Wedding Checklist for the Bride

When it comes to your wedding, you already have enough on your plate. Let the wedding experts help with our ultimate wedding checklist for the bride.

By Monica Mercuri

Wedding Checklist for the Bride
Photo by K+O Photo

The First Look ✨

  • One year before: This is when you should be planning your budget, choosing a date, booking your venue, and ordering wedding stationary.
  • Seven to nine months before: During this period, create your gift registry, buy your wedding dress, choose your wedding party outfits, send out save the dates, and choose your officiants.
  • One to three months before: Send out invitations no later than three months before the wedding date. Also take this time to apply for your marriage license and attend your bachelor and bachelorette party.
  • One week before: The last week before you say “I do” should be when you take some time for yourself—steam your wedding attire, pack for your honeymoon, and craft your seating chart (and adjust any last-minute RSVPs).

The clock is ticking. It feels like just yesterday that you got engaged, but now the big day is approaching (and it’s approaching quickly). Chances are that you’re excited, nervous, and wondering what you’re supposed to do next. Fortunately, that’s what we’re here for.

From venues to vows, we’ll be breaking down the ultimate wedding checklist for the bride. With some careful planning, the right schedule, and a little help from Zola, this checklist will be done faster than you can say “I do.”

Part 1: 12 Months Prior

Buckle up, because the year before your wedding is going to be hectic. This is the time for planning, booking venues, and figuring out the financial details of your big day.

This is also the period where you’ll get a majority of the wedding work done. So, while this period may be a bit of a frenzy, you can rest easy knowing that it gets easier from here.

Without further ado, let’s jump into this bridal checklist.

Plan Your Budget (With Your Partner)

The first step to planning your wedding is all about budgeting. This is the time to discuss finances with your partner, and nail down the amount of money that you’d like to spend on the wedding.

You’ll want to conduct some thorough research, and figure out pricing estimates for the following factors:

  • Venue and catering – Your venue and catering are going to take up about 40 percent of your overall wedding budget. While this may seem pretty steep, it’s important to keep in mind that this includes the location for the ceremony, the reception, and all the food and cocktails for your guests.

  • Photographs and entertainment – The next section of your budget will include your photographer, videographer (if you want one), and any entertainment—making up about 25 percent of your total budget. While some couples opt for professional photographs and a wedding video, others may stick to one or the other. For entertainment options, you may want to discuss whether you want a live band or a DJ, as this will affect both the price and music selection.

  • Decor – Decorations and flowers will make up approximately 20 percent of your wedding budget. Talk to your partner about what you’re willing to spend on decor, as well as the theme you’d like your wedding to have. Additionally, your choice of flowers can also make a big price difference, so you’ll want to narrow down your favorites in this category, too.

  • Attire – Wedding attire should take up about five percent of your budget. While a majority of this money is usually allocated toward the bride’s gown, a groom’s tuxedo can also be calculated into this figure (but, let’s be honest, we all know where the big bucks are going).

  • Everything else – The remaining 10 percent of your budget will go to details such as the cake, invitations, and transportation. It’s recommended that these smaller purchases are worked out last since you’ll probably have some wiggle room with these.

Book Your Venue

Twelve months prior to the wedding may seem early, but trust us—it’s not. Wedding venues want customers to finalize their booking well in advance. You’ll want to lock down a location at least a year before your wedding date, if not longer.

When organizing your wedding venue checklist, remember that selecting a venue is recommended before committing to a date. This is because couples may need to be flexible in order to fit the venue’s schedule. While this may vary between couples, people tend to have stronger opinions on the location, rather than the specific date (but hey, it’s your wedding).

Choose Your Date

While your venue may have some sway when it comes to a date, couples typically choose the season for their wedding. It’s crucial to make this decision early in the process, as it will affect just about every other decision you make (eg. a beach wedding probably won’t be too fun in January).

Each season comes with its own set of pros and cons. While this will ultimately come down to personal preference, here’s a quick guide to help brides make a decision on their date:

  • Fall – Fall weddings offer beautiful colors, unique decorations, and mild weather. An autumn wedding is unlikely to be interrupted by vacations, unless you’re planning a date close to Thanksgiving. If you opt for an outdoor venue, brides should look for a dress on the warmer side and a hairstyle that can hold up to wind.

