How to Make Your Wedding Guest List

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You’ve been pouring your heart into wedding planning. You’ve found your vendors, you’ve secured your date, and now it’s time to sit down and make a wedding guest list.

Ah, the dreaded wedding guest list. No matter what stage of life you’re in, making a wedding guest list can be extremely trying. Not only do you have to worry about keeping the list to your desired headcount, but you may also have other influences like your mother wanting to invite your dear Aunt Sally you haven’t seen since you were three. Or maybe you’ve even heard from your estranged acquaintance from middle school who decided to reach out and congratulate you, asking for details on the wedding you’re planning.

Well, brides and grooms, I’m here to help! As someone who planned a wedding and who works with wedding invitations every day, I know how much work goes into crafting the wedding guest list. I want to try and give you tips and guidance that I’ve learned overtime to help you make your wedding guest list process as pain-free as possible.

Grab a glass of wine, and let’s dive in!

The Guest Count Game

Before you even start crafting your wedding guest list, have a conversation with your significant other and with anyone else involved with the planning. This might be the hard conversation about money, but trust me, it’s necessary! Work with your caterer to figure out a per-person cost for food and alcohol, as this will likely be what decides your guest count. Remember that not everyone that you invite will be able to come. A good rule of thumb is to assume that 10-20% of the people you invite won’t be able to come. This means that if you have a guest cap at 100, you should be safe to invite between 110-120 people. That percentage might be a little more if many of your guests have to travel from far away, or a little less if many of your guests are from in-town.

(Don’t forget to double check that this number of guests can actually FIT in your venue as well!)

Step One: Start with the “Obvious”

The obvious can differ depending on your family situation, but for many people, family is where they start. At first, you’ll want to account for the number of immediate and extended family you have. Will you include younger cousins? Will you invite great aunts? This is the time to decide on which family members will be invited on both sides. This may only make up 10% of your guest list, or it may make up 50%. This part of the guest list may bring up opinions from parents and other relatives, so make sure you are prepared with answers should you get approached. Don’t feel like you have to “explain yourself” to anyone, but just a simple answer about prioritizing according to your guest count will do.

Step Two: Forever Friends

Next up on your list should be friends and family friends who you can’t imagine this day without. This list doesn’t have to be people you’ve known forever, but it should be those who you will try and keep a relationship with in the future. These are your college roommates who became sisters, your neighbor growing up who is now your confidant, and the family friends who call you their own.

Step Three: Establish your “Recent” list

These are the friends you’ve maybe met in the past few years or so. These are the co-workers who you talk to everyday who you know you would want there. These are sorority sisters, people you met at intramurals, and other acquaintances who you foresee being in your lives and who you know would want to attend your wedding as much as you’d want them there. One thing to think about is if they were getting married, would you expect to be invited? Obviously wedding invites shouldn’t be tit-for-tat, but it’s a good way to measure how serious you view the relationship and how much you’d value their presence there on your special day.

Step Four: Deciding on Dates

This part can be tough, especially if you’re at the age where it seems like everyone is getting married! A good rule of thumb is to give dates to people who are married or engaged and stop there. If someone is dating someone and has been for five years, that would be a very different situation than those who have been dating for a few months. The whole “dates debate” will really come down to your budget and preference. I’ve heard of some couples opting for no “plus ones” and some who throw them out freely. Don’t feel pressured to give out a date to someone if you don’t absolutely want to. It’s also important to look at the rest of the guest list and see if the person in a relationship would have friends there or feel comfortable coming alone. Often times, groups of single men or women will come together to spend time together on the day of and won’t be worried about leaving their significant other behind for one night.

Step Five: The “Back-Up List”

This is a tricky one, but is something to consider if you have more people you’d love to invite than budget allows. A back-up list can consist of some people who you would love to have there if numbers allows. Here’s where it gets tricky: there is a date to RSVP by, and you don’t want people to feel like they were B-list. If you plan on having a back-up list of guests, make sure you send out the wedding invitations with plenty of time to receive back some “regrets” so that you can quickly send wedding invitations to back-up list guests. I typically recommend having those invitations on your back-up list addressed, stamped and ready to go in the mail the minute you get a declined RSVP. As one decline comes in, one invitation from the back up list goes out. The closer you get your second-round of invitations out the better! These people are important to you, so you don’t want them to receive their invitation much, much later than other guests and feel forgotten about or less important to you.

Remember What Matters

The most important thing to remember when making your wedding guest list is that it is your day as a couple. Try not to invite out of guilt, and try to recognize that who you are inviting should be people who support your relationship, love you unconditionally, and want nothing more than to celebrate YOUR love on your special day. Weddings get expensive quickly and your guest list numbers greatly affect that. Just because you don’t invite someone to your wedding, doesn’t mean they aren’t meaningful to you!

Thoughts or questions?

Now that you have your guest list set, make sure that your invitations and save the dates are clear on who is, and who is not invited so that there aren’t any surprises! Click here to read all my tips on the proper way to address your envelopes to make that clear to your guests.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got tips and tricks on creating a wedding guest list, or if you have any questions I can answer. Thanks for reading, and as always, I’m here to help make your wedding invitation dreams a reality!


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