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how long does it take to plan a wedding

If you think the proposal was nerve-racking, wait until you hear about this whole wedding thing you have to plan. Is it going to be exciting and butterfly-inducing? Absolutely. Will it also make you want to scream and tear your hair out? Plausibly. Good news, though; it doesn’t have to! 

We won’t lie to you; there will be some stress involved. Sorry, it’s just unavoidable unless you’re eloping. However, with the right amount of planning and time management, you will pull off planning a wedding with all (or at least most) of the hair you started with.  

Okay, But How Long Does It Take?

Look, everyone’s wedding timeline is different. On average, expect 10 to 18 months’ worth of planning. If you break that down, you’re looking at 200 to 300 hours of actual wedding planning (without a wedding planner). So, you can roughly expect eight to twelve full days’ worth of planning to be required over that 10- to 18-month total prep period.

If that sounds insanely stressful, you can get ahead of that stress with a good plan. If that doesn’t sound at least a tiny bit stressful, you’re either not taking it seriously or you’re a Buddhist monk (and they can’t get married, so, ya know). A little bit of stress can be helpful, but a well-constructed plan can keep that positive stress from becoming soul-crushing negative stress.

a woman using a laptop and writing notes in a notebook

That Well-Constructed Plan We Mentioned

No soul-crushing stress on our watch. We’ve got all the basics you can expect to cover right here, and some helpful tips for keeping it all manageable.

Hire a Wedding Planner

No, seriously. A wedding planner can make your life so much easier. We don’t get kickbacks from Big Wedding Planning, so we promise this is just an objective recommendation. A wedding planner may not be cheap, but they can help you save time (and potentially money) in the long run. If you have it in the budget, go for a wedding planner.

If you don’t have wedding planner money, all is not lost. With vigilance and a plan, you can pull off the wedding of your dreams with just the two of you and some elbow grease. Maybe clean off the grease before the wedding, though. Ha. We’ll be going now.

an average wedding planning timeline

Start Here

Wedding planner or not, start by establishing the basics: 

  1. What is your wedding budget?
  2. What kind of time will wedding planning require?
  3. When will the wedding be?
  4. Where will the wedding be?
  5. What will the wedding look like?
  6. What guests will you invite?
  7. Which vendors will you use? 
  8. (Bonus) How will you stay on track?

You don’t have to have it all dialed in, but having a general answer to all of those questions will provide you with a great base to build your overall wedding plan.

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Question 1: What Is Your Wedding Budget?

You’ve gotta pay to play when it comes to this whole wedding thing. Can you pull off an incredible wedding on a shoestring? Absolutely; dollar and a dream all day. If you’ve got the budget for a lavish wedding, you’ll be in a better place to put together your dream wedding down to the napkin folds. 

You won’t want to forget the wedding rings in your budget. Whether you’ve got your own unique styles or you’re looking for complementary his and hers wedding ring sets, it’s a part of your overall wedding budget to be aware of.

There’s no right or wrong budget for a wedding. The only “wrong” budget is the financially irresponsible one. If you’ve got tens of thousands set aside, then, by all means, go wild. If you don’t have that kind of money, it’s better to have a tasteful and simple wedding than spend your first married decade digging yourselves out of debt. 

a wedding budget and a pen

You don’t have to listen to us, of course; we aren’t financial planners. Just giving you our two cents (pun thoroughly intended).

Question 2: What Kind of Time Will Wedding Planning Require?

Like we mentioned earlier, the average couple (without a wedding planner) spends 200 to 300 total hours planning their wedding. That is, of course, just an average, but it’s not a bad estimate to prepare for. Still, there’s a wild difference between those two numbers. One hundred hours is like eight Game of Thrones episodes (we thought it was funny), so use it wisely.

No, but seriously. It may seem obvious, but we’ll spell it out. The more intricate and ornate you want your wedding, the more toward that 300-hour mark (or beyond) you begin to creep. If you’re okay with that going in, no worries. If you don’t love the idea of quitting your job to plan your wedding, there’s nothing wrong with going a bit simpler with your ceremony. 

Question 3: When Will the Wedding Be?

Seems pretty obvious, but it’s still an all-important question. If your answer is “I wish it were yesterday,” you’ll likely have to be flexible with all other aspects of the wedding. If you’re okay with that, hey! Life will be breezy. On the other hand, if you've always dreamt of a June wedding, we hate to break it to you, but so has everyone else. You might have to be flexible on your venue or wait until next year. If you’re okay with that, life can still be breezy.

book well in advance

Question 4: Where Will the Wedding Be?

Another in the painfully obvious category, but it’s essential to go over ASAP. Venues fill up, and you need to book well in advance. If your bride wants to get married in her home church, but it’s got cute coming out the wazoo, it might be a tough spot to get a reservation at. On the other hand, if you’re a bit more flexible about the wedding venue, you can push the date up earlier. Every venue has cute coming out the wazoo in its own way anyway, right? Right?

Question 5: What Will the Wedding Look Like?

This might be the most fun question of all. Here’s where you get to dream big! Whether you’ve been envisioning your wedding day since seven years old or yesterday, here’s your chance to brainstorm. 

