I spent seven months planning my wedding. My cousin Julia spent nearly a year. When my
brother got married, he and his fiancé had been engaged only a couple of months. Yet all three of us had one crucial thing in common: a two-week pre-wedding countdown time, crammed with unanticipated planning tasks, lots of stress and moments of pure panic.
When you get engaged, you experience an initial flurry of wedding planning, centering on when and where the event will occur. Once that's out of the way, however, many brides are left with a quieter period of at least a few months. A number of things happen during this time—choosing vendors, buying wedding attire, sending out the invitations—but, inevitably, many important tasks must wait until the end. You can make a hectic time smoother, says Leah Ingram, author of Plan Your Wedding in No Time (Que, 2005). "Try to avoid procrastinating throughout the planning process," she says. "Otherwise, you'll feel crazed just at a time when you should be wrapping up your wedding plans and looking forward to a wonderful big day."
Getting near the home stretch? Whether you've been Miss Organized all along or are just now breaking out pen and paper (and breaking into a cold sweat), we can help.
First, make a list.
And check it, well, every day. Be as detailed as you have to be, writing down everything from "call caterer" to "pack nail file." Says Joelle Klein, who got married last July in Denver, Colorado, "I'm a naturally disorganized person, and I was constantly writing things on a list. The problem I had toward the end was that my list kept getting longer!" To avoid this predicament, it's important to…
Even if you've been a one-woman (or, okay, one-couple) planning show until this crunch period, it's time to share the joy. Bridesmaids, Mom, friends, whoever's been asking to help should be pulled off the bench and pressed into service. They can: make phone calls to confirm times and arrangements with your band or DJ, photographer and transportation company; help write escort cards; make and/or wrap favors and gifts; assemble programs; and lots more.
Take care of business.
If you're changing your name, call your town or city's courthouse to find out the process (usually there's a form you can download). Don't forget: driver's license, passport, Social Security card, credit cards. Also, change your beneficiaries for investment accounts and insurance plans. If you are moving, put in a change-of-address card at the post office, or do it online, at usps.com/moversguide.
Make it legal.
It's too bad you can't get your marriage license early on in the process, but in most cases they are good only for a short period of time, meaning you have to head to city hall within a few days of your wedding. Be sure to call ahead to find out the fee and to be certain that you have all the documents you need.
If you are hosting out-of-towners, reconfirm any hotel or transportation arrangements. Assemble gift baskets for hotel rooms (this is a good task to delegate). And, it's a pain, but it happens to almost every bride and groom: There are always guests who don't respond by the RSVP date. Someone (again, delegate) has to get in touch with these laggards and be sure to get an answer out of everyone.
Give your caterer a final headcount.
This should be done a week to several days prior to the wedding, so that the caterer can order the right amount of food and accurately tally your final food bill. This is also a good time to appoint a reliable bridesmaid in charge of getting crucial personal items—the cake knife, toasting glasses—to and from your reception site.
Double-check all the attire you'll need. When you go for your final dress fitting, don't forget to bring along all the garments you'll actually be wearing on your wedding day, just to be sure that, for example, there aren't any potentially embarrassing undergarment lines visible under a clingy dress. At home, walk around in your wedding shoes a few times to avoid big-day blisters that can really cramp your style. Also, consider other items of clothing that you and your groom will need. If it helps, write it all down, even the things you're sure you would never forget. (I know a groom who packed all his underwear for his honeymoon and was left without a single clean pair for the wedding day!)
Take your seats.
With your final guest list in hand, start on the seating arrangements. Begin with the easy tables—parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, close friends in natural groupings (work, college and so on). Then, gather up the harder-to-place guests (single pals and relatives) and sprinkle them in empty spots throughout your tables, preferably, of course, with a few other people they already know.
Call to confirm travel arrangements, pack (or, if you'll have plenty of post-wedding time to pack, pull out the necessary clothes for your destination) and be sure all of your important travel documents are in a safe place, and that both you and your fiancé know where they are.
Put together a big-day emergency kit (or have a bridesmaid do it).
The kit may "contain everything from tampons, hairspray, extra pantyhose and combs to pain relievers, antacid, clear nail polish, breath freshener, a small sewing kit, spare earring backs, safety pins and deodorant," advises Ingram. "Even if brides never end up needing anything in their kits, having everything on hand always seems to help them relax. It's worth the trouble!"
Envision the day.
Sit down with your fiancé, parents and officiant to map out the wedding-day schedule so you can catch and correct potential glitches. Write down each step, if that seems helpful (many brides find this gives them a sense of control). When I did this before my wedding, I suddenly realized that the chapel had no foyer, leaving no obvious spot for my dad and me to "hide" while guests were being seated. We came up with a plan: We'd linger for as long as possible at another location within walking distance until we got a signal from a groomsman that the time was right.