Wedding Planning Timeline

There are many resources available on line and in wedding planning books that lay out the time frames for scheduling every minute aspect of your wedding. Some map out an 18 month time frame, while others show the same items in a 12 month time frame. Because of the sheer volume of information and forms on this topic, we do not propose to regurgitate it here.

Instead, we would like to present a more generalized list of decisions that need to be made and the order in which they should be addressed for maximum planning success. Since certain decisions/activities directly affect other decisions/activities, arranging them in the appropriate order can save you a fair bit of planning time, not to mention headaches, down the road. Once you have these more generalized issues worked out, you can use one of the forms or lists online or in your planning book to finish up the details.

This list should work with any time frame, so whether you have 18 months to plan your wedding or just 5 months, you should be able to tackle the planning with ease.

Click here to go to an outline version of the list.

  • Choosing the Date

    1. Start with the time of year. Is there a particular season? Holiday? A day with personal significance? Refer to our page on Choosing the Date for more detailed assistance with this item.

    2. Next, choose the day of the week. Your basic choices are Saturday (traditional), Sunday, or a week day (both non-traditional.)

    3. Finally, choose the time of day. This can greatly effect other decisions you need to consider, so be sure to make this choice early in the planning stages.

  • Set your Budget

    1. First, set your rough budget. That is, pick a general dollar range such as:

      < $2,000          $2,000 to $8,000          > $8,000

    2. Second, make a list of the typical categories of a wedding budget. (Refer to the Budget Planning Tips page for the categories and the percentages.)

    3. Third, use the percentages to calculate the amounts for each category. There are programs online that allow you to type in your total budget dollars and they will calculate the actual dollars for each category. Now don't feel locked in to these percentages. They are simply meant to be a tool, especially in the early planning stages. Do not feel you have to spend that much on each category or that you have to include every category if any one of them doesn't apply to your situation. Probably the most helpful way to look at the percentages are as maximum amounts. If you are spending more than that amount, you are probably being ripped off. If you can spend less than that amount, good for you! You've used our budget planning tips and made some smart choices.

  • Wedding Style

    1. The next step is to choose the level of formality of your wedding, or your wedding style. The more usual choices are:

      • Formal (Black tie)
      • Semi-formal (Suit/Tux)
      • Casual (Suit/Other)
      • Theme (Renaissance, Costume, Other)

      Occasionally you'll see this list broken down into even more categories, usually with something between formal and semi-formal, but this is a good place to start.

      Let us mention that traditional wedding etiquette states that if you are having a wedding late in the day (after 5pm), it should be formal, late afternoon should be semi-formal and so on, but we have to say, Pish Posh! If you want to have a formal/black tie brunch, go right ahead and do it. And if you want to have a casual wedding after 5pm, go for it! As we've stated elsewhere, there is no wedding police that will come and arrest you if do it your way.

      Something else to keep in mind when choosing your wedding style is your budget. Generally speaking, the more formal the wedding, the more it will cost. However, a theme wedding can run just as much if not more depending on how involved or elaborate the couple wants it to be. Again, this statement is simply meant as a guideline to help you in these early stages of planning. As you get into the more detailed aspects of planning your event, you may find that this is more so or less so.

    2. The other matter than can be addressed at this point is the color or colors of your wedding. As this is a definite aspect of wedding style, it makes sense that you would make this decision here. In addition, this could affect many other elements of the wedding such as attire, decorations and probably even invitations and programs, so choosing your colors at this point can make those selections a little easier when you get to them.

  • Wedding Size

    1. There are two categories that come under the heading of wedding size. The size of your bridal party is the first. Within this category are the following options:

      • Bridesmaids
      • Ushers/Groomsmen
      • Children
      • Other (Remember what we said about pets on the tips page! Click here.)

      Some things to take into consideration as you are deciding how many people to have in your wedding are your budget and to a lesser degree, your wedding style. Generally speaking, the more wedding party members, the greater the cost. If you are trying to be budget conscious, you may want to limit how many people are actually "in" the ceremony. There are many touching and important ways you can include people in your wedding without having them in the bridal party, such as to ask people to recite a special poem, song, prayer or other reading. You can also assign "duties" such as lighting candles, ushering people to their seats (without being formal ushers), or leading a flag procession in a theme wedding to name a few.

