The Save the Date pre-invitation is a fairly recent innovation in wedding etiquette. Sending out advance notice of pending nuptials became popular with busy professional couples in the early 2000s.

The idea is to give friends and family an extra heads up that the wedding is coming up – they should save the date.It’s a response to the more challenging social and work schedules we all seem to following these days, as well as the increasing popularity of destination weddings and culturally-specific celebrations that may unfurl over several days. But it is not an invitation. Here are a few tips on how to use this most useful of wedding communication pieces:

When do you send them out?

Save the Date notices should go out six to eight months before the wedding. That may seem like a long time, but guests may need to book off work, save up some money, make travel arrangements – you need to give them enough time to do so.

Who gets one?

Anyone you really want at your wedding should get a Save the Date, including your bridal party. This is a good time to be clear about whether plus ones or children will be included in the invitation. This could head off enquiries and give people a bit more time to plan. Remember that, although it’s not an invitation, it would be very poor form to renege on a save the date.

What information should be included?

Basic information such as the location (at least the city if the venue is not yet booked), the date, and the names of the couple will suffice. This is not the time to promote your gift registry or request an RSVP (remind friends that an official invitation will be coming later with the words “Formal invitation to follow”); but you could link guests to a wedding micro-site where detailed information will eventually be made available.

Is it OK to send an electronic or digital Save the Date?

It seems inevitable that something as informal as a Save the Date will be circulated by email. It will serve its purpose, but it’s also a missed opportunity to have fun with a printed document. Remember too that older guests may have a less relaxed attitude towards email. There is a current trend for novelty Save the Dates – coasters, fridge magnets – and many couples plan photo shoots specifically to illustrate their Save the Date cards. This can turn the notice into a memorable and fun souvenir.

What happens if your wedding details change, or the wedding is postponed?

You never know what will happen in life. One school of etiquette states that a revoked invitation of any sort requires a personal call or a face-to-face notification. But for a wedding Save the Date  (or formal invitation if they have already gone out), a simple printed and mailed statement about postponement will suffice. No apologies or explanations required.

Social etiquette is sometimes tricky – but usually not.  Making things as easy as possible for another person while staying true to yourself should be the guiding principle. Just keep that in mind and you’ll find that even modern innovations such as the Save the Date will help you spread the love.