Perhaps your fiancé is in the military and is being shipped out in 12 weeks, or you just got a great job offer in another city and won't have time to plan a wedding while you're working. Whatever your reason for speedy nuptials, it is possible to throw a gorgeous shindig and still beat the clock. Here's how to stage your dream wedding faster than you can say "I do."
Got vacation days at work? Take one or two off in the months before the wedding so you can tackle tasks that require a lot of time, like finding a dress and caterer. And if possible, scale back on some commitments that aren't related to the wedding, like extra work projects or social engagements. Your friends will understand.
Make sorting out your wedding details a high priority, because it can give you a sense of control and make you feel less overwhelmed. Create file folders for each wedding element, like flowers, food, bridesmaid dresses, the cake and so on, in which you can store tear sheets from magazines, brochures and catalogues (as soon as you decide what you want, you should toss what you no longer need).
Next, compile a master contact information list—preferably on your computer (keep a hard copy in case of an emergency)—so you never have to search for anything. Use e-mail as often as possible to communicate with vendors, bridesmaids and others who are helping you, then print out copies of these exchanges for your records.
Ask friends and family to pitch in. Married friends can give vendor and venue recommendations; your fiancé can research bands and help you plan the bar menu; Mom and Sis can divvy up tasks like cold-calling photographers, videographers, limousine companies and others to check availability for your date, prices and so on. "My mother saved me a lot of time by addressing all of my invitations," says Kim Cuozzo, of Jackson, New Jersey, who became engaged in September 2002 and was married that December. "I also allowed my four bridesmaids to pick out the style of dress they wanted to wear and choose their own shoes."
If you're feeling really overwhelmed, consider hiring a professional wedding coordinator (especially if you want to host a large affair) who'll do all the legwork for you. A good pro will have experience planning an event on short notice and will be able to handle all the details efficiently.
Your biggest challenge: Getting the ceremony and reception locations you want for the date and time you desire. That's because popular wedding spots can book up more than a year in advance, explains Erwin. "So, of course, you'll have to be flexible," she adds. "Since Saturday is the most popular day of the week to get married, consider holding your wedding on a Friday or Sunday, or even a weekday, to get a better choice of venues."
Planning a church ceremony? Talk to your minister or priest right away to find out what slots are available. If you can hold both the ceremony and reception in the same place, do it. This way, you won't have to worry about coordinating the date with two locations.
As soon as the date and venue are confirmed, you can line up the other services you'll need, like a caterer (if the service isn't provided by the banquet hall), florist, band or DJ, photographer, videographer and limousine service. You may not be able to get your first choice on every count because of the short notice, and you'll just have to accept that. But if you decide which element is most important to you—say, hiring a first-rate photographer and videographer—you can plan to invest more time on that particular effort, upping the chances of a payoff.