Finalize Your Guest List in 6 Easy Steps! Really!

Depending on the type of bride/groom/couple you are will determine your reaction when you read/hear the words, Guest List. Coming from a background of having a slightly unhealthy obsession with weddings, I’ve read my fair share of articles on how to handle your guest list. It all sounded pretty simple to me until that day came when I was knocking on the door of reality. The door that held back the nightmare of our actual real-life guest list for our oh-my-gosh-this-is-really-happening-really-wedding! Reality check for sure! No article could have fully prepared me on how to handle our guest list. You have to suddenly change from happy engaged person to a Simon Cowell wannabe who can be so heartless as to cross dear Great Aunt Esther off your wedding guest list. “We haven’t seen Great Aunt Esther in 2 years so it’s not a big deal if she’s not there.” Ouch. The somewhat simple task of putting together a guest list turns into a psychological warfare involving feelings, family preferences, who not to include (because they will embarrass the family), A-Team and B-Team lists, and maybe a few glasses of wine to cope. Scared yet? If you’re type A like me then you may have already had a draft guest list stowed away in some deep dark corner of Excel just waiting to make it’s real-life appearance. If you’re not like me than maybe you’re putting off your guest list until the last possible moment. Maybe you just don’t know where to start! Either way….breathe…it will be okay! I’ve put together a 6 easy steps to help you get started or finish up that guest list that’s been looming over your head since you got engaged.

