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A week and a half post-proposal most brides-to-be are smiling, fielding phone calls, tweeting 140 characters worth of heart-shaped emojis, and doing their best to avoid taking excessive glances at their ring finger while driving home from work (which is dangerous, but that engagement ring is downright mesmerizing when it catches some steering wheel sun, right?).
A week and a half after my husband, Taylor, proposed, I was doing my fair share of all the above. But in the midst of those wedding bells and butterflies, I was also scrambling to:
- Create a brand new “love and marriage”-themed Pinterest board
- Book an engagement photo shoot
- Schedule appointments to try on dresses
- Interview wedding planners
- Order Save the Date cards
Not to mention, um, script an entire ceremony, propose to my bridesmaids, give the “okay” to bridal shower dates, and open wedding registries with my husband-to-be. The reason for all that rush? Taylor and I got engaged in March and set a wedding date shortly thereafter. For July. Of the same year.
"Congrats, but you’re crazy!” my friends, co-workers, and complete strangers said. “You’ll walk the aisle naked!” was the general sentiment expressed by various gown consultants.
I can't say that I didn't understand where they were coming from. We weren't just attempting to plan our wedding in six months or less—we were actually full-on committed to planning our wedding in just four and a half months. That's only 18 weeks of planning, people!
According to traditional wedding planning timelines (and, like, every magazine article and/or wedding planning book ever written), we were about a year behind schedule coming off the starting block. A little intimidating, to say the least! But not quite intimidating enough to change our minds about saying "I do" sooner rather than later.
photo: Suggs Photography
If you decide that an abbreviated wedding planning timeline is right for you, you'll need the following in your bag of tricks: a clear vision for your Big Day, the ability to make quick decisions under pressure, and serious wedding planning know-how. When I was planning my own wedding I had items one and two under control. In the “planning know-how” department, however, I was seriously lacking. Although I had purchased tons (and tons) of bridal workbooks and magazines, all of them seemed to assume that their readers would be engaged for 12-16 months. Minimum. How am I supposed to order a dress nine months in advance, I wondered aloud, when I’m only going to be engaged for four? Go figure, those presumptuous planning materials never answered—which is why I wrote How to Plan Your Wedding in Six Months or Less, which features the following timeline + SO much more!
HOW TO PLAN YOUR WEDDING IN SIX MONTHS OR LESS
a wedding planning timeline custom-tailored for short engagements,
excerpted from How to Plan Your Wedding in Six Months or Less
6 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR WEDDING
Decide on a wedding date—Your hands are tied until you do, so draw a heart on your calendar and begin the countdown as soon as possible.
Create a budget—Two major things to determine: Who will pay, and how much will they spend? Dream accordingly.
Dream in themes—Now that your budget’s been set, think “big picture.” Do you see yourself surrounded by Rustic Romance on your wedding day, or is a Breezy Beach scene more your thing?
Select your wedding party—Bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girl(s), and ring bearer(s) constitute this crew. Start thinking about their apparel too.
Make your guest list—Why so soon? Because the guest list is commonly known as the Rosetta Stone that will unlock the secrets of the language of wedding planning.
Consider enlisting a wedding planner—To avoid injury caused by fainting, make sure you give him/her plenty of heads-up about your not-so-traditional timeline.
Launch a wedding website—Update it often to keep guests in the know.
Search for and order your dress—Tip: Pull images from Pinterest and peruse magazines to narrow down style selections before ever setting foot in a store.
Book venues for your ceremony and reception—Sign your contracts, send in your deposits and breathe a sigh (or three) of relief.
Hire a caterer—Serving stations, a buffet, or a sit-down dinner? Your caterer will help determine all this and more while helping build your reception menu.
Contact photographers/videographers—FYI, most wedding photographers will want to book an engagement session with you as well. The result of pulling double-duty: Your photographer will really get to know you as a couple, meaning more of your personality will shine through in your wedding album.
Book an officiant—Or ask your cousin/best friend/brother to get certified online. Somebody’s got to pronounce you man and wife!
Order and send save the dates—Option B: Go paperless (and save time) by using an online service such as Paperless Post. No matter which format you choose, just let it be known that this thing is happening. Quick.
4-5 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR WEDDING
Open registries—Tip: Give your fiancé the “get-it gun” and let him “shoot” a nice grill or toolset. The whole process will be much more enjoyable for him if you do.
Send guest lists to shower hosts—Commence fantasizing about that shiny new slow cooker you’ll soon receive.
Purchase wedding bands—A vital ingredient for any wedding ceremony. Allow extra time for personal touches such as engraving.
