Though 16 months–the length of the average engagement–seems like a long time, most brides will tell you that when planning for your big day, every minute counts. Before you know it, your wedding is tomorrow. That’s why planning ahead of time is essential. A wedding checklist will help you keep things in track and help you remember the little details that make a wedding day so special. Go ahead and print this article. It’ll act your own personal wedding coordinator. Twelve to Nine Months Before: Buy yourself a binder to use as an inspiration board and organizer. Look through bridal magazines, food magazines and other sources like fashion magazines to find inspiration for the look and feel of your wedding. Your binder is also where you will keep a list of prospective venue halls, wedding planners, florists, caterers, and wedding bands. Down the line your binder is the best to keep all your important numbers and payment receipts. Figure out what kind of budget you’re really working with and who will be paying for the wedding. Consider whose side of the family will be footing the bill, for example. If you are both paying for the wedding then it is time to discuss and divide who will cover what costs. If you have a good working budget and can afford it, this also the time to start shopping for a wedding planner. Decide on a wedding date that is suitable for both of your immediate families, like parents, siblings and grandparents. Start creating your guestlist. If you’re working on a tight budget chances are a huge wedding is not doable right now. Start shopping for a wedding dress and decide whether you will rent or buy a tuxedo for the groom. Start choosing your bridesmaids, groomsmen, and flower girls. If you are planning a religious wedding, this is the time to speak with your pastor or any other officiator you’re considering. Research wedding venues, caterers, photographers, videographers and florists. Arrange a tasting with your caterer of choice. Nine to Six Months Before: Start shopping for invitation vendors and decide on an invitation color scheme and design. Also start creating ideas for menu and place cards. Start narrowing your search for a caterer, photographer, videographer and florist. No need to plan a menu yet but do get your ideas down in writing. If they agree with your requests then by all means, book them. If you’re seeking DJ services, ask them to show you any other wedding playlists they have created so you can get a feel of their style. If it’s a wedding band ask to watch them perform elsewhere. Set up your wedding gift registry with at least two stores (one high-end, one low-end) to give your guests variety. Purchase your wedding dress and begin scheduling fittings. Also buy a veil and shoes and bring both to fittings to help your tailor measure the right length for your wedding dress. Start meeting with cake designers and come equipped with ideas. Start booking hotels for out-of-town guests. Four to six months prior to your wedding: Book a venue for both the rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony. If you need to rent more chairs or sound equipment, for example, start consulting with a rental companies now. Start consulting with a hair and makeup artists. Shop around to see who “gets” what you’re looking for the most. Start booking where you will be staying on your wedding night and also confirm your honeymoon destination. Start arranging to get documentation such as Visas or Passports if your honeymoon is outside of the country. Give your maid of honor or bridesmaid a guest list. Ideally they should be planning a shower for you in the coming weeks. Two to Four Months Before: Start sending out thank-you cards for gifts received at your shower. Finalize your wedding menu and wedding cake design. Finalize who will be speaking and who will be giving the toast. Buy your rings now to give you time to resize if necessary. Mail out your invitations and give guests at least six weeks to RSVP. Alert everyone involved in the wedding–from the rental company and caterer to the DJ and officiator–of the structure of your wedding. Get your marriage license–they expire three months later. One to Two Months Before: Confirm your RSVP’s and contact those that have not responded. Purchase your guest book, ring pillow, garter and toasting glasses. Essentially, think of all the small wedding accessories that people tend to forget. Six to Three Weeks prior to your Wedding: Mail out any outstanding payments to all vendors. Create a Wedding Day itinerary–like airport pick-up’s–so no details are forgotten with all the activity. Print out the seating chart and decide where VIP’s will be seated. One Week Before: Pick up your wedding dress and store it safely. Make sure the caterer has a final head count on who will be attending the wedding. Make sure the bar is fully stocked. Give the photographer a checklist of the shots and people you would like photographed. Book a spa treatment for you and your bridal party to pamper yourselves. Confirm all your hair and nail appointments. Start packing for your honeymoon. Get plenty of rest, especially the night before your wedding. Wedding Day   Congratulations, you made it! Avoid any situation that stresses you out. Delegate, and delegate some more. It’s what your maid of honor is there for. Meet four couples that got engaged in the pages of ESSENCE. Read their story and vote for your favorite. They are eligible to win a dream wedding, which will definitely allow them to check a few things off this list. Looking for a wedding cake? Check out these desserts for inspiration Take some cues from these celebrity weddings for your big day