Most brides' first question, after they get through the glamour of the engagement, is "where do I even begin?". Good question!
Without a doubt, your venue is the absolute most important decision you make and the first to tackle (well after you figure out that darn budget - that's never too fun unless you're really rich!). Your venue sets the stage for a good majority of the decisions to follow - most importantly your wedding date. You very well can't book any other vendors without knowing your date and while you might have a deal breaker of a date in mind, it wouldn't be the wisest of decisions to assume the venue you fall in love with will have that date available (and your venue may supersede your need for a particular date - you never know!).
If you do have a specific date in mind, then I highly suggest beginning the venue hunt ASAP. Even if you're well over a year out from said date, it's very possible that the venue you fall in love with could book a client well over a year out. Hey, that date might be just as important to another bride that got engaged a day before you! Now this doesn't mean, if you're within 9 months of your date, that your venue will be booked. But the sooner you get in touch with them, the better you'll feel. Not to mention, it also helps narrow down the list of possibilities.
Even if you don't have a specific date in mind, your venue is going to help you answer a lot of additional questions and point you in directions you otherwise might have not know about. Do they require you to use certain vendors, what kind of look/feel does it have (theme, colors, etc. will come from this answer), how far is it from the location where most of your guests will be coming (helps determine how far in advance you'll need to send out Save the Dates), etc.?
I'm also a firm believer that you shouldn't make your venue decision, by making other decisions first. Find some venues that you love, then learn their requirements and see which you can handle. For example, don't choose a venue simply because they have an on-site coordinator, when you love the venue that doesn't have one, but still requires it of their couples. That venue with the on-site coordinator that you maybe don't 100% love may be $3000 more expensive than the one without that you do love! You'll definitely be able to find a day-of coordinator or even a full-on wedding planner for less than that, so I'd highly suggest looking at other aspects first.
Once you've chosen the venue, I think the next best question to ask yourself is: what's important to you and your groom?
A close second with venue, maybe even a tie, is a photographer. They usually get booked a year or more out, as well and this is especially important if you have a specific photographer in mind. Some photographers only do a certain number of weddings a year, so you'll want to be sure they not only have your date, but they still have spaces available! If photography isn't as important to you and you're not specific in who you want, this doesn't have to be as high on the priority list. Once you have a venue, they'll likely give you a list of preferred vendors and it certainly doesn't hurt to find a photographer that knows the lay of the land at your venue. Now that's not saying you shouldn't book someone who's never photographed a wedding there, just something to keep in mind!
Now you've got your photographer and your venue - does you venue require a day-of coordinator or planner or do you simply want one to ensure you can be stress free (yes, you do! duh!)? Now that you have your date marked in stone, you'll be able to narrow down your list of wedding planners (if you're ahead of the game and done research already) to ones that still have your wedding weekend open. There are some vendors that can book multiple weddings in a weekend, like a caterer or florist. But in my eyes, wedding planners should not be booking more than one wedding in weekend (especially if it's a Saturday wedding). If you find someone who offers to double-book a weekend (and definitely make sure to ask!), I'd highly suggest finding an alternative. There is so much that goes into planning/coordinating a wedding, especially those last few days/day-of. If you choose a planner who's coordinating a wedding on the Friday before your wedding, who's going to manage your rehearsal? You want to ensure that your wedding is at the forefront of your planner's mind and they won't have anything else that takes them away from you on your big day (weekend)!
I'd say next in line is catering. This can be a time intensive search, especially if your venue allows you to use any caterer you'd like. You'll want to give yourself plenty of time to do a couple different tastings and allow for things not to go as planned. Just because your BFF's brother loved caterer A, doesn't mean you and your groom will and you may need to move on to B, C or even D (let's hope not ;)).
Once those big pieces are in place, I'd say - RELAX! Then handle the rest of these items, at your leisure. Although if any of the tasks below are incredibly important to you, definitely push those to the forefront. This is a very general timeline and it can/should be altered to fit your needs.
However, my biggest tip is this: do not wait to do something, just because the checklist says it doesn't need to be done yet. If you have time to cross it off, why not? You'll save yourself so much stress in the long run, I promise!
- Wedding dress time! It usually takes 4-6 months to get your dress back (unless you go off the rack), so you want to allow time for it to come in and even more time for alterations.
- Pick your theme, colors, etc.
