How to Plan the Wedding You Want in Six Weeks
Earlier this year, my husband and I planned our out-of-town wedding and got married in less than six weeks! While engagements of over a year are commonplace and sometimes even necessary in order to have the wedding you want nowadays, short engagements have their benefits too. Are they easy to plan? No, but they’re not impossible. And when you know you want to be married, why wait any longer to become husband and wife?
A little background
My husband and I actually got engaged in July of last year. We knew we wanted to have our wedding in San Francisco, but sat on the planning for several months. After a family member became sick late in the year, we scratched those plans. We moved our wedding down to Southern California and moved up the wedding date. Here’s what we did, plus a few additional tips, to plan our wedding and have it go off without a hitch in just six weeks.
1 | Decide on a budget & guest list
A budget will guide you in all aspects of your planning. If you’re lucky and have a large budget, you’ll find yourself with more options for venues and vendors. Even if your budget is on the smaller side, many options are available to you with some research and negotiation.
Once you have a budget in place, consider how many people you’re going to invite. Altering the size of your guest list is one of the easiest ways to stay within your budget. The number of guests you have will also influence your choice of venue. You’ll need a venue large enough to hold all your guests, but not so large that it feels too spacious.
Related post: How to Create the Best Wedding Budget for You
2 | Hire a wedding planner
The right wedding planner is a godsend. When you only have a few weeks to plan, she’ll keep you on track so that your wedding is ready in time. Our wedding planner was firm in guiding us throughout the planning process. Once one thing was set, we immediately moved onto the next thing that needed to be done. And since we hadn’t planned a wedding before, there was much we didn’t know. She discussed options for us within our budget and provided advice when we didn’t know what to do.
A wedding planner will also save you hours of time. She can do much of the research for venues and vendors, then provide you the names of those that are within your style and budget and available on your wedding day.
If a wedding planner isn’t for you, consider hiring a wedding day coordinator. This coordinator will make sure things run smoothly on your wedding day so you and your guests don’t have to worry about a thing but attending and enjoying yourselves.
3 | Make a list of your top venue options
If you’re doing the research yourself, do a comprehensive search of venues to find ones you like. Then call or email them right away to get details on their availability and pricing. With just a few weeks or months until your wedding, you may not get the date that you want at your first choice of venue so be open to other venues and dates.
Many venues and vendors will give you a discount for weddings on short notice. Since most people book vendors far in advance, they’re likely not to book someone for a wedding just six weeks away. They’ll want your business. So ask about discounts or be prepared to negotiate.
Consider what’s convenient for you and your guests as well. One of our top choices was to have our ceremony and reception at two different sites a few miles from each other. This would have been inconvenient because the sites were far from the airport and hotels where guests were staying. Some guests wouldn’t be able to drink because they’d have to drive and the roads were unfamiliar to them. We nixed this idea because we wanted to make things easier for ourselves and guests coming on short notice.
4 | Then book your vendors
Once your venue and wedding date are set, then you can book other vendors. These include catering, an officiant, photographer, videographer, DJ or band, florist, and hair and makeup artist. You may have additional services you want to book such as a day-of-wedding coordinator and any special treatments such as a massage and manicure/pedicure. Do the same as above contacting several vendors for availability and pricing because many of them may already be booked.
5 | Be open to alternatives
Given such short notice, your first pick for venue and vendors may not be available. Save yourself headache and stress by considering several vendors that you like and would be happy to hire. The five-star hotel that everyone is clamoring to have will be booked, but less popular and smaller spots such as boutique hotels and nice restaurants may be available. If you really want a certain venue or vendor, you may have to take a less than prime day like a weekday or Sunday. You may have to select a less than ideal time too.
One location we considered only had availability for a 10 AM ceremony on the Saturday we wanted. We thought about taking that option and having a lunch reception but ultimately decided against it. I can’t imagine how early I would have had to wake up to have breakfast, get my hair and makeup done, and travel to the venue in time for a 10 AM ceremony.
6 | Look for package deals
This is my number one tip for planning a wedding on short notice! We booked a venue that provided wedding packages complete with catering, a photographer, a florist, an officiant, and a DJ. The venue had corporate accounts at nearby hotels for discounted rates as well. I know some people don’t like package deals because they want to decide on each aspect of their wedding, but it saves so much time and energy. There’s no need to research or negotiate with every vendor you’re considering. Once you book with the venue, everything else is guaranteed to be available on your wedding day. Package deals also tend to be cheaper than paying for everything individually, so this can keep you within your budget as well.
7 | Book your visits and trials as soon as possible
As soon as you have your venues and vendors in mind, ask when you can visit them and make appointments for trials. Since many vendors work weekends, they may only be available to you on weekdays. Those dates may be a few weeks out, pushing up against your wedding date.
If you’re planning an out-of-town wedding, see if you can visit your venues and vendors all in a day or weekend, whatever your schedule allows. In our case, we flew to Southern California for a day and visited as many venues as we could back to back. I then flew down one Saturday later in planning to visit the florist, try the cakes, and pick the décor.
8 | Send online invitations
Invitations are typically sent out two months before a wedding. With such little time to plan, it’s difficult to order printed invitations, send them out, and provide enough time for RSVPs. Online invitations are the way to go. Companies like Paperless Post provide more formal and elegant options than the usual electronic invitations. If you have family members who are sticklers for paper invitations or don’t use the internet, go ahead and have a few made quickly or send a card with your wedding information.
