How to Plan a Wedding: Complete Step-by-Step Wedding Checklist

couple sitting on a couch in a window lit room adorned with ethereal white flower arrangements they planned to give their wedding a whimsical feel
photo: Autumn Nicole Photography, as seen in this romantically timeless wedding planned with fairytale vibes in mind

Just engaged? Feeling a tad overwhelmed by all the “to do’s” and checklist steps in the wedding planning process? We’ve got you covered. Our step by step guide on how to plan a wedding has your back. We’ve teamed up with wedding industry pros and vendors of all types to give you all the essential info (with a foolproof checklist) to craft the wedding of your dreams. No meltdowns necessary.

Here at GWS, we know full well that no wedding is the same. But we’d be lying if we said there wasn’t a solid formula and wedding planning checklist pretty much all weddings follow. Stick with us, and we promise this whole process will feel a lot more fun (and a lot less stressful!) than it seems.

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Common Wedding Planning FAQs – Wedding Planning 101

couple embracing at their pampas grass adorned moon shaped ceremony arch for their wedding planned on the beach in Costa Rica
photo: Chris and Ruth Photography, as seen in this celestial wedding planned on the beach in Costa Rica

Before we dive into the details of how to plan a wedding and share our complete step by step checklist, let’s cover some common questions we get asked ALL the time.

How long does it take to plan a wedding?

groom kissing bride's hand as they stand at their ceremony site on a cliff by the ocean during their wedding planned in Big Sur at sunset
photo: Bruna Kitchen Photography, as seen in this boho coastal wedding planned on the cliffs of Big Sur

This is highly dependent on the type of wedding someone is planning. For a no-fuss elopement without many (or any) vendors and no special location (or travel), there can be very little to no planning time at all, aside from the time it may take to acquire a marriage license. 

Meanwhile, some weddings can take literal years to plan (this is more common for elaborate, luxury weddings). That said, one year is a pretty standard length of time to plan (with 18 months on the longer end of average). 

It’s also worth noting that there are many vendors who opt not to book couples more than a year in advance, so you’ll want to consider this when figuring out how far in advance to plan your wedding.

Can I plan a wedding in 3 months?

bride and groom wandering the streets of Paris with the Eiffel Tower behind them during their planned couples time on their wedding day
photo: Koko Photography, as seen in this romantic wedding inspo planned near the Eiffel Tower

Whether you can (or would want to) plan a wedding in 3 months really depends on the type of event you’re planning. If you’re planning a wedding that’s pretty small in size, without too many vendors, minimal decor, and not too many moving parts, then yes, absolutely. 

However, even small weddings can require months of planning, so it’s best to avoid situations where you have to plan a wedding in 3 months or less. It’ll make all the steps in the wedding planning process that much easier and more enjoyable.

Is it easy to plan your own wedding?

couple arriving to their wedding in a red vintage car they planned to use for their entrance
photo: Brooke Miller Photography, as seen in this backyard Georgia wedding planned with classic car touches

It can be easy to plan your own wedding, but the answer here ultimately depends on your timeline and your personality type. 

If you’re planning a large wedding within a short time window (say, 3 months), planning your own wedding can be quite challenging. Meanwhile, if you’re planning a moderately sized affair over the course of a year or longer, it can in fact be easy to plan your own wedding and cover all the checklist steps with ease. 

In regards to personality type, you’ll want to think about whether or not you’re the type of person who can stick to strict deadlines, manage several tasks at once, and juggle outreach and communication with a plethora of vendors. Planning a wedding is essentially a project management job, and if that’s something you excel at, it can be easy. 

That said, just because you can plan your own wedding, doesn’t necessarily mean you want to. It’s still a lot of work, even if you find that work simple and straightforward.

Do I need a wedding planner?

couple standing outside the baby blue palace where they plan to have their wedding
photo: Atmosphere Photography, as seen in this Bridgerton-inspired wedding planned at a Portuguese palace

Generally speaking, we’re big advocates for hiring a wedding planner, but there are some exceptions where having one on your vendor team may not be necessary. 

You may need a wedding planner in the following scenarios:

  • To Work With Certain Vendors – Some wedding vendors only work with clients who have a dedicated wedding planner (this is often the case with luxury wedding photographers and other top tier vendors).
  • For Large Events – The more moving parts in your wedding day, the more essential a wedding planner will be. They can help you find your other vendors and will communicate the timeline and plan for the day, so you don’t have to.
  • For a Low Stress Experience – Wedding planners can do a ton for you, including helping you manage your wedding budget, coordinating meetings with vendors, providing a recommended vendor list, helping gather loved ones for important moments on the big day (like family photos!), and so much more. Without them, you’d be planning and managing all of that by yourself, which is a lot to do before and during your wedding day.
couple taking planned photos on an oceanside cliff during golden hour during their three day wedding in Mexico
photo: Chris & Ruth Photography, as seen in this dreamy 3 day wedding in Mexico

You may not need a wedding planner in the following scenarios:

  • For Smaller Events – If you’re eloping, your photographer will provide a lot of the planning services, like creating your timeline and helping you identify and navigate the booking process for your location. They also typically have a list of preferred vendors they can share with you.
  • If You Just Need Help The Day-Of – If you’re able to plan everything before the wedding day and solely need someone to help with the day-of logistics and keep things running smoothly, a day-of coordinator is a great alternative.

