Getting engaged is one of the biggest highlights of your life — at least until your wedding day rolls around.
You’re officially spending forever with the love of your life, and you want everything to be perfect. The problem is, perfect takes a lot of planning. That can be tricky if you’re working without a wedding planner. But don’t worry if you aren’t sure where to begin — We’ve got you.
Find our exclusive wedding planning checklist below to make your planning process go seamlessly. Plus, get key advice from real couples who planned their wedding day all on their own!
How do you plan a wedding without a wedding planner?
Pop quiz: What does a journey of a thousand miles and your trip down the wedding aisle have in common? They both start with a single step. Just take it from Ling’s Moment couple Emily and Jackson.
“My advice would be to just go out and do it,” Jackson said on our podcast. “There's nothing worse than just looking at a Pinterest board and imagining what's going to happen… Spend a little bit of time and money to make scale models.”
Photo by RachaelKreidPhotography
What does making a “scale model” mean? For this couple, it meant heading to the craft store and getting hands-on with flower samples and vases, putting together miniature proof-of-concepts to determine what they wanted. With these individual elements taken care of on a smaller scale, it’s easier to put them together into a larger wedding display.
It’s an idea you can extend to just about any major design decision for your wedding day.
How much time do you need to plan a wedding?
According to The Knot’s real wedding study, the average couple spends 15 months planning their wedding day. But that’s just an average, not a set rule. Some couples plan their weddings years in advance, while others can make it happen in as little as three months.
For that reason, we’ve divided our DIY wedding checklist into three different sections that you can apply to any timeline: The preliminary stage, the main stage, and the final stage.
Part 1: Preliminary planning
This stage involves the very first steps you should take, since they lay the foundation for later stages of planning. At this stage, it’s less about making concrete decisions and more about exploring your options.
Create your budget
Yes, unfortunately, wedding planning involves math. While it certainly isn’t as fun as sampling wedding cakes, your budget will affect which bakers you can afford to book in the first place. (Unless you’re willing to take out a payday loan for the wedding cake.)
Early on, sit down with your fiance and decide on the total amount you’d like to spend for your ceremony and reception. If you plan on getting financial help from your family, include them in the discussion and work out who will pay for what.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to factor in an extra 10% for emergencies and hidden fees. Better to be over-prepared than over-budget!
What is a good budget for a wedding?
According to data from Brides, in 2023 the average couple spends around $29,000 on their wedding day — but that’s just an average.
It’s totally possible to plan a wedding day for a fraction of that: $10,000, $5,000, or even as little as $1,000… And did we also mention that we have breakdowns for different wedding budgets on our blog? Check them out if you want a more detailed guide.
Gather wedding inspiration and choose a theme
After the budget is taken care of, now comes the fun: Deciding on a wedding theme. Yes, you now officially have a real reason to make wedding Pinterest boards.
As you collect images that catch your eye, you may notice patterns emerging that will provide inspiration for your overall wedding theme. Then, you and your partner can decide on a concrete theme for your wedding day.
More help choosing your wedding theme
If you’re feeling torn between different ideas, consider the following factors to narrow down your choices:
- The season: Would you rather walk down the aisle surrounded by fluttering autumn leaves, or gentle spring flowers? Take a cue from the season and draw inspiration from the natural world for your theming.
- The color palette: The wedding color scheme plays one of the biggest roles in setting the vibe. For example, a deep palette of Burgundy and black can capture a moody atmosphere, while a Burnt Orange and Blue color scheme can create a more free-spirited effect.
- Close-by holidays: Are there any holidays happening close to your prospective wedding date? Let the seasonal charm cross over into your wedding decor, like decorating with evergreen garlands for a Christmas wedding or orange roses for Halloween.
Tip: See if you can order samples of certain wedding decorations in advance, like flowers. This will enable you to see your potential wedding color palette in person before you fully commit to a style.
Research and tour wedding venues
“I think the biggest thing to do first is find your venue,” advises Ling’s bride Emily. After all, your venue is the single biggest expense for your wedding day, and it will impact your other planning elements, like your wedding theme, and the vendors you can book.
