The Complete Guide to Planning a Wedding

A list of actionable steps to help you put together the celebration of your dreams.

bride and groom posing in front a black vintage getaway car, which is decorated with white, orange, and pink roses

Photo by Janet Lin Photography

While couples often hire professionals to help manage their wedding plans, there are plenty of reasons why they might choose to handle all of the planning tasks and responsibilities on their own. Maybe they're working with a tight budget or maybe they simply love the DIY possibilities. In any case, though planning a wedding can feel pretty overwhelming at times, it is possible to personally put together the wedding of your dreams.

So, where does one begin? The first step is to make sure you have plenty of time to plan your big day. A longer timeline is your friend here, and if possible, aim for around a year to arrange this affair. Also, organization is key to keeping everything on track when you’re faced with decisions, lists, deadlines, and everyday life. What's more, don’t forget to involve your significant other in this step, as your wedding should represent both of you, together as a couple. For those interested in learning more, however, we've got you covered with answers to your most burning questions.

Ahead, here are 44 wedding planning tips for couples, from getting organized to traversing the legal framework of a vendor contract and maintaining your mental sanity. Be sure to take notes and, most importantly, have fun! This is your wedding after all, so don’t get too hung up on the tiny details.

5 Tips for Planning Your Own Wedding

 Jessica Olah/Brides

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Set Your Wedding Budget and Stick to It

wedding guests throwing money up in the air during the wedding reception

Photo by Whitney Neal Studios

Your wedding budget will be the driving factor for many of your wedding-related decisions, so this should be one of the first things you tackle. If any family members will be contributing, chat with them about what they’re comfortable spending. If you’re footing the bill yourself, though, be sure to take a hard look at your finances and prepare for any financial life changes you may need to make. Once you’ve got that magic number, stick to it!

While setting and sticking to your budget is key, it's important to give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected additional costs, must-have upgrades, or last-minute changes. As a rule of thumb, plan to have a 10 to 15 percent cushion for those unforeseen fees.

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Construct a List of Wedding Priorities

live wedding band playing at a reception

Photo by Sarah Anne Photography

Sit down with your partner and determine what the three most important aspects of your wedding will be. Is it the venue or a specific wedding date? Locking in a certain wedding photographer or live band? Prioritize those details and be willing to compromise on the rest. This will help you stay within your budget and help you focus your efforts on what really counts.

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Determine Your Wedding Style

Bride and groom making a cheers at their botanical wedding reception


Find a few resources of bridal inspiration you like best—Pinterest, Instagram, magazines, trusty bridal sites (including Brides, of course!)—and start researching. Having a good sense of the type of wedding style you want helps immensely once you start meeting with potential vendors.

Don’t overwhelm yourself with all the wedding inspiration that’s out there, though, as there is such a thing as too much inspiration. That's why it's a good idea to limit the amount of time you spend looking at photos and ideas in one sitting. Making a list of your likes and dislikes, as well as wants and do-not-wants, can help you better review inspiration images, too boot.

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Get Organized

flat lay shot of a planner, highlighter, and coffee

Photo by Estée Janssens Photography

You can use checklists, spreadsheets, Word, Excel, Google Docs—anything, really—as long as you can gather all your thoughts, budgets, numbers, etc., in one place. There are also some great online tools and apps out there that can keep you organized. We love WeddingHappy for staying on track with tasks and AllSeated for visualizing seating charts and venue layouts.

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Involve Your Significant Other

portrait of bride and groom walking down the stairs in a lush green setting

Photo by Erica Streelman

Don't feel like you're in this wedding planning process alone. Consult with your partner along the way, as their opinion is bound to be invaluable, and—even if they're only involved in some aspects—it makes wedding planning that much more fun when you can make decisions together. What's more, working toward a common goal not only further bonds your relationship, but also helps you grow as a couple with every issue you tackle as a team.

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Buy a Wedding Planning Book

Woman with books at a library

Lena Gadanski / Getty Images

For couples who opt to take on the wedding planning process sans a professional planner or coordinator, a traditional etiquette and guidebook (such as The Wedding Book) is a wealth of information and expert advice. These books include tips and tricks, and even examples of timelines and checklists, and can help minimize any stress you might start to feel.

