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A Simple Wedding Planning Checklist & Timeline for Busy Couples

Published Monday, Dec. 19th, 2022

This simple wedding planning checklist puts an emphasis on the most important part of the day: the wedding ceremony 




Most couples agree that 9 months is just about the perfect amount of time to plan a wedding, but your ideal timeline will depend on your expectations and your wedding date. We’ve seen couples take years to plan a wedding, while others get engaged, apply for a marriage license, and get married all on the same day!


The checklist and timeline below includes all of the essential steps that are required to get married in a legal marriage ceremony: Choosing a wedding officiant, applying for your marriage license, holding a ceremony with your officiant, and signing and returning the license. 


It also lists fun details you might want to include in your celebration, such as sending out wedding invitations, choosing a wedding party, writing personal wedding vows, rehearsing your unity ceremony, and more – with an emphasis on the most important part of the day, your ceremony!


Follow along at your own pace or take our timeline suggestions to help limit wedding planning stress. Just make sure to pay close attention to your state's waiting, expiration, and return periods.



The most important things you need to do are in purple - don’t miss those! 




Small planning notebook open on a wooden table next to a cup of coffee, with notes and color swatches for wedding planning

Adjust this timeline to suit your needs, just make sure to pay close attention to your state's marriage license waiting, expiration, and return periods. 


Wedding Planning Checklist and Timeline


9 months before the ceremony

(or as soon as possible) 



⬜ Set a wedding date and choose your venue


Start by choosing when and where you want to get married. If you want to book a public wedding venue (somewhere other than a family backyard) do that now. Demand for venues is at an all-time high, and many popular locations are booking more than a year in advance, so choose a date and book as early as possible if you have a particular venue in mind. 



⬜ Engagement party invites


If you just got engaged, why not throw a party to share the news? Send out those invites and get toasting with friends and family! 


This is also the time to :

⬜  Make a wedding guest list
⬜ Choose your wedding party
⬜ Choose who will be your required witnesses (Witness Requirements by State)
⬜ Choose & contact vendors such as photographers, caterers, planners, DJs, and interpreters. 




Outdoor wedding venue, chairs and arch set up in the grass before the ceremony with the ocean in the background

Have a special venue in mind?

Whether it's a friend's backyard or a high-end resort, book your wedding date as early as possible.



_________  _________




9 months before the ceremony 
(or as soon as possible)



⬜ Choose a wedding officiant and set a time to meet 


Ask a friend or family member to officiate your wedding and arrange your first meeting! 


Choose a wedding officiant who: Respects and understands your values; gets your sense of humor; stays calm under pressure; is comfortable speaking in front of a crowd; and who you trust to complete and return your marriage license correctly and on time. If you don't want to get married by a friend, you'll probably need to hire a professional officiant. 


‘Propose’ to your friend officiant with AMM’s Will You Marry Us? Gift Box, or ask them to officiate with a nice home-cooked meal or gift. 


Friends and relatives will need to get ordained before the ceremony to officiate. Ordination to perform weddings is free and easy through AMM:




A young couple smile as they exchange wedding rings during the ceremony with their wedding officiant

Your wedding officiant is the special person who performs your marriage ceremony and signs your marriage license. (Photo by Pavel Danilyuk)



⬜ Prep for your first meeting with your officiant


Think about the style of ceremony you want. You don’t have to get too specific yet, but a general idea about these topics ahead of time will help you answer the questions your wedding officiant asks during your first planning meeting:


  • formal or informal (black tie, casual wear, or somewhere in the middle?); 
  • small, medium, or large (just you? 5-15? 15-50? 50-150? 150+ ?) 
  • indoor or outdoor
  • theme or no theme (Star Trek or everyday clothes?) 
  • Will family members be involved? (walking you down the aisle, candle lighting, special readings, etc)



⬜ Meet with your officiant


Your officiant will ask you questions about the style and tone of your perfect ceremony and who you and your partner are as a couple.


Talk about how you met and fell in love, what your shared interests are, and who the most important people are in your lives (children, parents, friends, community, etc). These details will help you and your officiant choose readings and unity ceremonies that are perfectly suited to your tastes and personalities. 



Browse examples of free officiant scripts: 




Two happy grooms exchange rings outdoors during their wedding ceremony, while the wedding officiant smiles and watches

Choose a wedding officiant who respects and honors what marriage means to you.


_________  _________


6 to 9 months before the ceremony 


⬜ Start writing your written vows


Begin writing your personal wedding vows. Work together with your partner or alone to keep your vows a surprise. Starting early will give you plenty of time to reflect on the most important moments of your relationship, what your partner means to you, and your hopes for the future.



This is also the time to: 

⬜ Schedule bachelor / bachelorette / or bachelorx parties
⬜ Schedule a wedding shower
⬜ Reserve rental equipment and supplies
⬜ Book additional lodging and transportation for yourself or guests
⬜ Schedule a rehearsal ceremony and dinner (invite your officiant to the rehearsal ceremony)



Close up of a woman writing her personal wedding vows

Wedding vows are the promises you make to your partner on your wedding day. 



