couple walking together

Photo: Blu Moose Photography

Your wedding will likely be the biggest party you’ll ever throw—and figuring out how to plan a wedding step by step can feel pretty daunting at first. Whether you have over a year or just a few months to plan your big day, focus on one task at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. If you’re in a time crunch, go ahead and delegate some of these responsibilities to family members and friends—they’ll likely be glad to help you as you navigate this process. If you find wedding-planning checklists a bit overwhelming, here’s a list of the basic steps you’ll need to complete to ensure your big day is a success. Of course, there are more tasks you may want to tackle, but we’re just talking the must-dos here.

Ready to go into planning mode? Here’s how to plan a wedding step by step.

Step #1: Set a Budget

First things first—you’ll need to figure out how much you can spend on your wedding. It might not be the most fun part of the process, but it’s a task that really needs to be completed first. The last thing you want is to fall in love with a venue, vendor, dress, etc. and realize it’s completely out of range. So sit down with your parents or other potential contributors to come up with a total budget, and then divide it up by vendor or service accordingly.

Step #2: Get Inspired

One of the most fun parts of planning a wedding step by step is gathering inspiration. Think about how you want your wedding to look and feel. Are you going for a super-classic and formal vibe? Or perhaps an event that’s more relaxed and rustic? The choice is yours, but it’s a good idea to start perusing Pinterest, Instagram, and wedding websites to start considering color schemes, décor ideas, and more. We recommend starting this process early on, but kicking it into high gear once you’ve selected your venue and set a date.

Step #3: Start Your Guest List and Pick Your Wedding Party

While you don’t have to have a final guest list until a bit later, when thinking about how to plan a wedding step by step, coming up with an estimated guest count early on is important. There’s a big difference between a 50-person wedding and a 300-person wedding, particularly when it comes to your venue options. So before you start browsing wedding venues, get an idea of how many guests you’ll host. You'll also want to use this time to choose the people who will stand beside you on your big day—your wedding party. So go ahead and select your bridesmaids, groomsmen, groomsladies or bridesmen and ask them to take on this important role.

wedding party cheering on a beach while couple kisses

Photo: Lucas Rossi Photography

Step #4: Narrow Down the Dates

You won’t officially “set a date” until you book your venue. But, we recommend choosing a few potential wedding dates before you start looking at venues. First, think about the season in which you’d like to wed—and if a Saturday night wedding is a must (convenient, but potentially more expensive and competitive) or if you’re open to a wedding on a different (perhaps less in-demand) day. Then, take a look at the calendar, taking into account work schedules, holidays, family conflicts, etc., and narrow things down to a few choice dates. Having some potential wedding dates in mind will be very helpful during the venue selection process.

Step #5: Choose a Venue

Now that you have a budget, an estimated guest count, and a few potential wedding dates in mind, you have all the information you need to book a venue. Read online reviews, visit a few venues in person, and work with your partner to find your dream wedding location. Once you’ve thoroughly read your venue’s contract and signed on the dotted line, you’ve officially set a date for your wedding—and the real fun begins!

Note: Some couples hire a wedding planner before choosing a venue, others wait until afterwards—it all depends on the type of assistance you need.

Step #6: Start Your Registry

Pretty much immediately after you announce your engagement, your loved ones will ask: “Where are you registered?” When thinking about how to plan your wedding step by step, it’s a good idea to create your wedding registry relatively early on in the process. Your family members and friends may want to purchase engagement gifts—you can always make changes and additions to your registry later on.

Step #7: Create a Wedding Website (and Wedding Hashtag!)

Setting up a wedding website is the easiest way to do keep your guests in the loop. Make sure to include all of the important information about your big day on your website—date, location, travel information, room block details, and more. Now’s also the time to create your wedding hashtag to use on social media leading up to your wedding day.

wedding recessional happy smiling couple

Photo: Sweetly Vintage Photography

Step #8: Book Vendors

The average couple hires 13 vendors to help create their dream wedding day. That may seem like a lot, but it’s important to hire the right people to ensure that your big day runs smoothly. We recommend following this vendor booking timeline to figure out when to book each pro, and reading online reviews to help choose the best of the best.

Step #9: Finalize Guest List

If you haven’t already, it’s time to create your final wedding guest list. Remember that if your parents are contributing financially to your big day, they’ll get a say in who’s invited. Be sure to keep your venue’s capacity in mind as well, and don’t invite more people than the space can handle. Even though you’ll likely receive regrets from some guests, you don’t want to risk it.

Step #10: Send Save-the-Dates

It’s time for your guests to mark their calendars! Save-the-dates should be sent as far in advance as possible to ensure that your loved ones can plan accordingly.

Step #11: Purchase Attire

Give yourself plenty of time to find the perfect outfit for your wedding day. Particularly when it comes to wedding dresses, it can take months from the time you purchase your attire until it’s properly tailored and ready to go, so don’t wait until the last minute.

Step #12: Figure Out Rehearsal Dinner Details

The rehearsal dinner, which usually takes place the night before the wedding, requires some planning as well. Traditionally, the groom’s family plans the rehearsal dinner, but it’s important to figure out who’s planning (and paying) for this event well in advance—and make sure a venue is booked and details are hammered out in a timely fashion, about six months before the big day.

couple doing the dip during sparkler send off

Photo: B. Jones Photography

Step #13: Plan the Honeymoon

You may be thinking a lot about how to plan your wedding step by step, but don’t forget about the honeymoon! If you’re planning on jetting off on your honeymoon shortly after your wedding, it’s time to choose a location, book your travel and accommodations, and start planning an itinerary.

Step #14: Attend Those Pre-Wedding Events

Engagement parties, showers, bach parties, and more—your schedule will likely be jam-packed with pre-wedding events. While the soon-to-be married couple usually has little role in planning these celebrations, you’ll need to clear your calendar to attend as guest of honor.

Step #15: Send Invitations

Wedding invitations are usually sent six to eight weeks before the big day—and the RSVP deadline is typically about two or three weeks in advance.

Step #16: Buy Wedding Bands

An important symbol of marriage, be sure to browse and purchase your wedding bands a few months before your nuptials. Your wedding band should feel comfortable (you’ll be wearing it pretty much all the time!) and suit your personal style.

couple holding marriage license and kissing

Photo: Mychelle LeVan Photography

Step #17: Create a Seating Chart

Work with your venue and planner to determine how many tables your wedding space can accommodate. Then, use an online tool to figure out who sits where—keeping relationships and family dynamics in mind. Once you’ve finalized your seating chart (usually a week or so before your wedding), be sure to send to your caterer, venue, and stationer so that escort cards can be created.

Step #18: Obtain a Marriage License

If you’re thinking about how to plan a wedding step by step, remember one of the most important tasks—obtaining a marriage license so that you and your partner can actually get legally married! Every state has different marriage license laws, so be sure to study up beforehand. Make sure that you get your marriage license at the right time—in advance if there’s a waiting period in your state, but not too far in advance if the license expires after a certain amount of time.

Step #19: Confirm Your Wedding Details with Vendors

In all likelihood, you’ve been in close contact with all of your wedding vendors in the days and weeks leading up to your big day. Make sure that you’ve tied up any loose ends and all of your vendors have all the information they need (and have been properly paid!). Wedding planners are super-helpful in this regard, and will assist you in making sure your vendors know where and when to be present.

Step #20: Get Married!

The big day is finally here! You, your partner, your families, and your vendors have worked hard to make sure your wedding is a smashing success—so enjoy every minute!