Planning a wedding can feel overwhelming even if it’s your dream come true. You may be one of those brides-to-be who has been designing the big day since you were a little girl, but now that you’ve really got a ring on your finger, there’s a whole new world of decisions to be made. The list is sort of endless. What to do and when to start doing it? How to keep all the loose ends from unraveling? How to make it to your wedding day without driving yourself and everyone around you nuts?
Take a breath. We’re here to help. Sure, that’s what your fiancé says, too. Nice guy and you love him to bits, but unless he knows the difference between peonies and petunias or fondant and buttercream, and more to the point, actually cares, planning most of this gig is pretty much on you.
Here’s a timeline to keep you calmly on track and doing things the smart way. Some choices have to be made in combination with other choices, and some stand alone. Just put one pretty foot in front of the other and take it step by step!
FIRST THINGS FIRST… These are the basic decisions to make as soon as you’ve become engaged.
DEFINE THE WEDDING BUDGET. This is the first conversation to have as a couple and with your parents. It’s going to determine just about everything else. You need to know who is paying for what and the total amount you have to work with. A wedding can be done on a grand scale or on a shoestring, but under no circumstances launch into planning without knowing how much money you are able to spend. Then, add 10 percent to hold aside for contingencies. If you can’t add it before you begin, then deduct 8 to 9 percent from your budget at the start and don’t think about it again until you need that cushion, because things almost always come up that require that extra infusion of cash.
SELECT A WEDDING PLANNER. Even if you already know where you want to have your wedding, a planner will be able to negotiate the best deal for you, and having her or him right from the start will make everything along the way fall into place more smoothly. Alternatively, you can hire a planner for the day of, to coordinate all the details on site and leave you and the wedding party free to enjoy the day. Some wedding venues provide these services for a fee.
SET THE DATE AND PICK THE LOCATION. These go hand in hand, and you may have some juggling to do before you get the right combination. If you intend to have the ceremony in one place and the reception in another, there are three pieces to this puzzle, including the availability of your officiant. Many couples pick a date a year or more into the future because they’re waiting to graduate, waiting for another special day or season to come around the calendar, or because the venue they’ve got their hearts set on has a long, long reservation list. Don’t forget to check the date against holiday weekends when some of your guests won’t be available, major events like Super Bowl Sunday, and the wedding dates of your closest friends and relatives. If you’re thinking of a wedding at the beach or in a park, check the state and local requirements for permits, fees, and limits on attendance and decor. If you decide on a destination wedding, there are a slew of other details to take care of, but be sure to let key guests and participants know as soon as you do.
AND THEN… Once you know when and where, you can start doing everything else. It’s the rare extravaganza that really takes a whole year to plan, but do these upfront items as soon as you can.
CHOOSE YOUR WEDDING PARTY. Maid/matron of honor, bridesmaids, best man, groomsmen, flower girl(s), ring-bearer — your wedding party can be as large or small as you wish. There are also honored positions as ushers and someone to preside over the guest book or gifts, if you like. And of course if there’s a decision to be made over who is going to walk you down the aisle, you want to do that as thoughtfully and graciously as possible.
DETERMINE YOUR GUEST LIST. You considered how many people you’re going to invite when you decided on your venue, but now you’ve got to get down to it. When you’re counting heads, remember to include the wedding party and their plus-ones. Make sure you’ve got everyone’s first and last names spelled correctly, and while you’re at it, begin collecting everyone’s addresses and printing them carefully or logging them into an Excel or other computer file.
DECIDE HOW YOU WANT THE WEDDING TO LOOK AND FEEL. This may have been part of choosing your venue, but now it will inform how your invitations and other printed material look, as well as what everyone will wear, and will carry through the decor and flowers, the cake, the music, and possibly the menu, too. By the way, a wedding doesn’t have to be a costume party or a trip to another time. “Wedding” is a theme that’s fine all by itself and is traditional and lovely.