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Create a Master Checklist

Bride writing in a notebook while sitting on a couch

Photo by Pat Furey

Check out our master wedding planning checklist and timeline to keep yourself on track and tackle tasks like a pro. (Feel free to adapt it to suit your own needs as necessary). This will help you visualize and prioritize goals without being overwhelmed with everything all at once.

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Think About Dates (and Seasons)

Word wedding and two hearts on calendar with sweet white flowers

Getty Images

Choose a few ideal dates for your wedding and try to be flexible, if possible, so you’re not constrained when attempting to book the wedding venue and vendors. Take into consideration external factors, like how popular those dates might be for other to-be-weds (which can make availability scarce and prices higher), if the dates would be difficult for your guests to attend, and the price differences of venues and vendors between seasons.

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Select a Theme

two grooms walking up the aisle while pink balloons are being thrown at them

Photo by Trevor Mark Photography

Whether it’s specific wedding colors, seasonal or style inspiration, or an actual theme (like the Roaring Twenties or Festival Chic), sometimes it's helpful to choose a concept to design your wedding around. Once you have an aesthetic in mind, it'll be easier to make design decisions, and generally, will make everything look more cohesive.

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Consider Having an “On-Site” Wedding

wedding reception with circular tables, greenery, roses, all under a tent

Photo by Janet Lin Photography

In wedding lingo, an “off-site” wedding is one where the venue doesn’t have a commercial kitchen and where you need to bring everything in—think places like a park, a public beach, or even an open field. In contrast, having an “on-site” wedding—somewhere like a hotel or restaurant—will greatly simplify the planning process as they'll likely have a range of catering offerings available, as well as access to the basics including designated space, chairs and tables, and possibly even an on-site coordinator to assist you.

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Start Working on Your Guest List

bride wearing a floral print dress with bridesmaids in mismatched pastel-hued attire

Photo by Feather & Twine

Making decisions about your guest list can be a complicated process and one that will depend largely on your venue and budget. So before you begin, sit down with your partner and key family members to put together a wish list of wedding guests. You will also need to decide whether you’re inviting children and who will be allotted a plus one.

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Talk to Other Married Couples

bride talking to two women while holding a gift

Photo by Lynn Dunston

Have you recently attended a wedding that you really enjoyed? By all means, ask that couple for advice and insights. They probably have some expert tips and tricks they learned along the way that they'd be more than happy to share with you. Sometimes, friends and family are the best resources.

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Research Your Venue Options

Villa D'Este castle wedding venue

Photo by Ross Harvey

Be sure to investigate prices, packages, and any restrictions (including minimum budget spend or guest count) from several different wedding and reception venues before you sign on the dotted line. Even if there's a venue and a package price that you really like, keep looking at additional options. Ask around and see what other venues are charging before agreeing on a price.

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Book Vendors You’re Comfortable With

Groom with videocamera

Photo by Whitney Neal Studios

When it comes to booking wedding vendors, it's essential to not rush into any decisions. Consider at least a few different options to make sure these important wedding-day partners understand your vision and can also work within your budget. Wedding vendors are the nuts and bolts to ensuring your day is ultra-memorable and everything runs smoothly, so make sure they're a team of people that you really vibe well with. They should also have a good sense of your vision, and you should be able to trust them to execute it well.

Take notice of how a vendor communicates as you try to feel them out. If their particular style of communication isn't a good fit or they seem unreliable or disinterested at this stage, it likely won't be the right match for the real work. You also should never feel bad about reaching out with any along-the-way questions.

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Read Every Contract Closely

People reviewing contracts


Before you sign on any dotted lines, be sure to closely review every detail of any contracts you arrange with your wedding vendors—including date, location, times, deposits, additional fees, colors, and quantities. Everything has to be in the contract because if it isn't, or if it's written incorrectly, you will not be protected if it's not executed properly.

Additionally, be wary of clauses that prevent you from reviewing the vendor after their service (red flag), extreme cancellation policies, or if the terms seem one-sided. Specifically, a contract should outline what happens if either party cancels, not just the client.

Carefully read any policies regarding changes in the scope of service, as well, which means that rates could be revised if there are any significant changes made. (Such policies are standard practice in this industry, but you need to ensure you are aware of the terms.) For instance, if your contract requires catering for a guest list of 50 people but you later decide to invite 100, you would be responsible for paying an increased rate. Similarly, a venue might have a minimum guest count required, which can be problematic if the RSVP total is lower than the original estimate.