      Later, as you work through the list, you will see that the size of the bridal party can also affect issues like where you will hold the ceremony. For example, it would be difficult to fit 10 bridesmaids and 10 groomsmen into the parlor of a Bed & Breakfast Inn.

    2. The second category is the number of guests. This can be further broken down into:

      • local
      • long distance

      By far, the number of guests you invite is the biggest cost to your wedding. Mostly because of the cost of the food, and possibly drink you will be serving them at your reception, but also in the number of invitations, amount of postage, etc. If you have not already perused the tips page and read the section on inviting guests, you might want to do that now. Click here.

      As with the bridal party, the number of guests also dictates where you can have the wedding and reception. Again, it would be pretty difficult to fit 150 guests into the parlor of the Bed & Breakfast.

  • Invitations/Stationary

    1. Once you have decided on the number of guests you will invite, you can move right into choosing your invitations. The number of invitations to order is a fairly easy choice; simply the number of guests you are inviting plus 10 or 15 extras in case of mistakes or forgotten invitees. The style of your invitation is the not-so-easy choice. However, some of your earlier decisions could help now. For example:

      • If you are going to have a formal/black tie affair, you will want to opt for invitations that reflect that formality. White or ivory invitation, black script font, printed at a professional print shop, etc.
      • For a semi-formal wedding, try designing your own invitations on the computer and printing them on a quality color printer. With the wide variety of software and decorative papers available on the market today, you might be surprised at how nice these invitations turn out.
      • If you chose a casual style, there really is no limit as to what you can do. How about e-invitations? Some may consider this a bold move regardless of the style of your wedding. However, we say, why not? E-invitations can mirror the formality and creativity of any purchased through a wedding invitation vendor (minus the fancy paper) and are less expensive and more convenient to both you, the couple, and to your guests. With 62% of all households nationwide having a computer and an estimated 150 million people using email either at work or at home, it is easy to see why e-invitations would be popular.
      • With a theme wedding, go with matching theme invitations.

      Now having said all that, we want to remind you that, ultimately, you can do whatever you wish, regardless of what the rules of etiquette (attempt to) dictate. If you want to send theme-style invitations for a semi-formal wedding, do it. It is your wedding, have it your way. These suggestions are only meant as guidelines to assist you in the planning stages.

      Generally speaking, once you decide on a wedding style, things look more "put together" if you maintain that style throughout. It's not so much a matter of etiquette as it is one of congruency.

    2. The second item in this category is wedding programs. While not all couples use a program for their ceremony, it is a nice addition because it helps to inform your guests of such things as the names of the wedding party and officiant, songs, readings, and to explain any cultural or historical traditions used in the ceremony with which the guests might not be familiar. It can also serve as a keepsake of the wedding.

      Again, there should be some consistency between the style of the wedding, the invitations and the programs; however, there is no need to be matchy-matchy.

    3. Finally, don't forget the thank-you notes. This is the one item that we must say we agree with the etiquette books. These should be personalized for each guest and at least hand-signed if not hand-written. Unfortunately, email just doesn't translate well when it comes to thank-you. It tends to come off insincere. On the other hand, we see no problem with typing the note and then printing it onto an attractive thank-you card, as long as you hand-sign it. If your handwriting is anything like Rev.Ari's, this option is a must.

  • The Ceremony

    1. This category basically comes down to answering one question: where to have your ceremony. However, there are various subcategories to this question.

      The first thing you should consider is whether to have the ceremony inside or outside. This will influence later choices such as who will officiate, what types of decorations will be needed, and if you can have your reception and ceremony in the same place.

      • If you wish to have the ceremony inside, this will automatically narrow the field of choices. However, now you have to look at the options available for having an indoor wedding Some of the more common ones include:


        Professional Wedding Site/Venue

        Bed and Breakfast/Hotel

        Fraternal Org. Halls such as Eagles, Elks, KOC, etc.

        Country Club/Club House

        Private Residence

        Go back and look at the style of your wedding, the number in your wedding party and the number of guests. If you are planning a large, formal wedding, it might be difficult to fit everyone into a private residence and provide enough parking as well. Try to use the decisions you have already made to help you with this one. Also, think about if you want to have the reception and the ceremony in the same location. If so, then the church/chapel might not be the best option if you are planning to serve a sit down meal and alcohol and wish to have music and dancing. As well, take a moment to consider the type of officiant you may want. Some clergy will only perform the ceremony in a house of worship, while others have more leeway. Without getting too bogged down in the details, think generally about things like decorations. Some of the above locations may limit if not outright forbid any extensive decorating (and things like candles) or may force you to use theirs. Lastly, consider your budget. If you have to provide your own seating, extensive decoration, etc, in the end, what seems to be a less expensive empty hall may cost you more than finding a place that is "ready to go" so to speak.

