two brides celebrating a wedding in nature

How to plan your wedding: the ultimate guide for 2024 (+ free checklist!)

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Save this page so you can come back to it whenever you need. And download our free wedding planning checklist and flowchart so you don’t miss a thing!

Congratulations—you’re engaged! Now, it’s time to start planning your wedding. Putting it all together should be fun and exciting rather than stressful and overwhelming, whether you plan to celebrate in British Columbia, Nova Scotia (or Saskatchewan!). Staying organized is one way to keep things under control and prioritize all the positive aspects of the process, whether you are hiring a professional to help or doing it yourself.

So keep that in mind as you work through this wedding planning guide (and use our free downloadable wedding planning checklist and flowchart), to help you plan the wedding of your dreams. You and your partner are planning your special day, so your wants and needs should influence every decision and purchase you make.

Everything you need to know about how to plan your wedding

The first steps you take

These first steps are “big picture” decisions. Don’t think about logistics or details yet—those will come later. Instead, carve out time with your partner to find out where you both stand regarding: 

  • The what. What kind of experience do you want to create for your guests? How do you want them to remember it from the first piece of communication to the wedding itself?
  • Where. Not necessarily on a specific venue, but decide now whether you want to get married in the place where you live, one partner’s hometown or travel abroad for a destination wedding. 
  • When. Think big picture, like months and seasons, not specific dates. 
  • Wedding duration. How long will the festivities span? A few hours, a day or a whole weekend?
  • Guest numbers. Discuss the approximate size of your guest list.
  • Rough budget. What’s a broad figure you are both comfortable spending on your wedding? Return to this number when getting into budget specifics later.
  • Who will cover the costs? Determine whether you and your partner pay for the wedding yourselves or lean on your families to help cover costs if that’s a possibility. However, be aware that this may come with certain expectations from those putting up the funds.
  • Joint priorities and overall look. Figure out what elements and themes are an absolute must and vaguely establish a wedding identity that you can keep consistent from the get-go.
  • Cultural considerations. Are there certain cultural or religious traditions that you, your partner, or your families feel are crucial to your wedding?
  • Wedding planner? Decide whether you will do all the planning and coordination yourself, have help from family and friends or hire a professional.
romantic wedding table setting with menus

Source: Wedding menu card via VistaPrint

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Decide how you want to keep your wedding plans organized. There are a few different ways you can organize your ideas, like using Google Sheets, tools like Trello and Notion, or our free downloadable Wedding Planning Checklist and Flowchart. Or if you prefer a more low-tech approach, use a notebook. You can also create mood boards to represent your ideas visually. Share these, as well as checklists, spreadsheets and timelines with anyone else helping with the wedding planning to ensure everybody’s on the same page.

These conversations and decisions are important because they will inform final decisions like the budget, venue and guest list size. Remember, nothing is set in stone yet. Right now, your main priority is to make sure you and your partner are on the same page about your wedding’s big picture and map out the next steps.

Plan your calendar, theme, guests and vendors

Once some ideas are in place, it’s time to do your research! This is where you build on the ideas you and your partner identified previously, translating them into tangible steps and possible aesthetics. As you do this, it can also be helpful to think of weddings you’ve attended previously and note down what you enjoyed most about them, like the smooth guest transportation between transport or the intricately styled wildflower arrangements.

Ask yourself questions about how you want your wedding to feel like: will your wedding be formal or relaxed? Unconventional or traditional? Gothic or contemporary?

Plus, start planning and hosting your engagement party, as well as brainstorming bachelor(ette) party ideas.

wedding planning checklist steps

Source: via Depositphotos

Wedding date

Determine a specific window of time or potential dates. Book your venue before choosing a final date from this shortlist, so you know that it’s definitely available.

Wedding venue

After determining whether you want to get married locally or not and the type of venue you want (event hall, church and separate reception venue, historic building, outdoor space etc.), research specific venues that fit your criteria. Do this in conjunction with narrowing down your wedding date, as your final decision will depend on when the venue is available during your chosen time frame.

Wedding theme

Your wedding theme should be decided hand-in-hand with your venue. They are each other’s better halves as one has to complement the other. And the more consistent you are with the details, the easier it will be to bring your vision to life.

This is an interactive guide! Click on your answers and follow the arrows until you find the perfect theme, then click the linked trends and styles to view examples in our VistaPrint gallery.

Guest list

Consider guest categories, such as close family, extended family, friends and coworkers. Then begin writing down names, keeping it within the ballpark number you came up with in the first stage. Think about who will be in your wedding party, whether children can come and who can bring a plus one. 

Tip

If you have a lot of guests to send invites to, try our free addressing service. It’s as easy as giving us your guest list, and we’ll handle the rest at no extra cost!

Vendors

Think about your caterer, florist, photographer and DJ. Depending on your venue, certain services might be included in your booking price, or you might be required to work with certain vendors or asked to choose from a list of preferred vendors, which could mean cost savings or smoother scheduling. 

