Who do you need to hire? When should you hire them? Oh no, are you already behind? All your burning questions about wedding planning, answered.
Do these two things first.
You got engaged – congratulations! Now stop. Do not pass go. Do not pin a SINGLE wedding dress until you make two decisions: the venue and the guest list. These two things influence all of the other things. And so, your planning journey begins.
Just how soon should you make these two decisions? “It’s pretty standard to plan a wedding 10 to 12 months out,” says Michelle Schurman of Flyte44 Events in Los Angeles, California. So figure out where you want to do it, how many people you want to see you do it, and then move on to the fun stuff. Like buttercream samples.
9-12 months to go.
The Big Three: your wedding planner, caterer and photographer. We call these your primary vendors and you should book them as far in advance as possible – 9-12 months out, if you can. “Start with the planner,” says Michelle. Once you’ve hired him/her and picked a venue, book the caterer and photographer next.
Your wedding planner
“[Hiring] a wedding planner isn’t just about making things pretty,” says Bethany Moore of Bethany Moore Events in Chicago, Illinois. Your planner handles all the logistics of the wedding, helps you budget, negotiate with vendors, and manage your drunk cousin if – no, when – she gets rowdy at the reception. And if you hire a planner 9-12 months ahead of time, they’ll be there to hold your hand throughout the entire process.
Narrow down the cuisine you’d like to offer guests, figure out how much you want to spend per person (caterers charge anywhere from $20 to $100 a head), then start reaching out to companies for tasting appointments. And when you do, “Be wary of a low-ball quote on food,” warns Ivory Coats of Celebrations Event Planning in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s never worth it to skimp on catering. Start your interviews and tastings around the 9-12 month mark.
Popular wedding photographers book up fast during high season, so when you find one you like, don’t hesitate to put down a deposit to lock them in for your date. It’s standard practice to pay a deposit of anywhere from 10% to 50% upfront, and the remainder on the day of the event or a few days before it.
6-9 months to go.
Prior to interviewing officiants, figure out the basic parameters of your ceremony. Do you want something religious or secular? An intricate unity ritual, or something short and sweet? Once you’ve asked yourself the hard questions – are you two really sand ceremony people? – it’s time to talk to officiants. Leave a 6 month window to find “the one.”
Your DJ or live band
Want a string quartet to float you down the aisle? A 90s cover band? Book them now. Live musicians book up farther ahead of time than traditional wedding DJs. Which doesn’t mean you can procrastinate if you’re going the DJ route. Book your DJ 6 months in advance. You don’t want to end up at the mercy of your sister’s Spotify playlist.
Your wedding coordinator
If you’re booking a day-of coordinator, hire one 6-8 months before the wedding. The two of you will check in monthly to make sure your hiring timeline is on-track. Then about a month before the big day, you’ll start working together very closely to get everything finalized. The added bonus of hiring a day-of coordinator early? You spare the expense of hiring a wedding planner, while still getting professional guidance once a month.
Nobody wants transportation glitches on their wedding day. Book your limo, charter bus, classic car at least 6 months ahead of time. Finding a ride 2-3 months before your wedding day is a bit more limiting, but still possible, provided you’re not getting married during prom season (April through June).
5-8 months to go.
Many florists work independently, which means they can only do one wedding per day. And those days do book up quickly. Plan to hire your florist at least 5 months in advance.
Your pastry chef
Timing? “It all depends on wedding size,” says Amanda Sullivan of Specialty Cakes by Amanda. She recommends a minimum of 6 weeks for intimate affairs (and small cakes) and 6 months for large, traditional wedding cakes. “Ideally you connect with the baker 9-12 months before your date to allow time for tasting and securing your special day on the specialist’s calendar.”
Whether you’re buying a gown off the rack or having one made, it’s a good idea to start the process at least 6 months out. Even an off-the-rack dress will need alterations, and you may need two or more dress fittings to get a flawless fit. The 6 month mark is also the time to confirm your wedding party has ordered their outfits.
3-5 months to go.
Your hair & makeup stylist
“Trial runs are the best thing you can do before your wedding,” says stylist Micah Joray. It helps to know your dress style and accessories (to veil or not to veil), before going in for your trial. 3 months before the wedding should give you enough time. Consider whether or not your wedding party or immediate family will also want styling or makeup and book accordingly so the stylist knows to bring assistants.
Don’t forget your photo booth
Everyone loves a photo booth. It’s entertainment and a wedding favor all rolled into one. “I’ve been hired up to 6 months out from an event and photo booths get booked really quickly these days,” says Patricia Nguyen of Just the Little Things in San Francisco. “It’s never too early to get something down on the calendar.”
We couldn’t agree more, Patricia.