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Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist and Timeline

Bride Planning a Wedding

After years — if not decades — of daydreaming, it’s time to jump in and start planning your wedding day. Now’s the chance to showcase all the little details that make your relationship so unique. If you’re feeling a bit daunted by the long wedding checklists, you’re not alone.

Planning an event of this size is no small feat. But never fear, when you have a dependable wedding checklist at the ready, wedding planning can be a mindful and joyous experience. Every small decision can be just as celebratory as the big day itself.

So, how do you create a wedding planning timeline, and how long does it take? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll answer all the questions that fill your head the moment you ask yourself, “How do I plan a wedding?” Let’s jump in.


1. How long is the average engagement?

2. When should you start planning your wedding?

3.How to start planning a wedding

    3.1. Look to the wedding experts

    3.2. Brainstorm your best ideas

    3.3. Look at the big picture

4. Wedding planning checklist

    4.1. Build a wedding budget

    4.2. Pick a wedding date

    4.3. Make a guest list

    4.4. Find your wedding venue

    4.5. Book a ceremony space

    4.6. Choose a theme

    4.7. Pick your wedding party

    4.8. Make a wedding website

    4.9. Build a registry

    4.10. Order and send Save the Dates

    4.11. Hire key vendors

    4.12. Shop for your dress

    4.13. Buy your rings and wedding party attire

    4.14. Plan your ceremony

    4.15. Book your rehearsal dinner

    4.16. Send out invitations

    4.17. Make final design plans

    4.18. Manage travel arrangements

    4.19. Plan the honeymoon

    4.20. Send your playlist

    4.21. Solidify your menu

    4.22. Write your vows

    4.23. Send out your wedding day schedule

5. Which wedding planning app is the best?

    5.1. The Knot

    5.2. Zola

    5.3. WeddingWire

    5.4. WeddingHappy

    5.5. Planning.Wedding

6. Which wedding planner book is the best?

    6.1. The Knot Ultimate Wedding Planner and Organizer

    6.2. Erin Condren Wedding Planner

    6.3. The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner and Organizer

    6.4. Wedding Planning Diary

    6.5. Bloom Daily Planner

7. Which wedding planning site is the best?

8. Conclusion

How Long is the Average Engagement?

According to the experts over at The Knot, the average couple was engaged for 15 months before walking down the aisle in 2019. Why the oddly specific length? A year-and-a-half gives couples enough time to snag a wedding date with their favorite venue as well as connect with their pick of vendors that get booked up months in advance.

Fifteen months of more also allows couples to simply enjoy the one-of-a-kind feeling of simply being engaged. While there's no need to rush this process, it is important to set a wedding planning timeline with your partner so you’re on the same page from the start.

When should you start planning your wedding?

So, how long does it take to plan a wedding? We recommend taking at least a year, if not a month or two more, to plan a wedding. This allows maximum flexibility and time to make each choice with ease.

If you plan to spend above the average wedding cost, adjust your timeline to your own financial comfort. Your wedding should always work around lifestyle changes like a new job, a new home, or any other large transition.

Plenty of couples plan a wedding with less than a year before their big day, but you should allow a little more flexibility in your date and design if this is the case. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the wedding, the more time required to plan it.

This allows each of your many guests to plan their trip and sort out all the details for the celebration. If you need to plan a large wedding in a hurry, we recommend employing the help of a brilliant wedding planner who can make it all happen with ease.

How to Start Planning a Wedding

With so many things-to-do lists and articles about planning a wedding out there, where on earth do you begin? Here are some tips to sort through the data.

Look to the Wedding Experts

First of all, start by wrapping your head around the wedding planning process in general. Pick up a wedding etiquette book by a trusted planner to learn the basic ins-and-outs of putting together an event of this size. We recommend The Wedding Book by Mindy Weiss and Lisbeth Levine or the trusted Emily Post’s Etiquette, which highlights updated suggestions for weddings.

Brainstorm Your Best Ideas

As you start reading, your own wedding ideas will begin to percolate. Keep notes in the early stages of brainstorming and learning about weddings such as color combinations, venue tips, and helpful last-minute planning advice. Learning all these tips early on will decrease the risk of rushing when you get to the bottom of your wedding checklist.

Remember, you are always allowed—and will most likely—change your mind as you go, but these early ideas can get the ball rolling.

