The Wedding Planning Checklist – Before the Invitation

Instruction Manual for a Bride

Here at Paperlust we have a board of articles we want to write about. At the top of the list: ‘Themed Weddings From the Invitation Out’. But where do we start? There are so many decisions to make before we even get to the invitation. Maybe we got ahead of ourselves.

We’ve gone back a little bit to the very start of a wedding planning checklist. This isn’t gospel: you’re going to have to fill in the details but it’s a good place to start. We’ve also left off the detailed checklist for the day because, really, you know how you want to wake up the morning you’re getting married and it’s up to your family to tell you they told you so when you’re still chasing little things an hour before the ceremony. Follow the checklist and you should be alright.

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This speaks for itself: you can’t arrange anything without the date. It will also mean that you can break down your checklist into a timeline for when things need to get done.


It’s hard to decide about things like the budget without being sure about your other wedding details. If you set your limits before making the other decisions, you’re less likely to go over budget. Or if you do, you can say you started out with the very best intentions.



The size of your wedding is the next big decision because it will impact the decisions that follow (venue, invitations, menu – EVERYTHING!)

So start asking yourself, how large do you want your bridal party to be? (You’ve probably gone too far when you’ve started adding second and third cousins to the list). How many guests do you want to invite? Are you going to invite everyone to both the ceremony and the reception? Or is it an intimate ceremony with friends and a huge party with friends afterwards more what you had in mind?

Start your list and don’t forget to double check with your mum and the soon-to-be in laws that no one has been left off. (Or decide now that this is your wedding and bear the consequences of complaints and questions in your ear until the next big event takes people’s minds off things).


To make sure there is consistency from start to finish (the invitation to the day itself) and so you don’t have to go back and change things, choose your theme now. If you’ve got a little time, you might take a month or two to find some inspiration, like Spanish wedding ideas, beach wedding ideas, beach wedding invitations, or fun festive colour wedding ideas.

Or if you’re on a shorter time frame, start with a colour and work outwards from there. Colour or theme choices can easily spiral out of control, so take a deep breath, and consider two things: what do my fiancé and I want? What have we both always liked? Maybe he says he wants to be wearing a tuxedo, every inch of his body dripping luxury and expense. You say you’ve always imagined getting married outside, maybe in a garden under a flower arbour. Neither of you have thought much beyond that. Here is where all your conflict resolution and the hours of practicing compromise comes into play. You’re going to meet in the middle of casual and formal but there’s still room to move. Narrow it down with a colour or two.

Once you’ve chosen that perfect theme think about what’s appropriate for your venue – does your parent’s back yard really suit the casual chic reception you’ve both agreed to? So it’s an outdoor ceremony and a sit down, formal wedding reception. You might be dropping pins back and forth when you find places you like but it’s going to come down to the pointy end: details, details, details.


Okay, while making your decisions, keep in mind three things:

  • What time of year you’re getting married

October-November is the most popular time of the year to get married. This means that prices will be quite high and some companies won’t be available. If you’re planning well ahead of time, you’ll probably scrape through. It also means that seasonal things might not be available (so that’s food or flowers).

  • Your budget

There are too many horror stories of weddings blown out of control not to mention the budget again. You’ve got to remember your limitations while you’re making these decisions.

  • You’re not going to be able to please everybody

Maybe that’s something to keep in mind for every part life but it especially applies to your wedding day when your parents have been invested so much in you, your family has supported you through the growth of this relationship and your friends have been there every step of the way. In a lot of ways, a wedding is as much for them as it is for you.

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So the priority bookings are

The wedding and reception venues

You’ve decided on the size, your budget and your theme. Now you have to find somewhere for both the ceremony and the reception.

The celebrant 

Whether you’re having a religious or a secular wedding, you need someone to marry you. We can’t all have family friends who are priests or celebrants to officiate, in the lead up to the big day you’re probably going to get to know your celebrant pretty well though. Organise your celebrant early so the wedding itself can go ahead. Even if the venue gets burnt down on the day, you’ll have the essential part: someone to perform the wedding rites.

The caterer 

Sometimes your venue will supply a menu, sometimes it won’t. There will be limitations to what and who is available, depending on the time of the year that you’re getting married, so keep that in mind. If your reception is somewhere regional, remember to check that caterers are available to come to that area or book local. Also check that they’re able to supply crockery and cutlery, and if they have other table settings that are available (might save you some worry down the road).

The music and entertainment 

There are no fixed rules to music and entertainment these days. If you’re having an intimate reception with only a few people, a playlist is a pretty easy way of providing music. You can even have some fun by taking song requests from guests when they RSVP (maybe try three songs in case there’s some doubling up). Or maybe your best friend is a musician and she wants to perform for you. Easy.

However, if you’re having something a bit bigger than that, you’re faced with the decision of band or DJ. Keep in mind outsourcing is a great way to avoid constant song choices because the people on the dance floor don’t like what’s on. Book well in advance to make sure you get the artists you want.


Okay, so the big things are out of the way now. From here, with your size and theme in mind, you get to add the colour and detail.