Whether you hire a wedding planner to plan your wedding or not, we recommend having a dedicated planner notebook to keep track of everything as you go.

How do you start planning a wedding?

couple standing and sitting together for a planned photo at their wheelchair accessible wedding location on a greenery lined path
photo: Marissa Solini, as seen in this wedding brings awareness to marriage equality issues for disabled individuals

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the whole process of how to plan a wedding. But we’re here to help. We’ve shared tons of weddings over the years (and provided plenty of advice to engaged couples along the way), so we know a thing or two about the planning process (and the wedding checklist steps you can’t forget!). 

And we’ve also called in a few wedding experts to share their top tips and advice throughout this wedding checklist. Consider this guide your complete, filled-to-the-brim, ultimate checklist to everything you need to know as you plan your wedding. Things are about to get a whole lot easier!

The Complete Step by Step Wedding Planning Checklist

couple taking a planned walk through London on their wedding day
photo: Beatrici Photography, as seen in this vintage-inspired wedding planned in the heart of London

Now that we’ve covered the essential FAQs, let’s get into it! How to plan a wedding: the complete step by step planning checklist. We’re covering everything you need to know, paired with links to all of our most popular and helpful guides on each of these topics.

Checklist Step 1: Think About the “Big Picture” for Your Wedding

bride in a white gown standing in front of the Italian castle where she plans to have her wedding
photo: David Bastianoni, as seen in this fairytale-worthy wedding planned at a 13th century Italian castle

When most couples think about how to plan a wedding, they assume they’re supposed to dive straight into coming up with a wedding budget, booking a venue, and getting into the logistics and hard numbers for the day. Don’t. This is a perfect recipe for stripping the personality and fun out of your wedding (and wedding planning itself).

How can you set a wedding budget for a wedding you don’t even know the scope of? It’s important that you, as a couple, think about the vision you have for your wedding day before diving into the details. Do you imagine a large, elaborate affair with all your friends, family, and acquaintances you’ve met over the years? Or do you prefer a more intimate wedding, with a handful of your go-to people? 

Do you picture getting married in a snowy winter scene at your favorite ski resort, or does a springtime desert ceremony feel right? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of tying the knot at a dreamy European castle?

Are you a no-frills type of couple who’d prefer your venue’s architecture or design to do most of the talking on your big day. Or would you rather plan a wedding that incorporates elaborate design elements, like floral arrangements suspended from the ceiling, a custom champagne wall, or an adorable mobile bar setup?

al fresco dining area amongst the palm trees wedding planning checklist step
photo: Katie Edwards, as seen in this elevated + timeless wedding planned in Palm Springs

Are there certain cultural traditions you know you’ll want to incorporate into your wedding day plan?
These are the types of questions you should be asking each other at the start of planning your wedding, before you even craft a budget. Your answers will give you the information you need to come up with a budget that’s both realistic for the complexity of your event and one that you can actually stick to. 

Improperly visualizing an event is a common reason couples end up going above budget, so it’s important that you don’t skip this checklist step in the wedding planning process!

Checklist Step 2: Before Planning and Setting a Wedding Budget, Identify Who (If Anyone) Will Contribute Financially

wedding couple standing outside the Alamo motel for a planned photo at golden hour
photo: Gina & Ryan, as seen in this backyard wedding planned with laid back vibes and good food

Some couples get financial help from both of their families, while others opt to finance their wedding entirely on their own. Gone are the days where one side of the family was responsible for covering all the wedding costs. 

Before diving into the logistics of how to plan your wedding, you’ll want to not only ask any potential contributors if they’d be willing to help, but also how much they’re open to financially contributing toward your wedding.

Any loved ones providing a helping hand may want some details on what you envision for the big day, which is where step 1 in our wedding planning checklist really comes in handy.

All of this information will be crucial in step 5 on our list for how to plan a wedding (setting your wedding budget).

Checklist Step 3: Hire a Wedding Planner

wedding planner and her husband walking through flower petals during their recessional
photo: Tori Co., as seen in this wedding planner’s timeless garden wedding

If you’ve decided you don’t need one, you can skip this checklist step in the wedding planning process. But like we mentioned earlier, a wedding planner can really take the headache and guesswork out of planning your big day, especially if you’re not the type to love the idea of putting together a big event.

While hiring someone to help plan your wedding may seem like a splurge, it can actually end up saving you money in the long run. Planners are skilled at keeping you on budget and have vendor relationships that can score you discounts and deals (plus, access to vendors who refuse to work weddings that don’t already have a planner).

couple standing at their wedding ceremony arch taking a planned photo at sunset while the sun shines through their botanical arrangement
photo: Sarah Joy Photo, as seen in this backyard Georgia wedding planned with dreamy DIY details

The reason we’ve put hiring a wedding planner so high up in our checklist for how to plan a wedding is because they can play a crucial role in helping you identify your wedding team (aka, all your vendors) and set the proper wedding budget (our next step!).

Checklist Step 4: Decide on a Wedding Dress Code

couple during their recessional in laid back western inspired attire to match the dress code they planned when going through their wedding checklist
photo: Cam Storie Photography, as seen in this backyard New Mexico wedding planned with laid back western terracotta vibes

Repeat after us: do NOT plan a wedding without considering the formality first. Before you get into the nitty gritty details of sorting out your budget, hiring vendors, and booking a venue, you’ll want to be set on how fancy or casual your event will be.

