How To Plan A Wedding For A Short Engagement

As working, busy adults, we don’t always have the 12-month timeline that’s typically recommended for planning a wedding. With so many details and moving parts involved in the planning process, a short engagement can quickly become overwhelming for any couple.

When you’re on a time-crunch and working with a limited budget, focusing on the key elements of a wedding ceremony and reception is essential. With that in mind, we thought we’d list the basics necessary to make your wedding day a reality. We include everything from when to send invitations to the best time to finalize your menu cards. Since you’re on a short timeline, you might even consider planning a special elopement instead.

Check out our useful tips below for ways to save both time and money. Whether you’re on a tight budget or timeline, this guide will help you plan a wedding that’s right for you and your partner.

Short Engagement Wedding Checklist

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The Basics

wedding binder.

Start A Wedding Binder

A complete wedding binder will help you keep track of every single detail of your wedding. From your inspiration and attire to the honeymoon, your wedding binder should contain everything needed to make your dream day happen. Include an itemized budget sheet, vendor sheet, wedding checklist and guest list in your binder and keep it handy to make note of any changes.

Establish A Budget

When planning a wedding, the most important task on your list is to set your budget. Keep both an overall budget sheet of your wedding and an itemized list where you write your budget, the estimate given by vendors and the actual cost.

Keeping this sheet in your binder will make consolidating costs after your wedding a breeze. Having an itemized list with a budget and actual costs can also help you visualize where you can adjust your budget and allocate funds elsewhere. For example, if you budgeted $2,000 for food but your vendor is giving you a final price of $1,500, you now have some extra cash to spend on something else.

Create A Mood Board

floral wedding ideas

Honing in on the inspiration for your wedding will only make jobs much easier for both you and your vendors. Establish your theme, color scheme and florals as early as possible to create your mood board. Make sure to keep a physical copy in your binder and one in your phone to easily pull when you’re discussing details with your vendors, venue coordinator or wedding planner.

Start A Guest List

Before you start your guest list, set a limit with your partner and stick to it. Keep in mind that the more guests you invite, the more you’ll have to pay. More guests usually stretch out your timeline as well––you’ll have to spend more hours on the menu, seating chart and potential travel arrangements.

Once you decide on a number, start listing the guests you can’t possibly envision your wedding without. As much as we all love to please everyone, keep in mind that this is a celebration of two. It’s okay to invite only those that will make your day special.

Create A Website

Setting up a website for your wedding will come in handy when it comes to disseminating information to your guests. As we mentioned before, there are many changing and moving parts when planning a wedding, especially with a short engagement. Make sure you have all of their emails and send quick reminders with any updates made on your website.

Establish The Date

couple at wedding.

When short on time and money, it’s better to pick a date range, month or season in which you want your wedding to take place. Being flexible will help cut down stress and make it easier for you to find a good venue and available vendors. If you have four to six months to plan a wedding, try to pick your ideal date(s) within the first week of your planning process. If your timeline to get married is even shorter, you can learn how to make an elopement wedding special here.

Book A Venue

Start calling, emailing and setting appointments with potential venues as early as possible. You can typically find hourly/daily rates and an availability calendar on each venue’s website. Before contacting a venue, browse through their website or review pages to get an idea of their costs. This will help you cut time by only looking at the venues that will work within your budget and timeline.

When meeting with a venue coordinator, ask about their curfew, potential taxes and additional fees, payment plans, noise and cooking restrictions as well as their policy on bringing outside vendors. Some venues only work with their preferred list of vendors which can quickly put you outside your budget.

Book Vendors

wedding florist.

With a short timeline, you want to lock down your vendors about four to six months prior. Book catering, music, photography and videography, hair and makeup, a florist and baker. Keep copies of any estimates you receive in your binder as well as their contact information and expected arrival time.

Send Save The Dates

On a 12-month timeline, we recommend sending out your save the dates about eight to 12 months out. On a four- or eight-month timeline, you want to send your save the dates as soon as you book your venue. Since it’s a much shorter engagement, you can also skip on sending save the dates and send out your invitations instead.

Go Shopping For Attire

Custom wedding dresses usually require you to place your order nine to 12 months in advance, as they can take a while to arrive and you might need to have some alterations done. When you’re short on time, shop for a dress in your size that’s ready to take home. Once you make your purchase, try it on with your shoes to make sure you don’t need any alterations.

Shop for tux and bridal party attire as well. Keeping an open mind will help you and your bridal party find budget-friendly outfits quickly.

Buy The Rings

wedding rings.

Choose a design with your partner and place your order no later than four months before the wedding. This will give you time to make any adjustments on sizes and engravings. When placing your order, double check your selection and grammar to avoid any errors. Remember to choose rings you’re both comfortable wearing for a lifetime.

Plan Your Honeymoon

With everything that’s going on, it’s important for you to set some time to plan your honeymoon. The wedding will probably take a lot out of you both so having a few days to relax and enjoy your union in peace is a must.

Once everything is booked, keep copies of your plane tickets, a packing list and your itinerary in your wedding binder.

Finalize The Guest List

Establish your final count and guestlist about one to two months before your wedding. At this time, you will want to check all of your guests’ addresses to avoid any delays and returns. Be sure to re-send your count to your venue and vendors in case they need to make any adjustments.

