J. announce that every table is fair game so no one gets territorial about their dessert.
- Order room decorations, programs, menus, floor graphics, selfie banner, coasters and display prints. Coasters that guests can write their names on differentiate their cocktail when leaving the table. Guests put it on the top of their drink for that reason and also so the wait staff do not take it and discard contents. Saves on guests having to order new drinks as often.
- Book transportation for wedding day.
- Check blood test and marriage license requirements.
- Shop for wedding bands.
- Write prenuptial agreement, if necessary.
- Make arrangements for hair, make-up, and nails on wedding day. Have a test hair style with your veil/tiara. You want to avoid surprises on your wedding day.
Six to Eight Weeks Before:
- Obtain the marriage license.
- Mail the balance of the invitations.
- Keep a record of RSVPs and gifts received. Send thank-you notes immediately upon receipt of gifts. These thank you cards are very important for two reasons. Number one, the sender knows you received their gift. Number two, it shows gratitude. Try to mention the particular gift and how you will use it. Groom can participate in writing thank you cards as well.
- Finalize shopping for wedding day accessories, such as toast glasses, ring bearer pillow, flower girl baskets, cake cutter and standard guest book.
- Check requirements to change your name and address on driver’s license, Social Security card, insurance policies, subscriptions, bank accounts, etc.
- Select and reserve wedding attire for the men in your wedding party, the groom, groomsmen, ushers, ring bearer, and fathers if necessary.
- Get blood tests and health certificate.
- Finalize your menu, beverages, and alcohol order. Ask caterer if they count on ten percent of people not showing. If they say yes, give them actual count. If they say no or if you are having a buffet, it is around five to ten percent that have RSVPed to attend that do not show. Take that into consideration when giving numbers. You can also negotiate with caterer and discuss with them about their experience.
- Make a seating chart if you are using one. Most guests appreciate knowing they have a seat reserved for them, so consider seating everyone. A seating chart also helps keep track of RSVP returns. An extra note on the RSVP cards now say there will not be a seat for a guest if they show up without returning the RSVP. You can decide if you need that on the card. Place cards with names and table numbers are a nice alternative for a seating chart. They are less stressful as the chart usually has to be printed or made just before the reception so it is up to date.
- Favors? Not mandatory.
- Finalize seating for wedding party. Are you making space for spouses or dates, or just original party. Are you sitting at your own table?
- What are you wearing to the rehearsal? Wear shoes similar to what you are wearing for your wedding so you can practice. Who is attending rehearsal. Wedding party and parents and M&M of ceremonies or planner usually mandatory.
- Have all gifts ready for wedding party, family, Mistress and Master of Ceremonies to give during the rehearsal dinner. Gifts are not mandatory for family, but usually given to wedding party and Mistress and Master.
- Deliver gift boxes to hotel management to put in guests rooms. Mark them clearly and give staff a list of names for reference. If you choose to have welcome baskets in room, items usually include snacks, wine, chocolate, fruit, locally made treats and list of local attractions they may want to see before leaving. Gift boxes are not mandatory.
- Contact people that have not RSVPed. Your side can be contacted by you or your mom. Groom's side should be their responsibility.
- Order wedding signage. Welcome signs, do not use cell phone signs, directional signs and any others that apply to your wedding. A nice touch is to use one of these signs - Mr. & Mrs. XXX - established 2021 - for a guest register to later hang in your home. An extra fine point sharpie works best on most surfaces.
- Finalize numbers with caterer.
- Make arrangements for someone to purchase food/beverage for wedding party while getting ready. Also to clean up and check for items left in area after people leave room for the final time. M&M or coordinator may be able to handle this task. Do not buy sloppy food. Simple sandwiches and finger foods along with snacks, veggie trays, bottled water and fruit trays work well. Party needs to be fed and hydrated if starting early. There also may be alcohol involved so food and water are key. Drunks do not pose well for photos.
- Make sure men try on their complete outfit for the day. It is amazing how many men do not check their attire until they put it on for the wedding. Might also want to consider printing men a wedding timeline to make life easier for your M&M or coordinator.
- Contact photographer and double check your must have shots. Most are standard, but maybe you want grandma alone, special toast or something else that might be missed.