This wedding checklist step sets the stage for everything, from your decor choices to your equipment rentals to the style of photography. And all of these impact how you plan and create a wedding budget (next step).

Checklist Step 5: Plan Out Your Wedding Budget

a planned photo of a group of girls walking with the bride on a sunny day while the hold parasols gifted to them for the wedding day
photo: Raegan Buckley, as seen in this sunny coastal California wedding planned with garden party vibes

Now that you have a vision for aesthetics and scope of your wedding, along with who will be contributing (and how much they’re willing to spend), we can get into the more nitty gritty numbers that come along with planning a wedding.

This is the checklist step where you’ll craft your wedding budget. First, we recommend creating a list of all the important elements and vendors you want incorporated into your day. Common ones include: a wedding venue, a wedding planner or day-of coordinator, a photographer, a florist, cake (or other dessert), catering, officiant, a DJ or band, a wedding dress (or bridal suit or jumpsuit) or a groom suit, ceremony decor, your wedding bands (we’ve rounded up our fave rings for women and for men), and the honeymoon.

After you’ve narrowed down all the elements and vendors you’d ideally like to incorporate into your wedding day, list them in order of importance, so you know which ones are worth dedicating more of your budget to.

groom holding bride in a celebratory planned pose at their outdoor wedding location in Joshua Tree California
photo: Jorge Macias Photo, as seen in this modern bohemian outdoors desert wedding planned at the Ruins

When budgeting for each item, you’ll want to think about average rates and cost for your area (or the area where your wedding will take place, if it’s a destination wedding). This doesn’t mean you need to spend the average, but use this as a guide and determine a comfortable range you’d be okay with spending on each element or vendor. 

For the higher priority items on your list, you’re likely to spend more than the average, and for the lower priority items, you’ll probably spend less than the average.

Checklist Step 6: Plan Out How Many People Will Be Attending Your Wedding

guests celebrating at the planned wedding reception holding their napkins in the air and twirling them
photo: Pablo Laguia, as seen in this fairytale rainy day wedding planned at a Barcelona estate

Here’s the reality: the bulk of your wedding budget will likely be spent on your guests. From the catering to the wedding cocktails to the chair rentals to the wedding favors to the DJ keeping the party going all night long, almost every aspect of your wedding budget touches your guests.

If you’ve been racking your brain to figure out how to plan a wedding on a budget, the first and easiest thing you can do is cut the guest list. So it’s important you get this step in the wedding planning checklist right.

It’s important to note that many venues also have guest count limitations, so you’ll want to have this number planned out in advance of visiting and booking your venue.

Checklist Step 7: Plan Who Will Be In Your Wedding Party

couple planning a group bike ride with their best friends on their wedding day
photo: Sullivan and Sullivan Studios, as seen in this festive San Francisco wedding planned at a brewery

Having the guidance and help of your wedding party as you sort through the ins and outs of how to plan a wedding will be crucial. After you’ve finalized your guest list, think about who your ride-or-die’s are.

We especially recommend including people who have either gotten married recently or are familiar with the duties that come with being in the wedding party. Those types of friends and family will be super helpful in the wedding planning process.

Once you’ve decided who will be along for the ride with you while you plan your wedding, we love the idea of sending them a little gift to officially ask them to be a part of your wedding party (and to say thanks!). We’ve rounded up our list of fav bridal party gifts and groomsmen gifts for the job.

a planned group wedding photo where the bridal party is helping the bride arrange her wedding dress
photo: Mackenzie Callaghan, as seen in this autumnal wedding planned in woodsy North Carolina

Checklist Step 8: Choose Your Wedding Date

couple who planned a vibrant and colorful wedding in the springtime walking down the streets of Richmond with their friends
photo: Madi Ellis Photography, as seen in this vibrant springtime wedding planned with all the neon vibes

You’ll want your wedding date chosen before you start booking your other vendors for the day. Most vendors will require a non-refundable retailer that holds your date on their calendar, so you’ll want to have this date set in stone before booking. Not every vendor will accommodate requests to modify the date, especially if they book out far in advance.

We recommend asking your planner what dates they think are best for your particular wedding vision and going from there. Things you’ll need to consider include:

  • The weather at your wedding location
  • When friends and family have the most flexible schedules
  • Discounts for weekday weddings (if you’re planning a wedding on a budget)

Checklist Step 9: Plan a Tour of (And Then Book!) Your Wedding Venue

couple showing how to plan a wedding by booking a historic Atlanta venue with a charming outdoors steps and water feature that make for beautiful romantic portraits
photo: Jessica Gold Photography, as seen in this southern-meets-west-coast wedding planned at the historic Swan House

This is the checklist step most people think about when sorting through how to plan a wedding! So how do you find the perfect place to say your “I do’s”? If you’re open to any destination, we’ve crafted an epic list of the coolest spots to get married.

If you’re set on a certain location, think about what weddings you’ve attended recently in your area that you loved. Ask those couples about their wedding planning experience with the venue! There’s nothing better than a firsthand recommendation.