The ideal location for your wedding day can depend on a few different factors, but consider the following elements when vetting your options.
- Location: How far away is your venue from home? Can you and your guests drive or take the bus, or will you need plane tickets and hotel rooms?
- Availability: Does your venue have available dates during the season you have in mind?
- Versatility: Are there separate areas to host both your ceremony and reception at your venue? What about spaces to get ready or host a cocktail hour? If you’re choosing an outdoor venue, you should also go over the venue’s rainy-day plan, just in case.
- Aesthetic: Of course, the overall vibe of your venue plays a key role, too. Tying the knot in a rustic greenhouse can create a totally different feeling than walking down the aisle at a historic manor house.
Scout your wedding vendors
There are a few wedding vendors you’ll probably want to bring along for the ride. These can include:
- Wedding photographer and videographer
- Makeup artist
- An entertainer for the reception, like a DJ or band
While it’s not strictly necessary at this exploratory stage, it helps if you already have a wedding date and venue in mind, so you can narrow down your choice to available vendors that match your needs.
Tip: If you’re not sure where to start, Ling’s couple Abby and Nick suggest asking your venue for recommendations. They were able to find a single company that provided a package deal on multiple services, helping them save money and time.
Photo by John Munno Weddings
Book an engagement photoshoot
Ok, an engagement photoshoot isn’t technically part of your wedding. But while you’re still basking in that glow of a new engagement, it’s a nice idea to capture the moment for posterity.
Besides, you can use the photos for more than just social media or your wedding scrapbook — they’ll also make great pics for your engagement announcement and wedding website. Plus, if you get along well with your engagement photographer, you may want to book them for your wedding.
Send an engagement announcement
With a choice snapshot from your engagement photoshoot handy, you can go ahead and send out your engagement announcements in the mail, or just post it on social media.
Don’t worry if your guest list isn’t finalized yet — it’s totally fine to mail an engagement announcement to a non-wedding guest. That’s what invitations are for!
Make a guest list
Speaking of wedding guests and invitations, go ahead and put together a preliminary list of your most essential guests, so you’ll have an idea of the final headcount for your wedding day.
To make this step easier, Ling’s Moment bride Emily suggests making your guest list after scouting out venues. This will help you determine if your dream location can accommodate everyone or if you’ll need to make cuts.
How many people should be on my guest list?
The average wedding consists of around 117 guests, but some weddings may include more or less, depending on your budget and wedding vision. For example, a micro wedding typically consists of 50 guests or less and is often used by couples who want a more affordable or intimate ceremony.
Select your wedding party
While you’re making your preliminary guest list, you’ll also need to consider who’ll walk down the aisle with you! The size of your bridal party can vary, depending on your vision and the size of your wedding. But some of the roles you may want to fill include:
- A maid of honor
- A best man
- Flower girl
- Ring bearer
Sit down with your fiance and decide how many people you’d like to include in your wedding party and who you have in mind.
Tip: It’s a good idea to bring members of your wedding party on board before other guests. Some of them may help you with certain aspects of wedding planning later on, like making DIY projects.
Make a wedding website
While they aren’t strictly necessary, a wedding website acts as the “home base” for your wedding day. Your website can serve as an informational hub for your guests, including information like:
- Directions to your wedding venue
- Links to your gift registry
- A photo gallery of your engagement and wedding photos
- A digital guest book
As you complete the steps of your planning process, you can add more information and resources for your guests.
What can I use to build a wedding website?
You don’t need to learn coding to create a wedding website. Services you can use to easily build one of your own include:
- The Knot
Part 2: Main Planning
You’ve done your prep work. So now you can begin booking vendors and making concrete plans. This stage is when the magic happens and it all comes together.
Book your venue
Once you’ve taken care of the exploration, now is the time to lock down your venue and set your wedding date. How far in advance does this need to be? That can vary based on your venue’s location, popularity, and your own wedding timeline. But, in general, most couples take this step 6-12 months before their wedding day.
