You’ve decided to marry each other. Congratulations! Now you may be wondering how to plan a wedding. Well, we’re here to help!
Follow our step-by-step wedding planning guide to put together a stunning wedding — and enjoy the process every step of the way. You can even use our ultimate wedding planning timeline to make sure every task goes on the calendar with time to spare.
This wedding planning guide helps keep you organized and on track whether you’re planning a wedding abroad or in your backyard, next year or the next six months, for 50 guests or 500. Let’s get started.
Explore our 25-step wedding planning guide to get ready for your big day:
1. Make dates to daydream about your day together
Probably you’ve already discussed the kind of weddings you like with your fiance. You attended a friend’s formal wedding together and agreed it’s not your style. Or you both admired a good friend’s lakeside wedding followed by a laid-back reception in a tent.
But what do you want your unique wedding day to look like, exactly? Do you want a large wedding or a small wedding? Perhaps you want to incorporate vintage elements into your attire and the wedding decor. Maybe you want a traditional wedding with a classic design. Or an alternative wedding with steampunk-inspired favors and centerpieces.
Is there a specific wedding venue you have in mind, or a unique setting you’d love? Close to home or at a far-flung destination? Now is the time to explore your options and let your imaginations run wild over a lunch date or hanging on the couch.
2. Come back down to earth and set your wedding budget
This is where you need to get realistic and take a close look at the funding for your wedding. Budgeting can be stressful for some, but try to look at it as an exercise in making wise financial decisions as a team. Here’s what to do:
Look at your savings. How much money do you each have in savings? What percentage of your savings are you willing to put towards the wedding? Don’t drain these accounts — economists say you should maintain an emergency fund that covers a minimum of three to six months’ spending.
Start saving now. How much you can set aside will vary depending on the date of your wedding. But you should be able to reduce your monthly spending (fewer lunches out, canceling the streaming services you barely use, etc.) and put those savings in your wedding account. Add those monthly deposits up over the wedding planning timeline to get a precise figure.
Get clear on contributions from others. Are your parents helping with the wedding? A favorite aunt? Has a generous friend offered to pay for your wedding photographer as their wedding gift? Get clear on how much everyone plans to contribute so you can factor that into your overall budget. We know this might not be the easiest topic to bring up. So, here are a few tips to help you discuss your wedding budget with your parents.
Add it all up. Put those numbers together and you have a near estimate of your wedding budget.
A few caveats: You don’t HAVE to spend that final figure. You can opt for a lower cost wedding, and put that money towards your honeymoon or a nest egg for married life. Also, don’t fret if your budget is tight. There are plenty of creative and affordable ways to design a beautiful low-cost wedding—and you’ll be glad you didn’t break the bank.
3. Bring in the backup
People planning weddings need all the help they can get. Enlist support when and where you need it, and stay within your budget. Here are common ways couples get help for the wedding planning process:
Hire a wedding planner. A wedding planner will manage many of the tasks on your wedding checklist, and help you come up with decor, venue, wedding music, and dress ideas that match your style.
Ask for help from family and friends. If you don’t have the budget for a planner, ask for help from your wedding party and family and friends. Often they’ll be glad to help, but don’t lean on a single person too heavily. Remember, they also have work and their day-to-day lives to manage.
Download wedding planning apps. There are many excellent free wedding planning apps to help you stay organized and relaxed throughout the process.
4. Choose a wedding date
Select your wedding date as soon as you can. There may be some back and forth as you reach out to must-attend family and friends to hash out dates that work for everyone. But weekends for popular venues fill up fast, so decide as early as possible. If you’re planning a weekday wedding (a good option when your budget is tight), you’ll have more wiggle room.
5. Pick your wedding party
Maid of honor. Best man. Groomsmen and women. Bridesmaids and bridesmen. Decide who among your close friends and family you want closest throughout your wedding. Choose wisely because they’ll be the folks on hand from the rehearsal dinner until you drive off ‘Just Married.’
