How to Make the Guest List
Making the hardest part about planning a wedding easier
Making a guest list is probably the first thing you have to do after you get engaged (besides share your joy with the world and set a budget). Some may argue that booking the venue comes first, but as anyone who has planned a wedding before knows, the first thing venues want to know is how many guests you'll be expecting. While you don't have to nail down exactly who will be coming in order to start other preparations, and you can definitely (and should) start looking for venues early on, the guest list is something that has to be at least mostly decided before anything else can happen.
Cue the stress.
No matter what your social or family life looks like, making a guest list for your wedding is going to be tricky, for several reasons.
For one, it's the biggest formal event of your life and one of the most meaningful days, period. That means that people want to be a part of it and you want people that matter to you to be a part of it, too. However, weddings are also expensive, and the average guest adds on $268 when you factor in food, alcohol, invitations, and other guest cost. Yikes. Then there's the matter of who is actually paying for the wedding; many couples today pay for it themselves, but if your parents are helping with any part of it, then they have a say in who gets invited (like it or not). If all of that's not enough, there's the awkward social norm of plus-ones, and then you have to multiply all of these complications by 2, because you have to factor in your soon-to-be spouse's side.
It's enough to make a girl who has dreamt of her fairytale wedding since she was 5 seriously consider eloping. But really, there are a few simple guidelines to make the process bearable!
First, get some sort of organizational tool going. You don't want to keep track of your guest list via a note on your phone. Excel sheets work just fine, but there are some much prettier, much more bride-friendly online cloud-based options like the Guest List Tool from WeddingWire or the Wedding Guest List Manager from the Knot - we personally prefer the first because of the ability to sort guests into categories! Both offer options to keep track of addresses, invites, and include pre-wedding events like rehearsal dinners and bridal showers.
Set a general cap BEFORE you start listing people. Once you start, unless you're an absolute hermit, it's really hard to stop! And your venue can only hold so many people, and your budget can only accommodate so many people. We know you probably love so many people, and we get that you want them all to be there, but you have to be realistic about what you can and can't do, and consider what your fiancé wants as well.
Decide who has a say. Unless your parents are out of the picture, they should get a say in who is invited, especially if they're paying for it. However, you also don't want random people like incredibly distant relatives you've never met or their coworkers showing up at your wedding. One way to do this is to sit down with them, and calmly and gently discuss your vision for this wedding. You probably can't get out of having some family members you're not close with there, but you can cut down on the amount of strangers present by discussing expectations beforehand, and setting a limit. One rule we've heard is that the couple together gets 50% of the guest list, his family gets 25%, and her family gets 25%. However, that doesn't always work out so neatly - how you do this is really going to depend on your specific situation and how supportive your parents are.
Make rules. To avoid conflict, especially between you and your fiancé, set some basic ground rules about guests that both of you can agree on. For example, if neither of you have ever met them or haven't spoken to them in the last five years, do they really need to be at your wedding? Do you want kids present? Will you welcome all plus ones (guaranteeing strangers at your wedding) or will you allow only specific ones? You shouldn't invite people just because you feel guilty not inviting them (unless they're family, probably). Talk about these things and set some realistic, logical rules that you'll both follow as you're considering who you want there!
Don't let anyone make you feel pressured. You'll probably get a lot of "I can't wait for the wedding!" from people you tell that you weren't thinking of inviting, or even just feel the secondhand awkwardness that comes from people asking planning questions, even if they're innocent. It can be really easy to respond in a way that might make them think they are invited and put you in an awkward situation down the road. You shouldn't be uncomfortable - people who have had weddings before understand the pressure, and people who don't will be okay! Come up with a polite but clear response for those situations before they happen. It's okay to let people know that you can only invite so many people.
Don't let the fun of the wedding be ruined before it starts. Making a guest list can be fun if you do it right!
What are some other tips you've heard? What do you have the most trouble with when creating your guest list? Are there any etiquette questions you have? Let us know in the comments, and share this with a friend in the early planning stages!