22 Steps to Planning a Wedding in 9 Months
I was engaged in September, and wanted to get married that following summer. Here’s how my husband and I planned an amazing wedding in just about 9 months!
First, a little back story. I’m a teacher, so the easiest time for me to get married is the summer. My husband and I talked and we knew we didn’t want a super long engagement. I love to plan and move quickly, and I think having to wait so long would have driven me crazy! Plus, we were just about to move to a new city together, so it felt right to start our new life as husband and wife.
These were the steps I followed (with the help of my family and friends and husband) to plan an amazing wedding in just about 9 months.
**note: I’m working on a follow up blog breaking down prices and budgeting and how much I spent on my amazing wedding
- GET ENGAGED. Simple enough, and an obvious first step. I just figured I should put it on here. Make it official that you’re getting married (HE PUT A RING ON IT!). Make sure you take pictures on the big day, whether they are selfies or just pics of the beautiful rock. You’ll want to document it! Plus they’re fun to use for save the dates with/instead of Engagement Photos (see next step).
side story: My husband popped the question at Split Rock Light House on our 3 year anniversary weekend. 🙂
- TAKE ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS. These sound like a waste of time and money, but you won’t regret it. If you’re like my man and I, you probably have very few good photos of the two of you. You’ll want them for save the dates, wedding decorations, invitations, and just in general to celebrate you two as an official couple. I treasure my engagement photos! It was the first time, even after 3 years together, that we actually got dressed up and took photos together! One of my friends is a photographer on the side, so we enlisted her to do our engagement photos. She did them for free and we gave her permission to use them in her portfolio. Deal!
Side note: A lot of professional photographers offer deals if you book them for weddings of doing free or discounted Engagement Photo Sessions. Even though I love our photos, it would’ve been nice to get a chance to work with our wedding photographer early on for a photo session just to get a feel for how the wedding day would go, and to get some nerves out of the way. If you’re like me, you don’t get your photo taken professionally very often (or at all).
- FIND A VENUE FOR YOUR WEDDING. Sometimes this is the same place as your reception, sometimes it’s not. In our case, I had always wanted an outdoor wedding, but I knew we didn’t want an outdoor reception. So we wanted to find a state park or venue to get married outside, then we would find an indoor venue for a reception. If you want to get married in a church this is usually even more crucial to figure out early, as they often book out even farther in advance. Church services are also quite a bit longer, so most churches will only do one or two weddings a day, but state park weddings usually only let you block out 2-3 hours, so they can fit in multiple weddings in a day. We started looking for venues about a week after we got engaged, and we spent 3 or 4 weekends straight touring places and finding out their availability. If you find one you love and it has a date you want, be ready to fork out some money up front to reserve your date. Then make sure you get your reservation in writing.
- FIND A VENUE FOR YOUR RECEPTION. After we nailed down a wedding venue, it was time to find a reception hall. It obviously had to have the same date available (June 27th in our case), but it also needed to be close to our wedding site. We didn’t want guests to have to travel long distances between the wedding and reception, and we also wanted to make sure they were close to hotels/places to stay. We ended up finding a venue about 10 minutes away from our wedding site, and it was just blocks away from 3 hotels. Perfect! Again, do this ASAP. It’s amazing how far out places book, so the sooner your start looking the less stressed you’re going to be. Again, be ready to drop money up front, and make sure you get everything in writing.
This was my husband’s favorite part of wedding planning. We had fun going to venue to venue- sometimes 3 or 4 in a day, and comparing each of them. It was like a giant date day, and it was fun to picture our big day at each place
- SEND SAVE THE DATES. Even if it seems “too early” do it. So many people, like nurses, doctors, policemen, etc need A LOT of advance notice to be able to attend something like a wedding. Even my husband, who manages a store, gets only so many hours of vacation time. He will make sure he sets them aside if he gets enough notice, but it’s happened before that we’ve gotten word about a wedding about 2 months prior and he wasn’t able to attend because he had already used up/made plans to use his time. If you want to guarantee people can come, especially people who will need to travel or who have very demanding jobs, give them a lot of notice! We sent save the dates out early November, about 7 months before our wedding. Plus, it’s a great excuse to show off your adorable engagement photos!! I ordered mine through Wedding Paper Divas, and it was SO EASY and relatively inexpensive. You only get married once, may as well have fun! Make sure you order a few extra. You’ll want to keep one or two for keepsakes.