Remember, you’re not married to any of these ideas (another pun thoroughly intended), so just throw them out there. Do you have your dream dress? Your ultimate set of groomsmen from college? What is the theme? Do you have table settings in mind? Have you found the one in your search for men’s wedding bands? This is a perfect time to brainstorm your outfit, from the most basic parts to the intricacies of your wedding jewelry.

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Question 6: What Guests Will You Invite?

Invitations can be a touchy subject, so, if you’ve got non-negotiables, it’s best to get them out of the way upfront. If you’ve got a friend nicknamed Beefer, we’re gonna go out on a limb and say he’s going to end up a non-negotiable. Sorry, Beef. 

a pile of mint and tan wedding invitations

If you’ve got a small venue, guest lists will have to be trimmed down. That’s not just us saying that; that’s the fire marshal. Sorry about it. If you’ve got a giant venue and the cool heads to handle a massive wedding, then go all-out. More presents, right? Expect more than one toaster at a large wedding, but it’s probably got some resale value.

Guest lists can be a subject of conflict for couples, but they’re unavoidable. If nothing else, it’s a great way to practice conflict resolution. Silver lining, right? Don’t forget about seating charts! Remember those logic puzzles you did in school where you had to figure out who was the oldest, but you only got like three pieces of information? It’s a lot like that. Good luck!

Question 7: Which Vendors Will You Use?

Cake, flowers, music, etc. All the basics need to be accounted for. If you’re going budget-friendly and homemade, maybe you know some people who can make these things happen. Maybe “some people” is you and your fiancé. If you aren’t doing it all yourself, make sure you set aside time to test out the vendors and see the ones you like best. 

For what it’s worth, the average couple hires 14 vendors. Fourteen! That’s a whole symphony (or potentially cacophony) of vendors. There’s a lot of coordination required, but it is doable. Take a deep breath and just work through them one at a time. Of course, there’s no rule that says you need 14, so don’t panic. 

How to Stay on Track

You’ve got all the basic questions and answers (or you’re at least getting there). Great! Doesn’t that feel just a little bit better? Now, the big question: How the heck do you keep everyone on task and on time? You could scurry around for a year and be in a perpetual state of panic. That’s definitely one option. However, might we recommend another, more sane option?

tried and true wedding planning methods

Another, More Sane Option

While some wedding stress is a given, there are some tried and true methods that will keep you maximally stress-free while pulling off the ceremony of your lives!

Rough Schedule

Start out by creating a rough month-by-month timeline. You don’t need to go day by day or even week by week just yet. Just get everything down on paper or a wedding planning app. Once you can see everything you need to accomplish, you can tweak it as necessary. 

A few helpful reminders when doing this: 

  • Book your venue about a year in advance. 
  • Get your outfit ready at least a few months (absolute minimum) ahead of time. Five or six months is better. Give yourself time to live with it. 
  • Send your invites in a timely manner, but not too early. Three months or so is pretty good.
  • Make sure to go shopping for men’s wedding bands and women’s wedding ring sets a couple of months before the big day. Ideally, you’ll want to purchase the rings 3-4 months in advance.

Don’t Do Everything Yourself (if Possible)

If you’re working with a really limited budget, you may not have this luxury. If it’s a luxury you have, take it! Yes, we understand you want everything to be perfect. You want to handle everything yourself to make sure it’s done correctly. The best CEOs don’t run the entire company themselves, though. Delegate to people you trust and remember why you trust them. It will boost your sanity by at least 17%, guaranteed. 

Check In with Your Budget Early and Often

Make sure you’re staying on task and on budget. You will be exorbitantly stressed if you check your budget for the first time and realize you have $9 left to spend and you still need flowers and wedding favors. There are plenty of good budgeting apps and websites out there. They are your new best friends.

Also, know that just because something traditionally costs a lot of money, it doesn’t mean you have to dish out the same amount or more. Opt for more cost-effective wedding options such as affordable engagement rings, DIY place settings and much more.

an engagement ring and a wedding ring against a pink background

There’s Lots of Information Already Out There

Lots of people have done the heavy lifting for you. There are even sample wedding timelines to keep you on track. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s already been invented, and it comes in cheese form now. The wheel is perfect. Use your resources.

Lists Are Your Friend

It doesn’t matter if you have a photographic memory, write it all down. Write down everything that needs to be done so you can put that sweet, sweet checkmark next to it once you’ve accomplished it. The type A’s out there just squealed in delight.

Communicate

Yes, it’s cliché. The most important part of a relationship is communication or whatever. It’s true, though; that’s why the cliché sticks around. Communicate with your fiancé, your vendors, friends, family, whomever. Clear expectations are necessary and will be so helpful to you in the long run.

Enjoy the Moment

Yes, it’s stressful, but it’s also so exciting! Enjoy the moment, be with your fiancé and thank the people helping you along the way. Take a break every once in a while, and go on a date (preferably with your fiancé). Seriously, do it. You’ll thank us later.

a couple toasting with champagne on an oceanside cliff

Wedding planning is a lot of stress for what may feel like forever. In the moment, it may be tough, but blink and you’ll miss it. You’ll want something to look back on as the years go by, so let your planning be a touchstone and sign of good things to come. 

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