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How To Make A Guest List For Your Wedding

Wedding day guest photo shoot

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Creating and sticking to a guest list for your wedding can be both one of the most exciting and one of the most stressful parts of the whole endeavor. For one, it’s supposed to be a list of all your close friends and relatives – that is complicated enough!

Does this uncle tolerate that cousin enough or are they going to claw each other’s eyes out? Isn’t this friend of yours an ex of your spouse’s best friend? And for that matter – don’t you both have several exes that are now plus-ones of your other close friends?

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There are an awful lot of things to consider when making a wedding guest list and even though most of them can sound like jokes and anecdotes from the outside, they can be hell to go through. And then, there’s the budget.

So, how does one go about crafting this guest list? How do you decide who to invite and who to skip? And how do you politely tell someone that they won’t be invited? Let’s take a look:

Wedding Guest List Etiquette

There aren’t any set-in-stone rules when it comes to creating your wedding guest list – no one’s going to come and stop you if you decide to invite the third step-cousin of your ex’s new partner that you’ve never met. After all, it’s your wedding.

However, there are many great tips that people have found out and formulated after countless trials and errors – tips that can help make the preparation of your own guest list as effortless, pleasant, and effective as possible. We’ve compiled them here in what’s often referred to as the “wedding guest list etiquette”.

Factors To Consider When Planning Out Your Guest List

Girl holding Champagne in wedding part

The total number of things you might have to consider can be quite daunting depending on the type of wedding you’re planning. And while we can’t account for every bizarre detail, here are the main factors that play a part in most weddings:

  1. Always keep the budget in mind. The reception venue is the biggest part of any wedding budget so how many people you invite will affect your overall wedding budget quite drastically. All you need to do is estimate how much each guest is going to cost – the seating, the food & drinks, the favors, and so on –  and divide the overall reception budget you have by that amount – the resulting figure is the number of guests you can afford to invite.
    As a side tip, usually, around 5-10% of the invited guests end up not coming to the wedding for one reason or another which is money you’re going to save. Also be smart and always leave a little buffer in the budget. Even though some of the invited guests won’t be able to come, there are multiple other hidden costs to every wedding & reception that can pile up and break your budget.
  2. Make 2 lists of friends & relatives – an A list and a B list. Now that money is out of the way, let’s talk about people. The easiest way to decide who can come to the wedding and who can’t fit in the list is to actually prepare two lists – an A list and a B list. The A list will be made up of everyone that absolutely has to attend the wedding, like your parents, your siblings, aunts and uncles, and first cousins as well as your closest friends. The B list will include everyone else like the people you want to invite and people that you don’t to invite but suspect you should. Once both lists are ready, simply include everyone from A list and as many people from list B as you can afford.
  3. Consider the size of the venue. Even if you have a budget for 200 people, if the reception venue has a maximum capacity of 50 you’ll have to either change the venue or invite-only up to 50 people.
  4. Have a firm idea about the wedding’s atmosphere and theme. If the theme of the wedding is going to be small and intimate, inviting everyone and their grandchildren may not be a good idea.
  5. Find out whether your parents want to have a say (and more specifically – whether they are paying for the wedding and/or the reception). It’s not uncommon for the parents of the bride and groom to suddenly surprise them with a list of several dozen people they also want invited. If the parents have paid for a part of the wedding, you may have to take that into account. To avoid any surprises, talk with your parents ahead of time and come up with a sensible compromise.
  6. Set a rule about the plus ones. The plus ones that are typical for most wedding invitations can easily balloon your guest list. A good idea is to allow plus ones for married and engaged friends but not to single friends that just want to bring a date.
  7. Think of the children. If too many of your guests have children it might be smart to make it an “adult-only” wedding. Just tell your guests to find babysitters for the big day and you’ll be able to keep your guest list manageable and children-free.
  8. Figure out what to do with your colleagues. Unless you’re really close with some of your colleagues, it’s usually a good idea to not invite any of them, especially your boss. Inviting some of your colleagues and not others is a recipe for disaster back at the workplace and you likely don’t want that. Just prepare something symbolic like treats or favors for your colleagues once you get back to work.
  9. Don’t feel obligated to invite people that have invited you to their weddings in the past. A common problem a lot of people have is feeling forced to invite people they don’t want to invite just because they’ve been to their weddings. That’s not necessary, however – if your friends’ wedding was many years ago, that’s generally long enough for you to not feel obligated to invite them back. If it was recently, however – you might have to bite the bullet so there are no hurt feelings.
  10. Decide whether you’re about to have a destination wedding or a local one. Destination weddings can make it infinitely harder or much simpler to prepare a guest list – it all depends on where they are and who can come. Typically, these types of weddings have much shorter guest lists because a lot of people won’t be able to attend.

How To Cut People From The Guest List… Nicely

Bridesmaids photo shoot with the Bride

Now to the even trickier question – how do you politely cut someone from your wedding without turning the whole thing into a problem? Maybe they are an ex, maybe they are a friend you feel like you have to invite but you don’t want to, or, even worse, maybe they are a close but unpleasant relative you don’t have room in your budget for. Here are some tips for excluding friends and especially family from your wedding list:

  1. The first and most important thing here is to talk with them in person. Don’t send an email and don’t text them – whenever possible, tell them in person that you won’t be able to invite them. If necessary, a little white lie can be acceptable as to not hurt their feelings but you should generally try to be open and honest. When in doubt, “the budget” is often a good excuse.
  2. Picking a destination for your wedding that you know they can’t or won’t want to attend is a tricky but effective way to easily exclude someone – or multiple people – from your wedding list. Of course, revolving your entire wedding around the goal of not inviting someone can be silly but if it’s a destination that you want for your wedding anyway – two birds with one stone!
  3. Don’t invite other relatives of similar standing to the one you decided not to invite. If you don’t invite your second cousin and you give them the reason that you’re only inviting the “immediate family” but you invite a couple of your other second or third cousins – that can lead to some serious problems. Without over exaggerating, that’s literally how many family feuds have started over the centuries. If you’re not going to invite one second cousin – don’t invite any of them.
  4. The atmosphere, theme, music, and cuisine of the reception can also make it easier not to invite a certain someone. If your aunt is a vegetarian, not having a vegetarian menu will make it easier on her that you didn’t invite her. Or, if you plan a heavy metal wedding, your cousin’s grandparents will be outright happy that you didn’t invite them – looking at the “sound-free” pictures will be more than enough for them.

Your wedding guest list should include all the people you want to share in on your special day. You shouldn’t have to feel pressured into inviting everybody you know.