We advise creating a list of 3-5 venues you really love and scheduling tours to see them in person. Not only do you want to get an idea of the space, but you’ll also want to gather info on:

  • What comes with the booking (e.g., a getting-ready space, chair rentals, parking (and valet), catering, etc.)
  • Whether or not you can bring in outside vendors (some venues have vendors they require you to work with)
  • Noise ordinances
  • Whether or not they have a commercial kitchen for caterers to use
  • Guest count limits
  • Back-up plan accommodations (e.g., do they charge extra for a tent if it rains at an outdoor venue?)
  • Cancelation and rescheduling policies
  • How much they require in order to book, and whether that is a deposit or retainer

Checklist  Step 10: Book Your Wedding Photographer (And Plan for Engagement Photos!)

couple standing together during their planned sunset couples portraits on the evening of their wedding day in Big Sur
photo: Tessa Tadlock, as seen in this swoon-worthy micro wedding planned in Big Sur

How to plan a wedding you’ll never forget? Hire an incredible wedding photographer whose photos will allow you to relive the day again and again.

Getting connected early with your wedding photographer will be essential. If you’re interested in taking engagement photos you can use for your save the dates and wedding invites, you’ll want to look for photographers that either include an engagement session in their wedding package or offer it as an add-on.

a planned photo of two wedding save the date display cards sitting on a dried palm leaf
card: Millustration Atelier

Keep in mind that you’ll want to send your save the dates at least 6 months before the wedding day (and ideally, more than 9 months in advance, if possible), so booking a photographer in advance is key.

Your wedding photographer will also work hand-in-hand with your wedding planner on your day-of timeline to ensure you’re getting the best photos possible on the day you say your “I do’s”.

Checklist Step 11: Schedule and Plan Your Appointments for Trying on Wedding Clothes

couple standing together in their planned wedding attire at their colorful pink Palm Springs ceremony location
photo: Lauren Scotti, as seen in this bold + colorfully unforgettable wedding planned in Palm Springs

It’s the checklist step that immediately comes to mind when most people think about planning a wedding: finding the perfect ‘fit! Now that you’ve zoned in on the dress code and the venue, finding the perfect dress (or jumpsuit, bridal suit, or mens suit!) will be that much easier.

And plan to bring your wedding shoes (or boots, if that’s more your style) with you to your appointments, so you can make sure you love the way they look with your attire.

Not sure when to buy your wedding day look? We’ve got all the details below:

  • Custom-made wedding dress – 12+ months in advance
  • Non-custom, made-to-order wedding dress – 8+ months in advance
  • Jumpsuits and suits – 4+ months in advance
  • Off-the-rack wedding attire – 3+ months in advance

Remember, these are just recommendations. Plenty of couples purchase their wedding attire closer to their wedding date, so if you’re in a rush, don’t panic! 

If you’re buying something more last-minute, you likely just won’t have as much time for alterations and will need to purchase locally, given delays in shipping for international designers. 

Weigh the pros and cons here, but as a general rule, we advise creating a plan to get your wedding clothes as soon as you’ve secured your venue and narrowed down your dress code for the day.

bride looking back as her and the groom walk toward their venue while she wears the botanical patterned second dress she planned to wear for the second half of her wedding day
photo: Katiee Caroline Photography | dress: Selkie, as seen in this 70’s inspired wedding planned at Atlanta’s industrial Bishop Station

After you’ve found “the one”, you’ll want to think about what accessories go best with your look. Here are some of our favs:

  • Wedding earrings – The perfect way to frame your face if you’re planning on sporting a wedding updo.
  • Wedding necklaces – We especially love these for a dress that has a plunging neckline. 
  • Bridal purses – Because let’s be honest, most dresses don’t have pockets.
  • A swoon-worthy perfume or cologne – A scent that’ll remind you forever of the day you said your “I do’s”.
  • Show-stopping watches – A stylish statement that doubles as a way to keep up with the wedding day timeline? We love to see it.

Checklist Step 12: Plan Out What Your Wedding Party Will Wear

bride and her friends in white and yellow gowns taking a planned photo at their sunlit wedding venue
photo: Kayla Esparza, as seen in this eclectic destination wedding planned in California’s wine country

How to plan a wedding your wedding party will love? Give them extra time to find their perfect outfit. This is especially important if you’re going the mismatched route, where your wedding party will need to do the work to find a look in their preferred style, that also meets your aesthetic specifications.

Many bridal party dresses (and groomsmen suits!) can be custom-made to fit each person’s specific dimension, so ordering early is key. And if you’re not buying made-to-order, your crew will still want to get alterations done around 2 months before the wedding day.

planned group photo of the bride and her friends on the wedding day in colorful attire and greenery in the background

Not sure where to start? We’ve rounded up our fav places to find the perfect dress for your “I do” crew. Prepare to be obsessed.

And don’t forget, florals are technically a part of your crew’s look! Think about what botanicals would look best with the outfits you’ve chosen for wedding party.

Checklist Step 13: Create a Wedding Registry

couple pouring champagne over a coupe tower they created as a part of their wedding planning checklist
photo: Brogen Jessup, as seen in this Palm springs wedding with pink and red planned with extra glam

It’s easy to get caught up in an endless list of details and tasks for how to plan a wedding and forget about the “after”…aka all the things you’ll need to start your new married life together. 

Your wedding registry is that peek into the future. Are you two already living together and have all the home essentials? Maybe a honeymoon fund is more your style. Planning to move in together after the “I do’s”? This is the perfect time to ask for that KitchenAid stand mixer (you know the one!).

