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Timeline 101

Timeline 101

By Brooke Vaughan Schroeder

Congratulations, you are engaged – now the planning begins!!! The most critical element is to accomplish tasks on time.

This article outlines a basic timeline with checklist to help you stay organized and enjoy the wedding planning process. This timeline is based on a year-long engagement, so if you have more time, space it out. If less, then start catching up! Regardless if your wedding is for 50 or 500, you will still have to make the same decisions just on different scales.

Keep in mind you can always do tasks before the timeline suggests especially if you are getting married in a popular wedding month (May-July, September-October), when there will be competition for locations, photographers, caterers and bands.

12+ months

At this point, you may be a little overwhelmed with the amount of things to accomplish and not sure where to start. Some people look for wedding coordinators to ease the burden while others forge ahead researching entertainment, caterers, dresses, locations and establishing an overall wedding vision and theme.

Introduce both families and officially announce the engagement. This usually means throwing an engagement party, hosted by the bride’s family, followed by an announcement in the paper. Parties can be held six to 12 before the wedding but should be the first official event. While newspaper announcements are often free, they require a professional photo and copy a month in advance. The photographer usually wants four to six weeks to process the pictures, so you will want to take your engagement photo two months before the announcement is published. Make sure you have registered for a few items before the engagement party, as some guests will bring gifts. 

Establish a budget. This will help you make decisions in all aspects of your planning. Most magazines, wedding Web sites and books breakdown typical percentages spent on different areas and can help you budget accordingly. They also report which side, the Bride or Groom’s, typically pays for what. These days, many brides and grooms are paying for their own weddings, and what really matters is what you both and your families prefer.

Reserve wedding and reception locations. Some locations actually get booked more than a year in advance, so don’t wait. Find out costs, amenities and services and don’t forget to consider the weather. If you are having a part of your wedding outside, get a tent or have an indoor rain location.

Start guest list. Ask for lists from both sets of families and generate your master list.  In the end your location and budget may determine the final number you can invite. Maintain your list on a software program that is easy to disseminate to others (shower hosts, calligrapher etc.).

9-11 months

At this point, you have made a lot of headway and feel good about your progress. Time will fly by fast, so stay ahead of the game.

Select wedding party. It’s a special honor to be in someone’s wedding so think of a creative, fun and personal way to invite them to be included.

Book entertainment. Choose a string quartet or a violinist/harpist duo for light background music during an afternoon reception or a lively DJ or Motown band for an evening dance party. Keep in mind great national and regional bands actually get booked a year in advance.

Choose a caterer. As you define the style of your wedding, find the right caterer that will work with you to accomplish your goals – whether a seated four-course meal or a station buffet.

Contract a photographer and/or videographer. Research several options, set up appointments to see complete samples of their work (entire weddings), and ask lots of questions. They all offer a range of services to meet different budgets. Although a videographer maybe seen as an “extra,” I highly recommend it. They capture things you don’t get to see and can create a unique lasting memory.

Reserve your rehearsal dinner location. This can be done in conjunction with the planning of the wedding reception location or shortly after. Go ahead and coordinate the florist, caterer and any rental needs on the same timeline as the wedding, if not a little behind.

6-8 months

Purchase wedding gown and veil. The first time you will truly feel like a bride is when you start trying on dresses. Make sure to take appropriate undergarments. Couture gowns usually take three months to be made.

Select a florist. Final details can be ironed out closer to the date, but general flower arrangements, overall design, specific services and prices should all be discussed.

Reserve accommodations. Call nearby hotels and B&Bs to reserve space for your out-of-town guests. Make sure to include a range of price options and call early to secure special group rates.

Create wedding Web site. This organizational tool is especially helpful for out-of-town guests. It allows you to share detailed information including; directions, accommodations, schedule of events, things to do in the area, registry information, and to introduce the wedding party.

Send a save the date card or e-mail. Include transportation information and hotel accommodations especially if you don’t have a Web site.

Plan your honeymoon. Contact a travel agent and let him/her take care of all the arrangements or book your own hotel room(s), excursion(s), rental car(s), flights, etc. Make sure you secure the rooms and plane tickets early, but you can wait until you get there to choose your adventures, tours and golf rounds. If you can, give yourself a day to recover from the festivities before traveling. It will make for a better start to the honeymoon.

Select attendants’ attire (bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girl, ring bearer). Like the wedding gown, bridesmaid dresses take three months to order. If you buy them off the rack, you usually have to buy them in the same season of the wedding, which may be cutting it close.

Choose officiant, discuss ceremony ideas and begin premarital counseling. Some churches require it while other’s don’t. Regardless, it’s a wonderful way to help you address some tough issues you will most likely face in marriage, so consider it good preparation.

Reserve rental equipment (tents, chairs, tables, linens, generators, porto-potties etc.). If you are having an outdoor wedding, plan accordingly. In extreme heat or cold, you will want to provide a tent (with or without sides) and possibly heat or AC to make guests feel comfortable.

4-5 months

Order cake. This is a guy favorite! Bring pictures of cakes you like or choose from the baker’s photo album but enjoy the taste testing!

Coordinate mothers’ attire. Traditionally, the bride’s mother chooses first then the groom’s mother.

Register. Make sure you have registered at several locations (some national chains for out-of-town guests) before the first shower, and the registry is complete by the time your wedding invitations are mailed. Continue to update as the wedding gets close and make sure there are plenty of items ranging in price still available the week of your wedding.

Order invitations and hire a calligrapher (if desired). Allow two months for printed invitations and a few extra weeks for calligraphy. There are other addressing methods that are faster and less expensive. While response cards add additional cost, they ensure a higher rate of return.

