You can plan your whole wedding within a few weeks, if you’re seriously organized and have the stomach for it. But most people have neither the desire nor the intestinal fortitude to go that way. So, setting that kind of whirlwind planning experience aside, let’s talk about a less stressful planning timeline for your wedding.

When should you start planning?

Pick a date – Is there a particular date that you have in mind for your wedding? If not, how about a month, or a time of year, or even a year? One way or the other, pick a moment in time that you can mark on your planning calendar as “wedding.”

The wedding professionals’ calendars – Is there a venue, or a caterer, or even a photographer, that you have your heart set on using? It’s entirely possible that they have already booked dates that are one, two, or even three years into the future. To add to the fun, you’re not only competing with other weddings, but with graduations, birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, corporate events, and more. The earlier you start planning, the greater your chances of getting the wedding professionals you want.

If you’re planning a church wedding, what dates and days of the week does the church have available, and how far out do they book? Some churches won’t plan further than a year out, which creates its own kind of planning problem.

Your guests – Closer to home, let’s talk about the people you plan to invite to your wedding. Are there guests whom you must have who live far away and will need significant notice to plan travel? People have lives, complicated with things like work, children, and, (gasp) vacations. Now is the time to check-in with your must-have guests about their life schedules.

The money – Then there’s the budget to consider. Your budget represents the total amount of money you have to spend for your venue, catering, photography, entertainment, decorating, officiant, ceremony music, and other directly-related expenses. You’ll want about half of the money you expect to spend on your wedding to be available immediately for first payments and deposits.

The two most important numbers in your wedding planning are your guest list and your budget. They guide every planning decision. It’s really important to know these numbers before you plan anything else. Knowing your budget within a thousand dollars or so and your guest list within ten people will be enough.

Your time – Is planning something that you like to do, or is it pulling teeth? How much time can you – or will you – devote to planning your wedding? Is your sweetie deeply involved, or are you carrying most of the load? Are you deadline driven?

How you approach planning in general speaks to how you will plan your wedding, and how you use your wedding professionals. The more support you need, the earlier you should start.

Size and complexity – The size and complexity of your wedding also matters. A wedding for 35 people, for instance, takes much less planning than one for 200. Single venue, low-key weddings are quicker and easier to plan than multi-venue affairs involving many wedding professionals and elements.

Are you going to have everything done by wedding professionals, or are you thinking about some do-it-yourself action? The more DIY you do, the more time you should allocate to your planning. By the way, a good DIY rule of thumb is to double or even triple the time you think it will take to make everything.

The answer is … It depends. I think you should answer the questions I’ve posed as soon as you are engaged. Based on those answers, start your planning anywhere from 18 to six months ahead of your wedding date. That said, the more time you give yourself to plan, the less stress you’ll experience and the more fun you’ll have doing it.

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David Egan
David Egan
David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.