Whichever stage you’re in, we’ve crafted a list of our favorite registry sites for any type of couple (in any stage!). Figuring out how to plan a wedding just got a lot easier.

Checklist Step 14: Reserve a Room Block at a Nearby Hotel

couple standing in front of the retro Denver hotel they booked and planned their wedding at
photo: Karra Leigh, as seen in this downtown Denver wedding planned with chic boho-meets-industrial vibes

Now that you’ve secured your dream venue, you’ll want to identify a nearby hotel where your guests (and even you!) can stay before the wedding day. You’ll want to reserve a block of rooms, which will typically give your guests a discounted room rate.

And added bonus? If you’re arranging transportation for guests to the venue, it’s best when they’re staying in the same place.

Checklist Step 15: Make It Easy for Your Guests to Plan By Creating a Wedding Website

RSVP page on a wedding website pulled up on a monitor

Your wedding website is hands-down one of the most integral parts of the wedding planning process for your guests. Not only is it a great place to display your engagement photos, but this is where you can include information about hotel room blocks, ceremony start times, recommended travel info (and things to do in the area), your registry link, and dress code details. And you can also have your guests RSVP directly through the wedding website.

Needless to say, you do not want to plan a wedding without one. Your website is the perfect place to direct guests with any general questions they may have about the big day, which’ll save you time and cut down on stress. We’d call that a win.

Checklist Step 16: Plan Consults and Secure Your Other Wedding Vendors

al fresco dining setup wedding planning checklist step
photo: Let’s Frolic Together, as seen in this Palm Springs wedding planned with Moroccan design touches

This is where you’ll want to plan out what other wedding vendors you want to include in your day. Do you prefer a DJ or live music? Dreaming of whimsical hanging floral arrangements? Are you 99.9% sure you can’t plan a wedding without your favorite restaurant catering a plated dinner for all your favorite people?

Aside from your venue and photo/video, typical vendors include the following. We’ve also included tips for anyone sorting through how to plan a wedding on a budget.

  • Officiant – If you’re trying to plan a wedding on a budget, opt to have a friend or family member to officiate. Not only is it extremely meaningful, but it also saves you money.
  • Hair and Makeup Artist – You can DIY this one if you’re planning a wedding on a tight budget, but hiring a professional has the added benefit of knowing your beauty look will stay put, even with all the crying you’ll inevitably be doing as you say your “I do’s”!
  • Florist – Consult with your florist on what types of flowers are local to your area, as those will tend to be more budget-friendly. Also, simpler arrangements are a great way to keep costs down! Still want the extravagant florals? Go for it! Angelena Moio of Shindig Chic tells us, “A great way to put your floral budget to good use is to repurpose ceremony flowers for your reception.  If you have front and/or back of aisle arrangements, move them to frame your sweetheart table, dessert table, bar, etc. That’s a great way to use a large arrangement twice vs. double spending.
  • Catering – Be sure to check if your venue requires using their caterer of choice. To plan a wedding on a budget, opt for buffet style over plated meals.
  • Music – Beyond just hiring a DJ for the reception, you’ll want to think about whether or not you want live music for the ceremony and cocktail hour, too.
  • Bartenders – If you plan on having an open bar, a beer and wine bar will be more budget friendly than serving liquor and signature cocktails.
  • Rentals – The most common rentals here will be chairs, table decor, and dinnerware. Depending on the typical weather at your venue during the season you’re getting married, a backup tent may also be worth it.
  • Paper Goods Designer – This includes everything from save the dates to your invitation suite to your programs and menu. Planning a wedding on a budget? Buying pre-designed templates are a great option.
chef serving a catered plated meal to a wedding attendee at the dinner planned at an outdoor location
photo: The Drawhorns | chef: Terrene Gatherings

You’ll want to schedule consultation calls or plan in-person meetings (if local) with any wedding vendors you’re considering, before you sign on the dotted line. 

Take note of the timeliness of their communication and compare them with other vendors within similar price ranges to ensure you’re getting the best service possible.

Generally speaking, it’s best practice to plan to book any wedding vendors you find high priority at least 9 months before the big day. Lower priority vendors can be booked later, if necessary.

couple kissing in front of a red and orange patterned tapestry adorned with vibrant botanicals on either side

One thing we love the idea of DIY’ing? The ceremony backdrop. And we’ve rounded up our favorite ones you could totally do yourself.

Checklist Step 17: Send Your Wedding Save the Dates

arch shaped save the date card sitting next to two ring boxes with wedding bands sitting on top of them
photo: Mandee Johnson, as seen in this modern LA wedding planned with Jewish traditions in mind

Wedding date chosen? Check. Venue secured? Check. Photographer booked and engagement photos taken? Wedding website live? Check and check. You’re officially ready to send out your save the dates!

We recommend you plan on doing this at least 6 months before your wedding day (and ideally, at least 9 months, especially if you’re getting married during the peak of wedding season).

Checklist Step 18: Book Your Hair and Makeup Trial

bride looking in the mirror as shoes does her makeup on her wedding day as she plans to get ready for her ceremony
photo: Jordan Voth, as seen in Whitney Simmons’ Todos Santos wedding

Now that you’ve figured out what you’ll be wearing on the big day, it’s time to plan and test your wedding hair and makeup look. Debating between a few different styles? This is the perfect time to take them for a spin and confirm your look for the “I do’s”.

