Ready, set, go. Plan your celebration with this 50-step guide

Six Months Before

1. Pick A Date Consider climate and convenience. “If you want lots of blooming flowers April or May is best,” says N.Y.C. planner Marcy Blum. As for a holiday weekend, she says, “If your guest list is all close friends and family, it’s a great reunion. But business associates would rather be with their own families.”

2. Set a Budget Decide how much you can spend and how you want to spend it. For example, you may care more about music than location. And don’t keep upgrading your wish list, says Kate Edmonds, an N.Y.C event designer. “Otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy, looking at more options and spending more money.” If you’re super busy, a perfectionist or facing too many choices, hire a planner now.

3. Start compiling your guest list Once you have an idea of how many will attend book sites for your ceremony, reception and rehearsal dinner.

4. Hire the caterer Be sure you understand how much of a deposit is required and when full payment is due.

5. Order your wedding cake

6. Choose your attendants and ask them to participate Choose and book your officiants

7. Order and send save-the-date cards You need them if you plan to wed on a holiday weekend or, says planner Cara Kleinhaut of Caravents in L.A., “if you have many out-of-town guests, are planning a destination wedding, or are inviting lots of people and want to ensure they get there.” Such advance notice lets people book flights early.

8. Book any musicians you’ll need for the ceremony and a band or DJ for the reception. Hire your photographer and if you plan to use one, a videographer.  If you plan on having a Bride and Groom Tribute DVD produced, begin collecting old photos and even videos if you wish, and book a professional video production company to create it.

9. Book your florist

10. Order your wedding gown “Bridal shops will tell you that it’s never too soon to order your dress,” says Blum. A realistic deadline is six to eight months before the wedding. You’ll want a perfect fit, so shop early to allow time for serious alterations. Before your second fitting, choose your veil, shoes, lingerie and accessories; at later fittings, you’ll simply refine your overall look.

11. Book a honeymoon “Delegate this to your fianc?,” says Kleinhaut, “or it’ll be just one more thing for you to do.” If you’re going somewhere during high season, like Europe in the summer, adds Miami planner Wendy Kallergis, have him start even earlier.

Four Months Before

12. If you want to give your guests favors – especially if you plan to personalize them – choose and order them now

13. Order your invites “I allow about six weeks for invitations to be completed,” says Edmonds. Plus, you’ll want two weeks for envelope calligraphy. Mails invites six to eight weeks before the date, and if you do use a calligrapher, book her to do place cards a week before the wedding.

14. Since people will start asking friends and family where you are registered, set up a registry – or two.

15. Buy your wedding bands and have them engraved

16. Make sure the groom and your attendants have either ordered or purchased what they’ll wear on the big day

17. Reserve rental equipment such as tents, chairs, tables and linens.

18. Take dance lessons if necessary Order stationary you’ll need for thank-you notes (it should have your current name for engagement and show gifts and your married name for wedding gifts).

19. Reserve cars Whether you want a limo, vintage car or van to ferry you, your groom and the attendants from ceremony to reception, reserve it now. “If you don’t have a planner,” says Blum, “hire an expediter from the transport company to greet guests outside the ceremony site and guide them to their vehicles.”

20. Pick music Make sure your band knows – and can play – your choices for the father-daughter and first dances, or that the DJ has the right CDs. “Give the band at least a month if they have to learn the songs,” says Blum. Create must-play and don’t-play lists, and “if the band is going to back up an uncle who’ll sing to the bride, plan rehearsal time for that,” says Edmonds.

21. Reserve your suite for the wedding night as well as blocks of hotel rooms for out-of-towners If you’ll be traveling abroad apply for or renew your passport (delivery can take six weeks).

22. Buy attendants gifts Popular choices include jewelry for bridesmaids and ties or cuff links for groomsmen. “We always suggest that the presents be slightly different for each person, even if it’s a charm bracelet with a different charm,” says Blum.

Two Months Before

23. Choose readings and pick or write y our vows By now, gifts will be coming in; write thank-you notes as presents arrive.

24. Fine-tune your menu Choose the wines, taste the food, tweak the menu, and most important go over all contracts. “Ask if there are any extra charges,” says Kleinhaut, “and inquire about overtime so there are no surprises, such as the bartender leaving at 11.”

25. Mail invitations, and finalize plans for your rehearsal dinner Buy outfits for the rehearsal dinner and bridesmaids lunch, as well as for after the reception.

26. Book and test drive hair and makeup Also book your manicure and pedicure.

One Month Before

27. Order programs and menus

28. Schedule your final dress-fitting About three weeks out, ask family members or bridesmaids to call guests who have yet to RSVP so you can get a final head count.

29. Give your caterer the final count Put it in writing to help prevent disputes over charges for uneaten meals. “You can order more food, but you can’t give it back,” says Edmonds. “Don’t forget vendor meals, which usually cost $10 to $50 a person,” adds Blum. “Hungry vendors are not happy.”

30. Write (or have your calligrapher write) the place cards

31. Do the paperwork Get blood tests and marriage license. If necessary, give the post office y our change of address and order a name-change form.

32. Organize welcome baskets and tourist information for out-of-town guests.

33. Book someone to take care of plants, pets and mail while you’re on your honeymoon Provide friends with your itinerary and emergency contact numbers.

Seven Days Before

34. Ideally you’ve had your shoes for months Now’s the time to break them in.

35. Finalize the seating plan Appoint someone to collect and transport any gifts you receive at the wedding.

36. Plot it out “choreograph the event the week before, then type up the plan and hand it to everyone in the wedding party,” says Blum. “Include a time-table and the cell phone numbers of all your vendors and whoever is going to be the point person – the planner, the church or temple coordinator, the maid of honor or a friend. Then let go.”

37. Make sure toasts are being written

38. Pick up your wedding dress Try it on to ensure that all final adjustments have been made.

39. Pack for your honeymoon and get traveler’s checks if needed

One Day Before

40. Prepare tip envelopes “It’s really inelegant for the bride and groom to be signing the license and handing the priest an envelope,” says Blum. So plan ahead. Prepare envelopes for the officiant and, Edmonds suggests, “for people dealing directly with the general public: waiters, limo drivers, bathroom attendants.” Give the envelopes to the best man, maid of honor or a parent to distribute.

41. Give presents Gifts for bridesmaids and groomsmen are usually given at or just after the rehearsal dinner. Some couples give gifts to their parents at the dinner; others mail a present or note so it’s received while they are on their honeymoon. Parents can have bittersweet feelings after a wedding, says Kallergis; a gift is a nice gesture.

42. Get a relaxing manicure and pedicure – add a massage for extra pampering (you can treat your maid of honor too).

43. Reconfirm transportation

44. Rehearse the ceremony, and enjoy the company of your family and friends at the rehearsal dinner.

Eight Hours Before

45. Keep up your strength: Eat breakfast

46. Have overnight bag delivered to hotel

47. Ask a bridesmaid to deliver a gift or romantic note to your fianc? while your hair and makeup are being done.

48. Remember to bring your marriage license to the ceremony

49. Ring in the new Have someone – usually the best man and maid of honor in a double-ring ceremony – bring your rings to the wedding. Switch your engagement ring to your right hand before the ceremony begins so the groom can place your wedding band at the base of your finger.

50. Prepare to enjoy your wedding “By this point you should have delegated all the logistics to capable people,” Kleinhaut says. “All the bride should have to worry about is walking down the aisle.” So relax, and if something does go wrong, “smile sweetly,” says Edmonds. “Bear in mind that the glitches sometimes provide the most delightful moments” – and memories.