When you have your venue booked, it’s time to finalize your guest list and send out save-the-dates.
Some couples might choose to work with a calligrapher or another professional. But if you want to save money or prefer the DIY route, there are plenty of online services that you can use to print out invitations or send digital e-vites. Some of our favorites include:
Find your officiant
By this time, you’ve probably already recruited your bridal party. But you’ll also need an officiant to conduct your ceremony. Possible options to fill this role include:
- An ordained religious official, like a preacher or rabbi.
- A civil officiant, like a justice of the peace or magistrate.
- A family member or friend. Some states don’t require a wedding officiant to be ordained, but for those that do, you can easily get ordained online for free or a small fee.
Book a photographer or videographer
Of all your wedding vendors, the photographer is probably the most crucial of all. After all, they’re the ones supplying the memories of your special day.
Plenty of photographers and videographers offer packages meant exclusively for weddings at a flat fee, though some may also charge by the hour or the number of photos they capture. We’ve also covered how you can save money on this expense in our budget-planning blogs!
Create a wedding registry
Are your friends or family members planning a bridal shower for you? Now is a great time to create an online gift registry. If you have your wedding website already set up, you’re ahead of the game. Just add the link and direct your guests there.
Tip: Some wedding website builders offer registries built-in, so you don’t even need to use another service.
Find your wedding flowers
Is a wedding day really complete without flowers? We think not. To supply the floral charm for your special moments, you can either book a florist or order flowers from an online vendor, like Ling’s Moment.
Here at Ling’s, we’re partial to faux flowers because they ship wonderfully and are easy to use in any wedding planning timeline. You can order them months, or even years, before your wedding date and never have to worry about wilting. Plus, you can use them afterward as decorations to always remind you of your special day.
Grab other decor items
Beyond your wedding flowers, you may also want to spruce up your wedding decor with other bonus items. Depending on the vision you have in mind, you may need extra items like:
- Wooden arches
- Curtains and linens
- Tablecloths and table runners
- Vases or flower pots
- Display trays or platforms
Tip: If you’re tight on your budget, try joining a secondhand wedding Facebook group. Members will share wedding supplies they no longer need for discounted prices, so you can get cute decor without going over budget!
Make DIY projects
If you’re a creative soul at heart, now is also an excellent time to prep your DIY wedding projects. Not only is it a great way to save money, but it’s a wonderful way to put your personal stamp on your wedding decor.
Tip: To make the process go more smoothly, try recruiting your maid of honor and bridesmaids to help you craft. Your projects will go faster, and you’ll make pre-wedding memories with your besties. Win-win!
Schedule tastings with caterers
If your venue doesn’t provide on-site catering, you’ll probably want to schedule tastings with prospective caterers. We know: It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.
Some factors to consider when choosing a caterer to book include:
- Buffet or full-service: Will your caterer provide a “full service” meal with wait-staff like a sit-down restaurant, or will they simply supply the food for a buffet?
- Location: How far away is your caterer from your venue? The closer they are, the more likely that your food can stay fresh and hot for your guests.
- Other courses: Beyond your main course, can your caterer supply other wedding foods, like hors d’ouvres for a cocktail hour?
Photo by @nadinemariephotography
Book a baker
You’ll also need to book a baker for your reception’s sweetest treat: The wedding cake. Other than ensuring that your baker of choice can create the look you’re after, you’ll also need to verify that they can provide your preferred flavors.
More tastings? This time with a delicious cake? Phew. The trials and tribulations of wedding planning never end!
Shop for your wedding attire
It’s time to say “yes” to the dress! Where you’ll shop for wedding attire will ultimately depend on your budget. You may choose to make appointments at specialty bridal or menswear shops or find an online boutique who can ship your wedding outfits straight to your home.
The date when you should have your attire purchased will also vary, depending on your timeline. But if you want alterations, make sure that your tailor or seamstress will have plenty of time to make it happen.