Look at the Big Picture

Sit down with your partner and discuss some of the big-picture details of your day. For example:

● What type of event do you both daydream of having?
● Do you envision a large event with a long guest list or a more intimate affair?
● Are there important elements to the ceremony you’d like to include?
● What parts of the country—or world—are meaningful for you and convenient for the family?

Before you jump into the nitty-gritty, get a sense of the three most important details that will dictate your wedding budget: choosing a general location, picking a date, and making your guest list. We’ll dive into these more below.

Wedding Planning Checklist

By staying on track with a wedding planning checklist, you won’t have to worry about tasks getting away from you or piling up in the final few weeks. A wedding planning timeline ensures that everyone has the right information on time to make your day a beautiful success.

1. Build a Wedding Budget

How Soon: 12 - 18 months before

Clarifying your wedding budget is one of the first things to do when planning a wedding. The average cost of a wedding in 2019 according to a study done by The Knot was $33,900. This may sound high at first glance, so keep in mind that there are many ways to lower costs, such as by adjusting your guest list or skipping traditions unnecessary for your vision.

Use an online wedding budgeting calculator—which we’ll list out below—or create a DIY wedding budget including estimates from top wedding planning sources. If the estimated amount is far more than your available cash for the wedding, make some initial adjustments and update each column as you make actual purchases.

2. Pick a Wedding Date

How Soon: 12-18 months before

Choosing a wedding date is a delicate dance. In addition to the weather, it’s important to take a few tips into account:

● Holidays
● Family birthdays, anniversaries, other important dates
● Immediate family and wedding party availability
● Festivals or parades in your wedding venue’s town
● Job flexibility of important guests

If you’re looking to lower your wedding budget, couples that chose a weekday wedding—such as on Thursday or Friday—receive lower rates. Hang on to a handful of possible dates to offer your favorite wedding venues.

3. Make a Guest List

How Soon: 9-12 months before

You’ll be shocked at how quickly a wedding guest list can wrack up once you start thinking of all your family, friends, and their plus-ones. Compile your initial guest list before speaking with venues so you are sure you have enough space for your final crowd.

After you nail down a date and location, begin tracking specific guest names, addresses, and a contract history for the months ahead.

4. Find Your Wedding Venue

How Soon: 9-12 months before

The majority of your wedding planning comes down to choosing a venue. Make a shortlist of your favorite spots and schedule visits to speak with their on-site coordinator. We recommend making a wishlist and a list of questions to bring with you to your visit.

Be sure to make notes and take pictures during your tour and request a detailed pricing layout for everything the venue has to offer. Once you choose a venue and date, the coordinator will supply you with a payment schedule leading up to the wedding day.

5. Book a Ceremony Space

How Soon: 9-12 months before

If you plan to get married in a different spot than your reception space, reach out to the venue or church at the same time as your reception spot. It’s important to make sure the timing and specificities of both spaces align—such as guest capacity and the time of day.

6. Choose a Theme

How Soon: 9-12 months before

At this point, you may have hundreds of exciting ideas bouncing around in your mind. It’s time to pair these down and start making broader decisions.

Start by exploring your ample options for wedding colors. Play with hues related to your season, the formality of your event, and what will pair well with your venue. Keep it all organized on a trusty Pinterest board to share with your wedding party and planner.

7. Pick Your Wedding Party

How Soon: 6-9 months before

It’s time to tell your best guys and gals that they’ll be walking down the aisle alongside you. Find a fun way to ask your bridesmaids and groomsmen to be in your day by sending a wedding party gift in the mail or by gathering them all together in one place to announce the news.

8. Make a Wedding Website

How Soon: 6-9 months before

Before sending out any wedding stationery, create a landing page for guests to peruse wedding-day info for easing planning. A wedding website leaves more space on your save-the-dates and invitations without having to list your registry, directions to the venue, or even the schedule of the wedding day.

Here are a few sites that offer free or low-cost wedding website design. If you’re more tech-savvy, a website like Squarespace allows more flexibility.

   ● TheKnot
   ● WeddingWire
   ● Riley Grey
   ● Appy Couple
   ● Planning.Wedding
   ● Squarespace

9. Build a Registry

How Soon: 6-9 months before

While you’re at it, add a registry to your wedding website as well. Some guests like to check gift-giving off their lists as soon as they know about the big day. Many wedding websites will help you link your registries in one, easy-to-use spot. Remember, you can always add to your registry as the big day gets closer.

