Creating a guest list for your wedding

The most important variable in how much a wedding costs is simply a factor of guest count and how many persons will be attending the wedding. Considering the venue, food and beverage cost as the primary / highest expenses in nearly every wedding — the guest count dictates how much a couple will spend and accounts for the largest impact on wedding budgets. The easiest way to save money on your wedding is simply to invite less guests. Don’t be cheap with your vendors!

It is extremely important to have an idea / expectations for how many guests will be invited to your wedding before any planning begins. At the beginning of the planning process, before embarking on finding a venue and vendors, be sure to sit down with all parties contributing to the budget. Discuss any expectations for the guest list, and get input from those helping to plan the wedding. Now is the time to make sure everyone is on the same page. If there are any misunderstandings or assumptions, that intimate wedding of 100 guests you were imagining — could easily turn into a large family reunion of 200 guests.

Remember, the number of guests at your wedding will put limitations on the venue; some venues have brackets or ranges of guests they cannot serve. And beyond the venue, every additional guest is another food plate, drink tab or person to shuttle on a bus. Or pay for parking. Or include in desserts and invitations. It all adds up; limiting the number of guests is one the biggest ways you can control the wedding budget. Going beyond the budget, how do you estimate the guest count for a wedding? It starts by making smart guesses to the following questions.

How many guests are invited from each side?

To be fair, each side should be able to invite half of the desired guest count. For example, if you would like your wedding to stay under 150 guests, then each side of the family is able to invite 75 guests (remember the plus-ones and significant others!) There is obvious compromise here if, let’s just say, your fiancé has a small family and they will only be inviting 60 people, then you can go ahead and fill the 15 empty spots with guests from your side. But it’s proper etiquette to assume equal sides in the beginning, and determine if there are open seats after.

Quick tips for making a list of wedding guests.

Once you come up with a desired count, start to create a guest list. It is easiest (and smart) to create a spreadsheet and add a few columns vendors will want; e.g., add a column for “under / over 21” so you can easily look at the list and see how many people will be on the bar tab. Your guest spreadsheet will come in useful for invitations, so feel free to get the proper name spellings while counting up guests.

List everyone that you’d like to attend your wedding. Again, make sure this list is shared with anyone that will be helping pay for the wedding; those people will want to have a say in the guest list. Once everyone has provided their input, this list will be seen as your “draft” guest list.

Who has say over who is invited?

You and your fiancé have final say on who should be invited, but it can get tricky if either parents are contributing to the budget. If any of the parents are paying, they do have the authority to invite guests that they feel should be there. Just remind them: each person they invite, the more cost it adds to the Wedding. Ultimately you will want to compromise with parents to accommodate their wishes while respecting your food / drink / other budgets.

What if my guest list is larger than the desired guest count?

If your draft guest list has a total larger than what was originally discussed, it is a good idea to trim your guest list. Go through and eliminate any one that is not essential to your day. You can make an A-list and B-list. Your A listers include all of the essential guests; so your total A-list should meet or be within the desired guest count. Your B-list will include guests that you would (ideally) like to attend your wedding, but are not essential. If any of your A-list guests are not able to make it, you can invite the ‘B’ guests in their place. If making a guest spreadsheet as mentioned earlier, add a column labeled “essential guest” and note those guests who are A list material.

It is helpful to create some guidelines for trimming your guest list. Here are some questions you can ask each your spouse / others in the guest list making process:

  • Should kids be invited?
  • Which guests get dates, or “plus ones”?
  • Are there friends on the list that we haven’t spoken to in 3+ years?
  • If we have never met a family member, but their is name is on the list, should they be invited? (An easy way to cut cost.)

Pro Tip: If you decide to have an A and B-list, make sure your A-list invites are sent out 3-4 months before your Wedding date; this will give you time to get your B-list out 6-8 weeks prior to your Wedding. Don’t forget to create two different response cards; the A-list will need an earlier RSVP date verses the B-list which will have a later date.