  • Winter – Winter weddings piggyback off the festive ambiance of the season. While it’s important to keep weather and holidays in mind when scheduling your date, a winter wedding can lend to beautiful decor. Crystal features, deep reds, and shimmering golds are some common decor elements for winter weddings.

  • Spring – Spring weddings are perfect for brides who love flowers, airy fabrics, and pastels. Depending on your location, spring weather can be warm and sunny, or rainy and muddy, so be careful when planning an outdoor event.

  • Summer – Summer weddings are popular, especially for outdoor and oceanside ceremonies. If you want to rock a dainty dress without a shawl, summer is the perfect season for a wedding. Just watch out for sweat, and maybe invest in a good makeup setting spray.

Book Your Vendors

When it comes to booking vendors, the sooner the better. Caterers, photographers, entertainers, and DJs can book up quite quickly. The quicker that you can reach out to your top-ranked vendors, the better.

Order Save the Dates, Invitations, and Thank You Cards

Here at Zola, we firmly believe in getting your stationary ahead of time. Why? Well, why not?

Ordering stationery from Zola is an easy task to knock off the to-do list. Once you’ve found a design that you like for your save the dates, invitations, and thank you cards (or customized your own with our handy features), there’s no reason not to place your order. Purchasing these paper goods early will save you from last minute stress, and give you the freedom to send out cards when you’re ready.

Part 2: 7 to 9 Months Prior

Congratulations, you’ve made it over the hump. You managed to get most of the boring stuff out of the way, and now it’s time to have a little fun. Seven to nine months before the big day, brides can get into the finer details of the wedding, such as discovering the best places to register for a wedding, or finding the dream dress. From gifts to dresses (yay), here’s what you’ll be doing during this exciting time:

Create a Gift Registry

Between seven and nine months before the wedding is the standard time that couples start their gift registry. This gives guests time to pick out the perfect gift, and some may even send it to you early. Wedding or not, who doesn’t like free stuff?

Busy brides can relax because Zola makes this step easy. Users can build their registry directly from our website, and create a thorough list of all their must-have wedding registry items.

Buy Your Wedding Dress

Now is the time for the best part of wedding planning (well, at least for the bride): Buying your dress.

It’s unlikely that your first shopping trip will be successful, so you’ll want to start early and take your time. Leaving room for tailoring and dress alterations is also crucial. Dress shopping six to nine months ahead of time is recommended.

Send Out Save the Dates

With your date and venue locked down, now is the time to send out save the dates to your guests. This gives friends and family time to work out their schedule and determine whether or not they can attend.

Save the dates are a fun way to let your loved ones know that the wedding is on the horizon. Brides can add a personal touch to these cards by using their engagement photos as a backdrop.

Choose Bridesmaids/Bridesmen Outfits

Many brides opt for a certain dress or color palette for their wedding party. Seven to nine months before the wedding is the ideal time to nail down attire for your bridesmaids or bridesmen attire. This will leave ample time for fittings and alterations, and allow you to get all your shopping done at once.

Choose Your Officiant

For religious ceremonies, this process will be pretty simple. Once you’ve chosen a place of worship, you’ll usually meet with the main officiant who works there.

For secular ceremonies, couples can either choose a professional officiant or select a close friend or family member. Getting ordained is a simple process that can be done online in a matter of minutes, so don’t worry if your old college roommate wasn’t a student of the monastery.

Part 3: 4 to 6 Months Prior

The wedding is on the horizon, and you’ve already done quite a bit of work. Now that most of the bigger tasks are out of the way, it’s time to dive into the little details that make your wedding unique:

Purchase Wedding Rings

While they may not be quite as flashy as your engagement ring, picking out wedding rings is a vital part of wedding planning.

The ring exchange is an intimate and symbolic element that most couples incorporate into their ceremony, so you’ll want to leave ample time for finding the perfect pair. Four to six months before the wedding is a perfect time to get this task done. This allows time for shopping, comparing prices, and fitting the rings (if necessary).