- Start researching DJs
- Find a florist that fits your style
- Book an officiant
- Get engagement pictures taken (if you want to use them for your Save the Dates)
- Start narrowing down Save the Date ideas
- Start working on your wedding website, so it's ready when you do send out those Save the Dates. Even if it's not ready by the time you send out the Save the Dates, include the website address anyways, so guests know where to go for future questions (and let's hope they do so ;))
- Send out Save the Dates - the sooner the better, especially if you're planning a wedding that's at least 2 hours from the majority of your guests
- Find a hotel or two for your out-of-town guests. Research their requirements - are you liable for the the rooms that you blocked off, that aren't booked? Do they have a 2 night minimum? Is there another event going on in the area that weekend that may cause a hike in prices?
- How will your guests be getting to/from the venue? Do you need to book a shuttle? What about you and the bridal party? Will you already be on site or will you need a ride to/from?
- Find a hair stylist and makeup artist, then book your trials for both!
- Narrow down ideas for bridesmaid dresses and groomsmen suits - find some dresses you like, then start researching salons in the area that offer the most variety when it comes to designer. For example, if Bridal Salon A is only 5 minutes away, but they only offer one of the three designers you like, it's probably going to be worth it to drive an extra 30 minutes to Bridal Salon B that has all 3. It's hard enough to get a group of girls together all at the same time, no sense in stressing yourself out twice!
- Find someone to book your rentals through - do you want farm tables? Does your venue provide linens or do you need to go elsewhere? Want some funky furniture to provide a lounge area for guests (and awesome pictures!)? Most rental companies have a large number of everything, but they may have some more unique options in smaller quantities and you don't want to have to go more than one place for your rentals!
- Decide on a honeymoon spot!
- Register for gifts! Don't need anymore glasses or forks? There are so many fun alternatives these days! You could register for your honeymoon or even just straight up cash. There are lots of ideas on how to word those requests too, so you're not just saying "GIVE ME YOUR MONEY".
- Find someone for the cake. Don't want a big cake? Find someone to do a cutting cake and then place an order for mini-cupcakes at your local grocery store! (No one ever eats all the dessert - don't waste your money!).
- Start thinking about the rehearsal dinner. Will it be at the venue or will you need to rent a space?
- Start researching wedding suite designs that go with your theme. Do you want to use a standard design available on sites like Minted or Wedding Paper Divas? Or would you rather go a more custom route? Do some research on Pinterest and Etsy regardless! You'll be amazed at all the unique ideas available outside of those big websites!
- Have your bridesmaids and groomsmen place their orders for their dresses/suits. I'd say 4 months out would be the absolutely longest I'd wait to do this. Bridesmaid dresses usually take at least 3 months to come in and you'll want to leave time for alterations. Suits aren't as tricky - unless you're looking for something out of the ordinary - like a heather gray, 3 piece, slim cut suit (not many out there!). Also, you'll want to make sure you have time for your bridal party to get the right accessories! Maybe the groom wants his men to wear brown shoes, but the rental place only has black. If you find this out early, you'll still have enough time to hunt down the right shoes.
- Purchase yours and your groom's wedding rings! Wahoo! More bling!
- Start really thinking about the ceremony. Will it be traditional? Do you want it to last 5 minutes or 45 minutes? Will there be musicians or are you using your DJ for music? Who will speak? There's no need to finalize things this far out, but it's good to get a general idea early on.
- Send out your invitations, if you haven't already! Give your guests enough time to book their hotel rooms, buy you wonderful presents (!!) and RSVP in a timely manner (they still won't - womp womp). Require all RSVPs to be returned no later than about a month before the wedding, maybe even 6 weeks, just to be sure you have time to track down the stragglers (the best part!).
- Start alterations on your wedding dress! You'll likely want to have 2-3 fittings, to make sure the dress fits you like a glove on the big day. After you have the first one, have another about 4 weeks out from the wedding and then your final one the week of, if possible.
- Start looking for wedding accessories: jewelry, garter, etc.
- Have all of the programs, menus, etc. printed
- Purchase favors/thank you gifts
- Organize guest list, work with planner/venue on seating arrangement for reception
- Finalize ceremony readings and music
- Send DJ a "must play" and "do not play" list!
- Create weekend timeline for bridal party - I highly suggest printing these out for each person, so you can save some more questions
- Confirm final payments with all vendors - who needs to be paid in advance, how will they accept payment, etc?
- Confirm with your wedding planner/day-of coordinator exactly what she is taking care of for you, so you can shorten the to-do list and stress on yourself
- Get your marriage license!
*Linking up with Meg, & Macy!