Book a hair and makeup stylist
Of course, you can always make yourself feel fabulous on your own with a little help from TikTok and Instagram. But if you want the princess treatment, booking a hairstylist and makeup artist can help you look and feel special.
Before making a final booking, do a trial session first to make sure you’re happy with your finished wedding look.
Find your wedding entertainment
You can always get by with a Bluetooth speaker to supply the tunes at your wedding reception. But if you want to up the fun factor at your reception, now is the time to book a DJ or live band to provide the soundtrack for your happily-ever-after.
Book hotels & transportation (if needed)
If you’re planning an out-of-town wedding, you’ll also need to finalize your travel plans and book hotel rooms for yourselves and your family members.
To make this process easier, Ling’s Moment couple Abbey & Garret planned their destination wedding at a hotel, which helped their guests avoid making additional travel plans to reach the venue.
Take care of other rentals
There may also be a few extra rental items you’ll need at your wedding ceremony and reception, like extra tables and chairs. Your wedding venue may be able to help with some of these items. But if not, go ahead and contact a nearby rental company who can deliver them to your venue.
Get your wedding bands
You’ve already got your shiny new engagement ring, but you’ll also need a pair of wedding bands for the ceremony. If you want any custom details, like engravings, make sure to take care of this with enough time in advance.
Get favors for your guests
To extend a heartfelt thanks to all of your wedding guests, consider ordering favors to hand out at your wedding reception. Some cute ideas for wedding favors include:
- Miniature floral arrangements
- Edible treats, like cookies or candy
- Relaxing items, like bath bombs or scented candles. (Maybe save a few for yourself.)
Photo by @ryannwinnphotography
Book your honeymoon plans
While this isn’t strictly a wedding planning tip, you may also want to take this time to finalize plans for your honeymoon. After all, you’ll definitely deserve to kick back when all this planning is in the books.
Ling’s couple Sarah & Channing suggest booking an all-inclusive resort, since they don’t require any extra planning on your part — all you need to do is show up and relax. Sounds like the perfect detox from wedding planning to us!
Photo by @katherinerose.co
Final planning stages
With the bulk of your wedding planned, now is the time to iron out those last-minute details, so everything can run smoothly when you walk down the aisle.
Get your marriage license
Obviously, you’ll need a marriage license to make things really official. While you don’t need to sign it until your ceremony, some states have a required waiting period for marriage licenses. Check out your local regulations to see how far in advance you need to apply, so you’ll have it ready and waiting for your ceremony.
Make a schedule for your wedding day
To help your ceremony and reception run smoothly, Ling’s Moment couple Dylan and Maria suggest putting together a wedding day schedule for your bridal party and vendors. This helped all the key players of their wedding stay on the same page and stick to the schedule, so their unique cruise ship wedding could go off without a hitch.
Photo by @imfg.photography
Tip: Allow more time than you think you’ll need, so you don’t feel rushed if an activity runs long, such as taking your wedding photos.
Double-check with your vendors
With the clock ticking down to your wedding day, reach out to all of your wedding vendors to confirm that they’ve received their payments and have everything they need ready. Now is also a good time to share your itinerary with them, if you haven’t already.
Finalize your vows
If you’ve chosen to write your own vows, go ahead and put the finishing touches on them now. It can also help to do a trial run, so you don’t trip over your words during your ceremony. Although, if you do get a little tongue-tied, no one would blame you. It’s hard not to get choked up when you’re marrying the love of your life.
Write a note for your partner
As one final finishing touch, we suggest writing a heartfelt note to your partner for them to read while they get ready for the ceremony. Make sure to use a waterproof pen — just in case any of your joy happens to overflow onto the page.
How to plan a wedding step-by-step: Conclusion
We hope this DIY wedding planning checklist will make the process easier for you! If, at any point, you start to feel overwhelmed booking everything on your own, consider asking your loved ones to pitch in. After all, what else is family for?
You can also find more wedding inspiration and advice on Ling’s Moment’s blog and podcasts. Plus, you can count on us to provide the best no-wilt wedding flowers and decorations to simplify your planning process and make your day look and feel magical.