- BRIDESMAIDS/GROOMSMEN/ATTENDANTS. This one isn’t a necessity at this point, but odds are at least 1,000 people are going to ask you about your wedding party, so you may as well get it out of the way. Plus it’s fun to have people to share all your wedding fun with and to enlist in your battle to complete your wedding to dos. My sister-in-law/bridesmaid was INVALUABLE. She had been in several other weddings, so she had a lot of contact info and also a lot of valuable advice. Also, the sooner you choose your bridal party the sooner they can start planning things like showers, parties, or any other things you need them to do (my attendants helped make some of our handmade wedding programs, for example). Plus, it’s fun to ask! I made fun cards and stuffed them with glitter and mailed them to all my bridesmaids. They were so excited. My husband just sent text messages to his groomsmen, but he was still excited to ask them. Men.
- FIND A CATERER. Aside from having a place to get married, your other main necessities are food, beer, music, and photos. Get those done ASAP. Our event center offered catering for a fee,, so that saved us the work of finding one. It was a bit pricey, but it saved us a lot of time and stress. If your hall doesn’t have a caterer in house, usually they have a list of 2-5 catering places in the area to chose from. They’ll give you menu options (usually) and you can also (usually) schedule a day to sample their options. My husband and I didn’t end up sampling because we just never found the time! We were living long distance from each other at the time, so it was tough to coordinate schedules. Luckily, our meal turned out fantastic.
Along the same lines of catering, you’ll want to figure out where you’ll be getting your cake/dessert from. Again, our reception hall had this service in house. We ended up doing a very small, beautiful, ceremonial (cake-cutting) cake just big enough for 10 people to eat (it was delicious though). Then we did a chocolate fountain as the main dessert for guests. I didn’t try any because I was terrified of getting chocolate on my white dress, but my guests all told me it was phenomenal.
- GET A BARTENDER/LIQUOR LICENSE. If you are getting married in a place that doesn’t have an in house bartender/bar like ours did, you’ll need to apply for a liquor license and find a bartender (who also has appropriate licensing). Some places also require you to hire security if there is going to be alcohol on the premises. This is stuff that YOU NEED TO KNOW and get done. Do not wait til the last minute- and for weddings “the last minute” is basically 3 months before the wedding. It flies by. Again, we opted for the convenience of having an in house bartender, so that saved us a lot of time and stress. My brother in-law however is finding out the hard way that waiting until the last minute (about 4 months away from the wedding) is NOT a good way to find a Bartender and figure out the liquor situation for your reception. People are going to be looking forward to getting their drink on – make this a priority!
Side note, a lot of bars offer different pay rates. For example, you can provide a cash bar (where people buy their own liquor) and free kegs (that you supply), or you can pay for up to a certain dollar amount, and then after that amount is reached people are on there own, or you can do drink tickets, or you can pay for a certain amount of time (you’ll cover all drinks from 6-9pm for example). My husband and I did the last option. We covered drinks for cocktail hour (5-6) then again after dinner for a couple hours (from 7:30-10pm).
- GET A DJ/FIGURE OUT YOUR MUSIC. I know some people opt to just play music off an ipad- DON’T! I have now attended two weddings where the electronic device hit a problem – a dead battery, no wifi, etc. A party sucks without music. I’ve also been to a wedding where the speakers were weak and didn’t even come close to playing music loud enough to dance to. DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE. If you are dead set on supplying your own music, whether it’s to save money or because you just want to make your own custom playlist, make sure you check wayyyyyy ahead of time that your device will work. Go and practice using it at the venue. Make sure you know how it all works and hooks up. Make sure the speakers are high quality. DOUBLE CHECK. You do not want to stress on your wedding night that your music isn’t working.
I personally loved having a DJ. We communicated via email about a suggested playlist (I gave him a list of about 30 songs that were “must haves”), and we were able to iron out a timeline for the reception. He introduced/announced us as husband and wife and gave us an awesome grand entrance. He introduced our first dance, my father daughter dance, and he cued us to cut the cake and do a garter toss. It was nice to have someone other than myself be in charge of our “timeline” and make sure we were staying on track. We also made sure he took requests.
You can find a lot of reasonably priced DJs online. Or just ask around! This could be a fun thing to a put a bridesmaid in charge of. Or your groom! My husband had a lot of fun helping me come up with a playlist of music for our big day, and he was really excited about our DJ.
Side note: we also gave our DJ some guidelines of songs to not play. For example, we didn’t want any super inappropriate songs until after 10:00pm (so as to not make some family members feel uncomfortable) and we also had some songs we hated (like the chicken dance or YMCA) that we did not want played.
