Wedding Year Guide

See what the year between the big question and the big day has in store.

By: Jenny Oberhaus


Young couple on Brooklyn Bridge at sunset

Photo by: kate_sept2004


The procession from the proposal to the “I dos” is brimming with a multitude of special moments – each significant in its own right. The couple’s personalities, timeline and budget will determine how much time, money and energy is spent on each milestone. Here are a few details of what to expect and plan for during the march to the altar.

Engagement Announcement – The three most popular ways to make the big announcement are in the newspaper, with printed and mailed announcements and on social media. Many couples opt for a combination of the immediacy of a Facebook or Instagram post along with a more traditional announcement in print. Sharing the link to your personal, password-protected wedding webpage so guests can follow along as plans unfold is a great idea, too. Several major wedding sites offer this feature.   

Set the Date – Hands down, the number one question you will hear between the time you announce your engagement and the day of the ceremony is, “Have you set a date?” Or some variation thereof. So you’ll want to establish that date as soon as possible.

Most of the time, venue availability is what determines the wedding date. Given that many popular venues fill bookings up to a year in advance, you’ll want to allow yourself the time needed to book a location that you’ll both be happy with.

“A year really is the ideal amount of time primarily because of the lead time needed to book the venue,” says Angie Froemel, wedding coordinator and owner of Absolute Wedding Perfection in Knoxville, TN. “With less than a year, your selection of available venues and vendors is much slimmer.”

Hire a Wedding Planner – You may want to do this before you set the date, if the venue is high on your priority list. Planners can be helpful in selecting a location because they may have experience at the venues you have in mind, or they may be able to suggest sites you haven’t considered.

While some people balk at the “extra” expense of hiring a planner or coordinator, all in all, the time and money saved due to their expertise pays off in the long run. Meet with several planners and make sure your communication styles click. When it’s time to sign a contract, set one up so that it covers only the things you feel you’ll really need help with.

Engagement Party – The only real “rules” here are that the engagement party should not upstage the wedding (for instance, you shouldn’t have a black tie engagement party and a backyard wedding), and any guests invited to this party should also be invited to the wedding. These guidelines are helpful in making two important decisions right off the bat: How formal will the wedding be and with how many guests? You can add to your guest list later but you shouldn’t un-invite anyone.

Engagement Photo Session – Engagement photos are fun to have and to share but they are also important if you’re sending out Save the Dates. Re-creating your proposal or taking photos at the location where you two first met are great ways to share pieces of your story with guests. But keep congruency in mind – if it’s going to be a December wedding in snowy Colorado, a beach backdrop on your Save the Dates might feel less-than harmonious.

Order Wedding Dress & Groom’s Attire – Wedding gowns require a long lead time as most are custom or made to order. You can, however, wait until six to eight weeks out before reserving the groom’s clothing. Aside from the bride’s gown, the biggest attire decision will be whether the men will wear tuxedos (more formal) or suits (more casual). This is significant in setting the tone for the wedding.

Select the Wedding Party – While it’s nice to have the size of the wedding party be proportionate to the guest list, it isn’t a must. If someone is important to the bride or groom, they should in the wedding party. Plain and simple.

"And don't worry if there are more bridesmaids than groomsmen, or vice versa,” Froemel says. “There are all kinds of ways to make photos look great and tricks for the ceremony that make everything even out. Think first and foremost about who you truly want standing with you on your big day, rather than playing the numbers game."

Save the Dates & Invitations – Save the Dates should be sent at least six months in advance – especially for out-of-town guests or if the ceremony falls on a holiday weekend. Invitations can wait to go out until six to eight weeks before the wedding. Both are a great opportunity to give guests insight into your dynamic. A Save the Date that has a timeline of how you fell in love and ultimately got engaged is a great idea. The style of the invitation can speak volumes, too. Are you fun and quirky pair or sleek and sophisticated duo? Pick something that gives your guests clues about who you are as a couple.

Honeymoon – Already?!? Well, not quite yet. But it’s a good time to mention that you should make reservations and book travel for your post-nuptial getaway four to six months in advance.

Wedding Cake – The internet is your friend here. Big time. It’s important to find a bakery that has positive feedback from clients and recent examples of its work that you are happy with. You can then move ahead with confidence to tasting and choosing a design for the cake. It’s a good idea to make your selections and place the order three to four months in advance.

Bridal Shower – Traditionally, the Maid of Honor and bridesmaids host a shower for the bride but it can be hosted by anyone. The important thing is that the bride feels celebrated. A brunch, tea, luncheon or afternoon garden party are all perfect formats for a bridal shower. Tailor the menu and décor to suit the bride’s tastes and personality and you’ve got the recipe for a thoughtful, memorable event.

Bachelor / Bachelorette Party – More and more, brides and grooms are shying away from bachelor and bachelorette parties the night before the ceremony. Many opt instead for girls’ or guys’ trips a few weeks ahead of the big day. The keys here are to be inclusive (invite everyone you know would want to be a part of the occasion), keep the focus on the guest of honor and be responsible. No one wants to be telling the story of who you had to call to bail everyone out the next morning, right? Enough said.

Rehearsal & Rehearsal Dinner – While the rehearsal and subsequent dinner occur the night before the wedding, you will want to make reservations anywhere from two weeks to 6 months prior, depending on the restaurant. If you have your heart set on a certain location for dinner, it is never too early to call to reserve a table or – depending on the size of your party – a room. The groom’s father traditionally pays for this event (so he will probably want some input) and out-of-town guests are typically invited in addition to the wedding party.

Ceremony & Reception – By this point, all of the wheels are in motion and it’s time for the hard work and planning to pay off. If you don’t already have a wedding coordinator, hiring one for the day of the event is crucial. Trust us on this. With someone to run the show, the entire bridal party can be present and enjoy the event and festivities.

Providing these precious milestones with a bit of breathing room allows the bride and groom to relish the blissful whirlwind that begins with the simple question: “Will you marry me?” and ends with one of life’s most significant occasions.

No matter what the timeframe is, it’s important to celebrate the small moments, accept help when it’s offered and try not to stress about the things that cannot be controlled. Come to think of it, that sounds like a pretty good recipe for a happy marriage, too. 

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