        If you choose to have the ceremony outside, you will still have to take into account some of the same issues as mentioned above, but you will also have to deal with some new ones. Decisions such as do you offer shelter/cover to your guests (i.e., a tent); do you provide seating or have them stand; are there restroom facilities; is there enough parking; how accessible is the site (for elderly and handicapped guests); and what to do about insects; are just some of the challenges you will face. However, if you do your homework and plan accordingly, an outdoor wedding can offer a beautiful backdrop to your perfect day. The main thing to remember when organizing an outdoor wedding is to make sure you have a Plan B in case of inclement weather.

        While many of the sites listed above have outside areas that can be used for your ceremony, you may also have access to the following:

        City/Public Parks or Gardens

        Historical landmarks/Sites/Homes

        Private Property

    2. The second step in this category is to find an Officiant. As soon as you know where you would like to have the wedding, you should start looking for someone to perform your ceremony. As mentioned above, your choice may be limited by the location you chose or the fact that it is outdoors. You will have to research officiants in your local area to see what options are available to you. The basic types of officiants available in most areas include, but are not limited to:

      • Clergy - This includes priests, ministers, rabbis, priestesses, imams, etc.
      • Justice of the Peace - Perform civil ceremonies. (i.e., non-religious.)
      • Judge - Perform civil ceremonies.
      • Other - In some states, a notary pubic is allowed to perform civil ceremonies.

      County Clerks are allowed to perform civil ceremonies. (This is typically who performs your marriage at a "City Hall" wedding.)

      Book your officiant as soon as you can. If you wait too long, you may find everything is planned and paid for and there is no one to perform the ceremony. Also, don't overlook your officiant as a great source of information. Many officiants who do weddings on a regular basis have a lot of good tips and suggestions they can share with you.

  • The Reception

    1. The first question under this topic should be; do you want to have your reception in the same location as the ceremony? We are huge proponents of having both elements of your wedding in the same place for a number of reasons. First, it saves time and money in transporting the wedding party from the ceremony to the reception. This could also be advantageous to your guests, especially if any of them are from out of town and not familiar with the area. Additionally, it can save you money if the site offers a package deal or savings for using their facility for both functions. More and more businesses that specialize in weddings and/or receptions are set up to handle both, either in the same room/area or in adjacent rooms/areas. If you are having the ceremony outside and have to rent a tent, chairs, decorations, etc., again, this could save you a considerable amount of money because you would use the same items for both events.

      If you do not intend to have the ceremony and reception in the same place, then you must go through the same steps as described in The Ceremony section above on finding a location to hold the reception including deciding whether to have it outside or indoors. Your location choices for the reception are basically the same as for the ceremony; however, you have a few additional options such as restaurants and banquet halls.

    2. The second thing to consider under this topic is food. Again, we will mention here that, traditionally, etiquette would help dictate what type of food you offer. For instance, if you were having a formal wedding, you would have a catered sit-down affair. If you were having a semi-formal or more casual or theme wedding, then you could provide either a catered buffet, or any of a number of other options such as a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres party, family cooked buffet, desserts with coffee/teas or even a barbeque. However, you know what we are going to say to the etiquette hounds. Pish Posh! Rev. Ari performed a formal black-tie wedding one New Years Eve, in a residence, with approximately 35 to 40 guests and the reception was a full course buffet. While the food had been catered in, there were no servers or wait staff. It was self-serve all the way. And it was a perfectly lovely affair with bone white china and champagne flutes. Rev. Ari was amazed at how elegant and graceful it all came off. So the moral of that story is; do what you want. If you have a very casual wedding and want a formal sit down meal, do it! If you have a formal wedding and want to serve only cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, do it! The only thing we would advise when choosing the style of food is to think about how long and over what hours of the day have you asked your guests to be with you. If you have asked them to spend 5 to 7 hours from 4pm to 10pm, it would be only right to feed them something substantial. However, if your ceremony and reception are going to be earlier in the day or later in the day, you have a little more leeway to serve brunch, hors d'oeuvres or desserts.