- GET A PHOTOGRAPHER. Shop around! Ask friends for recommendations. We found ours through my ever helpful bridesmaid/ sister-in-law. She had been in a few weddings and had met this photographer, and then had used her for her family photos and her daughters grad photos. Our photographer gave us a deal since we were a referral. We met up for coffee (my husband, a couple bridesmaids, the photographer and I) one day and went through my Pinterest page of ideas, and she showed me her portfolio. We hit it off, and the price was right (we had shopped around). Photographers also book out pretty far, and they also usually ask to be paid a chunk up front. It’s nice to get that out of the way.
You’re going to be spending a lot on your wedding and the day is a blur. You are going to want a great photographer to capture it on film. If you wait too long, you’re going to get stuck with an amateur, or you aren’t going to have time to meet with and communicate with your photographer ahead of time. Ours came with to the rehearsal to take practice shots, and she even attended our rehearsal dinner. We went over a timeline so she knew where to be when, and she was able to meet key people (parents, siblings, etc) so she knew who to grab for photos on the big day. Definitely a lifesaver! GET A GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER.
- GET A DRESS. Some people get this years ahead of time. I don’t think that’s necessary, but you do want to get it AT LEAST 6 months (more if you can) ahead of time. I got mine about 8 months before my wedding. It took about 2 months to order it and have it get in, then I went in for a fitting and it needed to be altered which took about 2 months, and then I tried it on again, and it had to be altered AGAIN which took another 2 months. If they would’ve screwed that up I would’ve needed even more time or had to pay for a rush fitting/delivery. You want to save yourself that stress. I was stressed enough, and I had a little time to spare! Get it so you have enough time to deal with alterations (you might need more than one, like me!) or other mistakes that could happen (it gets spilled on or you gain/lose weight). Along those lines, try it on about a couple weeks before your wedding to make sure it still fits! You do not want to try it on the day of and find out it won’t zip or something is wrong or it’s falling off!
Also, thing about where you will be keeping the dress before your wedding. I kept mine at my sister in laws house so that way I wouldn’t risk having my husband find it. She also doesn’t have any pets or little kids who could happen upon it and wreck it.
One of my coworkers told me she accidentally left the door of her closet open one day and her cat got in and scratched up her dress!!!! Another friend told me she had laid the dress out on her bed the night before, and left the room quickly. When she came back her dog had jumped on it and caused a rip! PICK SOMEWHERE SAFE TO KEEP IT! You’ll probably have to have someone hang on to it for a few weeks up to a few months depending on how alterations go.
By the way, this was also my favorite part of wedding planning I think. I brought my mom and all my bridesmaids, and we spent a whole day shopping. I ended up buying the third dress I tried on (I tried on probably 8 or 9 total).
Another tip- after you buy your dress, STOP SHOPPING. You do NOT want to deal with returning a dress. I didn’t. I loved my dress and immediately stopped googling/pinteresting gowns. However, my friend made the mistake of going dress shopping AGAIN after already buying a dress, and it was a huge fiasco. Most dress places do NOT give you any sort of refund. You’re either stuck paying for two dresses or “regretting” your purchase. No fun. If you find a dress that you can’t stop smiling in, get it. Then STOP LOOKING!
TIP for dress shopping: bring shoes and bra similar to ones you’ll want to wear on the big day so you can get the full picture, and when you get it altered you’ll know what to do as far as length (i.e. if it’ll work with your heels).
- BRIDESMAID DRESSES. Same as above. Although not as intricate, these too will probably need to be altered at least once. For example, my sister ordered a size 8, because a 6 was too small. The 8 was too big, but they always tell you to go witht he bigger size because it’s easier to remove fabric than it is to add it. So once they got it, they had to try it on and alter it/hem it which took a couple months. Make sure your bridesmaids stay on top of this! My younger sister totally stressed me out because she didn’t even try her dress on after picking it up, she just assumed it would fit! I found that out about a month before my wedding. I forced her to try it on. Luckily all she needed was a good bra and it fit perfectly.
- GROOMS TUX/GROOMSMEN. Luckily for men, they don’t usually need drastic alterations, so this isn’t as immediate of a need. They take their measurements, find their size, and maybe just need to hem a pant leg. However, it is still nice to get this out of the way. Even more important if you have a specific color/style in mind. Especially if you have a larger wedding party, they might need to order a shirt or pant in which might take awhile. For example too, my husband has very long arms. They had to order in a size larger than necessary and alter it to fit his torso so that way it wouldn’t be too short in the sleeves.
SIDE NOTE: Make sure the men remember to pick up their tuxes at least a couple days before the wedding so they can try them on and exchange/fix any problems! You don’t want to pick them up the day of and find out they accidentally gave you the wrong size or color!