6. Start building your guest list
Commit to keeping this process as stress-free as possible. Pick a relaxed time on a weekend when you don’t have other demands on your attention and sit with your fiance. Keep your approximate wedding size in mind — building a guest list for a small wedding is going to be different than choosing who to invite to a large wedding. Here are some tips to keep the process smooth:
Track your guest names list in a wedding planning app or a spreadsheet.
Put down all of the names of people you’d like to attend—even if they live across the world or your fiance doesn’t know them that well.
Manage guest requests from family. It’s okay to invite a few people your parents would love to share your wedding day with, but keep the number to a minimum.
Create two categories (A & B) for your guest list. A is for the names of family and friends who you absolutely want to have at your wedding. B is for the extended family and friends, and work colleagues you’d like to share your day with, but it wouldn’t devastate you if they couldn’t attend.
Take a break and come back to list B. Pair it down together until the list fits wedding size.
7. Choose your wedding ceremony location
Where are you going to hold the wedding ceremony? Which wedding venue style do you prefer? Common choices include:
A house of worship (e.g., synagogue, mosque, church, or temple)
A family member’s backyard
On the beach, in the woods, or at another outdoor wedding site
A classic wedding venue (e.g., hotel, catering hall, country club)
This decision will impact your reception venue choice. Some places of worship include reception space. If you’re booking a venue, it will have to be within easy driving distance of the ceremony location.
8. Choose your wedding venue
Settling on your theme, the size of your wedding, and the location will help you narrow your search. The Wedding Spot lets you explore venues by location, wedding style, budget, number of guests, and services offered by the site. Popular options include:
Barn, farm, or ranch weddings
Once you’ve settled on your top three or four venues, it’s time to find out if they are available on your wedding date. If they are, the next step is an in-person site visit, either with your wedding planner or with your fiance.
9. Decide on the wedding’s theme, decor, and details
If you are having a justice of the peace wedding, followed by a dinner for 30 of your closest family and friends, you don’t necessarily need a theme — it’s already baked in. This is a celebration, and you simply need good food, drink, and loved-ones on hand.
But many couples like to dream up a theme that adds to the magic and fun for you and your guests. Here are a variety of themes, with decor and color ideas to match:
Romantic – Oversized floral arrangements, satin ribbons, soft lighting, pink, white, and pastel hues.
Formal – Think black tie and traditional wedding gown. Formal weddings usually include the full nine-yards: Paper invites, multi-course sit-down feast, string quartet, sumptuous setting.
Winter holiday – A winter wedding with indoor pines, fairy lights, and red ribbons adds a sprinkle of seasonal magic to an already special day.
Rustic – Add country-chic elements to your wedding for a traditional wedding style with a laid-back vibe.
Nature-inspired – This overlaps with rustic, but goes further with the botanical elements. Many couples with a nature-inspired theme also make sure every aspect of their wedding is eco-friendly.
Truly, there are an endless variety of themes. A library theme held in a historic library. A pets-welcome outdoor wedding. A fall pumpkin patch wedding. A seaside or tropics-inspired wedding. Choose one that puts a smile on both of your faces, and you won’t go wrong.
10. Create a wedding website and social media hashtags
Like everything else, weddings have gone digital. Online options and social media are great ways to keep guests up to date on the wedding schedule. They also help out-of-town guests stay oriented and connected to the big day.
Today, there are scores of easy-to-build wedding website templates you can use to build your own. The wedding website builder With Joy lets you track guest RSVPs, share pictures of the wedding (before, during, and after), and offer transportation and hotel information for guests.
Create a wedding hashtag for social media shares too! Often it’s a combination of your names, the year, and perhaps the location — if it’s a destination. A wedding hashtag generator makes it easy, but watch out for the creation of inappropriate words when you put your names together.
11. Choose and order your wedding invitations
It’s traditional to send out cardstock invites, and it’s lovely to have a hardcopy invite to frame after the wedding. Visit a stationery store, or browse invite websites online. Select invites that reflect your wedding style, whether it’s sophisticated, rustic, or contemporary. The words you select will also set the tone for your wedding. Use traditional language for a classic wedding; opt for laid-back wording for casual, rustic or beach weddings.