Forget printing and sending out save-the-date cards as well. Once we finalized our wedding venue and date, we emailed or called everyone we planned on inviting to let them know the details. Then they could start making travel plans right away.
One thing you may notice with planning is that your guest list is smaller than you expected or that many people decline to attend due to such short notice. This is good for the wedding budget but an unfortunate aspect of a short engagement.
9 | Define your vision and style
You’ll need to have a vision for your wedding pretty much from the start. Do you want a classic or traditional look, something beachy or bohemian, or maybe a vintage style? If you don’t know what you want, take a look at Pinterest or wedding magazines to see what best suits your tastes. Then post your ideas to your Pinterest boards for you and your planner to reference.
10 | Do some alternative dress shopping
Traditional bridal salons require three to nine months to order a dress, but you don’t have that time. Don’t worry! There are plenty of other options open to you. Try off-the-rack dress shops, sample sales, and websites that sell pre-owned dresses. You can also buy bridesmaid dresses or non-wedding dresses off the rack and wear them as your wedding dress. Nearly every bride requires dress alterations, so give yourself some time to find a reputable tailor and have that person alter the dress.
Related post: How to Find Your Dream Wedding Dress
11 | Shop stores that allow returns
You’ll likely need to buy a number of things before the wedding, things like shoes, bridal jewelry, and wedding party gifts. If you’re uncertain about what to purchase and want to keep your options open, shop at retailers that allow returns.
For example, I wanted to buy wedding jewelry and accessories on Etsy. By the time I was able to browse offerings and decide on what I wanted, I was pushing my luck with things arriving in the mail on time. I didn’t want to be stuck with jewelry that I might not look right with my gown and no way to return it. Instead, I picked up some earrings at my nearby Macys and Macys online. I kept the one I liked best and returned the others. With stores offering 30 days or more to return items, I didn’t have to worry about returning anything until after the wedding or losing money keeping things I didn’t use.
12 | Focus on what matters to you
Focus on the aspects of the wedding that matter the most to you, and cut back on everything else. You might prioritize the food and spend lots of time trying out different caterers, whereas you have little interest in the music and pick the first DJ who is a good fit. We passed on things like finding a guest book, figuring out unity ideas for the ceremony, researching table linens, having a professionally choreographed first dance, and even doing a hair and makeup trial.
13 | Keep the wedding party small or have none at all
The bigger the wedding party, the more coordination you and your wedding party will have to do to ensure things like a bachelorette party go smoothly. This may be difficult given the short amount of time you have, and even more difficult if members of the wedding party do not live in the same area. You can make this easier on yourself and your wedding party by cutting back on pre-wedding events or the number of people involved. Or try hosting an event like a bachelorette spa day a day or two before the wedding when guests will already be present.
In our case, we decided not to have a wedding party. We didn’t want our guests to have to worry about getting matching outfits or planning events for us in under six weeks. Many of them were already incurring expenses and taking time off from work to travel to our out-of-town wedding. We asked them to attend as guests and just enjoy themselves.
14 | Use substitute wedding bands
Use substitute wedding bands if necessary. We didn’t have time to research and purchase wedding bands prior to the wedding. For our ceremony, I used an antique band I already had in my jewelry box. He used a Tungsten ring bought on Amazon for less than $20.
15 | Delegate wherever possible
There’s so much to do when planning a wedding that you will be overwhelmed doing it all in six weeks. Let your wedding planner and family and friends take care of some of the work. You don’t want to be thinking about what pens you have to buy so that guests can sign your guestbook or find yourself shopping at the last minute to put together welcome bags for your out-of-town guests. Assign tasks to whoever has offered to help, but don’t overwhelm them with duties as they may be getting ready for the wedding too.
16 | Choose your DIY carefully
When you only have a few weeks to plan, you won’t have much time to tackle lots of do-it-yourself projects. Select one or two that you absolutely want to do and set aside time for them. Your friends or family may be able to help, but be prepared that they may be short on time and availability themselves. I thought about purchasing edible wedding favors and sorting and packaging them myself the day before the wedding. Who was I kidding? I had no extra time with welcoming out-of-town guests and a wedding rehearsal and dinner to attend.
17 | Set aside time to plan the wedding
Wedding planning takes a lot of time, so set time aside for it. Prepare to hear from your wedding planner at all hours of the day and answer wedding-related emails at 10 o’clock at night. You’re likely to have to take off from work to get things done too. When the bakery you want to try has only one tasting available at 11 AM on a Tuesday, you have to figure out how to make it happen. We had to take time off from work to visit City Hall in order to obtain our marriage license.
18 | Create a website & registry
Guests will want to know about wedding day events, so set up a website with all the important information including a link to your registry. Then share the website with everyone and refer people to it regularly. Websites and registries are available from many online wedding sites and retailers for free.
19 | Get your marriage license
Don’t forget to apply for your marriage license. Requirements and open hours vary by county. For example, in some places, marriage licenses are valid for 30 days, while they are valid for longer in other places. Be sure to look up requirements and instructions before visiting the county clerk’s office.
20 | Remind yourself why you're doing this
The stress and work of wedding planning are enough to drive you insane. There are many times you might want to pull out your hair and throw in the towel. Give yourself permission to take breaks as you need and indulge in some self-pampering. Then remind yourself that your wedding is only a few weeks away and your life will return to normal after.
Using the tips above, you’ll have your wedding ready in just a few weeks. And if you can get through wedding planning in six weeks, you can get through anything. Breathe a sigh of relief on your special day and go have your beautiful wedding! I’ll be cheering for you!