- MAKEUP/HAIR. Luckily there are A LOT of choices for hair and make up artists. You can go to a salon or have someone/a group of artists come to you (if your venue provides a place for you). For example, my reception hall had both a bridal and groom suite, so we showed up there in the morning, we had hair and make up come to us and we got ready, then went to our wedding site (most of us carpooled- the men left first and got set up so we wouldn’t run into each other). Then after the wedding we went back to our reception site. It was very convenient. We were all able to leave our stuff in the suite (it locked up) and it was nice not having to arrange travel between several different places. Granted, I was also apart of a wedding in which we went to a salon to get our hait and make up done, and that was really fun too. However, we then had to get dressed at a second location before heading to the wedding (we stopped at one of the bridesmaid’s houses). It worked out, but I think I preferred my wedding- it was nice to be able to do it all together in one location. It was like a big pre wedding party. I ended up hiring 2 hair and make up ladies, and I had to play them a flat fee for travel and for my hair and makeup. Then each of my bridesmaids paid for their own hair and makeup. However, I wish I would’ve had the money to pay for that for them. I got my bridesmaids their shoes and earrings though, so I guess that sort of makes up for it. Also, I had shopped around a lot and got a pretty good deal. Check out salons, facebook, or, just go by word of mouth. Mine were great. I didn’t meet them prior to the wedding, but we communicated via email and phone conversation about the details (the hair styles I wanted and I emailed pictures of makeup I wanted. I also got to view their portfolios). They were very easy to get a hold of and since I had heard of them via word of mouth from friends I trusted I knew they had a decent reputation.
- PLAN SHOWER and BACHELOR/BACHELORETTE. Granted, you don’t plan the actual events. But you should pick the dates for these well enough ahead of time so that people have to time to take the time off work/save money/get you a good gift. I picked my shower date about 2 months before my shower. Same with the Bachelorette. Other than the date though, I mostly just had to show up. Make sure you keep on your hostess’ though. My mom, who is amazing, is also really bad and being punctual. I was so stressed out that she wasn’t going to get invites out with enough notice for people to come. I constantly was asking if she just wanted me to send them. Luckily my sister/maid of honor was super excited about the bachelorette so she basically had it all planned out wayyyyy ahead of time.
Typically most people do their shower about 4-8 weeks before their wedding, and their bachelorette 1-8 weeks before the wedding. Some people do both the same day. It’s whatever works for you. If you have a lot of people that have to travel a long ways to both events, it might be nice to do it in one day. However, I broke mine up because it was fun to have an event to look forward to, and luckily most of my guests lived close enough that travel wasn’t a concern. I wouldn’t do your party the night or two before your wedding. Hangovers are real. Or you could fall off a bar and get a bruise or trip or get sunburned (depending on whatever you’re doing) or lose a wallet. You want to have time to recover from anything.
- PLAN A REHEARSAL/REHEARSAL DINNER. Most venues give you a set date/time ahead of time that is a day (or a few days) before your wedding for your rehearsal, so make sure you know this information and pass it on to any necessary people such as your officiant, flower girl, ring bearer, bridal party, ushers, etc. Some people think the rehearsal seems pointless, but it’s necessary. This is where a personal attendant comes in handy. Make sure she pays extra attention during rehearsals so she can help with any questions on the day of. Also, make sure you bring your slideshow, music, microphones, anything you’ll need for the ceremony to be successful to test them out. This is the mistake I made. We didn’t practice with the music, so my DJ (nephew) actually ended up playing the wrong song for me to walk down the aisle to. It wasn’t a big deal, and nobody else knew except my husband that it was wrong, but still! At least it was still an appropriate song (it was on a playlist for the pre wedding/post wedding time). It could’ve been a lot worse though! I do wish I had practiced walking down the aisle to my music though instead of just counting on it being simple.
As for the rehearsal dinner, usually the groom’s parents host or arrange this. But get this figured out ahead of time! Don’t just assume they’re going to do it. Ask. It doesn’t have to be fancy. My in laws ordered a bunch of pizzas and a lot of beer and we gave the bridal party their gifts and talked and laughed and got excited for the big day.
If your family wants to arrange for something rather than host, make sure they make reservations ahead of time if it’s a large (more than 6) group of people. Don’t just show up at a restaurant with 30 people and expect it to go smoothly!