SEND SAVE-THE-DATE CARDS OR EMAILS. Now that you’ve decided on the look of the wedding, you can mail or email save-the-dates that fit the mood. Send them as soon as you’re ready, to give people plenty of notice.
DESIGN YOUR WEDDING WEBSITE. Many couples have websites, blogs, hashtags, the whole social network thing. Just remember that your older relatives may not have access to or just not be into all that. Make sure you don’t leave them out of announcements and important information.
AND THEN… Popular vendors book up well in advance, and it may take up to eight months for delivery and alteration of a wedding dress, so next in line are these items.
RESEARCH AND BOOK PHOTOGRAPHER, VIDEOGRAPHER, FLORIST, and CATERER (if your venue doesn’t include one). Ask for recommendations from your wedding venue in Glendale CA, contact friends, visit websites, and talk to these wedding professionals in person or on the phone. Make sure you express to them exactly what you’re looking for and how much you have to spend, and listen to their suggestions. Remember to tell the florist if you’re having a chuppah or other special items that will require flowers. Be careful when discussing contract terms and make sure you know the dates by which your deposits become nonrefundable.
SHOP FOR YOUR WEDDING DRESS. Everything about planning your wedding should be fun, but this is one of the best parts! It’s entirely possible to buy a gorgeous dress off the rack and have it altered to fit you perfectly, but many dresses are only available by order and can take many months to receive. (For example, a Monique Lhuillier dress routinely takes four to six months for delivery, and even a “rush” order takes three months.) Then, too, you might have to allow two to three months for any significant alterations. When you’re shopping, keep in mind the additional costs of alterations plus veil, headpiece, and shoes.
DECIDE ON THE MUSIC. Whether you have the budget for a live band or are looking for a DJ, do your homework. Go to performances or watch videos of potential choices, and make sure contracts are specific regarding set-up and playing times. Find out what overtime charges will apply if your party is still going strong after the scheduled last dance.
PLAN YOUR HONEYMOON. If you’ll need a passport or visa, find out now. Find out if you’ll need shots and when you need to have them. Make reservations to board your pets, too.
WITH FOUR MONTHS TO GO… Depending upon how much lead time you have, you can take care of these things sooner, but allow yourself at least four months before the wedding.
SHOP FOR BRIDESMAIDS’ DRESSES. Delivery of bridesmaid dresses usually takes two or three months. You do have to allow time for these to be altered, though, and to give your attendants a little leeway in making time for those fittings.
COORDINATE MALE ATTIRE. Confirm what the groom, best man, and groomsmen will be wearing. Make sure rentals are ordered and any special elements are purchased.
REGISTER FOR GIFTS. Register at several different stores or online sites offering a range of prices. Keep in mind that a wedding is not a fundraiser, and while some people include registry information with their invitations, a gentler approach is to note it on your wedding website and, of course, tell where you’re registered to anyone who asks.
ORDER INVITATIONS. It can take a month or so for the most elaborate invitations, including time to proof them, get revisions, proof them again, and often go through the routine a second or third time. Have at least one other pair of eyes scrutinize your original order and the proofs. And make sure your requested RSVP date is three weeks before your wedding date. For peace of mind, order at least 10 percent more envelopes than invitations to cover mistakes that will inevitably occur in addressing them. (If you are having your invitations addressed by a calligrapher, reserve those services now.)
PREPARE THE NECESSARY PAPERWORK. If you are having a religious ceremony, ask if there are any special documents required in addition to a marriage license. Apply for permits required for outdoor weddings at beaches and parks. (Most California parks and beaches require them.)
RESERVE TRANSPORTATION. Limos for the bridal party and any special modes of transportation for guests should be arranged now.
BOOK REHEARSAL AND REHEARSAL DINNER LOCATIONS. You probably don’t have to book the dinner this far in advance, but you may as well do it now so you can cross it off the list.
ORDER THE CAKE AND FINALIZE THE FLOWERS. These are sweet tasks, and you don’t want to rush them or your vendors.
BUY YOUR WEDDING RINGS. If you haven’t already, buy your wedding rings and have them engraved.