The invitations and wedding stationery

The invitations and wedding stationery are essential if you want people to be there with you to celebrate. Breaking it down, the three essential pieces in the wedding stationery is the invitation suite (your engagement invites, invitation, information and RSVP cards), place cards or table plan and thank you cards.

Save the date, wedding programs and menu cards tend to be optional. If you’re getting your invitations custom designed, a lot of services will allow you to pick and choose the cards that you need, with a similar design to tie all the cards together. What’s important is that you decide on what kind of invitation you want at the beginning of your wedding planning – formal or casual wedding invitations, elegant wedding invitations. Really, whatever you think is the best wedding invitation for you!

If you’re planning well in advance, a save the date card will be essential to give guests time and notice , and if you are throwing an engagement party, the engagement invitation is vital. to arrange travel plans. On the other hand, if you’ve only got a few months to get things together, you can avoid the save the date card by simply sending out the invitation.

It’s essential that you receive the RSVP cards within four to six weeks before the date so that you can fill in the finer details. If you haven’t decided on your menu at this point and can’t give your guests specific chooses, at least give them space here to let you know about dietary requirements.

HOT TIP: Don’t forget to proof read your invitation and wedding stationery (mistakes are much easier to fix before they’ve come back from the printer!).

The wedding website (optional)

The wedding website is a recent trend that groups together all the things that tend to come up during the planning of a wedding. Its primary use is to receive digital RSVPs but it’s also a great way to provide extra information or updates for guests. Post wedding, it’s a good way to share pictures of the day and other information that people probably want to be keeping their eye on.

It shouldn’t be the sole way of communicating with guests though. Paper invitations aren’t simply tradition: a hard copy invite is both a wonderful paper object and provides the initial information that will lead people to the website.

Not technology savvy? Don’t worry too much, your website doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as it fulfils the basic requirements of allowing people to RSVP, ask questions and navigate to the must have information. Consider hiring someone so you don’t have to worry about yourself, or pop on a free host website like WordPress, squarespace or Tumblr (depending how brave you’re feeling with those limited tech skills).

The wedding order of service

The printed order of service is always optional, but it’s essential to plan your day in advance so that you don’t leave anything out. Depending on the kind of planner you are, this might be listed from when to wake up to when your hair needs to be done to how long you want to wait before the ceremony. Or it might just be a list of the key parts of the day and when you hope to be there.

The order of service itself is what the guests will see. Do you need one? It depends if you’re asking for participation in the ceremony or there is a lot of movement from one place to another that you don’t want to be communicated in your uncles booming voice. They’re often a nice keepsake of the ceremony and provide a space for additional information about you as a couple. Here is the perfect place for those photographs and keepsakes of your relationship that you’ve been wanting to share with people.

The menu and drinks list

Your venue may provide a menu and available drinks. There will still be decisions you need to make about the menu though: buffet, sit down, fixed menu or various options. For drinks: open bar? Spirits? Or a selection of a few of the well-known favourites. A wine list might not be appropriate for your beachside barbecue, but it will be exactly what you need if you’ve chosen a formal sit down dinner. Drinks are important to consider if you want to add something special to supplement the bar, or even just to make sure your budget doesn’t blow out too far.

The important thing is to consider what’s available given the time of year and venue, and how much you’re going to need with the amount of guests that are coming. You’ve sent out the invitations so you have a rough estimate and you’ll be able to confirm later to the date when you’re sure.

The decision for food and drinks is important if you’re sending out menu cards or getting menus printed with your invitation stationery set. Read the menu card wording if you’re not sure about the wording.

The cake

While you’re looking at the menu, it’s probably a good idea to start considering your desserts and finding a bakery that supplies wedding cakes. Maybe you’re not really a cake person or there’s too much risk of allergies with your guests, so you’ll have to consider other kinds of sweets. There should still be something to sink a knife into though (where’s the fun if you can’t kiss the nearest boy if the knife comes out dirty?).

Organise the desserts and then you can cross it off the list.

Her dresses, shoes and accessories

Maybe on your personal to do list, this is a lot higher than we’ve got it here. We’ve found that timing the wedding dress can be difficult – too early and there’s the risk of growing out of it, too late and there isn’t enough time to make necessary changes. Start by looking around. Don’t be rushed into anything. Be certain of your decision. Then your decision for your other accessories will just follow.

The bridal party dresses should be organised at the same time. Let’s be honest, getting together with the girls and making a day of it will probably make it more fun than stretching it out over group messages and worrying about how stressful all these decisions are. Once this is done, you can start looking at other things.

His suit, shoes and accessories

The amount of planning this needs (for colour, suit, shirt, tie, belt, cufflinks, socks, shoes, etc.) all depends on the groom. A new suit is going to need alterations so give enough time for the changes and possible changes to those changes: a few weeks ahead of time and there won’t be any niggling doubts. Maybe he already has a belt, cufflinks, socks and shoes, but these are fun details that are less exciting if they’ve been worn a hundred times before. Unless he’s training to go up a weight size, you should be able to get things organised early.