Purchase wedding rings.

Order favors. There are so many options to choose from – candy, cds, matchbooks, golf balls – pick something personal to you two!

Locate additional staff if needed (babysitters, valet etc.).  

Book transportation. Transport guests from the wedding to the reception or just the wedding party. No matter what, you will want to plan your getaway method – car, boat or horse.

Arrange hair and make-up appointments. Make reservations at a local salon for you (and bridesmaids as you wish) on your wedding day or have a stylist and make up artist come to you on site. Also make reservations for manicures and pedicures the week of the wedding.

Order rental attire (tuxes, shoes, cufflinks etc.) for groomsmen/ushers.

2-3 months

At this point, you no longer want to make any more decisions, and if you were fighting with someone over details, neither of you care anymore.

Solidify service. Choose the music, readings and find any special musicians.

Finalize catering menu.

Pick accessories for yourself and attendants – shoes, jewelry, pillows, baskets etc.

Compile out-of-town gift baskets. Candy, water, snacks, maps, schedule of events, local restaurants and nearby attractions anything you think may be helpful.

Finalize flowers and decorations.

Purchase attendants’ gifts.

Get dress fitted. You will likely have two to three fittings before your wedding.

Take bridal portrait. If you want a portrait displayed at your wedding reception and/or an announcement in the newspaper the weekend of your wedding, keep in mind the timing when the newspaper wants the information and how long the photographer needs to process the pictures.

Sign up for dance lessons.

Order programs (4-8 weeks).

Mail invitations (6-8 weeks).

1 month

By now, you are ready for the wedding to be here and to get married!!!

Purchase alcohol (if serving). If your reception isn’t in a restaurant or hotel, you will most likely need to provide the alcohol. This is actually a great way to save a little money. Try Frugal McDougal’s for a wide selection and affordable prices.

Give photographer a shot list. Check out or for samples.

Set wedding day itinerary and disseminate to all vendors (caterer, coordinators, florist, band, wedding party, etc.).

Give band/DJ song requests. Some bands will take requests as long as they are a part of their song repertoire, while others will learn a new song (first dance) for you as long as you furnish them with the sheet music and a recorded version. When you book your entertainment, discuss genre preferences and make sure they will adhere to your “must play” and “don’t play” lists. If they also agree to emcee that night, make sure they have all the information they need.

Get marriage license. Call ahead and make sure you have all the right information, forms and identification. Most states won’t allow you to get your marriage license more than 30 days before your wedding.

Follow up with guests who have not RSVP’d. Today with advanced technology, it’s much easier for people to correspond and get quick answers. Send periodic e-mails about accommodation deadlines, schedules of events, etc., which will serve as helpful RSVP reminders. Two weeks before the wedding, follow up personally with anyone who hasn’t responded because you will need to give the caterer a final count one week before the wedding and may want extra time if doing assigned seating.

Mail rehearsal dinner invitations. They should come after the wedding invitations.

Test run with stylist and make-up artist if you wish. You may want to do this for your bridal portrait (2-3 months).

Pick up wedding rings.

Week of your wedding

Take off work –  it will make for a much more relaxing week to help you prepare for the unexpected and all your guests who will be eager to see you. People will show up earlier than expected, some won’t show up at all, and you will get last-minute phone calls wanting help with accommodations, transportation and more.

Assign key people to field those calls and questions over the weekend so you don’t have to worry about it. Finalize everything with your vendors and give them an overabundance of information (detailed schedule, contact information, directions, etc.) so there are no questions.

Give the caterer the final guest count.

Organize items to be transported. Make sure favors, guestbook, alcohol, pictures, etc., get taken to the reception while programs, fans etc., get taken to the ceremony location. Delegate others to help and do it a day before the wedding if possible.

Give honeymoon itinerary and contact information to family and anyone who may need it like the pet/house sitter.

Confirm transportation arrangements.

Confirm beauty appointments.

Confirm vendor contracts and timing schedule. It’s good to touch base with the photographer, videographer, florist, rental company, entertainment, etc., to make sure they have everything they need and have a copy of your master schedule.

Prepare envelopes with checks for vendors. It’s much easier to have each vendor’s check in a separate envelope with one person (not you!) that can be responsible for giving them all out to the appropriate people.

Get dress pressed. Take it to a Laundromat or use a professional steamer to make sure your dress is wrinkle free!

Groomsmen pick up tuxes and make sure they all fit correctly.

Assign people to help where needed. Assign people to hand out boutonnières at the ceremony or carry your clothing, gifts, or cake toppers at the end of the night.

Disseminate schedule to wedding party. Give them times and places of where they need to be when for the rehearsal, getting dressed, pictures, etc.

Pack for honeymoon. You can also do this the day after the wedding if you have a day before you depart.


After the wedding…

As you are basking in marital bliss there are only a few things left to do.

Complete registry. Take advantage of discounts on registry items.

Preserve bouquet and dress.  Research local services. Most drycleaners will clean and preserve dresses.

Write thank-you notes. Both of you!!!

Change your name. If you want to change your name, recognize it is a process and prepare accordingly. When you are ready, which could be a week after your wedding or three years after your wedding, make sure you have several (three-four) original certified copies of your marriage license (which will cost you roughly $2 each).

Take care of your driver’s license, passport and social security card first, followed by bank accounts, insurance, credit cards, memberships, utility bills, titles, etc. Try and take care of them all in one week so there is a short duration of having two names.

If you go by your middle name as I do, you can’t just drop your first name and keep your maiden name. You must go through the court system and legally have it changed for about $120. So if you want to do that, change it legally first then start the name change process. Or do as I did … I just kept them all!!!