When to start planning your wedding

Jeremy Russell Photography

So you just got engaged. You've called your family and friends, made the announcement on Facebook and generally basked in the glow for a while. But the reality of planning the event is starting to sink in. The list of decisions can seem endless. We're here to help. With the aid of a few planning professionals, we've mapped out a timeline to keep you on target and completely prepared for the big day.

Immediately after the engagement

Some couples may prefer a long engagement, others will want to get married right away. But no matter the length of the engagement, wedding planner Tara Jordan says the first steps are pretty much the same.

Determine the approximate budget

Setting a budget from the start will help narrow your choices and spare you the disappointment of falling in love with a venue or dress that is too expensive.

Estimate the number of guests.

"This is going to make a difference with your venue," Jordan says. "Some venues can hold 150 and can't hold 200. It will narrow down your choices so you're not wasting time."Planner Lynn Iannizzi of The Finer Points in Washington recommends that couples put together their invite list before letting family members weigh in. This will help couples be certain of their priorities and avoid being pressured to invite more people. checking with parents about family members and family friends. Subtract 20 percent from the final tally to get an accurate total, accounting for people who will not be able to come due to travel expenses or prior commitments.

14 to 12 months out

Jeff Sampson Photography

Choose a venue

Finding a venue should be a first priority - it will also solidify a date and determine whether caterers and florists are available on site. Popular sites can fill up a year or more in advance. Areas that are attractive as destination weddings are often more competitive, warns Jordan, who frequently plans events at the Biltmore, a luxury estate in Asheville, N.C., that is a popular regional destination. and other resort destinations in Asheville, N.C.

Nail down the date

If you're set on a certain venue, its availability will be the primary factor in scheduling. But if you're exploring a variety of options, other considerations come into play. In the D.C. area, fall and spring months are most popular, Iannizi says. Holiday weekends, including three-day weekends like Columbus Day or Labor Day, can be especially busy. Iannizzi suggests checking local event calendars, as marathons and festivals can make hotel rooms and venues more difficult to find.

12 to 9 months out

Select your vendors

Consider which elements might require hiring a professional: photographers, videographers, bands and deejays.Vendors who generally handle one wedding per day, should be booked a year in advance. Since these vendors will be present through the majority of the ceremony and reception, their schedules fill up fast. Iannizzi and Jordan both stress the importance of finding a good photographer and hiring them early, since individual styles of photography can vary greatly. "There might be only a few photographers that have your style or fit your needs, so you want to get those booked quickly," Jordan says.

Begin the dress search

Jordan likes to encourage her brides to start shopping early, not only because it is "its fun to do," ordering gowns and scheduling fittings can take a long time. Fittings should be set up as soon as a dress comes in."Take friends and family member and go and try on a variety of dresses. You don't want to be rushed in that process, you may have to go to several stores," Jordan says. "If you start early you won't have to feel stressed."

8 to 6 months out

Falling petal cake by Maggie Austin LaBaugh

Book an officiant

Decide who will conduct your ceremony: A religious leader, a friend of family member, a justice of the peace? Be certain the person you select is legally certified.

Book a venue for the rehearsal

Line up the second round of vendors

This includes caterers, florists, cake-makers,make-up artists and hair stylists. Cake makers are generally the easiest to find, because they can often make cakes for several weddings on the same day. Make-up artists who specialize in wedding styles can be more challenging to find, Iannizzi says, especially those who do airbrushing.

Send save-the-dates

Invitations will not need to go out for another several weeks, but save-the-date notices should be sent out during this time period so that guests can make travel arrangements and plan vacation time around the event, if necessary.."A lot of people when they are coming to the D.C. area from out of town, they make it a whole weekend and go sight seeing and make it a whole vacation," Iannizzi says.

Select and order bridesmaid dresses

Allow about eight months, as shipping and tailoring can often take several weeks.

6 to 4 months out

Jeff Sampson Photography

Set the menu

A final tasting should be arranged with caterers around the fourth or fifth month. Setting a menu will help cement logistics for the rest of the day, Iannizzi says.

Consider the details

It is important to think of the structure of the events, from what time the bridal party should arrive, to the readings at the ceremony and what types of photos should be taken. "Some times people don't think of those little things, but it is really important to do that," Iannizzi says.

Rent or order tuxes

Tuxes or suits for the groom and groomsmen should be rented or ordered about four months in advance

Start planning the honeymoon

If you want to go out of the country, make sure you have a passport and it is up to date.

3 to 2 months out

Decide on printed materials

Jordan calls this the "paper stuff" stage. Think about what you want your programs, menus, place cards and guestbook to look like, and whether you will order them or print them yourself. Also, make sure you have arranged for program attendants in the ceremony if you are having them, final meetings with your vendors, gifts for the wedding party if you want, toasting flutes, cake knives, favors, photos for displays, sendoff sparklers or rice and any other small detail you want. Jordan urges her brides not to leave a lot of details for the last month.

Obtain a marriage license

Schedule a dress fitting

Be sure this one is done while wearing proper shoes.

Buy the wedding rings.

2 to 3 weeks out

Take care of personal grooming

The last weeks before the wedding should be the primping stage. Men should get their hair cut two weeks before. Women should cut and color two weeks before as well - not the week before. This goes for tanning, eyebrow waxing and facials, too. You can never be sure how your body will react to these procedures, Iannizzi says, and the last thing you want is red blotches from a bad waxing.

Asking someone to be the point person for vendors is also a good idea if you do not have a wedding planner. This person can handle questions from vendors, and hold on to checks and tips for each.

Week of the wedding

Final touches

By this time nearly all details should be solidified, but checking in with vendors and the wedding party one more time can be reassuring. Take the last few days to do some of the smaller, fun things. Schedule a manicure, pedicure or a massage. Break in your shoes. Pack for your honeymoon and for the night before if you're staying in a hotel. Then try to relax and enjoy the day!

CREDIT: Cara Kelly / The Washington Post. Published Dec. 23, 2011.