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How long does it take to plan a wedding?

It all looks so easy in those romantic comedies. One party proposes, the other says yes, and then it’s just a matter of running off to the nearest authorized officiant to complete the ceremony. But wait — what about the venue reservation, the guest invitations, the catering, the videography, and all the rest of it? This wealth of not-so-little details can turn your wedding into an epic project, so it’s best to cultivate a firm understanding of what’s involved and how much time it should all take to prepare correctly. Let’s look at some key points in developing a wedding plan timeline.

How Long Does the Average Wedding Take to Plan?

Weddings can take all kinds of forms, from simple family affairs to church-stuffing spectacles. However, research indicates that the average wedding takes 200 to 500 hours of actual planning time.

This works out to an average total timeline of 12 to 18 months. This doesn't mean that you can't compress your smaller wedding into just a few months of planning, or that you can't take years if you prefer to do so. But it gives you a general picture of what seems to work for most couples.

How Far in Advance Should You Start Planning?

This is a bit of a trick question because wedding experts advise couples not even to start planning their wedding until at least a month after the engagement, which gives them a chance to fully celebrate this equally important moment before settling down and dealing with details.

Ideally you will begin planning your wedding 12 to 18 months in advance. This will give you the most options in terms of venue and vendor availability. Most venues will require booking dates far in advance as will the more sought after vendors (photographers, etc.).

Can you plan your wedding with less of a lead time? Absolutely you can and many, many couples do. So, don’t feel intimidated if you have less time. It’s just a matter of being organized and getting all the ‘to do’ items ‘to done’ within the lead time that you do have. However, a lead time of 12 to 18 months does seem to work well and be conducive to more options and a less stressful process.

What Should You Do First When Planning a Wedding?

The first items to tackle when starting the planning process will be deciding on your budget, the number of guests you plan to attend, choosing a date and booking a venue for both your ceremony and/or reception.

There is not much else that you can begin to put in place until these things are decided and you have a specific date and location. The primary question most vendors are going to ask is: What is your date and where is your venue? So, getting those things locked down first makes the most sense.

Although finalizing a date and booking the venue are some of the first details you need to tackle, once it's done, it's done. Other planning activities can then follow on a structured schedule, completing more and more of them as you approach the happy day. Let's examine a sample timeline to see what needs to happen and when.

What Does the Average Wedding Planning Timeline Look Like?

Now you're ready to start filling in that venue-to-be with all the special touches that your wedding will need. Consider how the overall theme and style of the wedding will impact your decorations, menu, and ceremony. Book your caterer, music, video services, officiant, flowers, guest accommodations, and other key aspects of your wedding (including the choices of wedding party and wardrobe) at least eight to ten months in advance.

As you approach the six-month mark, you need to create/send your wedding invitations, decide on wedding party gifts, select a wedding photographer, and discuss your wedding cake with a skilled wedding cake designer. This is also the time to start thinking about various rented items, from tables and chairs to the various cars you'll need for guest transportation. (Don't forget the "Just Married" limousine!)

We're getting closer! At around the four-month mark, research the requirements for your marriage license. You want this to be legal after all. Complete photography details, hairdressing, and other final touches at the two-month mark. One to two weeks before your wedding reconfirm, reconfirm, reconfirm all vendors. Have your rings, marriage certificate, and vendor payments all set up and ready to go. Now there's nothing left to do but walk that aisle.

Overall Wedding Timeline FAQ

Now that we've looked at how and why different pieces of the puzzle require lengthier preparation times than others, let's examine the big picture -- the overall timetable for the entire process. The answers to these frequently asked questions may prove helpful.

Is two years too early to plan a wedding?

Two years may seem like an insanely long timeline for planning a wedding, and it's true that most of the steps involved require one year or less. However, if your heart is set on a particularly popular wedding venue, you really might need to give that venue two years or more of advance notice just to secure a booking. The extra time also allows you to proceed in a more leisurely manner, even as the longer engagement period gives the two of you every opportunity to reaffirm your decision.

Is less than six months too late to plan a wedding?

That depends in part on your expectations. If you want a gigantic wedding with a cast of thousands in attendance, six months gives you very little time to get the word out and book a venue of the appropriate size and ambience. If you're willing to scale things down or you'd actually prefer an intimate wedding anyway, you can definitely make this timeline work. But unless you're extremely organized and efficient, you may be placing yourself under unnecessary stress in the scramble to get things done

Do destination weddings take longer to plan?

Destination weddings typically take a relatively long time to plan. You should start planning your destination wedding ideally 12-18 months in advance. Keep in mind that your exotic locale and venue may be subject to seasonal whims, from tourism to weather conditions. Your guests must also be able to fly out to that destination at a convenient time of year for them. You may even want to fly out there beforehand, early in the process, just to make sure the destination lives up to your imagination.

As you can see, sooner is usually better when it comes to planning (or at least researching) various aspects of your wedding. If you’re looking for the ultimate wedding checklist to help successfully plan your wedding, look no further than The Dream Wedding Checklist!

Take the Stress Out of Planning & Achieve the Wedding of Your Dreams