  1. Decide on a budget. No matter what part of your wedding your thinking about or working on you have to decide on your budget first. My fiancé and I were engaged for a few weeks before we really sat down and decided what we could (and couldn’t handle) for our total wedding budget. We will cover how to do this in another post! It can be tough to do, but please be realistic. I’m all about creating a debt-free dream wedding so don’t go overboard with your budget. If you spend $100,000 or $2,000 on a wedding everyone gets the same result…you’ll end up married to your best friend. Starting out a marriage drowning in “wedding debt” sounds pretty awful to me. I think a great number to start with is $50.00 per guest (and in some areas/venues that is a high or low estimate). Even if your parents are covering the shindig, you still need to work up a budget and stick with it. It will be a sad day when Dad can’t retire because he blew his 401K on your dream wedding. It’s only 1 day folks! Think long term. Okay, I’ll get off my debt-free soap box and move on.
  2. Pick and reserve a location. When thinking about your “dream” wedding do you envision a huge ballroom with 500 guests or a small barn wedding with 75 of you closest peeps? Fit your location to the number of guests you’re hoping to have. Remember, bigger guests lists equal bigger budgets. If you’re on a budget (like me) then I’d try to keep it to a manageable size. I’m finding that 125 has been my magic number. I found a location that I think is the perfect location for that number of guests. You don’t want to have an expansive wedding space if you only have a small guest list. The place will look empty and barren. On the other hand, don’t try to cram 250 guests into a venue that only holds 100. It’s hard to shake your booty on the dance floor when you’re packed in like sardines!
  3. Don’t verbally invite ANYONE! Although this isn’t really a “step” it’s definitely important to the process! This is something you need to keep in mind from the get-go! As soon as your family and friends know that you’re engaged they will be bombarding you with questions about the wedding planning. It’s a natural topic of conversation so enjoy it. After all, it’s so much fun to chat about your upcoming wedding day! Come to think of it…I’m not sure if I’ll have anything to talk about once this wedding is over. Moving on. As you converse about the wedding plans mentally remind yourself not to say anything that would mirror the verbal version of an invitation. At this point you probably haven’t finalized your guest list so you really don’t know if you’ll really end up inviting your Mom’s college roommate or your fiancés high school basketball coach. I found myself wanting to verbally invite anyone and everyone because I was so filled with the anticipation of the big day, but I had to reign it in and keep my mouth shut. Of course you want everyone to be there to witness this momentous event, but in reality your space and budget will decide who and who does not make the cut. If anyone is bold enough to blatantly ask, “When am I getting the invitation?” then kindly let them know that you’re still ironing out the details for the guest list and that you’d invite everyone if you could. That will let them know that they are not to expect an invitation but will understand that they are appreciated by the couple. Once you get the guest list finalized THEN (and only then) can you let them know they are invited. The economy is tough right now and I feel like people who don’t ultimately get invited will completely understand and not let that hinder any future relationship with the happy couple. “We’re on a tight budget and had to stick with close family and friends, but I’d love to share our wedding highlight video with you after the big day!” Note: if you do happen to slip up and verbally invite someone before finalizing the guest list then you must invite them! “Oh, Julie I still haven’t received my invitation that you said you were sending my way.” Awkward! Don’t’ forget to let your parents and your fiancé in on this important tip too! You don’t want them verbally inviting anyone either!
  4. Create several A-Team and B-Team lists. This sounds brutal and it is, but it’s a great way to ensure that the right people will get invited. If you’re involved both sides of parents in the guest list debacle then it would be best to have them create A & B team lists.
    • The 5 involved parties would be:
      1. The Bride
      2. The Groom
      3. The Couple (guests considered “Friends” of both the B & G) Do this list together
      4. The Bride’s Parents
      5. The Groom’s Parents
        • If your parents have split-up then you should ask for their lists independently.
        • If one side of the parents is giving the couple considerably more money for the wedding than the couple may want to consider allowing them to invite a larger number of people. That all depends on the family dynamic.
    • The A-Team list should include those who you ABSOLUTELY want to have there to witness your wedding and celebrate in the big day. This list should also obviously include parents, siblings, BFF’s (and their spouses), mentors, etc. These are the people who you want to have supporting you not only on the big day but in your married life as well.
    • The B-Team list should include people who are not going to break your heart if they aren’t there. These people could include neighbors, co-workers, your childhood bestie, your fiancés golf buddies, that fun couple you met at the music festival last year, etc. If they aren’t there your day will still feel important and special. It’s not saying that these people are not important, but you really have to cut somewhere and it’s shouldn’t be your direct family or life-long friends.
    • Once everyone has had a chance to create their 2 lists (give them a deadline) then start comparing the A-Team lists. Start highlighting those that made it onto 2 or more lists. Those people are obviously important to you, your fiancé, or the parents! Invite them. If there are some people on the lists who do not overlap it’s still okay to invite them but discuss this with your fiancé first. Maybe his golf buddy is more important to him than you realized. Maybe your Dad’s boss is another really important person to invite. Be sure to count your parents and wedding party as an actual “guest” because they will be eating/drinking/dancing along with the rest of them costing you $$.
    • Now that you’ve highlighted the most important people on the A-list figure out if you have any space left in your ideal guest count. Like I said, my guest count is 125 so after comparing our A-Team lists I found that we still had room (and $) for about 25 more guests! Now you can pull out the B-Team lists and start inviting accordingly. Or you can pull extras from the A-team lists that either you, your fiancé or the parents really wanted to invite. This is a day for you and your fiancé so emphasize that to your parents when working on these lists. The final decisions should be left up to you and your future spouse! Your Mom should understand if her personal trainer didn’t make the cut. Let them know you’re sticking to the budget and needed to invite accordingly.
  5. Collect addresses. Once the A & B-Team lists are finalized then the hard parts over! Your guest list is complete! Take a minute to relax and celebrate this small victory! Wine and sushi would be a great way to do so! Now you can begin collecting and organizing addresses for your guests. I found it helpful to type everyone’s name into a spreadsheet and then add their addresses as I collected them. Think of this part as a sort of scavenger hunt. I had to look far and wide for some addresses. People may have moved and your address book has an out of date address. Compare notes with the “Moms.” Moms seem to have some special ability to retain information like addresses. I texted some friends and called others. I felt like Sherlock Holmes digging for clues. Good news is that I now that an up to date data base of our guests. This will come in handy several times throughout the wedding process. Here’s a super simple guest list spreadsheet I’m using to collect and track my guest info (from A Practical Wedding): Guest List Spreadsheet.
  6. Send ‘em out! You can now send out your Save-the-Dates (if you’re doing them-send about 8-4 months prior to the date). Invitations should be sent out anywhere from 6-10 weeks prior. I’m leaning more towards 10 weeks because then I will see if anyone who I thought was coming isn’t going to make it based on their RSVP responses. I can then revisit my A & B Team lists to see if I want to fill their space with another guest. If so, send them an invitation. It will still be far ahead enough of time that it won’t look like they were an afterthought. They wouldn’t have received a Save the Date with the original group, but that’s completely okay! They will be excited to get an invitation.

See? It wasn’t that painful after all was it?! I hope that these tips were something new that you find useful. Don’t stress over this! Keep an open mind and positive attitude about it and no one will end up feeling slighted in the end. Keep the focus on the most important people of the day….you and your future spouse!

If you have any questions about managing/creating/handling your guest list shoot me an email at I’d love to help you out and I can chat about wedding planning till my face turns blue…

I’d love for your to share this blog post with your fave pals!

Julie Clark

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