Today, there are many lovely digital options for invites as well, including Paperless Post, Greenvelope, and evite. These are perfectly acceptable, and (double-bonus!) they are eco-friendly and more affordable. You can even give invitees a link to your wedding website and have them RSVP there.
12. Send out your ‘save the date’ messages
If you ordered paper wedding invitations, they probably included ‘Save the Date’ cards. If you haven’t decided on your invites yet, you can choose any style card—it doesn’t need to match. Digital wedding invites also offer a ‘Save the Date’ option.
However you choose to send them, get them out early. Four to six months out is a good rule of thumb. If you’re having a destination wedding, tag on three months so people can make arrangements early.
13. Research your vendors — and book your favorites
How many vendors you need to hire for your wedding will depend on its style and location. All-inclusive wedding venues will manage most of the vendors, if you want them to—but you’ll have to meet to discuss style and specific choices. If you have a wedding planner, they’ll also do most of the research based on your preferred style and present options.
If you’re planning the wedding yourself, vendors you’ll likely consider include:
Musicians for the ceremony (String quartet, piano, guitar, bagpipes)
Table and chair rentals
14. Choose what you’re going to wear
Say ‘yes’ to the dress. Choose a tux. Skip the wedding dress and build a look that perfectly matches your style. A cherry red dress? A sophisticated cocktail dress? It’s your wedding, so the right ensemble is the one you feel gorgeous wearing. Perhaps you’ll wear jeans and a casual jacket. You might go with a bow-tie. Maybe you’re going to honor your cultural heritage with a traditional look—colorfully patterned clothes, a saukele, a kilt, a kimono. Just make your selection early, so you have time to get your dress altered if you need to.
15. Choose the food and beverage for your wedding reception
Whether you’re going with a caterer and wedding cake designer, or an inclusive venue that provides these services, you’ll have plenty of decisions to make around food and drink. Request a tasting where you can try the appetizers and main courses. Ask for a small sample cake from the bakery.
Pick a wide variety of food and drink so every guest has options they’ll enjoy. Include vegan and vegetarian choices, and ask guests to share their dietary restrictions on the RSVP. Consider asking the venue to create a special cocktail for your day. It’s also a good idea to include non-alcoholic cocktails on the bar menu.
16. Start your registry — and give some thought to what you really want and need
Don’t just start adding toasters, flatware sets, and crystal vases on your wedding registry. Look around every room in your home and take an inventory of what you have—and what you want. If neither of you enjoys baking, do you need an electric mixer? Probably not. What about fine china? It can feel like you have to register for china, but not every couple truly wants a set for their home.
Finally, consider registering for experiences rather than ‘stuff’ by signing up for Honeyfunds, a registry that lets people give couples money for their honeymoon.
Registries make some couples uncomfortable, but guests actually appreciate them. People want to give you gifts for the start of your new life together and, with a registry, they don’t have to overthink it. Help them out.
17. Enjoy some non-wedding related activities
It’s easy to slip into non-stop wedding planning mode. Put regular check-ins with your fiance on your checklist. Are you enjoying the wedding planning process? Are distracted by wedding ‘stuff’ during dates, or when spending time with friends.
Renew your commitment to enjoying the process and keeping things in perspective. The most important thing is your relationship and your life together today and in the future—not whether you decide on a donut wall or a cupcake tower.
Spend a weekend doing zero wedding-related activities. Of course, you’ll probably talk about it (because that’s fun!), but don’t make phone calls or tick boxes off your to-do list. Go for a hike or to a museum or a live music event or dinner out — the stuff you two enjoy together. It’s a good breather, and a reminder of what matters.
Today, many people take advantage of couples therapy before marriage. If you’re finding the stress of planning is causing a strain, make an appointment with a therapist. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength, honesty, and vulnerability.
