8 Tips for Planning a Last-Minute Wedding

Five months out, we recently made some cost-cutting changes to our wedding plans. 

Scaling back makes the most financial sense for us, and we left ourselves enough time to plow ahead with a cheaper and equally enjoyable reception with our closest friends and relatives. (See also: Alternative Wedding Ideas for Big Savings)

But the decision to pivot and shift plans left us feeling stressed, despite the 150-day cushion. What about those who don’t have the luxury of time?

For a host of reasons, some consumers, especially younger military members, may find themselves with a narrow window to plan and execute their nuptials. If the unexpected or simple circumstance creates the need for an accelerated wedding day, you don’t have to choose between elopement or the local courthouse. Here are a few ways to craft a great wedding on the fly.

1. Create a Checklist

There are a lot of sites like My Wedding Reception Planning that offer checklists for wedding planning. Many have timelines based on how far out the wedding date is. You can follow one completely or look through and narrow it down to fit your needs. Either way, a checklist will help keep you organized to get the required and desired done.

2. Location, Location Location

If you have the means to hire a wedding planner, it may be beneficial to let them focus on booking a location. Planner or not, consider booking a place that can host both the ceremony and reception. On short notice, your best options may be restaurants or unconventional spaces like a photography studio.

You’ll need an on-site minister to officiate, but the double-purpose location will serve your stress levels well. In a military chapel, you can save yourself time on finding a minister and use the chaplain without a fee. Unfortunately, the chapel typically books a year in advance, so be prepared with a Plan B.

3. Invitation Creation

Before you invite your guests, prepare to be turned down on such short notice. That being said, if there isn’t enough time to order invitations, you can consider printing or handwriting your own. You can even launch your own wedding site on eWedding to ease communication. 

4. Nix the Cake Order and Bake

Ordering a cake can be time consuming and expensive. Involve a family member by asking them to bake and decorate a cake or cupcakes. You can also consider nixing the cooking altogether and set up a table full of sweets from a bakery.

5. Provide for the Bride

Wedding dresses can require three weeks for alterations alone, so attempting to shop for dresses not guaranteed in stock is plain dangerous with a limited time frame. Consider heading to retail outlets like David's Bridal, where the dresses are in stock (and often kind to your budget). Ensure your hair and makeup look great by booking appointments as soon as possible and doing trial runs. Military consumers should always inquire about discounts.

6. The Groom Costume

If your groom is in the military, he’s got his service dress, which would suit the occasion well. If you prefer to have the traditional tuxedo, be sure to rent a tux as soon as possible. That way sizes can be taken with enough time to prevent any mishaps in measurements.

7. Those Beside the Bride

Just like the bride’s dress, ordering bridesmaids’ dresses can take too long for a quick wedding. An alternative can be buying formal-looking dresses from a department store or asking your bridesmaids to buy a dress of a certain color on their own.

8. Food, Flowers, and Photos

Catering companies require booking in advance, but many restaurants offer platters that you can order a day or two beforehand. And if your reception is in a restaurant, you’re set with deciding food.

For flower bouquets and decorations, check your local supercenters or farmers markets. Typically flowers in season are cheapest, so if you’re flexible with the look you can go seasonal and save some money for the honeymoon.

Save yourself some time and stress, and scratch the professional photography by asking a family member or friend to be the designated photographer. Also, you can get random, candid photos by leaving disposable cameras around the guest tables.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I just spoke to a friend who's getting married in September, and she's following a lot of these suggestions. The entire thing is taking place at a park pavilion, and while there is a bridesmaid dress she's picked out (that's on sale!), I can also "just wear anything in blue or green."

Does anybody have any other last-minute wedding suggestions?

Andrea Karim's picture

My groom wore a nice dress shirt, slacks, vest, and tie. I think we spent $100 on his entire outfit, and he can reuse the items over and over.

Oh, and he LOOKED SO HAWT.

Guest's picture

My girlfriend and I are getting married in little over a month and most of the important stuff has been taken care of. I'm especially happy about the location. We have booked a chapel that was built in the second quarter of the eleventh century. And it wasn't even that expensive, just $283.98, or €200 in real money.

Guest's picture

Davids Bridal has a few dresses that can be ordered online and will be delivered in 3 weeks. Not bad in comparison to the 12-14 weeks other shops can take.

You don't always have to do the bridesmaids dress route, just pick an off the rack dress...

Also, for Bridal Gowns, try a Sample shop, you can try it on and walk out with it. Alterations can usually be done in a few weeks. My twin sister just bought hers yesterday at one of these stores and She paid less than Davids Bridal! It's a beautiful dress of great quality...

Guest's picture

My wife and I got married 8 months ago in Dec. and we did everything in a matter of only a couple of months. She found a pretty (and simple dress which she can wear for other occasions), I wore a nice suite. We got married in our apartment complex, however we were looking at a garden nearby but weren't sure about the weather since it was Dec. and had the reception (which was just our immediate family and close friends, around 15 people) at our favorite restaurant a-la-carte, and it was fantastic! Everyone enjoyed the food, desert (amazing cupcakes) which we made sure we preordered, and a very simple bouquet of flowers. Total cost was under $500 and we loved every moment of it, not to mention our close friend was the one to marry us. :-D

Guest's picture
Purchase Wisely

Don't forget that if the bride (or her best friend or aunt or cousin) can sew, make the dress! That way it's a custom fit, and depending on fabric and trim chosen it will be unique. The embellishments can be simple (lace trim) or if there's more time, they can be added to (sewing seed pearls and sequins onto the lace trim) and you can often purchase lovely fabrics at higher-end fabric stores right off the shelf, so there's no wait for arrival and then time needed for tailoring. I've done a formal gown in less than two weeks while working full time, so unless the bride can buy off the rack with no alterations, that may be the quickest option of all.

Guest's picture

There are so many sites out there for DIY wedding everything from decorations, to food and drink, flowers, invitations, centerpieces, and even bridesmaids dresses! If you are really on a strict budget or time crunch, there are plenty of ways to cut corners without making your wedding seem cheap, you just have to know what to do, put in some effort, and plan really well.

Guest's picture

My husband and I married at the local coffee shop (Michelle's Cafe in Clarion, PA) where we first dated. Just the immediate family and best friends for the wedding, close friends for the reception. Music was my sister playing Bach on the flute. The location catered our reception and we brought in our own alcohol. Instead of a cake, we had cookie platters. My "dress" was a long skirt and top from a local shop; he wore out of the closet. It was wonderful! Although we had time to plan, we both agreed we wanted something small and intimate. Most of our guests told us it was the best wedding/reception they'd ever attended! Oh, and one of my MOH doubled as the photographer -- her wedding gift to us.

Guest's picture

Before deciding you don't need a professional photographer, ask your friends, coworkers etc who have made that decision if they're happy with it after the fact. Getting "uncle Bob" to shoot your wedding could be a major mistake, and you only get the one chance. You are unlikely to remember for very long if the food was sub-par, but you'll remember forever that you have no photos of important moments that were missed.

Guest's picture

Great ideas. As for a wedding photographer, I suggest having a professional do ceremony, family pics & wedding party. Reception being done by a friend is fine IMO.

Guest's picture

There are some websites now that specialize in last minute weddings, like Last Minute Wed