Of course, the same rules also apply for the groomsmen’s formal wear.

The rings

We’re not saying that the rings are likely to be forgotten given everything else on your mind, it’s just that they’re better to have on the list so you can be sure. While a lot of women might be conflicted about the engagement ring (I don’t see a ring on his finger?!), the wedding ring is a shared symbol of commitment. They aren’t temporary trappings of the day either, so start talking to a jeweller as soon as you possibly can, especially if you’re getting them custom made.

The photographer

Even in this age of high quality camera phones, you want professional photographs to mark your big day. This is another booking you should probably make early to avoid missing out on who you want (especially if you’re getting married during a high wedding season).

If not, there are always alternatives (in fact, the very early noughties trend of disposable cameras on every table is making a comeback), but keep in mind an overexposed Instagram filter isn’t going to look the same as professional photos ten years from now.

The flowers (optional)

This is one of our favourite parts: flowers! While the traditional role of the bouquet might be a little outdated for you, flowers add colour and interest as decorations.

DID YOU KNOW? The carrying of a bouquet by the bride is meant to represent her fertility, while the throwing of the bouquet evolved from an old English tradition of female guests tearing the dress and bouquet to borrow good luck, the bride would only escape the crowd once she’d thrown the bouquet.

If you consult a florist they’re going to warn you about seasonal limitations and give you great advice on what flowers go well together. Plan your order ahead but you’re not going to be able to receive them more than a day or two ahead, otherwise they’ll wilt.

Maybe you’re opposed to cut flowers. Consider decorative potted plants around the venue or even as a thank you keepsake for guests (succulents are very much in vogue at the moment, try a cactus for your black thumbed friends and if they’re able to keep them alive, they’ve got something to remind them of you for a long time to come).

If you’re set against any kind of plant, you could try paper flowers like these DIY Origami Flowers.

The decorations (optional)

Whether its table decorations, bunting, garlands, wall features, lighting or whatever you’ve found on the deepest and darkest boards of Pinterest to add colour and interest to your venues, organise them ahead of time to avoid running around on the day for last minute extras. Make sure they’re appropriate to the theme and avoid the kind of things that don’t really have any use on the day (decorative bunting is very different to an overabundance of silver, sparkly streamers on every table).

The seating arrangements

Putting off the most tedious details until last always works well. If you’ve chosen to have an informal wedding outside with unrestricted seating, then you’ve done well. Otherwise, you’re going to have to organise seating arrangements for all your guests to ensure that you have a place for them at the reception. (Try crossing this off the list early to save some tension, or put it on the list of things to delegate early on).

The hair and makeup (optional)

Ask friends if you’re not sure about who to go to for hair and makeup, you’ll definitely find someone who knows a good hair and makeup professional. Look into it well ahead of time in case your first choice is unavailable and so that you can try a test run to confirm that they’re able to do what you would like.

The thank you gifts for your bridal party and family

How to say thank you to the friends and family that have supported you in the lead up to your big day (and probably for a long time before that)? Consider this well ahead of time and you can give personalised thank you gifts to everyone that had helped out. Left to the last minute and you might cut off your options.

The thank you gifts for guests

While you might not want to do anything too extravagant for the guests that came to the ceremony and reception, they still need to be thanked for joining you on the day. Maybe this isn’t going to be as personalised as the gifts you gave to the bridal party, you can still make it something fun at each plate on the tables. We mentioned before potted plant party favours; there’s always a tasty treat for the ride home; or a hangover cure for the morning after. Whatever you decide, it’s better to decide a few weeks out from the day in case you need to be packing hundreds of party bags. Sending a thank you card is essential for all guest to thank them for coming.


  • To confirm your bookings a few months ahead of time and then a few weeks out from the wedding

Unexpected things may come up so make sure that you’ve done everything you can to avoid major problems. Double checking the details can be a good way of doing that.

  • To get your dress fitted within the fortnight of the big day

We didn’t want to focus on the dress but it’s one of the things you need to double check and confirm closer to the date so we can’t really leave it off.

  • To organise and make bookings for post-wedding accommodation

Once upon a time this would have been called a honey moon. Maybe you don’t have the extended period of time to celebrate your new life with the person you love (or you’ve been living together for a while now so there’s nothing especially exciting about being stranded somewhere in a bed together), but you’re taking a couple of days to mark the occasion. There are details for that too so don’t forget to organise that as well.

  • To double check those RSVPs

You’ve made the place cards. Now double check that everyone who has returned the RSVP card has a place. You don’t have to chase down people who haven’t responded. It might be good to

  • To pick up the rings

Okay, so there are too many romantic comedies where the rings get waylaid and disaster ensues. This seems to be related to trusting them to brother-in-laws or younger siblings. Best way to avoid disaster? Do it yourself. Some things are low-risk to delegate. Others are best kept in the safest possible hands. Yours.

This checklist is a good place to start with planning a wedding. Print off the checklist and make notes as you go so that you don’t leave anything out (there’s even space to add the things we might have forgotten). Happy wedding planning!

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