Ready, Set, Plan! Your Step-by-Step Blueprint to the Altar

by Gretchen Gales

To help you prepare for your big day, we've put together a must-have checklist of things to consider before you approach the altar. While this list is not exhaustive, it's a good blueprint as you begin to plan for your wedding.

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12+ Months Before Your BIG DAY!

  • Set a date.
  • Discuss and create a budget.
  • Begin outlining a guest list.
  • Figure out where to have the wedding ceremony and reception.
  • Book hotel room blocks.
  • Book a DJ and a wedding planner, if desired.
  • Find and book an officiant.
  • Begin shopping around for suits and/or gowns.
  • If desired, set up a wedding website.

9-12 Months Before Your BIG DAY!

  • Choose members of the wedding party and assign roles.
  • Make final decisions on the guest list.
  • Choose wedding themes and colors.
  • Pick caterer and discuss what kind of food will be served.
  • Book a florist, ceremony musicians, DJ and/or band for the reception, and a bakery for the cake.  
  • Research and select stationary for wedding invitations, thank you notes, etc.
  • If the wedding party participants are wearing dresses or suits, arrange a fitting and have each person order their respective attire.
  • Order other formalwear accessories, if desired.  

6-8 Months Before Your BIG DAY!

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  • Mail save-the-dates.
  • Discuss ceremony details with the officiant.
  • Choose your honeymoon destination and make all necessary travel and lodging arrangements.
  • Order official invitations and thank-you notes.
  • Prepare plans for the rehearsal dinner.

4-5 Months Before Your BIG DAY!

  • Make sure everything is right flower-wise with your florist.
  • Have a room booked for your wedding night.
  • Have cake order finalized.
  • Start making, or purchase, wedding favors.
  • Select your wedding rings.

2-3 Months Before Your BIG DAY!

  • Go to various food tastings and make final decisions on the menu.
  • Send out invitations 6-8 weeks in advance.
  • Schedule fittings for wedding gown and veil (if applicable) 6 weeks out (and again 1-2 weeks out).
  • Make final plans with the officiant for the ceremony.
  • Ensure that hotel rooms for both the wedding night and honeymoon are still booked.
  • Begin making ceremony programs.
  • Create an hour-by-hour schedule of wedding day plans.
  • Get those last-minute accessories!
  • If you’re writing your own wedding vows, this is the time to finish them.

1 Month Before Your BIG DAY!

  • Discuss what kinds of photos you want with your photographer and/or videographer and plan where pictures will be taken before, during and after the ceremony.
  • If you have out-of-town guests, have welcome bags ready for them.
  • Mail out invites for the rehearsal dinner.

1-2 Weeks Before Your BIG DAY!

  • Schedule your final wedding gown/veil fitting (if applicable).
  • If there are any missing RSVPs, do a follow-up with the invited guests.
  • Design a seating chart to give to the caterer, planner, photographer, etc.
  • Let your caterer know how many guests are expected, including anyone hired for the event.
  • Make sure everything is in order with all hired staff (musicians, DJ, band, caterer, photographer, wedding planner, etc.).
  • Have all toasts written, rehearsed and ready to go!
  • Make sure you have the marriage license (duh)!

2-3 Days Before Your BIG DAY!

  • Confirm times of delivery for the cake and flowers.
  • Confirm meet-up location with the photographer.
  • If place cards, menus, wedding favors, guest book, and other items are a part of the reception, give them to your planner and caterer accordingly.
  • Have the processional and recessional planned out.
  • Make sure your attire is in its best shape. Steam if necessary to eliminate wrinkles.
  • Have your overnight bag packed for your wedding night.
  • Bring welcome bags to the hotel where your guests will be staying.

1 Day Before Your BIG DAY!

  • PANIC!!! Then, STOP PANICKING!!
  • Have all materials for the ceremony (décor, accessories, etc.) brought to the site.
  • Rehearse ceremony.
  • Attend rehearsal dinner.
  • Give gifts to your significant other, parents, etc.
  • Have an attendant hold on to the officiant’s fee to be given after the ceremony.
  • Be happy! This is a stressful time, but it’s all worth it when you walk down that aisle.

Your BIG DAY!

  • Let yourself be enveloped in the love of your family, friends, community and, of course, your spouse.

Gretchen Gales
Gretchen Gales is a Collegiate Fellow with Unite Virginia magazine. She is currently a student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying English and History.