10. Order and Send Save the Dates

How Soon: 6-12 months before

Ordering and sending out your wedding stationery comes down to your type of event. Let’s say you’re getting hitched on a remote island and need to book a puddle jumper to get there. Send your save-the-dates out with enough time for people to make plans for a destination, such as 9-12 months beforehand. Smaller weddings close to home can wait until the six-month mark.

11. Hire Key Vendors

How Soon: 6-12 months before

While some crucial vendors—like you photographer—should be booked up to a year in advance, others can wait a bit longer. Use your judgment based on the popularity of your area, especially if it’s a wedding hotspot during the high season.

Here are the major vendors to keep in mind, ranked in the order you should book them:
   a. Planner, coordinator, or designer
   b. Officiant
   c. Caterer
   d. Photographer
   e. DJ
   f. Hair and makeup artist
   g. Lighting company
   h. Florist
   i. Wedding cake designer
   j. Transportation (i.e. the shuttle from ceremony to reception)

Not sure where to get started? Sites like Thumbtack can help you search reviewed vendors in your areas.

12. Shop for Your Dress

How Soon: 4-6 months before

Now that you have your best wedding party assembled, book a day at a local boutique to crack open the bubbly and try on dresses. Once you choose the one, schedule your fittings leading up to the wedding day, and be sure to coordinate the pick-up with your wedding travel in mind.

If you can coordinate the trip with finding your bridesmaid dresses as well, all the better. Many bridesmaid dresses must be ordered far in advance for proper sizing and shipping.

13. Buy Your Rings and Wedding Party Attire

How Soon: 4-6 months before

Head to the local ring shop to find your favorite wedding band with your spouse-to-be. You can also start thinking about all the accessories that will go with your dress or suit. These include:

   ● Groomsmen attire
   ● Groomsmen accessories (bow ties, tie tacks, and cufflinks)
   ● Flower girl and ring bearer attire
   ● Shoes
   ● Jewelry
   ● Veils
   ● Throws
   ● Rehearsal dinner outfits

14. Plan Your Ceremony

How Soon: 4-5 months before

Work with your officiant to plan out the type of ceremony you both envision. As the details fall into place, you can also:
   ● Order ceremony chairs and decor
   ● Finalize ceremony floral design
   ● Choose your readers, ring boy, and flower girl
   ● Order ceremony signs and stationery
   ● Create a rain backup plan for outdoor ceremonies

15. Book Your Rehearsal Dinner

How Soon: 4-5 months before

Many rehearsal dinner spaces can also be used as wedding spaces, so give yourself plenty of time to nab the place you like. Rehearsal dinners typically include anyone in the ceremony rehearsal itself, though some couples extend this out to close family traveling from out of town.

16. Send Out Invitations

How Soon: 6-8 weeks before

With only about two months to go in your wedding timeline, send out your wedding invitation with a specific RSVP date. Sending them too much sooner may remove the urgency of sending a response on time. Ask for a response at least three weeks beforehand so you can speak with your venue and caterers.

17. Make Final Design Plans

How Soon: 6-8 weeks before

It’s time to transform those vision boards into a reality. If you haven’t already, nail down a color scheme so you can speak with your florist, wedding coordinator, and lighting designer.

It’s also time to choose a centerpiece design, signage for the wedding day, and any additional odds-and-ends for the reception such as wedding favors. Remember to plug everything into your wedding budget calculator as you go.

18. Manage Travel Arrangements

How Soon: 6 weeks before

Create a guest tracker column in your list for anyone that needs assistance getting to your venue. This may include airport pickup, rides to the rehearsal dinner, or special requests on the wedding day.

Your guests may also be booking their stay through your venue’s room block. Touch base with the hotel in case they need additional details.

19. Plan the Honeymoon

How Soon: 4 weeks before

It may feel odd to think past the big day, but be sure to set your honeymoon plans in motion if you want to hit the road soon after your wedding day.

It is much easier to book hotels, flights, and restaurants when you’re in the wedding planning mindset than when you’re winding down in the days after the celebration.

20. Send Your Playlist

How Soon: 2-3 weeks before

Check-in with your DJ about your final playlist requests for the reception. Each DJ will request a different timeline, so be sure to keep their requirements on a wedding planning calendar so you don’t miss the date.