- DECORATIONS. This was the part of the wedding that I thought would be a big deal but wasn’t. We got some really cool centerpieces (which the reception hall provided for a small additional fee) and then we also got a few things here and there (A few framed engagement pictures, Glow sticks that we scattered on the tables and in vases, Candy dishes filled with purple Hershey Kisses). Overall though, we were really lucky. We picked a really cool Reception hall that wasn’t really in need of a lot of decorating. That’s also the added bonus about getting married outside. The only thing we needed to get was an aisle runner and a few flowers that we put along the aisle and some tulle to decorate the altar area. I saved a lot of money because I got minimal flowers as well. Some people go all out and get a FLORIST and spend butt loads of money for fresh flowers. The only fresh flowers we had were our bouquets and boutonnieres. That was it. We used fake ones for our aisle and for decorating. However, if you do want a florist you need to meet with them way ahead of time so they have time to make sure they have your flower in stock. I met my florist about 3 months prior to my wedding. We talked about the weather factor (which flowers would survive the heat) and also about my color scheme. She showed me lots of samples, and then pretty much I left it up to her. She emailed me a couple weeks prior to the wedding to confirm the number of bouquets and boutonnieres needed, and she sent me a picture of one she had done as a sample. Like I said though, you don’t necessarily have to have a florist. A lot of people simply make their own bouquets with fake flowers or scavenge farmers markets the day of. I’m not that talented.
In my other blog post you’ll see some tips on decorating, but here’s a small tidbit: hit up thrift stores, craft stores, and even the dollar store. You’d be surprised where you find the most awesome stuff!
- SMALL DETAILS. This is where you would want to work on a slideshow (pictures of you and your hubby), get gifts for your wedding party, figure out if you want an autograph book, get a cake topper and a cake cutter, party favors, props for pictures, getting candies or frames, etc. These were my favorite things to do besides dress shopping actually! These were the cute, fun, personal details. There are so many websites filled with ideas, and there are so many things that are simple but amazing personal touches. This is another area where you can enlist your bridal party or husband. My husband made “minibar in a jar” gifts for his groomsmen, and I got shoes and jewelry for my girls (the shoes I had paid for ahead of time when we had gone shopping, but they unwrapped the jewelry at the rehearsal). One of my bridesmaids and my mom and I spent a weekend making my wedding slideshow and going through old but adorable photos of my hubby and I as kids and teens (which his mom had given me). One of my other bridesmaids went on the hunt for purple wrapped candy and stocked me up. There are so many ways to include people (and save some money!).
- TIMELINE of WEDDING and RECEPTION. This is IMPORTANT but hard to do way ahead of time.This means, nailing down what time you and your bridesmaids and the rest of your wedding party all need to be where. This includes from the moment you need to start getting ready until the time the party ends at the end of the night. This is also when you break down your wedding and reception into steps. See other posts. Its smart to give copies of these to all members of the wedding party as well as your photographer so they know where to be throughout the day.
ALSO make sure you have rides/parking for wherever you need to be! One of our groomsmen didn’t get the memo of where to park at our reception, and we were almost going to do our grand entrance without him because we were waiting so long.
- VOWS/SPEECHES. Make sure you have your vows written if you’re writing them. It’s also smart to write a “welcome/thank you speech” to deliver to your guests at the beginning of your reception. Don’t wait until the night before. Do it at least a few weeks before, and ask a bridesmaid/groomsman to read them over! My husband and I each wrote our own vows and gave them to the best man. He read them over to make sure they were a similar length and style and that they were well written. I practiced delivering my vows to my mom a few days before the wedding so that way I wouldn’t be too jittery the day of. My husband practiced his with our dog. Whatever works.
- RSVPS/FIRM UP DETAILS. Count your RSVPS and give your number to your bartenders/caterers/wedding venue. Also, go over any last minute details and get confirmation from your photographer, caterers, bakers, ministers, DJ, that everything is going to go as planned. Most venues/caterers/bartenders want final numbers at least 2 weeks prior.
Again, make sure everyone knows where to park and how they are getting from place to place.
ANOTHER THING TO CONSIDER that I didn’t have a specific category for: make sure YOU KNOW where you will be staying the night of the wedding and how you are getting there. My parents paid for a night in a hotel for my husband and I, and my younger sister was kind enough to drive us there so we wouldn’t have to worry about a taxi or finding a sober ride.
TIP FOR RSVPS. Have them sent to someone organized and reliable. Mine were sent to my sister in law. She’s super organized. She did the counting and everything. One less thing for me to stress about!
- PAYMENTS. Pay as much as you can ahead of time so you aren’t ruining your wedding night worrying about paying people. Most venues and officiants and anything wedding related will ask you to pay ahead of time anyways, but if they don’t ask if you can.
Get receipts/confirmation of all your payments and purchases. You’ll want them in case something goes wrong and to validate that you were charged correctly. ENJOY!!!! On the big day make sure you just do your best to live in the moment. It’ll be the fastest, most fun day of your life so far! GOOD LUCK!