Book entertainment—Will live musicians perform during your ceremony, or will a soundtrack guide you down the aisle? Will a DJ spin songs and make announcements at your reception, or will your officiant act as emcee? Whatever (or whoever) you choose, you have a few phone calls to make. Start dialing.
Determine the reception menu—And confirm with your caterer to make sure the extra-spicy chicken wings your fiancé requested are within the realm of possibility.
Order a wedding cake—Information your baker will need: number of invited guests, reception time and location, and preferred flavor profile.
Order wedding favors—If you're having a destination wedding (or just feel like spoiling your guests upon arrival), start selecting goodies for welcome baskets. Choose a variety of items that are: A.) Representative of your wedding location and add a dash of local flair. B.) Favorite items of the "His and Hers" variety. C.) Practical additions in light of your destination—think bug spray for a ranch wedding or sunscreen for a beachside bash. Online shopping will save you loads of time, especially since some providers will even ship your selected favors directly to your reception venue!
Reserve room blocks for out-of-town guests—Update your wedding website with booking information and any discounted rates so that guests can take care of their own accommodations with plenty of time to spare.
Plan your honeymoon—You’ve only been engaged for a month, but it’s time to mentally transport yourself to the beach (or Europe, the mountains, a remote tree house resort nestled in the jungles of Thailand…you get it). Bon voyage!
2-3 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR WEDDING
Attend bridal showers—Don’t forget to write timely thank-you notes.
Hire a calligrapher—Totally optional, but always a nice touch.
Send formal invitations—Etiquette suggests (and/or dictates) that you put the envelopes in the mail 6-8 weeks prior to your wedding date. But aim for 10-12 if you’re having a destination wedding.
Reserve space for the rehearsal dinner—If someone else is taking care of the arrangements, simply offer to provide help as needed (i.e. approve the color of the tablecloths…but only upon request).
Book a florist—Delphiniums or Peonies? Garden roses or Hydrangeas? It’s okay to be unsure at your initial consultation—but try not to set your sights on anything that’s out of season.
Book a getaway car—The future hubs probably won’t mind doing this task. Delegate.
Make a reception playlist—If you’ve hired a DJ, now’s the time to put your heads together. Can’t stand Top 40 music? Determined to dance to “My Girl” with your father? Terrified of what will come out of Uncle Joe’s mouth if he gives an unplanned toast? Solve it all via clear communication.
Get your dress fitted—At least once. Probably twice. And whatever you do, don’t forget to take your wedding shoes to ensure a proper hemline.
Book a hair and makeup artist—Don’t forget to schedule a trial run.
Plan the order of ceremony—Then create corresponding programs. If you and your fiancé are writing your own vows, fold that into this task too.
Submit a newspaper announcement—Six weeks is standard for giving notice of the impending change to your last name.
1 MONTH BEFORE YOUR WEDDING
Get your marriage license—Allow at least 24 hours for processing.
Check and double-check RSVPs—Follow up with invited guests who have not yet responded.
Confirm, confirm—With every vendor on your list. Try to send in as many final payments as possible.
Stock the reception bar—If you’ve chosen to serve alcohol at your wedding, your caterer can help determine the amount according to the number of confirmed guests.
Assign reception seating—In some cases, this doubles as an excellent way to avoid unnecessary family drama. Create or order menu cards at this time if desired.
Purchase gifts for bridesmaids—They’ve been sprinting too. Perhaps a bottle of wine will do?
Attend your bachelorette party—Celebrate! The finish line is finally in sight.
WEEK OF YOUR WEDDING
Create a wedding week timeline—You know the schedule by heart, but does everyone else? Hand a printed timeline to anyone and everyone involved, just in case.
Pick up your dress—By this point your frock should be fitted, hemmed, and steamed to perfection. Ask your tailor for a heavy-duty plastic hanging bag to keep it protected and pristine.
Photographer check—Create a list of can’t-miss moments and put it in his or her capable, camera-clicking hands.
Reconfirm, reconfirm—Send in your absolute, 100%, no chance of changing, final headcount to the caterer at least three days before the Big Day.
Here’s a tip—Pre-determine tips for vendors. Seal the tips in labeled envelopes and ask your wedding planner or a trusted family member to distribute them after you’re unwinding in the getaway car your husband booked. (Vintage Rolls-Royce? Way to go, babe!)
Pack for your honeymoon—Yep, that’s the ocean calling. His message: Don’t forget your bikinis.
Spa day—Book and enjoy. You deserve it.
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Congrats! You just survived your first read-through of the ultimate To-Do Before "I Do" checklist, meaning you're one step closer to accomplishing the feat of planning a (totally stellar, completely meaningful) wedding in six months or less! Chances are that you'll need to refer back to this list more than once (ahem...per day) throughout the planning process, so feel free to snag your own copy by clicking below.