_________  _________




5 to 6 months before the ceremony 



⬜ Send out your Save the Date cards.


These aren’t required, but they’re a good way to make sure your wedding is on everyone’s radar. If guests need to book flights, find hotels, and arrange visas or other paperwork to travel, early notice of your wedding date will give them enough time to prepare.



Young brides hold out their hands to show off their wedding rings

Share the excitment! Send out Save the Date cards to let friends and family know your wedding date.



_________  _________


3 to 9 months before the ceremony 



⬜ Meet with your officiant & review the first draft of your ceremony script. 


Review the script and let your officiant know if something needs to be changed. Start getting excited! 


⬜ Give your officiant a copy of your written vows to review. 


Your officiant will make sure you and your partner’s written vows are similar in length and tone, to create the perfect balance in your ceremony.


⬜ Mail your wedding invitations.


Send an invitation to everyone on your guest list and get them out well in advance, so that more people can say yes. If you have international guests, these invitations can go out at the same time or earlier, at least six months before the ceremony.




Stylized image of wedding invitation examples that include the couple's wedding officiant

Include your wedding officiant's name on your invitations as a special way to say 'thank you,' especially if a close friend or relative will be officiating! Learn more here.


_________  _________



4 to 9 weeks before the ceremony 



⬜ Apply for your marriage license -- But not too early! 


When you should apply for your marriage license will depend on your state’s ‘expiration period,’ which is the amount of time your license is valid after it’s purchased. Your ceremony must take place within this period of time. 


Don’t apply for your license too early or too late! Every state has a different expiration period, between 10 days and one year long, so apply for your license using this period as the guideline.


For example, if you live in a state with a 30 day expiration period, apply for your license 30 days ahead of your ceremony. 


This is also the time to: 

⬜ Purchase materials for any unity rituals included in your ceremony
⬜ Take care of any wardrobe alterations
⬜ Decide on seating arrangements 



Close up of a woman filling out a marriage license form



_________  _________



2 to 4 weeks before the ceremony



⬜ Meet with your officiant & review the final draft of the wedding ceremony script.


Meet with your wedding officiant to approve the final draft of your wedding ceremony script. This is one of your last chances to make changes to the script. Talk to your officiant about anything you’d like to add or leave out of your ceremony. 



⬜ Make sure you have your marriage license! 

Your wedding officiant will probably ask you if you have your license ready, and you want to be able to say yes. This is important! You can't get married without a marriage license.



This is also the time to: 

⬜  Invite friends to a rehearsal dinner or day-of brunch or lunch if you haven’t already
⬜ Confirm if your officiant will attend a rehearsal ceremony 
⬜ Review and confirm the wedding day schedule with your vendors and officiant  




Bridesmaids and friends gather around a bride during a rehearsal for the wedding

Hosting a rehearsal dinner, day-of-brunch, or rehearsal ceremony?

Don't forget to invite friends and family in advance. 



_________  _________



The day before the wedding ceremony 



⬜ Rehearse the ceremony.


Rehearsals are usually scheduled the day before the wedding, but you can meet whenever is convenient, as long as it is not too far ahead of the wedding date. You want your memory to be fresh the day of the wedding! 


Practice your wedding vows and any elements of the unity ritual that feel awkward or make you nervous. 


Make sure your wedding officiant has a copy of your wedding vows and any special readings, in case you forget yours. And make sure you know where your marriage license is, so that you can bring it with you the next day. 


This is also the time to: 

⬜ Confirm that you have the supplies and clothing you need for the wedding day 
⬜ Put your marriage license in your bag to bring to the ceremony
⬜ Double check the weather for your wedding day
⬜ Confirm the route you will take to your wedding venue.



Newlyweds smile while holding their dog in front of a decorated wedding arch outdoors

Make sure you have your marriage license ready, and rehearse any unfamiliar parts of the ceremony the day before the wedding.



_________  _________



The day of the wedding ceremony 



⬜ Get married! 


To help limit wedding day stress, plan to get to the venue at least an hour early. Bring your wedding vows, your marriage license, photo ID, any clothing you need, and your smile. 


Then, take a deep breath, and let your wedding officiant guide you through the ceremony! 



⬜ Sign & complete your marriage license. 


Make time to sign the marriage license after the wedding ceremony with your wedding officiant and any required witnesses. 




A happy couple are married outdoors on the beach by their wedding officiant



_________  _________



Following the ceremony



⬜ Return your marriage license. 


Depending on the rules in your state, you or your officiant will return the license to the correct office within the required number of days. These instructions will usually be provided when you receive your license. Your license must be returned and recorded for your marriage to be legal. 





A happy couple signs the marriage license after the wedding ceremony

Don't forget to complete and return your marriage license after the wedding ceremony.



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