      The only other thing you should consider at this point is your budget. Obviously, a catered sit-down meal is going to cost substantially more than if your family cooks or you have a barbeque. Generally speaking, the more guests you have + the more formal the dinner = quite a bit more money.

  • The Honeymoon

    1. The first step is to decide if you will take a honeymoon or not? While many couples understandably opt not to take a honeymoon because of the cost or vacation time needed, we do believe that the newlyweds should put aside some personal time after their wedding to just revel in the afterglow of that most wondrous day and just "be" together. In most cases, the planning has been hectic and stressful and the two of you have had little alone time for months. And while the day turns out beautiful and dreamlike and, ultimately, worth all the effort, it seems to go by so quickly that couples often find themselves with a case of the post-event let-down blues.

      Whether you plan to take a "real" honeymoon in a few months or so or just find you can't afford one right now, you definitely should book at least a day or two at a local hotel or bed and breakfast to unwind and re-connect. But most importantly, these couple of days will prolong the mood of celebration and joy following your wedding, making the experience of it feel like more than just a fleeting moment. This can greatly reduce the anti-climatic blues many couples encounter a day or two after the wedding.

      We would suggest too that on your honeymoon, you let everyone know it is your honeymoon. The check-in person at the hotel, the wait staff at the restaurants, pretty much anyone you come in contact with can continue to add to the air of celebration and joy. Additionally, these people will often provide you with complementary foods, drink, bubble bath, etc.

    2. If you decide that you do want to have a honeymoon, the next step, which we've already somewhat addressed, is whether to have the honeymoon right after the wedding or wait for a more convenient or cost-effective date. We have two quick suggestions for helping you make this decision.

      First, if you are planning a honeymoon away; that is, you must travel to get there; we highly suggest waiting until, at the earliest, the day after the wedding to depart. You are typically VERY tired by the end of your wedding day, and having to hop on a plane or worse, drive 6 or more hours to get to your honeymoon destination can leave you completely exhausted and irritable. Not very enjoyable for your "wedding night." Leaving the next day allows you both to get some much needed sleep, wake late, have a casual breakfast or brunch, then head out to the airport or in your vehicle. You will be glad you did and enjoy yourself and each other 100% more than if you had tried to cram it all into your wedding day.

      Second, if you choose to wait until a more convenient time to take the honeymoon, we suggest not waiting too long. In other words, try to plan it so that you take your honeymoon within 6 months of the wedding. Anything after that starts losing its connection to the wedding and seems less and less like a honeymoon and more like a regular vacation. Also, if you put it off indefinitely, fully intending to book it "soon," it could easily get put off forever. Looking back on it in 5 or 10 years, you will most likely regret that you never took one. Plan the honeymoon when planning the wedding, even if the departure date is 3 or 4 months after the wedding. That way, you'll be assured to take one and it will feel like your honeymoon.

    3. Having decided to take a honeymoon, the final decision is whether to take it locally or at a distant location. The primary factor effecting this decision is cost. Obviously, for a distant location, you have travel costs on top of the room and food costs. This can add a considerable amount of money to the final tab on your honeymoon. However, do shop around. Many resorts and travel agents offer package deals specifically for honeymooners that may be within your budget. On the other hand, don't think that just because you take your honeymoon locally, that it will be any less romantic or special. Especially if you are lucky enough to live near a spa or resort, tourist destination, or a natural attraction such as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, etc. We have found that, often times, people live very close to a famous site or tourist destination, but have never been there themselves. Consider also if you take your honeymoon locally, you may have more time to actually relax and enjoy yourselves since you will not be using two of your days in travel time. And that's not even taking into consideration the jet lag factor.

      Something you may want to consider if you have your heart set on a distant location for your honeymoon is a honeymoon registry. This is pretty much just like a gift registry, except your guests contribute money towards the honeymoon. There are a number of travel agencies providing this service now, and you should be able to find more information on the internet.

      Just in case you're having difficulty coming up with a honeymoon spot, some examples of the more typical locations include:


      Bed & Breakfast Inn/Historic Homes or Inns

      Tropical locations (Hawaii, Caribbean, Cozumel, etc.)

      Tourist locations (Disney, Vegas, etc.)

      Natural Attractions (Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, etc.)

      Overseas (Europe/Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, Australia, etc.)

      Cruise Ships (To a specific location or to "nowhere")

      Other (Time Shares, The Poconos, etc.)

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