What they are – Save the dates help guests form their first ideas about your wedding. They may give a hint as to the level (or lack of) formality. They also do just what the name implies; help your guests save the date! If you are doing a destination wedding or your guests are from out of town this is especially helpful.
When you send them – Typically, as soon as your wedding date is set in stone you may send your save the dates. 6 to 9 months before the wedding is a good general benchmark for your stationery time line.
Do you need them? – If you are having a destination wedding or have out of town guests the answer is a definite yes. If all of your guests live near the wedding venue that you have chosen they may not be necessary. You will be sending your wedding invitations 6 to 8 weeks before the wedding and if all of your guests are local, that should be enough notice. Make sure to verbally let people know when your wedding will be if you decide not to use save the dates.
Other Tips – If you will not be using save the dates, consider sending an email to all of your guests and make sure to verbally notify anyone who isn’t technologically savvy. If you will be using a wedding website, include that information on your printed save the date (unless it is very formal) or in your email notifications. A wedding website is a great way to get information to your guests without overloading on invitation inserts and it is considered the only appropriate way for the bride and groom to relay their registry information themselves.