18. Send out your invitations
Invitations typically go out two months ahead of the wedding. This is an exciting moment in the planning process. Once those invites are in the mail, or you pressed ‘send’ on your digital invites—the big day starts to feel more real.
19. Get your marriage license
You need a marriage license before you can get married officially. Usually, you’ll get the license from the city or county clerk, depending on where you live. At the wedding ceremony, your officiant (the person who conducts the ceremony) will sign the license and return it to the city or county clerk. And then send you a marriage certificate, which proves you are legally married.
Call your municipal or county clerk to find out the license requirements because they vary by state or local government. Things you and your fiance may need to provide include:
Identification (driver’s licenses or passports)
Birth names, birth dates, and the birthplaces of your parents
Certificate of divorce or death if you were married before
Money for the license fee
Some locations also require a witness on hand when you get the license. They will then sign the license along with the officiant after the ceremony.
20. Help out-of-town guests with accommodations
For weddings where many guests are traveling from out of town, it’s traditional to help them find places to stay. Here are some tips to make it easier:
Talk to local family and friends about their ability and interest in hosting guests they know. Only suggest this option to people who love having (or being) houseguests.
Book a block of hotel rooms near the venue. Though you are reserving the room block, remember it is not your responsibility to pay.
Book rooms at multiple hotels if you are having a large wedding, or options are limited in the area.
Book rooms early, especially if your wedding is on-season in a popular vacation area.
21. Choose your wedding bands
It’s possible you picked your wedding bands just after you were engaged. If you didn’t—it’s time to choose them together.
Select matching bands, or two distinct styles—they don’t have to be made with the same precious metal. Choose the one each of you prefers. The rings can be simple bands with a polished, hammered, or matte finish. Or, you may choose ornate bands with faceted gems and a combination of precious metals.
Get started on your wedding band search early if you are having them designed and handcrafted, for a one-of-a-kind pair. An early start is also essential if you want them engraved with meaningful words or phrases.
22. Plan the before and after events
There’s often much more to a wedding than the big day itself. You won’t necessarily do them all. As usual, the particulars depend on the size of your wedding, the logistics, and the complexity of the ceremony. These are the events you may prepare or need time for beyond the wedding:
Bachelor and bachelorette parties. This isn’t your responsibility, but if your wedding party is throwing bachelor or bachelorette outings, you’ll have to fit them into your schedule. Maybe you’ll enjoy a day at the spa or a night out dancing.
The rehearsal dinner. This usually takes place the night before the wedding and involves you, the wedding party, family, and friends from out of town. Reserve the event room at your favorite restaurant or an outstanding restaurant near the venue.
The honeymoon. If you are having your honeymoon right after the wedding, you’ll need to fit more planning into your schedule. Add honeymoon decisions and activities to your wedding planning checklist. A week before the wedding, invite friends over for a packing party so you have your suitcase and travel necessities ready to go. Some couples decide to put off planning the honeymoon or take an easy weekend trip until they’ve had time to relax.
Wedding after-party. You may want to continue the celebration after the formal reception is over. Choose an after-hours bar or club and call ahead with the likely headcount. If you are too tired, research and suggest places the revelers can go in the area.
Next morning brunch. This puts a relaxed finishing touch on the celebration, and is especially appreciated by out of town guests. If your wedding was in a hotel venue, they can often provide a set brunch. Otherwise, book a local restaurant.
23. Take a break and manage last-minute issues
The hiatus before the hoopla. The breather before the big day. The calm before the joyful celebration. The peace before the ceremony. However you want to think about it, this is the sweet spot between all the planning and the wedding. There will be things to manage and decisions to be made. But mostly, this is a time of anticipation and excitement. Enjoy it.
24. Touch base with the wedding team
Check in with all of the key people in your wedding. Talk to the wedding planner to see if there are any final details they need from you. Reach out to the venue and vendor teams so you know they are all set. Give a call to family members and the wedding party to make sure everyone feels comfortable with the itinerary.
Finally, prioritize a few relaxed evenings with each other before the wedding.
25. Start the festivities and enjoy!
You know what to do from here. Congratulations!