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How to Plan a Wedding

Get tips for how to plan a wedding, including how to choose attendance and wedding vendors.

A wedding checklist can be extensive. ©Shutterstock, 2010]
A wedding checklist can be extensive. ©Shutterstock, 2010

Knowing how to plan a wedding requires time, detail and a great deal of research. A year or more of planning time is ideal for a wedding, but timeframes can be compressed as necessary for a shorter engagement. Emily Post's Wedding Planner recommends the following timeline for planning a wedding at least a year in advance:

  • A year or more in advance: Set the date, determine the budget and who is paying, approximate the number of guests, pick a location, meet with an officiant or clergy member, select attendants and research vendors (e.g., florists, photographers and musicians).
  • Nine to 12 months in advance: Order the bride's gown, shop for bridesmaid dresses, hire vendors, pick wedding attendants and assemble the list of guests along with their mailing information.
  • Six to nine months in advance: Order bridesmaid dresses, rent or buy attire for the groom and ushers, shop for a mother-of-the bride dress, order invitations, schedule the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, make hotel reservations and attend religious counseling (if required).
  • Three to six months in advance: Address invitations, order wedding rings, meet with the ceremony officiant and finalize the rehearsal dinner arrangements.
  • One to three months in advance: Mail invitations, do final wardrobe fittings and obtain a marriage license.
  • One week before: Confirm rehearsal and rehearsal dinner plans, finalize special ceremony seating arrangements and review duties with wedding attendants.

Planning many aspects of the wedding simultaneously will keep the couple on track and under budget. Choosing the location, professional services, attendants and attire are some of the bigger decisions. Organizing the rehearsal, selecting the rehearsal dinner site and ordering invitations are also essential planning decisions.

Wedding Location

With a general wedding date and approximate number of guests in mind, researching possible locations can begin. If the wedding couple has ties to a certain church or temple, the date will depend on the location's availability. If the couple is considering another venue, an estimated number of guests will be necessary to compare the costs of suitable locations.

A wedding held at a residence offers the most flexibility for choosing a date. Outdoor weddings may require more planning, such as poor weather contingency plans and seating rental. Choosing a location beyond reasonable driving distance can complicate matters and may require the services of a professional wedding planner.

Wedding Attendants

Wedding attendants are often close friends, siblings or other family members who actively participate in the wedding ceremony. They should be chosen early so they can provide support during the planning process. Many wedding have eight to 12 attendants, including groomsmen and bridesmaids, but there are no rules about the number of attendants, nor do there need to be an equal number of women and men.

It is important to discuss duties and expenses up front with attendants to avoid any misunderstandings, and gracefully accept polite refusals.

The Maid of Honor and Best Man act as chief attendants to the bride and groom. The Maid of Honor accompanies the bride to shop for her gown, attends repeated fittings, delivers the gown to the church and assists her in dressing for the ceremony. The Best Man has various duties including carrying the rings, directing the ushers, and driving or coordinating transportation for the couple after the ceremony.

Many weddings have one or more flower girls. Very young girls are adorable, but school-age girls are less likely to refuse to walk down the aisle or cause other mishaps during the ceremony. Choosing girls who know each other can also help ensure things run smoothly. Less common is choosing a boy as a ring bearer who is responsible for carrying the rings down the aisle on a pillow.

Professional Services

Although some budget-conscious wedding planners utilize family or friends for photography, music and decorations, the end result of using a professional may be worth the additional expense. It's not uncommon to book professional florists, photographers and musicians a year or more in advance. Start with referrals and then meet with several photographers and florists to review their portfolios and get a cost estimate. Explore local musical talent online and listen to a live performance in advance of booking, whenever possible.

Expect to pay a 50 percent deposit to vendors and musicians at the time of booking. 

Wedding Attire

Before heading to a local bridal boutique, take some time to narrow down the choices and start forming a mental picture. Wedding gowns today have a wide range of styles -- fitted or flowing, long or short, trendy or elegant. The bride should also have a predetermined budget to avoid looking at and falling in love with a dress that is out of the price range. According to Martha Stewart Weddings, traditional wedding gowns cost at least $500, but can jump up into the tens of thousands. In addition to a budget for the dress, do not overlook the cost of accessories, including headpiece, shoes, jewelry and lingerie.

Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner

A formal rehearsal with the entire wedding party is typically held a day or two before the ceremony. This practice session ensures all participants know their part in the service. A dinner after the rehearsal is a customary way for the immediate family and wedding party to relax before the big event.

The groom's family members traditionally arrange the rehearsal dinner. However, the bride's family, friends or the couple themselves can also host the event. A restaurant with a private room that accommodates the guests creates an intimate setting. When there are many out-of-town guests attending, choosing a restaurant near the designated hotel make it more convenient. A buffet-style meal should be considered for a larger group.


Wedding invitations are ordered approximately four months before the wedding. There are many decisions, including size, format, color, paper, ink and print styles. Most printers have catalogs and samples to choose from, but couples can choose to custom-design the invitations. Invitations usually include a RSVP card, but maps and other notes may also be inserted. Invitations are typically mailed four to eight weeks before the date. More advance notice may be necessary if there are many out-of-town guests, if having a destination wedding or if the wedding is being held on a weekend that includes a holiday.


Making it Official

An officiant such as a judge or clergyperson is selected to perform the ceremony. The officiant must be legally authorized to perform marriages in the state where the wedding will take place.

Most states require couples to obtain marriage licenses. Licenses can be valid from 20 days to one year depending on wedding locale. Cornell University lists licensing and age requirements as well as other U.S. marriage laws by state. State requirements are also available from any County Clerk's office.

While there are numerous details involved with planning a wedding, many couples prefer to do the legwork themselves. Although the planning process is time-consuming, it is possible to create the perfect wedding day without hiring a professional wedding planner.

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