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Choose Your Wedding Party Wisely

Wedding Party with bridesmaids wearing emerald green and groomsmen wearing black tuxedos

Photo by Second Shots Photography

The friends and family you ask to join your wedding party are there for emotional and tactical support throughout the wedding planning process and on the big day. Thus, consider who you really want standing next to you during this monumental occasion and if they are capable of performing the duties required of their position throughout the planning process. What's more, consult with your partner to decide what size wedding party works best for the two of you, keeping in mind the expenses that come along with this special responsibility.

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Book Hotel Room Blocks

Groom and groomsmen standing on hotel balcony

Photo by Amber Gress

Whether you're having a destination wedding or a local celebration, chances are some guests will need a place to stay the night of your nuptials. That's why it's a thoughtful gesture to take this into consideration and set up a hotel block for them at one or several choice establishments. This will ensure all your wedding attendees are in the same general vicinity, and many hotels can even provide a discounted rate depending on the number of rooms requested.

The best part? There are some benefits for couples, too. Some hotels offer incentives like a free room to the couple, complimentary breakfasts, or even spa credits, so be sure to inquire about any extras.

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Shop for Wedding Attire

jenna ushkowtiz dress shopping

Photo by For the Love of It

Finding the perfect wedding gown is a process all its own, and we recommend starting your search right after you pick your venue. More specifically, complete your dress purchase nine months before the big day, as this will give you enough time for fittings and alterations. Shopping for wedding party ensembles should also begin about seven to eight months before the wedding date, whereas groom and groomsman attire can be scheduled around the five-month mark. Don't forget that you will also need outfits for any pre-wedding events like brunches, showers, and rehearsals.

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Make a Wedding Website

Girl on laptop

Westend61 / Getty Images 

Avoid getting endless emails and text messages from guests by putting up a simple wedding website where they can check out the details of your wedding. Include important information like dates, times, locations, dress codes, registries, transportation and lodging, a day-of itinerary, and health and safety requirements. In general, everything that appears on the invitations should be present on the welcome page of the website.

20 of 44

Build a Registry

registry sign that says "cards and gifts"


You and your partner should begin creating a wishlist of potential gifts you'd like to receive from guests very early on. If traditional gifts aren't quite your thing, you can opt for more creative registry ideas to fund things like your honeymoon or a downpayment on a new house, or opt for a charitable contribution instead. Most importantly, the registry information should be displayed on your wedding website or on an invitation insert, never on the wedding invitation itself.

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Recruit More Hands on Deck

bride and her bridesmaids in getting ready robes toasting to the start of the wedding

Photo by Alexandra & Vladimir Nadtochiy

Never forget: You’re not in this alone. Your bridal party, family members, and your soon-to-be spouse are all ready to help in ways that suit their strengths. But you have to ask, and sometimes, delegate. One very important time to delegate is on the big day when you'll need some extra hands to attend to tasks that you won't be able to do, like dispersing checks to vendors. Also, you should never feel bad about asking as long as you're also understanding of their choice to decline, should they choose to.

22 of 44

DIY Strategically

Welcome bags

Photo by Cassandra Castaneda

DIY wedding décor elements can be cost-effective and can add some incredibly personal touches to your wedding day. But a word to the wise: Don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with more work than you know what to do with. Plenty of DIY projects can be done well in advance, including favors, welcome bags, etc. For things like wedding day flowers or food, however, professional help is best.

23 of 44

Take Some Time Off—Together

Couple laughing in robes

DaniloAndjus / Getty Images 

For the sake of your own sanity, make sure you schedule some time for you and your partner to just be together and do anything but plan a wedding. Trust us, you’ll need the break. If you can, take the week before your wedding off from work to ensure that all last-minute details are completed, and to help make the days leading up to the big day that much less stressful.

24 of 44

Pick Invitations and Save the Dates

Invitations suite

Photo by Erich McVey

Start planning your wedding stationery as soon as you know your wedding style and have confirmed the venue. Save-the-date cards typically go out nine months before the wedding date for a destination wedding and four to six months prior for local nuptials. Invitation suites then follow six to eight weeks before the big day. As far as RSVPs, you should request those no later than one month before the celebration so there are no last-minute hiccups.