We’ve also curated a lists of our fav styles for every hair length and aesthetic to get you started:

bride in her dress looking down while a collection of white rose bouquets surround her face

Planning on DIY’ing your wedding makeup look? We’ve rounded up the prettiest looks imaginable.

Checklist Step 19: Plan Out What Wedding Hair Accessories You’ll Need

bride wearing a botanical crown hair accessory and white petal earrings to complete her rustic mountain look she planned for her Big Sky Montana wedding
photo: Anna Meyer Photo, as seen in this mountain rustic wedding planned in Big Sky

Now that you’ve done your hair and makeup trial, you should have a good idea of what hair accessories you’ll need on the big day. There’s nothing like a cute hair accessory to complete and elevate your whole look. Some of our favorites include:

During your hair and makeup trial (the wedding checklist step above!), be sure to ask your HMUA (hair and makeup artist) for recommendations on what accessories work best for your specific look.

Checklist Step 20: Take a Pause from the Wedding and Start to Plan the Honeymoon

couple soaking in a hot tub outside an a frame cabin after planning their wedding
photo: Sheena Shahangian

Phew, you’ve already done TONS of wedding planning at this point. Take a break from the wedding planning checklist and shift gears to something a little more fun: planning that epic honeymoon!

Start by daydreaming about potential destinations. Planning on staying in the country? We’ve narrowed down the absolute best destinations in the US

Thinking about going international? Make sure your passports are up-to-date, as this process can be a long and slow one.

wedding couple sitting in a wooden hot tub tucked into a rocky hillside in the desert while they drink champagne

Is an Insta-worthy stay a must when you travel? We’ve rounded up the most romantic Airbnbs for that honeymoon of your dreams.

Checklist Step 21: Schedule and Plan Your Catering and Wedding Cake Tastings

four slices of wedding cake on plates during a planned cake tasting
photo: Tom Thornton Photography, as seen in this whimsical winter wedding planned around a mushroom theme

Let’s be honest, this is arguably one of our favorite checklist steps in how to plan a wedding. Is there anything better than tasting good food and desserts? We think not.

This is the time for curating your dessert list, whether it be a beautiful cake or a delicious non-traditional option

As for catering, if you’re planning on serving meat, we also recommend ensuring you have a vegetarian and/or vegan option for guests. Sample and narrow down your meal choices with your catering team, so you can include all the details on your RSVPs when you send out your invites.

tablescape with fresh pink blooms and plated meals at a wedding reception planned to be inspired by mushrooms
photo: Tom Thornton Photography

And don’t forget to plan some fun wedding food additions, like cocktail hour hors d’oeuvreslate night snacks and signature craft cocktails.

Checklist Step 22: Plan for Transportation to the Wedding (Both for You and Your Guests)

couple sitting together in a maroon vintage convertible along the California coast that they planned to rent as their exit vehicle on their wedding day
photo: Lynn Lewis, as seen in this elegant Big Sur wedding

Now that you’ve booked a hotel room block, you have all the details you need to arrange and plan for transportation from your hotel(s) of choice to your wedding venue. 

This is also a great time for arranging your transportation to the wedding venue. Imagine arriving in a classic vintage red convertible? This is the time to get it booked. 

Checklist Step 23: Plan a Meeting with Your Officiant to Finalize Wedding Ceremony Details

couple at their wedding ceremony holding hands and laughing at the planned speech made by the officiant
photo: Mary Costa Photography, as seen in this colorful wedding planned at a stunning hillside ranch

Before booking your wedding officiant, you should have already discussed if they allow for personalizations and customizations, or if they stick to a dedicated pre-determined script. If they personalize, this is the time to meet with them and discuss what you’d like them to say.

During this meeting, you’ll also get an idea of how long the wedding ceremony will last, which’ll be crucial information for your wedding planner as they put together your timeline (a future step in our wedding checklist!).

Checklist Step 24: Plan Your Wedding Rehearsal Dinner (And Book the Location)

family dinner underneath chandeliers hung outside for a wedding planned at an Italian villa
photo: Zonzo, as seen in this wedding planned at a Tuscan villa

You’ve spent all this time figuring out how to plan a wedding. Now it’s time to do the trial run and make sure everything goes smoothly. The rehearsal typically takes place at your venue, where you run through the processional, ceremony, and recessional with anyone involved in the event.

And afterwards? Everyone gets treated to a delicious dinner. Yum! Plan this part of the wedding about 4-5 months before the big day.

You’ll also want to check with your wedding venue to see if they have options to host the dinner itself on-site, or if you’ll need to plan to have the rehearsal dinner at a nearby restaurant or other venue.

woman wearing an ankle length v neck white dress in a smooth satin material

Don’t forget to find the perfect dress for your rehearsal dinner. We’ve rounded up the absolute best looks.

Checklist Step 25: Purchase and Send Your Wedding Invitations

bright orange and pink invitation suite adorned with flowers for a colorful wedding planned in the desert of southern California
photo: Mary Costa Photography, as seen in this bold + bright wedding planned in Palm Springs

As a general rule, you should plan to order your wedding invitations 4-6 months in advance and send them 2-4 months in advance. The specific date really depends on the type of wedding you’re planning, though (e.g. destination weddings require more time).

Unsure of the rules and recommendations for your type of wedding? We’ve written the complete guide on when to send your wedding invites.

