stress-free planning timeline

I like to procrastinate. I hope that any task will be doable in any period of time…

But in planning my wedding, this theory didn’t work. Venues and vendors get booked up a year or more in advance, your wedding gown has to be shipped from China, five fittings are required to make sure the dress is just right, and no, you cannot have invitation cards custom-designed in two weeks.

Every vendor works within certain timelines. If availability of certain items is important to you, doing things in advance will save you a lot of stress and aggravation. Aim to book your must-haves first, even before you finalize the wedding date. If you have multiple must-haves to coordinate, you may be looking at a wedding in a year or two. Try to give yourself as much flexibility as you can muster, though – your bank account and your mental health will thank you later.

If you can compromise on most items, including having an off-season wedding (usually January to March), you should be able to plan your wedding in 4-6 months. If you have a small number of guests (less than 40 guests), and are not too particular about the venue, the dress and about your vendors, with a city hall / restaurant wedding you may be able to squeeze everything into 3 months or less of planning.

Here is the general order of things in wedding planning:

Considering the wedding decision seriously, buying an engagement ring, and  proposing are important preliminary steps.

  • First, decide on the following: your budget, time of the wedding (season & time from today), number of people you would be inviting, and city / destination of your wedding. These decisions will affect everything else. Start by thinking about them in general terms, and see Wedding BudgetPlanning 101 and Schedule Your Date for help.

  • For the most stress-free approach, book a wedding planner. Know that wedding planners can increase your total wedding budget by about 10% to 20%.

  • Once you have an approximate date, and a sense of the magnitude of your guestlist, start looking into the availability of reception venues. They do book up quickly, so you may have to make your decision quickly – but there is a lot to consider when selecting your wedding venue.

  • Sometimes you want to hold the ceremony at a different location from your reception. If many of your guests don’t know each other, staying with a bunch of strangers in the same place all day might be tiring – and you want guests to enjoy your day! If you like the idea of a separate location, don’t delay booking the ceremony venue for the time slot that aligns with the time of your reception. Ceremony venues tend to have smaller capacity, which can be tricky for a big wedding. Consider a city hall ceremony.

  • Consider who you would like to be your officiant. Many couples want close friends to marry them. This decision has its risks and rewards, and is a little tricky but possible – but ultimately you cannot be legally married without an officiant who’s registered with the province. If you would like your friend to do the honors, being researching early, and give them time to consider this idea. If you are particular about the qualifications of your officiant (ie, must speak a particular language, etc), do not delay your search.

  • Choose your wedding party. Ask them to be part of your wedding, and explain your vision for the wedding.

  • For guests, weekends book up quickly – especially long weekends, and especially in summer. Ensure that important guests – especially out-of-towners – know the date of the wedding as soon as it is available. Also, give it to them in writing, so they can refer to it when they need to check their calendar. Most people are just not wired to remember dates. Fridge magnets with save-the-dates are an excellent idea.

  • Aim to finalize your selection and buy your wedding dress 6 months before the wedding date (or, if you have a good seamstress, 4 months). Once you choose a dress, your vendor will likely get one shipped from halfway around the world for you. Then you will need to line up a fitting, or two, or six, as the dress is being altered for you. After all is said and done, you want to have at least a few weeks for crisis management. After the dress is bought and ready, take a few simple steps to get all your bases covered.

  • Crisis management note. If you haven’t ordered a dress on time, or something is wrong with it… It happens. I have been told that desperate brides-to-be run around dress shops for next week’s wedding all the time. By the way, it is amazing what people can do for you, if you tell them you are getting married this weekend… But if this has happened to you, look at the big picture. Your love, and your vows, will be no less real with a different dress. So get creative. For example, your dress doesn’t have to be white. Just google all the colorful celebrity wedding gowns. I’m no celebrity, but my wedding gown was red (see picture) – and it really got everyone talking.

  • If you are leaving on a honeymoon right after the wedding, make your travel arrangements 6 months before the wedding date. Make sure passports are up-to-date. Ditto for visas.

  • Just after you select your dress, decide what you would like your bridesmaids to wear. Trying to find a dress for a group of women, all with different preferences and shapes, won’t be easy. It will be especially difficult if they live in different cities. The more bridesmaids you have, the more time you will need. Leave sufficient time for scheduling everyone’s fittings and alterations… Or, if you want to take it easy, just select a colour, and leave the rest to them.

  • Start thinking about your invitations 4 months before the wedding date. You will need to mail them 1.5 – 2 months before the date. Working backwards from that, if you are working with a custom designer, give them a month or so to work on the invitations. If you are ordering them online, allow at least a month for snail mail and typo correction. If you want to feature your engagement photo on the invitation, get those in advance.

  • Photographers, make-up and hair artists, entertainers (DJs and MCs), day-of transportation and other service providers book up quickly as well, but you should have a decent selection about 3-4 months before the wedding date. With make-up and hair artists, you may want to schedule a trial as part of your selection process.

  • Flowers are a big part of venue decoration, so start looking into flower arrangements 3-4 months before the date. On the other hand, flowers are beautiful and romantic, so even if you don’t start thinking about it well in advance, you will probably be ok. If you are not too picky, these can be arranged within a couple of weeks.

  • Cake – everybody’s favourite part. Cake options, cake decorations, cake tastings. You probably don’t need encouragement to begin doing this early. But even if you don’t… it is hard to get this wrong.

  • Write your vows, if you wish to read them out loud. Actually, consider writing you vows, even if you don’t want to read them out loud. We’ve gathered some inspiration for your wedding vows.

  • Apply for a marriage license. Note that the marriage license is valid only for 3 months… so don’t do it too early. While you should be able to get the documents issued in one day, your officiant will likely need them prior to the wedding date.

  • Plan out your ceremony with your officiant (especially so if it isn’t a professional officiant). How much do you want to speak? Will you be standing to the left, or to the right?

  • As you get RSVP’s to your invitations, start working on the seating plan. It takes time to clarify the names of all the plus ones, run the chart by everyone, and get it designed and printed on a foam board.

  • Unless everyone will be taking care of their own arrangements, set aside a block of hotel rooms for the out-of-town guests. Ditto for your own wedding-night accommodations. Hotels can and do book up when the city is busy.

  • Wedding bands can be quite simple – or complicated – to choose. You may like the first ring you see, or you may go through hundreds and still be unsure. Refer to our rings pages for some helpful advice.

  • Think of your music preferences and songs lists (including do-not-play lists) and advise your band or DJ. A band may need time to learn new songs to accommodate you. See our entertainment pages for details.

  • There are many small things that you will need to remember to do during the week running up to the wedding. See our countdown to your wedding day page for a checklist.