Creating a guest list can be one of the most stressful parts of planning a wedding. Between budgetary concerns, parental pressures, and the simple desire not to hurt anyone’s feelings, making that list could quickly dull any couple’s post-engagement glow.
Don’t let the list get you down! With a few clever strategies, you can select your guests, navigate challenges, and ultimately guarantee an on-budget wedding filled with your favorite people in the world.
- Crunch the numbers. Your wedding budget is often the No. 1 factor that will influence how many people you can invite. It will determine not only the size and location of your venue, but how much food, drinks, table linens, place settings, and favors you can afford (just to name a few). Keep in mind that the average couple spends over $200 per guest, with $66 on food and drinks alone. Figure out roughly how much you’d like to spend per guest. Would you rather spend more per person and have a smaller wedding, or keep your costs low so you can invite more people? Discuss with your spouse-to-be and decide on a number to start with.
- Make your list. You can start simple—just write down anyone and everyone you might want to invite, including distant family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances. Then start sorting. Many experts suggest using a spreadsheet for this part. Organize your list by tiers: Tier 1 includes people who must be invited, if space allows. Tier 2 includes people you’d really like to invite. Tier 3 includes people you’re not as concerned about. See page 14 of Real Weddings Magazine’s Planning Guide for a handy worksheet to get you started!
- Create some cutting rules. It can be really challenging to cut down your list, and this could even lead to arguments between you and your spouse-to-be. He may feel strongly about inviting all of his second cousins, while you don’t see them as a priority. Or you may want to invite your college girlfriends that you haven’t seen in 10 years, while he’d rather focus on close, current friendships. To simplify the process, create some cutting rules. Here are a few possible scenarios that might result in a cut: – If you haven’t seen them in five years – If you wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting them to your house for a dinner party – If they didn’t invite you to their wedding – If you’re only inviting them because they invited you to their wedding – If they live in another country – If you’re inviting them out of any sense of misplaced obligation.
- Kids or no kids. Having a child-friendly wedding will impact the entire feel of the event—and your budget. Especially if many of your friends and family members have children, you may significantly increase your guest count by inviting kids. On the other hand, you could seriously cut back on your bottom line if you make it a kid-free affair. Either way, it’s a difficult and very personal decision. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you decide you’d rather have an adults-only wedding, stay firm in your decision and be prepared to explain your decisions to parents of children with sympathy and simplicity.
- Meet the parents (halfway). Years ago, the mother of the bride often managed the guest list. Obviously, most of today’s couples have taken over that task, but it’s still a good idea to let your parents weigh in—particularly if they’re helping to pay for the wedding. The key to avoiding conflict here is to be clear about your guest list goals. Let them know up-front the size you’re envisioning, as this will impact not only the cost of the wedding but its overall look and feel. Also consider sharing some of your cutting rules with them. If you’re uncomfortable with them inviting people you’ve never met or haven’t seen since you were a child, let them know politely. No matter what, this is your day.
- Set a deadline. You could spend months refining your perfect wedding guest list, but you probably don’t have time for that. With save-the-dates and invitations to be chosen and ordered, settling on your final list is actually one of the first tasks you need to complete when planning a wedding. Shoot for wrapping it up at least nine to 12 months before your wedding date.
- Be careful with the B-list. Some couples choose to send their wedding invitations out in waves. Tier 1 goes out first, then based on guests’ responses, they may send out another wave of invitations to some members of the Tier 2 list. This allows couples to stick very close to their chosen guest list count, and to ensure that they can invite as many friends and family members as their budget and venue allows. The tricky part is, no one wants to be on the B-list—and if they find out they weren’t your first choice, hurt feelings are almost inevitable. A good way to avoid this is to ensure that you keep your main friends and family members in the same circles when sending out invitations. You don’t want innocent small talk revealing that cousin Julie was invited back in March, while Maria didn’t get hers until May. You may also want to set your Tier 1 RSVP deadline a bit early, and send your B-List invitations as soon as you receive your “regretfully declines.”
- Keep calm and carry on. Creating a guest list may not be as fun as picking out flowers or sampling cake, but it’s a hugely important part of the planning process. That said, don’t let it stress you out. Take a step back if you need to, and work hard to keep any related conversations calm and civil. Remember: You’re choosing the cast of characters who will help you celebrate the most important day of your life. Seeing them come together in one space is guaranteed to be an incredible experience.
—Erica Jackson Curran
Erica Jackson Curran is a writer and editor who has contributed to DIY Weddings Magazine, Destination I Do, Charleston Weddings, and Smitten Magazine. Married herself since 2010, she channels her wedding-planning energies into blogging for Shutterfly.