Research local services in your province or territory when determining which vendors to hire. Maybe you want a few “nonstandard” vendors like a caricature artist or palm reader in addition to traditional vendors. Familiarize yourself with the following:

  • Portfolio. Do they have a relevant niche, like vegan catering? Do the weddings they’ve done in the past suit your vision?
  • Price. Do they offer packages or deals? Does this pricing fit your budget?
  • Existing relationships. Are any of the shortlisted vendors recommended by your venue, wedding planner or other vendors? 
  • Availability. Are they available for the date(s) you’ve chosen?

Tip

Some of the best vendor referrals come from other vendors. Don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations!

Wedding planning: drinks and food

Source: Wedding napkin with monogram via VistaPrint

Guest accommodation

If you have a lot of guests coming from out of town, research accommodations for them. You could reserve a block of rooms at a nearby hotel or find local accommodations to suggest. 

Tip

It can be helpful to visualize wedding planning as a flow chart. For example, the venue you choose will affect accommodation options for guests, which will then determine transportation needs.

Transportation options

Will guests be shuttled from their accommodation to the wedding venue? How will they travel from the ceremony to the reception? Will you and the wedding party arrive (and leave) in separate vehicles or together? Ask yourself these questions, make the decisions and research options.

Lock in the dates and make your bookings!

This stage is where you solidify your preliminary plans. Put all of your research into good use, booking those vendors and sending your first communications.

Book your venue and vendors

Once you’ve chosen the perfect venue and vendors for your big day, put down the necessary deposits and book them. This is the time to finalize all of the decisions you’ve been thinking about these past weeks, including transport and guest accommodation.

Tip

Book as early as possible to ensure you get the venues and vendors you want. 

Wedding website

Create your wedding website; an all-in-one information hub for everything about your wedding, from its date and location to details about your ceremony, reception and registry. You can update the page as more details are confirmed. The site doesn’t have to be anything large or complex; you can create a great-looking website on our web-building page without coding skills required.

Host an engagement party

In all the excitement don’t forget to plan and send out engagement party invitations, if you want to share the early-stage excitement with family and friends!

Hire an officiant 

Just like other vendors, the venue might have suggestions for officiants or, if you’re getting married in a religious space, they may have a de facto officiant.

Send save-the-dates

Now you know which day you’re getting married, it’s time to send save-the-dates. Save-the-dates are essential precursors to wedding invitations sent about nine months before the wedding but can be sent sooner or later, depending on the couple’s engagement length and whether the wedding is local or in a far-off destination. Save-the-dates give guests a heads-up to block out specific dates in their calendars and keep an eye out for a formal invitation.

Funky, 70s vintage wedding invitation and save the dates

Source: Fun & playful ’70s aesthetic wedding invite via VistaPrint

“Bringing your design theme to life across your wedding suite, from save-the-dates to day-of décor, can also ensure a memorable and cohesive experience.”

— Kevin O’Connor, Senior Director Consumer at VistaPrint

When thinking about how personalized save the dates reflect the theme of your wedding, we heard from Kevin O’Connor, VistaPrint’s Senior Director Consumer. He said,Personalized wedding stationery sets the tone for your big day and lets guests know exactly what to expect. Consider how your own influences, including venue, time of year and personal style, can be reflected throughout your wedding stationery. Bringing your design theme to life across your wedding suite, from save-the-dates to day-of décor, can also ensure a memorable and cohesive experience.”

Wedding attire 

Ask yourself whether the wedding party’s outfits will match and who will be covering the costs. This is also the stage where you, your partner, and the wedding party should arrange fittings. Give yourself ample time to not only find the perfect attire but also have it altered if necessary. 

This doesn’t just include clothing; you should also decide on your hair and makeup. It’s also a good idea to schedule a hair and makeup trial to make sure you are happy with the final look.

Create a registry

Gift-giving is easier when your guests know what you want. You can use a website or go directly through a store.

Tip

Get inspired by this year’s wedding trends, such as puzzle piece save-the-dates that create excitement as guests complete the puzzle.

Color combination for wedding table setting

Source: Simple wedding menu card with monogram via VistaPrint

Book your honeymoon

Once you decide when and where you want to go, you should book your honeymoon, especially if you are taking off right after the wedding. 

Print your save the dates, wedding invites and thank you cards

By this point, you’re done with the bulk of wedding planning. Give yourself a pat on the back, the hardest part is over! Now it’s time to let your guests know what is happening and when.

This stage involves a lot of designing and sending various pieces of stationery, most importantly the main invitations, so get that design mood board out and get ready to flex your creative skills. Consider exploring wedding color palette ideas to ensure your stationery aligns with the overall theme of your celebration. If you’re unsure where to start, check our guide on how to design wedding invites to help streamline your creative process. And order VistaPrint’s free wedding stationery sample kit to get a look and feel (literally) of different products, styles and finishes.

Purple and blue wedding invitation with playful lines

Source: Fun & playful wedding invite theme via VistaPrint

Take a look at our wedding stationery guide for a comprehensive list of all wedding-related communications. As you design, order and send each piece of communication, keep track of the RSVPs received. This way, you can avoid feeling like you’re chasing your guests as your wedding day draws closer.