Checklist Step 26: Work With Your Wedding Photographer to Craft Your Family Formals Shot List (And Other Essential Photos)

family photo of the dad in white attire crying in the front row of the wedding ceremony
photo: Let’s Frolic Together, as seen in this modern San Diego wedding planned with desert vibes

Make sure to let family members know that they’ll be in family formal photos following the ceremony. That way, they know to stay behind after the recessional. This helps your photographer and planner ensure everyone is ready, without the timeline running behind.

Checklist Step 27: Plan Out and Create Your Wedding Day Timeline

groom playing guitar for the bride during their wedding ceremony
photo: Mandee Johnson, as seen in this breathtaking Yosemite wedding planned with heartfelt touches

This one is quite possibly the most important checklist step in how to plan a wedding. No wedding day is complete without a solid timeline in place. This is the go-to resource for you, your guests, and all of your wedding vendors.

Without it, nothing can come together. If you’re working with a wedding planner, they will help you plan your wedding timeline, giving you recommendations on time windows for all the day’s events. 

You’ll also want to plan to consult with your other wedding vendors to see how long they’ll need to complete their services (e.g., checking in with your hair and makeup artist to see how long they’ll need to complete your look on the big day).

Checklist Step 28: Get Alterations Completed on Your Wedding Clothes

couple who planned to have custom alterations done to their wedding attire walking hand in hand on a rooftop where they held their ceremony
photo: Halle Morgan, as seen in this modern + romantic wedding planned on a city rooftop

Plan to get your dress (or suit/jumpsuit) altered between 2 and 3 months of your wedding date. When you go into your first alterations appointment, you’ll also want to bring along the wedding shoes you plan on wearing on the big day. 

How many alterations appointments should you plan on before your wedding day? Alexandria Cardenas with Love Era tells us, “We’ve seen brides only require one appointment for basic alterations, like adding a bustle. Others have needed 2-3 if theyve had weight fluctuations or need more complicated adjustments to their gown. It definitely depends on the complexity, but for wedding planning purposes, an average of 2 appointments is safe to plan for. 

Checklist Step 29: Buy Your Wedding Rings

gold and diamond wedding jewelry sitting on a rose hued glass surrounded by orange white and pink botanicals
photo: Ashley Medrano, as seen in this Texas wedding planned with modern pastel vibes

Plan to get your wedding rings 2-3 months before the big day. This gives you enough time for custom designs, resizing, and shipping. 

Make sure you wear your engagement ring when trying on wedding bands in person, so you can see how the two pair together.

Not sure where to start? We’ve crafted the ultimate list of wedding rings for women and for men. Prepare for some seriously swoon-worthy styles!

Checklist Step 30: Plan Out Your Wedding Day Song Essentials

couple sharing a planned dance together on their wedding day
photo: Drzazga Photography, as seen in this modern wedding planned on a rooftop

Plan a meeting with your wedding DJ to sort through the song styles you want played throughout the night. You’ll also want to narrow down song choices for important parts of the wedding day, like the processional, recessional, first dance, father daughter dance, mother son dance, and the cake cutting.

And before you consider planning a wedding with just a Spotify playlist and no DJ, we’d recommend thinking twice. Dart Collective tells us, “DJs can do something no Spotify playlist can: read the dance floor. DJs can take your unique tastes and song requests, and interweave them throughout the night with intention and an eye out for the energy of the crowd.

In doing so, they’re able to think creatively on the fly and play songs you didn’t think of but love, as well as understand when it’s time to drop in that perfect crowd pleasing Marvin Gaye remix, or know when the mood is right for a Whitney Houston singalong.” The dance floor isn’t static, don’t ask your DJ to be with a playlist.”

Checklist Step 31: Plan Out Your Wedding Favors (And Determine How Many You’ll Need)

display that says grab a shot and a seat with handmade ceramic mugs that were planned to give to wedding guests at the reception
photo: Victoria Carlson Photography, as seen in this bohemian wedding planned on an Oregon ranch

Your guests have traveled far and wide to see you two tie the knot, so having some cute keepsake wedding favors is a really nice element to consider when planning your wedding.

We especially love the idea of incorporating your favors into your wedding seating chart or escort cards. And speaking of…

Checklist Step 32: Plan Out a Wedding Seating Chart

seating arrangement wedding planning checklist step with a shelf containing limoncello for each attendee
photo: Marissa Nicole, as seen in this Tuscany-inspired wedding planned in Florida

Complete this wedding planning checklist step about a month before the “I do’s”. You want the transition from cocktail hour to the reception to be seamless, and a solid wedding seating chart is essential to this.

If you’re not sure how to plan a wedding where there’s minimal drama and plenty of good conversation, the seating chart is a crucial element.

This is where you’ll put guests with similarities together, so the conversation and good vibes keep flowing throughout the night. And, it’s also where you keep people with tensions away from one another.

Checklist Step 33: Plan Our Which Wedding Day Paper Goods You Need (And Get Them Printed)

abstract dinner menu in a brown paper with white text planned for a bohemian desert greenhouse wedding
photo: Heirlume Photography, as seen in this organic coastal wedding planned at a dreamy greehouse

You have the final guest count, you’ve narrowed down the dinner menu, and you have the timeline details planned out and prepped. The next step in how to plan a wedding? You’re officially ready to source and print your paper goods. 