25 of 44

Hire an Officiant

bride and groom at the altar with their officiant

Photo by Grace Gatto Photography

Finding the right officiant to preside over your nuptials can be a deeply personal journey for couples. Whomever you choose will not only dictate the event but will also usher you into your union, setting the tone for the rest of your lives together. If booking a clergy member or justice of the peace (rather than having a friend or family member officiate), it's important to thoroughly do your research, obtain reviews or recommendations, and ask the right questions like if personalizations are allowed, how disruptions would be handled, and if they are involved in obtaining a marriage license.

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Add Some Personal Touches

Nuptial ceremony

Photo by Erich McVey

Whether it's familial or cultural wedding customs that have a special meaning, or if there's a tradition that the two of you want to start for future generations, don't be afraid to incorporate some heartfelt, personal touches into your wedding day festivities. Remember, this is your day!

27 of 44

Organize Transportation

Newlywed getaway in red car

Photo by Biancca Wallace

There are three categories of wedding transportation to take into consideration. Depending on the venue, you may require transportation for yourselves and the wedding party to the ceremony. You will then need a getaway car to take yourself and your new spouse to the reception, while the wedding party takes the aforementioned transportation. If your venue is a remote location or you have guests attending from out of town, it is thoughtful to also book group transportation to take them between the ceremony, reception, and their hotels (this is where those hotel blocks come in handy). For a personalized touch, get creative with types of transportation that really speak to the surroundings.

28 of 44

Purchase Wedding Bands

two gold diamond wedding bands and an engagement ring


Take a moment to just enjoy what's left of your engagement and fiancé(e) status and go shopping for your wedding bands. If you haven't already, this would also be the time to insure your engagement ring and add the wedding bands to the policy.

29 of 44

Account for Pre-Wedding Events

wedding guests talking at a wedding welcome party

Photo by Jenny Quicksall

Between engagement celebrations, showers, brunches, and bachelor/bachelorette parties, there is no shortage of pre-wedding events that take place in the months leading up to your big day. And while most of these festivities are traditionally hosted by a close friend or family member, you will need to participate in a small portion of the planning. At the very least, the guest lists for these events will need to be created by you and passed on to the generous hosts.

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Understand What You Don't Want

Newly married couple holding hands


Your wedding should be all about the two of you as a couple, so if certain traditional aspects make you uncomfortable, feel outdated, or simply aren’t your style, then don't include them on your wedding day. Traditions are lovely but only when they're meaningful to you.

31 of 44

Don't Forget the Rehearsal Dinner Details

family members eating at banquet table outdoors

Photo by Catherine Chuang Photo

Much like other pre-wedding festivities, the rehearsal dinner may or may not be hosted by someone other than you. Regardless of this fact, you will need to partake in the planning process. Much like for the wedding, the rehearsal dinner will need a venue, guest list, catering selection, and invitations. If you are having a destination wedding or wedding weekend, this can either be tied into the welcome party or remain completely separate, to boot.

32 of 44

Consider a Day-Of Coordinator

long banquet table amongst an open field landscape

Photo by Lisa Poggi

Even when a full-service wedding planner isn’t in the cards, hiring a professional to oversee the day-of details can be a game-changer. They'll keep track of vendors for you, keep an eye on the schedule, and help with any last-minute details and on-site tasks. Just don't leave the booking until the last minute, because even though this is a day-of coordinator, they are typically hired six to eight months in advance.

33 of 44

Create a Social Media Strategy

Guest taking photos on phone

Photo by Juanlu Real

Whether you want your guests to share moments of your wedding day with the world or prefer to have an unplugged wedding, strategy is key. Hashtags, signage, and photo booths are a great way to get guests to post on social media. On the other hand, if you don't want your guests snapping shots or taking videos during the ceremony, have the officiant make a quick announcement before proceedings begin.

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Make It Legal

bride and groom signing the marriage contract

Photo by Liz Banfield

In the midst of all the crazy planning and endless small details, don’t forget to actually plan the time to get your marriage license. Start researching and gathering the necessary documents early on, but keep in mind that marriage licenses are typically only valid for a couple of months—and destination weddings often have their own stipulations—so plan accordingly.