FINALIZE YOUR CATERING ORDER. Arrange a tasting date and ask how many guests you can bring. Too many people will have too many opinions, but it might be a nice opportunity to spend some time as a couple with both of your mothers, for example. Find out when the guarantee (minimum number of meals you’re committed to) is required, and find out when the last possible minute is to add guests. Most caterers in Glendale CA and catering venues will prepare 5 percent more meals than your guarantee and will also have some percentage of vegetarian meals on hand for people who haven’t let you know their preferences in advance.
When you’re selecting the menu, remember that you will also be paying tax and an 18- to 22-percent service charge. A discussion of cocktails and wines will also be part of this meeting. Some banquet halls in Los Angeles will allow you to bring in your own wine for a corkage (serving) fee that may actually wind up being more than the wine costs, so consider all of your options before deciding. And don’t forget to discuss arrangements for feeding your photographer, videographer, and band or DJ.
PLAN THE DAY-OF TIMELINE. Draft a timeline from first thing in the morning through the reception, including the parts any other people will play in the day. Share appropriate parts of the list with everyone else who’s involved. It’s also a good idea to compose a phone and email list of key participants and vendors so you can give copies to everyone who might need them.
WRITE YOUR VOWS. If you’re going to make personal vows to each other, it isn’t too soon to begin thinking about what you both are going to say.
BOOK YOUR HAIRDRESSER AND MAKEUP ARTIST. Have test appointments and take pictures of the look you want for your wedding day.
ORDER GIFTS AND FAVORS. It’s thoughtful to give gifts to all the members of your wedding party, and you’ll want to give your groom something special, too. If you’re giving favors to all the guests, order them, and if you’re putting together your own favors, start now so you’re not slammed later.
COLLECT SPECIAL ITEMS. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The family Bible. A broom to jump over. Your garter. A pair of toasting glasses. A cake cutter. Whatever items you’ll need for rituals special to your religious or ethnic tradition.
ADDRESS AND MAIL THE INVITATIONS. Invitations should go out six to eight weeks before the wedding, and do stamp the RSVP envelopes to make it easy for people to reply. Either handwrite or have a calligrapher address your invitations. (Labels are easy, but you know they’re tacky, right?) Allow a calligrapher two to three weeks to address envelopes. If you’re not sure about format, check any etiquette source. EmilyPost.com is a good one.
FINALIZE YOUR MUSIC PLAYLIST. Whether it’s a band or a DJ, you want to make sure your favorite songs are played and ones you loathe are not! You need to decide what music you want for your entrance, for your first dance, during dinner, and through the afternoon or evening. This is also the time to finalize a script for the bandleader or DJ to follow.
FINALIZE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC SHOT LIST. If there are special photos you want, start listing them. And if your local paper runs wedding announcements, find out the submission requirements and let your photographer know what you’ll need for that, too.
PRINT PROGRAMS AND/OR MENU CARDS. Both of these are absolutely optional.
PREPARE YOUR DAY-OF EMERGENCY KIT. This is the kit you’ll entrust to your maid of honor and will include everything to take care of your and your wedding party’s minor ailments and wardrobe malfunctions. You don’t want anyone to waste time trying to find a safety pin or a Band-Aid.
GET YOUR MARRIAGE LICENSE. You can apply for and receive a license the same day at a number of locations in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange counties, and they’re good for 90 days. You can also apply online, but both of you need to appear in person with picture ID to be issued the license. There are no citizenship, residency, or medical records requirements. Fees are $91 in L.A. County, $98 in Ventura County, and $61 in Orange County.
CONFIRM ALL YOUR VENDORS. Make sure everything is set to go.
HAVE YOUR FINAL DRESS FITTING. Make sure you’ve got the right undergarments and that you know how to get into and out of your dress. If you have a train that will require bustling, try to have two people with you to learn how to do it.
WRITE THANK-YOU NOTES. You should have been writing notes all along as soon as you’ve received shower or wedding gifts, but if you’ve got some still to do, get on it! And there’s no rule that says the groom can’t write half of them.
