The Steps Series: #2 – Create Your Guest List


Step #2 – Determine who will be invited to your wedding


Prior to planning our own wedding, I had plenty of clients express how frustrated they were with different situations revolving around their guest list. Frustrations such as, “there are so many people on our guest list and it grows everytime we turn around!”, “My mom just sent me her list and she wants to invite 30 people whom I’ve never even met!”, “My fiance wants to invite all his fraternity brothers but I don’t want to have 350 people at our wedding!”, or, “my future mother-in-law sent over her list and she’s expecting all 100 of their extended family members to be invited but they aren’t contributing to the wedding at all!”


While I absolutely had the advice to provide and had compassion for my clients, at the end of the day creating the guest list for their wedding wasn’t something I could help with a whole lot. Sure, I could provide them with an easy-to-use spreadsheet to plug everyone and their addresses into, but I don’t know that Aunt Sally should be invited while crazy Aunt Suzie shouldn’t. So, when TB and I started planning our own wedding I was quickly thrown into a new situation – one that was not always comfortable and required us to really determine who we are close enough with to mail them an invite to our big day.


So after getting through our guest list creation here are 5 ways to get through guest list planning without causing a fight, starting an argument, upsetting a loved one, or causing you unnecessary stress.


#1. Understand that More People = More $

I know this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but it’s easy to get carried away listing off every person throughout your life that you want present on your wedding day.  You know… your childhood dentist, your hairdresser, every person from your church, etc.. I get it – it’s a huge day, one of the biggest in your lives, so you want absolutely everyone there to celebrate with you. But before getting list crazy and adding every person you’ve ever met, consider that each person you add to that guest list is additional money you will spend. For each additional person, you will have additional costs for food, drinks, rentals (you need more tables, chairs, linens, china, flatware, glassware), floral (you need more centerpieces for more tables), cake, etc.


Here’s a good exercise to use when creating your guest list – Are you close enough to the person you’re about to add that today you would go buy them a $50 gift?

  • If your answer is “no” – I think you have your answer as to whether or not they should go on that wedding guest list (however I fully understand there can sometimes be family obligations that might trump this rule.)
  • ‎If you are giving a hesitant “yes” – I suggest you consider adding them to a B List (more on that below.)
  • If your answer is “yes” – put ’em on the list!


#2. Set Your Priorities

Sit down as a couple and determine what your wishes and expectations are for who will be invited. Do you want to have a small, intimate wedding, or do you want to have the biggest party ever with everyone who’s ever been a part of your lives in attendance, or maybe it’s really important that you personally know every person there? Whatever it might be, determine as a couple what matters most to you and set parameters based on that.


For TB and I, we decided that it’s important for us to personally know each person that’s being invited to our wedding, and we really want to keep our guest list to 200 people or less (with the hope of ending up with approx. 150 guests in attendance.  Plan for 75% of your guest list to actually RSVP “yes”.) We felt that 150 people can maintain an intimate feel while still having a party atmosphere during the reception, this also keeps us from having to cut the guest list to the point of offending people and allows us to invite all our close family and friends.


#3. Understand that your parents do have expectations (and feelings)

‎All parents have some level of expectation in mind when it comes to your wedding guest list and who will or will not be invited. My advice to couples varies based on the financial situation of their wedding.


There are two main scenarios to consider, so choose the one that best expresses your wedding financial situation:

1. Your parents (of the bride and/or groom, or collectively) are paying for 61-100% of the wedding:

I know you may not want to hear this, but there are times where part of my job is to bring reality to wedding planning, so I’m going to go ahead and tell you – money talks. If your parents are contributing the vast majority of the wedding budget, they should have a say in who gets invited. That doesn’t mean your friends get taken off the guest list, but it does mean some of your parent’s friends might need to be added.  But it’s all about communication and setting expectations up front. Following the budget discussion (or even at the same time that you have the budget discussion with your parents), talk through the guest list. Tell them the priorities you determined as a couple for the guest list and ask them what their vision is for who should receive an invite. If you don’t have a conversation up front and all come to a collective expectation but instead ask for a list from each set of parents, it is highly likely that you will receive back a larger list than you imagined.

2. You (as a couple) are paying for 60% or more of the wedding:

This is the scenario TB and I are in. It was important to us (after discussing our guest list priorities) to maintain control over the guest list, so we sat down following our budget discussion and created our guest list together. We added all our friends and family members whom we wanted to be at our wedding to our list. Once we felt good about the list we created, I enlisted the help of my mom and TB’s mom. I asked them each to provide a list of those family members and friends they felt should be invited to the wedding. But I also set the expectation from the beginning that TB and I would have discretion over who would actually receive an invitation. I just wanted to be clear up front that just because a name came back to us, didn’t mean they would get an invite. Fortunately, we have two great sets of parents who have been fantastic so there were no issues or questions. But I also do think that’s because the expectation was set up front, there was no grey area to create unrealistic expectations or confusion.


#4. Consider making a B List

The fact that you’re likely setting your guest list a year before your wedding will take place can sometimes make creating your guest list an even bigger challenge. A lot can change in a year! There could be friends whom you used to be super close with, but maybe you haven’t talked to them in a year, well by the time the wedding rolls around that could be 2 years and then you might wish you hadn’t sent them an invite at all. So while you’re making the list, consider where your relationship with each person might be in a year.


If there is anyone whom you are questioning, I suggest putting them on a B list (this can be Sheet 2 on your spreadsheet or you can just make a column to mark A List or B List).  The B list will allow you to think about whether or not to send them an invite for the next several months, but guarantees that you won’t accidentally forget them when it comes time to send invites. Also, for anyone marked B List – do not send them a save the date until you can confidently switch them to the A List column (which may not happen at all.) If you are still questioning when it comes time to drop save the dates in the mail, just skip sending them one and see how you are feeling when it comes time to send invitations. They will never know that they missed a save the date because not everyone sends save the dates, and some people only send them to their out of town guests. This will allow you time to determine if this is really someone whom you want to invite to celebrate your special day with you.


#5. Surround yourself with the people that are important to you

Just keep in mind that this is meant to be one of the happiest times of your life preparing for the happiest day. A day where you will be surrounded by love, so you should be surrounded by the people you love. Follow your gut and invite the people you really want there.


So grab a glass of wine and start that list you’ve been avoiding! If you’re anything like me the thought of just creating a list is exciting!


In case you missed Step #1 – Setting your wedding budget, you can review that here.

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