These are the essentials we’d recommend:

  • Menus – These are perfect if you’re planning a plated (or family style) multi-course meal. And we happen to think these would make for the cutest framed keepsake in your kitchen!
  • Programs – The perfect way to keep guests in the loop and ensure they know where to be (and when)? Wedding programs!
  • Signage – Whether it’s welcome signs, a frame for your signature cocktails, or an unplugged ceremony sign, these will no doubt elevate your guest experience.
  • Seating Chart – We’ve pretty much written the guide to seating charts (literally!), so you already know how important we think they are. Getting these (or escort cards) printed is crucial to a seamless reception.

Checklist Step 34: Plan Out and Write Your Wedding Vows

handwritten vows in small books wedding checklist planning step
photo: Henry Tieu, as seen in this Oregon coast wedding planned with nature as the ultimate backdrop

Curious about how to plan a wedding that’ll bring everyone to tears? Craft vows that come from the heart, speaking to the unique aspects of your relationship, all the monumental moments together, and the promises you have in store for the future.

Not sure where to start? We’ve written the complete vow writing template to walk you through the entire process.

Plan to start writing your wedding vows about a month before the “I do’s”, so you don’t feel rushed in the process.

Checklist Step 35: Schedule Time to Get Your Marriage License

bride with henna covered hands completing the marriage license step in how to plan a wedding
photo: Sheena Shahangian

Requirements and laws vary from state-to-state, so make sure to read up on the process in advance. This is especially important if you’re planning a destination wedding, as you’ll need to factor in time to pick up your license into your travel itinerary.

married couple driving away from their wedding venue in a classic light grey convertible while the bride's veil drapes behind the back of the vehicle

As you go through and plan for the legal processes involved in the wedding day, consider whether or not a name change is something you’d like. Still unsure? Check out our guide to Ms vs Mrs vs Miss.

Checklist Step 36: Plan and Schedule Your Wedding Manicure Appointment

custom blush manicure with gold M+A initials drawn onto the ring finger
photo: @drybylondon, as seen in our guide to wedding manicures

Is it a truly essential step in how to plan a wedding? No. Is it highly encouraged? Absolutely
We love the idea of taking your wedding look to the next level with some seriously swoon-worthy wedding nails. It’s the perfect way to elevate your look and incorporate your wedding colors.

Checklist Step 37: Plan to Get Plenty of Sleep Before Your Wedding Day

bride standing in the frame of a large set of windows in her getting ready attire the morning of her ceremony
photo: Autumn Nicole Photography

How to plan a wedding and not actually enjoy it? Don’t get enough sleep before your “I do’s”. It’s easy to overlook this step in the wedding checklist, but it’s a MUST.

Make sure to get at least 8 hours (if not more!) before your walk down the aisle. It’ll make it that much easier to be present on your wedding day and enjoy all the hard work you’ve put into planning your dream day.

Checklist Step 38: Portion and Plan Out Your Wedding Vendor Tips

wedding planner lighting candles at the dinner reception
photo: Larsen Photo Co. | planner: Paper Forest Design

If your wedding vendors have consistently been on top of communication and have gone above and beyond to make your wedding day special, it’s recommended to plan to tip them. For some vendors, specific dollar ranges are expected and for others, you’ll do a percentage of service.

Best practice here is to consult with your wedding planner to see what is standard for your specific wedding location. Your wedding planner will typically also be the one to distribute tips you’ve prepared to all of your vendors, so use them as your go-to resource here.

Checklist Step 39: Check the Weather for Your Wedding Day (And Initiate Your Rain Plan, If Needed)!

couple standing under a clear umbrella as their rain plan when it stormed on their wedding day
photo: Julia Arceri, as seen in our guide to planning for rainy wedding days

Nobody likes to talk about this particular wedding planning checklist step, but it’s essential. You and your venue should have already come up with a plan for rain on the wedding day, but this is when you’ll decide whether or not to take action on that plan.

The day before the wedding, have a loved one keep track of weather conditions and make sure they stay in communication with your planner and venue to activate a rain plan in case it’s needed.

Many venues will allow you up to a few hours before the ceremony to decide whether or not to initiate your rain plan. Just make sure to factor in time for vendor setup!

Checklist Step 40: Plan to Send Wedding Thank You Cards

thank you card with photo and neutral cream hued envelope wedding planning checklist step
photo + card: Saint Made Studio

Typically, you’ll want to plan to send your wedding thank you cards out to attendees within 3 months of your “I do’s”. So who exactly gets a thank you card?

You’ll want to give a handwritten note to those who were intimately involved in bringing your day to life and those who purchased you a wedding gift. Within the card, make sure to mention the role they played in your day and how much you appreciate their gift. Bonus points for sharing how much you can’t wait to use it!

Did you have a special or meaningful conversation with that specific guest at the wedding too? Plan to bring that up in the note as well for a sweet and thoughtful touch.

couple enjoying brunch at the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi while two giraffes grab a bite of food from the table through the windows
photo: Emma-Jane Photography, as seen in this whimsical wedding inspiration planned at the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi

Ready for all the dreamy wedding planning inspo?! Before diving into the details of your wedding planning checklist, take a peek at our most popular wedding planning guides of all time. These are our tried and true resources loved and counted on by our readers to plan their dream “I do’s”.

Have any questions for us about how to plan a wedding? Let us know in the comments below! And don’t forget to tag us in your wedding photos @greenweddingshoes!