Tip

Offering an option to RSVP on your wedding website might be the best way to manage this step or sending a prepaid envelope with your invitations. Either way, make the RSVP deadline clear in your invitation.

Here are the ballpark timeframes for sending out your main communications: 

Fun floral wedding invitations with photograph

Source: Blooms & Botanical wedding invite via VistaPrint

When designing your wedding stationery, refer back to your wedding theme or aesthetic. One simple way to personalize your wedding communications is to include a monogram using your names or initials. For inspiration, here is a list of wedding monogram ideas to help you create something uniquely yours.

According to Katie Raabe, Senior Manager of Vista’s DIY Content Design Strategy, “Whether or not your stationery matches the style of your wedding is totally up to you! Like many couples, you may choose to select stationery that aligns with your venue or theme. You might also opt to keep your color palette neutral to emphasize the names and details. While it can be a nice touch to use your stationery to set the vibe for your big day, the most important thing is that you’re proud of what you’ve sent to your loved ones.”

“While it can be a nice touch to use your stationery to set the vibe for your big day, the most important thing is that you’re proud of what you’ve sent to your loved ones.”

— Katie Raabe, Senior Manager of DIY Content Design Strategy, Vista

Find design inspiration in these curated stationery theme collections for 2024:

To achieve aesthetic consistency, many couples choose stationery designs that match their wedding venue and decor theme. For example, a couple having a garden ceremony might choose stationery from the Blooms & Botanicals collection, while a couple marrying in a historic church might go with a New Rustic design. Don’t forget, you can always mix and match!

Tip

Include a QR code for your wedding website on all communications. This makes it super-easy for guests to find information and RSVP. 

Ceremony and reception final touches

Now that your invitations are sent, it’s time to start putting together the ceremony and reception. A few key components of this stage include: 

  • Planning a schedule of events, for the wedding day or the whole weekend
  • Writing your vows
  • Allocating readings and speeches 
  • Obtaining your marriage license (research the local laws in your province or territory to determine when you need to get yours)

If you’re planning DIY elements for your reception, like personalized centerpieces or wedding signage, now is the time to create these. This is also when you should order day-of stationery, like wedding programs, wedding menus and any custom extras like personalized wine bottle labels or cocktail napkins

Tip

Consider delegating some day-of logistics management to your best man or maid of honor to take some pressure off your plate.

As you work through these details, incorporate personal touches where you can. For example, maybe you’d like to enter the ceremony to a soft piano version of a song you and your partner heard on your first date. Or maybe you’d like the bartender to create a custom drink featuring your joint drink of choice. Weaving these personal touches into the wedding day itinerary, seating chart and set-up logistics is how you make your wedding your own. Take a look at these customizable reception essentials to help personalize your special day.

wedding reception seating chart

Source: Floral design for seating chart sign via VistaPrint

Somewhere in here, you’ll have your bachelor(ette) party to cut loose with your closest friends before the wedding. Nowadays, many couples choose to have joint parties if their friends cross over and they want to celebrate together.

On your wedding day

The day is finally here! Take it all in—today, you’ll see the joy in your guests’ faces and make memories you’ll cherish forever.

To ensure the day goes smoothly, stick to the schedule of events you created. If you have hired a wedding coordinator, it’s their job to keep the itinerary running on schedule. If not, your best man or maid of honor can help you manage this, because there will be hiccups and things that don’t go to plan. You’re living through moments that will become memories, so although having an itinerary makes balancing these easier, don’t rush through them and allow space for the unexpected.

wedding programs on a chair

Source: Wedding program for your guests via VistaPrint

Tying up loose ends post-wedding 

You’re not done with the wedding planning process yet! If you plan to jet off on your honeymoon immediately after your wedding, be sure to set up important post-wedding steps before you leave. Trust us on this one—when you’re on your honeymoon, the last thing you want to think about is ordering thank-you cards.

Get your wedding thank-you cards ordered so they’re ready for you to fill out once you’re back; thank-you cards are personal, so be sure to fill out their interiors by hand, acknowledging each guest’s specific gift.

wedding thank you cards, invitations and save the dates

Source: Beachy destination wedding invite via VistaPrint

Send personalized thank-yous to the wedding party and guests. And make sure you get something for yourself! Order a keepsake photo book and other keepsakes, like canvas prints or wood prints, to memorialize your special day forever. 

Your ultimate wedding planning checklist and flowchart: Don’t miss a thing!

A wedding is a huge milestone, and yours deserves a meticulous level of planning and attention to detail. But it should also be fun! You’ll only marry your partner once, so you’ll only plan the wedding once; savor this special period as you work together to make this the best day of your life.

As you move through the wedding planning process, use our free downloadable Wedding Planning Checklist and Flowchart to help you stay organized, save money and keep track of what’s been done and what still needs attention. Treat your future self to peace of mind in the months and weeks leading up to your big day so you can enjoy this special time with your partner each step of the way.