CALL OR EMAIL PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT RESPONDED. Or ask your maid of honor to do this. You need an accurate head count for the caterer, or you will be wasting money.
PLAN RECEPTION SEATING. With most of your RSVPs in by now, you should start assigning people to tables.
TWO WEEKS TO GO…
TAKE CARE OF FINANCIAL DETAILS. Pay any outstanding wedding bills and get some cash to tip appropriate service providers. Put the tips and any checks you’re bringing in labeled envelopes ahead of time and give them to a responsible person (best man, a parent) to distribute for you.
PERSONAL CARE. Manicure, pedicure, and maybe a relaxing massage. Be cautious about getting a facial too close to the wedding unless you get them routinely and know how your skin reacts.
PICK UP YOUR DRESS. And walk around the house in your shoes to break them in.
PACK FOR YOUR HONEYMOON
FINALIZE EVERY LAST DETAIL. Give your guest count to the caterer. Give any special directions or maps to the limo service. Make sure the maid of honor, best man and other key participants have the day-of schedule and contact list. Confirm that the photographer has your shot list and the bandleader or DJ has your playlist. Check in one last time with the florist, hairdresser, and any other vendors. If there’s a hiccup anywhere, you want to know it now so you can deal with it. There’s nothing that can’t be overcome if you remain calm and give yourself and everyone around you a few minutes to think.
THE NIGHT BEFORE…
Have your favorite adult beverage and relax. You’ve done everything you can do. DO NOT stay up late tying ribbons onto things. DO NOT start obsessing about your bridesmaids’ toenail polish. DO NOT do a single other thing that interferes with getting a good night’s sleep and dreaming wonderful dreams about tomorrow. It’s going to be perfect.
Now get out a calendar and count backward from your wedding date to fill in the blanks on this summary checklist.
UP TO ONE YEAR BEFORE, starting ____________________, 20__
□ Define the budget.
□ Hire a wedding planner.
□ Set the date and pick the location.
□ Choose the wedding party.
□ Determine the guest list.
□ Decide on wedding look and feel.
□ Send save-the-date cards or emails.
□ Design wedding website.
EIGHT MONTHS BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Research and book photographer.
□ Research and book videographer.
□ Research and book florist.
□ Research and book caterer (if not included at venue).
□ Shop for and order wedding dress.
□ Research and book band or DJ.
□ Plan honeymoon.
FOUR MONTHS BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Shop for and order bridesmaid dresses.
□ Coordinate male attire.
□ Register for gifts.
□ Order invitations (and book calligrapher).
□ Prepare necessary paperwork.
□ Reserve transportation.
□ Book rehearsal space.
□ Reserve rehearsal dinner location.
□ Order the cake.
□ Order the flowers.
□ Buy wedding rings.
THREE MONTHS BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Finalize catering order.
□ Plan “day-of” timeline.
□ Write vows.
□ Book hairdresser.
□ Book makeup artist.
□ Order gifts for wedding party.
□ Buy gift for your groom.
□ Order or start making favors.
□ Collect special items for ceremony.
TWO MONTHS BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Address and mail invitations.
□ Finalize music playlist.
□ Finalize photo shot list.
□ Print programs and/or menu cards.
□ Prepare “day-of” emergency kit.
ONE MONTH BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Get marriage license.
□ Confirm all vendors.
□ Final dress fitting.
□ Catch up on thank-you notes.
THREE WEEKS BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Confirm RSVP list.
□ Plan reception seating.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Pay outstanding bills.
□ Prepare “day-of” checks and tip envelopes.
ONE WEEK BEFORE, or by ____________________, 20__
□ Personal care appointments.
□ Pick up wedding dress.
□ Confirm that groom and wedding party have their outfits.
□ Pack for honeymoon.
□ Give instructions to transportation service(s).
□ Distribute schedule and contact list.
□ Double-check with all vendors.
□ Give guest count to caterer by _________.
□ Rehearsal and dinner.