35 of 44

Postpone Honeymoon Planning

Couple with globe

Westend61 / Getty Images 

Simultaneously planning a wedding and a dream honeymoon is not only expensive but also very time-consuming, especially if the two of you are doing everything yourselves. Therefore, it may be a good idea to postpone honeymoon planning just a bit. Many couples recommend spacing out the wedding and honeymoon to really appreciate everything, rather than being too drained from the wedding planning to fully enjoy the post-nuptial getaway.

36 of 44

Allocate Toasts and Readings

bride and groom raising their glasses for a toast

Photo by Roey Yohai

Wedding toasts are typically reserved for select VIPs and are traditionally distributed between the rehearsal dinner and reception, though some couples choose to have everything take place at one event. You are responsible for notifying toast-makers of their responsibilities, accepting requests to speak, and organizing the speaking order. Opting for readings in the ceremony, whether traditional, cultural, or literary, is another great way to honor important people in your life who aren't part of the wedding party. As with toasts, you assume responsibility for choosing the speakers and defining the speaking order.

37 of 44

Finalize Setup Details

Industrial reception space with flowers


As your wedding date approaches, check in with your venue to find out when your vendors can arrive for setup. The earlier the better, but in some cases, venues may have other events going on the same day. Be sure to pass along the information to your vendors so everyone is on the same page.

38 of 44

Build a Playlist

Bride and friends dancing

Photo by Joey Willis

Regardless of whether you are having a live band, DJ, or manning the turntables yourself, you will need to outline all of the key songs that absolutely must be played during the nuptial festivities. Just as important: Don't forget to also create a list of the songs you definitely do not want to hear.

39 of 44

Write Vows

Vows between couple

Photo by Joey Willis

Take off your wedding planner hat for just a moment and don your to-be-wed headdress. Indulge yourself in a few moments of solitude to gather your thoughts and put pen to paper as you conceive the declarations of love and nuptial pledges you will make once at the altar. Make sure to include some actual promises in your notes rather than just creating a love letter to your beloved. They are called vows for a reason, after all.

40 of 44

Produce a Schedule of Events

Bride and bridesmaids

Photo by Addison Jones 

Creating a comprehensive wedding day schedule ensures everyone is on the same page about timing and location(s) and helps to make sure the day's events run smoothly. Include things like hair and makeup appointments, when vendors will arrive, timing for transportation to/arrival at the ceremony location, timing for the couple's arrival to the reception, speeches, the first dance, and when the cake will be cut, etc. Print out (or email) copies to your MC, photographer, maid of honor, key family members, all vendors, and anyone else who should be in the know.

41 of 44

Consider Hosting an After Party

bride and groom dancing inside of a circle of family and friends at their wedding reception

Photo by Feather & Twine

If you and your partner want to keep the celebration going after you've said "I do," consider hosting an after-party for close family and friends. You can keep things small and have everyone meet you at a hotel bar, or plan a second event where you and your squad can party until the sun comes up. Do what works best for you and only plan what you have the capacity to endure.

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Say Thanks

Bride hugging friend

Photo by Juanlu Real 

Gratitude goes a long way, so be sure to arrange for small gifts for your wedding party and anyone else who played a big role in your wedding planning journey—including friends who pitched in to help with all of your wedding DIY projects and, of course, parents or other family members who have been there for you and supported you along the way. Don't hesitate to give them a special little shoutout during the wedding toast, too.

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Don't Forget to Tip Your Vendors

wedding altar with hundreds of beautiful florals

Photo by Ivy Weddings

It may be easy to forget about your budget once every detail has been locked in and secured, but if you haven't allotted cash for tips, your budgeting journey isn't quite over yet. While some tips aren't required, couples should make a conscious effort to tip everyone, especially since your vendors go above and beyond to ensure your big day is perfect for you and your spouse. Check out our comprehensive list of vendors to tip for an in-depth guide on what to do and how much to give.

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Focus on the Big Picture

bride and groom kissing during the recessional

Photo by Lynn Dunston

Be present in the moment and feel the love—you’re getting married! What's more, don't worry about the minutiae and if some things aren't perfect. What will guests most definitely notice? A stressed-out couple who's overwhelmed with last-minute details. By the time your wedding day rolls around, try to relax, enjoy all of the special moments with your loved ones, and remember to eat. Ask any married couple—it will zoom by.

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