How to Choose the Right Guest List the First Time

A man holds a guest list sign at a wedding ceremony

Your wedding day is one of the happiest days of your life, and naturally you’ll want to spend it surrounded by close friends and family. You may have a pretty good idea of who you want to invite or what size you want your wedding to be. Sitting down and drafting the guest list can be pretty challenging for couples. For example, it can be difficult to decide whether invites should be sent to your second cousin, or if you should invite your future spouse’s camp buddies that he hasn’t seen in years.

Let’s break down how to make your guest list in the most efficient (and drama-free) manner.

Create a Rough Draft of the Guest List

If you could invite anyone to your wedding had an unlimited budget—who would you invite? Sit down with your future spouse and write down every person you want to invite to your wedding. Divide up your guest list in any way that makes sense to both of you, whether it’s categorized by friends and then family, or by your guests and your partner’s guests.

An engaged couple review their wedding guest list while sitting together on the couch

Consider this list your rough draft. This is the “master list” from which you’re likely to cut people for budget or space reasons. This is also a good reference list you can come back to later when you’re thinking about adding guests you hadn’t thought of. Were they on the rough draft list? If not, then you probably don’t really want them at your wedding now, do you?

Evaluate Your Wedding Budget

The wedding budget is the primary reason why you have to cut people from your guest list. Your venue, which should be booked before the final guest list is decided, may have a cap on how many guests you can invite, so you’ll need to pay close attention to that number when your are finalizing your list.

If you want to invite a lot of guests to the wedding, then you’ll have to estimate how much it’s going to cost to provide dinner, drinks, and dessert for each guest. If you want to have a dinner reception with a buffet, then you need to make sure you can afford to have enough food for all your invited guests. The price is often provided by caterers in the form of a “per head” estimate, so you’ll know exactly how much it’s going to cost for the meal.

There are things you can do to make room in your budget for more guests, such as serving heavy appetizers (instead of a meal) and not having an open bar during your reception. There are other budget-saving ideas you’ll need to think about when you’re trying to decide on a total number of guests.

Establish Rules for Your List

Once you have a good idea of how much you can spend per person at the ceremony and reception, then it’s time to start making an official guest list. This means it’s probably time to start cutting people from your guest list rough draft. The most painless way to do this is to make “rules” for you and your future spouse to follow, so that you can both decide on who gets cut.

A recently married couple dance together after an outdoor wedding

For example, you can make a guest list rule about not inviting friends who have never met your future husband or wife. This would make it easy to cut old friends that may have meant a lot to you when you were growing up but who aren’t really in your life anymore. You could also make a rule that you won’t invite family members beyond first cousins, aunts, and uncles. This is especially useful if you have a particularly large family tree.

Whatever rules you decide on, try to stick to them as much as possible. Of course there are always exceptions, but don’t let them get too far out of hand or you’ll be inviting everyone in town to the wedding.

Make Sure the Guest List is Evenly Split

When you examine your list, it’s important to make sure that everything is as equal as possible. This is the best way to avoid hurt feelings between family members. The traditional way of divvying up the guest list invites is to give the couple half the guest list and the remaining two quarters to the parents of the couple. Not every family will fit into that equation perfectly, but this gives you a good idea of what a fair split is between the families of a soon-to-wed couple.

Don’t be Tempted to Add Guests Later

After you have completed your guest list, try to avoid the temptation of adding more guests once it is finalized. There will always be people that you wish you could have invited to your wedding, but at some point you have to know where to draw the line.

Creating the right guest list is more than just deciding who is invited to your wedding ceremony. You also have to decide with your partner on how the list will be divided and who you will choose to not invite. In the end, it’s all about creating the perfect wedding event with the perfect guest list so that you can cherish the day for the rest of your lives!

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