Mail Invitations

Shutterfly wedding invitations.

Once you’ve got everyone’s address labels and invitations, mail them out one to two months prior. Set up an RSVP process—whether it’s an email or a website, make sure it’s included at the bottom of your invitations. For a destination wedding, it’s always a good idea to include a suggested itinerary. This can help your guests choose a hotel near your venue and arrange travel to and from the destination.

Finalize The Seating Chart

With most of your RSVPs in, set a time with your partner to discuss how you’d like your guests to be seated at your wedding about a month prior. Although it’s custom to have families on separate sides of the venue, more and more couples are choosing to mix the tables to encourage family members to get to know each other.

Finalize your seating chart and send it to your planner or wedding coordinator. If you’re creating a seating board or printing place cards, now would be a good time to order those.

Apply For A Marriage License

wedding getaway car.

The application process for a marriage license varies by state so double check with your state’s county clerk or registrar’s office for details. Some states require you to apply a few weeks prior, others may ask you to apply for a license 48 hours before your wedding.

If a friend or relative is officiating your wedding, go over any details with them to ensure they know what their role entails. Besides officiating the ceremony, officiants typically double-check that the license is complete and signed by every required party and submit the final document after the wedding.

Check In With Your Vendors

About a month before the wedding, you’ll want to check in with your vendors and make sure your schedule, final counts and estimates coincide with theirs. A week before, be sure to send them any last-minute adjustments or notify them of any changes.

Say “I do”

It’s time to enjoy your day and celebrate your union! Trust that you and your spouse, along with everyone else involved, have done everything possible to make this the most magical day. Don’t sweat the little things and remember that the main purpose of this event is to celebrate the love you share for each other.

Tips To Save Money

winter wedding.

Make A Few DIYs

Anything custom-made can quickly add up your wedding costs so think about making a few items yourself. Planning a wedding can be quite stressful so keep your list of DIYs realistic and relatively simple. Whether it’s the centerpieces or a guest board, don’t forget to practice with one item to make sure you like the end result.

Buy Seasonal Flowers

Save money by sticking to what’s available. Provide your florist with your color scheme and theme and ask them to give you seasonal and budget-friendly options that complement your selections.  

Pick A Date Outside Of Peak Season

June through September tend to be the busiest months for wedding planners, venues and vendors so naturally, prices will rise with so much demand. Picking a date in a slow month will not only allow for more flexibility but can give you more bargaining power with your vendors. Many venues also provide discounted rates or free additional hours when you book outside of peak season.

Plan A Backyard Wedding

couple at backyard wedding.

With so many possibilities, backyard weddings can be just as enchanting as big ballroom receptions. Save a good amount of cash by planning something in your own backyard or ask a relative to let you use their space. Make sure you check for any necessary permits to host an event with your local government agency.

Plan A Small Wedding

The bigger the wedding, the higher the cost, so if you’re looking to save money, consider planning an intimate wedding. Inviting only a few friends and family or planning an elopement with a dinner afterwards can help you save money for other things like your honeymoon or even a downpayment on a house.

Hire A Day-Of Coordinator

Skip the wedding planner and hire a day-of-coordinator to help you manage logistics on the big day. This option makes sense for those who are planning most of their wedding themselves and just need someone to ensure everything runs smoothly throughout the day. Provide your coordinator with a schedule or your binder to keep tabs on your vendors and itinerary.

Tips To Save Time

barn wedding.

Hire A Wedding Planner

Although not the most budget-friendly option, hiring a wedding planner can pay off when it comes to time and stress. They’ll handle most of your wedding details and arrange everything with your specifications.

Stick To A Short Guest List

A long list of guests usually requires more time and planning. If you want to save time, stick to no more than 50 guests. It will make your venue search much easier and vendors can easily accommodate clients with short notice when they’re dealing with a small guest list.

Keep An Open Mind

When you’re trying to pull off a wedding in a few short months, it’s important to understand that you won’t always get your first choice of venue, photographer, makeup artist or music. Many vendors can be booked a year in advance so if one of your favorites is booked, ask them for recommendations. They can usually point you to others who deliver similar quality or style of work.  

Delegate Tasks

bride with bridesmaid.

It’s okay to ask for help on your wedding day. Before asking friends and family members, think about how much they can handle and whether or not you can count on them. Even though everyone is typically willing to help, you want to assign tasks that they’ll be able to deliver on.

Shop Sample Sales

Anything custom, whether it’s a tux, bridal gown or bridal party attire, will require several months to order and alter. To skip waiting on an order, shop sample sales and take your garments straight to alterations if necessary.

Don’t Sweat The Little Things

To save time, it’s important to be quick and decisive. Choose your colors, flowers, attire and menu and trust that your wedding will look beautiful with what you’ve chosen. It’s okay to change your mind and make additions but always keep your timeline in the back of your mind. When switching things around, ask your vendors if it will affect delivery in any way.

If you recently got engaged and don’t want to wait a year for your wedding day, this guide covers everything you need to make your big day come true. Remember to be creative, keep an open mind and ask for help. After your wedding, don’t forget to send thank you cards to all of those who helped make your day possible and celebrated your union.