They may also ask for the schedule of your wedding day so they know when to announce speeches, the first dance, and the cutting of the cake.

21. Solidify Your Menu

How Soon: 2-3 weeks before

At this point, your reception venue or caterer will require final headcount numbers for meal planning. If there are any remaining guests who have yet to RSVP, this is a good chance to check-in and confirm their plans.

Quick tip: be sure to include dinner choice on your RSVP link with your wedding website. This may not apply if you have a buffet at your reception, but many venues will still require headcounts to properly prepare the food.

22. Write Your Vows

How Soon: 1-2 weeks before

For some couples, writing your vows may come months before the big days. For others, the final moments are the best time to get those romantic and creative gears turning.

Use these final weeks to also ensure that your ceremony details are confirmed with your officiant and your readers. Send out information about the rehearsal itself as well as where to meet on the big day.

23. Send Out Your Wedding Day Schedule

How Soon: 1 week before

Work with your coordinator or planner to finalize the wedding day schedule for guests involved in the wedding. This one-sheet will include everything from morning photos with the hair and makeup team, family photos before or after the ceremony, and the order of the reception.

If you are throwing a destination wedding, you may want to also create a simple rundown of events in your guest’s welcome packets.

Which Wedding Planning App is the Best?

There is no one-size-fits-all wedding planning checklist for every couple. Some people prefer to see the wedding checklist written out by pen and paper. What’s better than scratching a new item off a list? Others need to keep everything close on their phones or computers.

Couples were recently surveyed online about their favorite apps for planning a wedding. Here are their favorites:

The Knot

This popular site keeps everything in one place, from the budget planning to the checklist and wedding guest tracker. You can even find bookmark vendors that you have your eye on. Many couples enjoy The Knot’s wedding website platform because it’s flexible and easy to use.


Similarly, stationery company Zola offers a full-service wedding planning site, equipped with registry links, guest list tracking, and website design. You can also design customized stationery throughout the wedding process.


WeddingWire has served as a time-tested resource for couples to discuss topics on their forums and share tips and vendors. Its wedding-planning app is ideal for brainstorming ideas, setting reminders for important tasks, arranging your seating chart, and connecting with other couples.


Unlike the others on this list, WeddingHappy is solely an app for checking things off that wedding list. Its clean layout is ideal for those looking to keep track of every task while staying on schedule.


This app was built with both the wedding industry and couples in mind. Its long list of functions includes managing RSVPs, tracking tasks, connecting with others in the community, and sticking to a budget. The app also includes an interactive reception space planner to layout tables and seating charts with ease.

Which Wedding Planner Book is the Best?

Even if you prefer to keep things digital, you will accumulate contracts, contact sheets, and other tangible items like swatches and color samples. Many wedding planning books and binders allow you to keep these important items all in one spot. Top books include:

The Knot Ultimate Wedding Planner and Organizer

Brought to you by the team at The Knot, this binder and planning guide is a great launching point for keeping yourself organized. Options include a ring-bound binder and hardcopy version.

Erin Condren Wedding Planner

These highly popular plannerscome in many eye-catching styles—including one for wedding planning. The company collaborated with Green Wedding Shoes to include step-by-step planning tips in a compact journal.

The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner and Organizer

This Amazon favorite is all about staying on track with wedding spending. The guide and organizational binder provide countless ways to cut costs and track your costs with ease.

Wedding Planning Diary

Keep it simple and clean with an organizer that includes the proper places for scheduling and budgeting, but isn’t filled up with advice or etiquette. This is an ideal option for those seeking a minimalist look.

Bloom Daily Planner

The classic wedding binder is an elegant book to bring with you to every vendor meeting and venue visit. Decked out in gold-foil decor, this planner includes a detailed checklist, guest list tracker, and places to note your favorite memories.

Which Wedding Planning Site is the Best?

Choosing a trusted wedding planning site will act as your homebase for every step of the process. In addition to what an app can offer, a wedding planning site is your first stop for research, brainstorming, and keeping the average wedding costs low.

The top wedding planning sites today include:
   1.The Knot
   4.Here Comes the Guide

   5.Wedding Without Debting

A wedding checklist is the best way to keep up with all the fabulous details that will make your day seamless and stunning. Once you have all your tools in place, enjoy the wedding planning process and watch all the pieces fall into place.