Order Your Wedding Cake

Custom wedding cakes take time to make. While you wouldn't buy a normal dessert half a year before eating it, this is the perfect time to place your wedding cake order. Meet with a few bakers and schedule some taste tests. Once you find the bakery you want, figure out the details of your order. This includes:

  • The flavor
  • The size
  • The design

Book the Honeymoon

Six months is a typical time frame for booking any vacation—especially a honeymoon. You’re most likely spending a pretty penny on wedding expenses, so it’s in your wallet’s best interest to book flights and hotels beforehand. The last thing you want is to find out that all the flights to your destination are booked a week before the wedding.

Determine whether you want to leave directly after the reception, sometime that week, or a while later. While some couples are ready to go straight out the gate, others want a little time to settle in before taking a trip.

Book Your Rehearsal Dinner

Rehearsal dinners are both utilitarian and a fun wedding tradition. This is where your families and wedding party members will come together for an intimate gathering to practice the wedding schedule.

Rehearsal dinners tend to be pretty big, and couples often rent out an entire restaurant for the occasion. That’s why it’s paramount to book this ahead of time. If you want a more affordable route, opt for a rehearsal dinner at home. Throwing a potluck or a BBQ is a fun spin on this event that may be less pricey and easier to schedule.

Part 4: 1 to 3 Months Prior

You’re finally in the home stretch! Here’s how you’ll be spending the last few months before your special day:

Send Out Invitations

While guests have already received their save the dates, one to three months is the perfect time to send out invitations. The difference between these two cards is fairly simple—save the dates are used as a rough estimate to determine who is coming and form a guest list. Invitations are formal, more detailed, and require an RSVP (usually about a month before the wedding).

For destination weddings, you’ll want to send out invitations earlier: at least three months in advance. This is because guests need a few months to make travel arrangements, take time off work, and save up for plane tickets.

Apply for Your Marriage License

Without a marriage license, your wedding is basically just prom for adults. While we don’t hate the sound of that, applying for your marriage license is still important.

This should be done one to three months prior to the wedding. Keep in mind that each state has their own timing requirements and fees. Look into local laws regarding marriage licenses to make sure that you have everything you need.

Attend Your Bachelorette Party

If you’re planning on having a bachelorette party, it will typically take place a month or two before the wedding. Fortunately, you won’t have to do much planning here—since the maid or man of honor is traditionally in charge of putting this event together.

For this part of the checklist, your only job is to show up and have a blast.

Part 5: The Week Of

Time is moving fast, but you still have a few days to tie up loose ends. Here is everything you need to take care of the week before your special day:

Steam Your Dress

Now is the time to get your dress steamed or pressed before the wedding. After you’ve banished all the wrinkles, hang it up in a safe place until showtime.

Pack for the Honeymoon

There are plenty of things that you’ll want to do on your wedding night, but last-minute packing isn’t one of them (trust us with this one).

If you’re going directly from the wedding to your honeymoon, now is the time to prepare for your trip. Get your passports ready, pack your suitcase, and buy some of those little shampoo bottles.

Craft Your Seating Chart

To make this monotonous task a little easier, try working in sections, splitting the job with your partner, and putting together tables that make sense. It’s always a good idea to keep friend groups, sides of the family, and people who actually know each other together.

Part 6: The Big Day

The hard work is done, and now it’s finally time to enjoy your wedding.

If you thought this part of the checklist would be full of chores, you’re wrong (sometimes it’s good to be wrong). Instead, we’ve crafted a short and sweet to-do list for brides on their big day:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Don’t forget your vows.
  • Have fun.

Yup, that’s it. Pretty simple, right? Now go enjoy your wedding, you’ve earned it.

Your Final Checklist Item: Use Zola

Actually, Zola should probably be the first item on your checklist. At Zola, couples will get access to all their nuptial necessities. From wedding programs and invitations, to gift registry services and even free wedding websites, Zola is your one-stop shop for all things wedding.

Your bridal checklist may be long, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be difficult. Planning your wedding is easy when we’re at your side. Get started today, and leave the hard work to the experts.

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