The process of finalizing your wedding guest list is full of tricky decisions. We all know how important the budget is, and the size of this list can make or break your commitment to being frugal. The problem is, you don’t want to offend or miss anyone by excluding them from your wedding.
We know it can be hard to decide who to invite and who not to invite, so we’ve compiled the ultimate wedding guest list guide to help you through the process. Ask yourself the following questions, consider these pieces of advice, and make your final list with peace of mind so you can focus on planning the rest of your big day.
Some Rules of Thumb for Wedding Guest Lists
It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to deciding 1) how many guests to invite to your wedding and 2) who gets those spots. We recommend using the following rules of thumb to get started. While setting a “rule” may seem too restrictive, it can help ease the guilt that comes with not inviting someone. It’s not personal if it’s just the rule! (Even if you set it yourself.)
- Come up with three numbers: This is a great basic advice for wedding guest lists—consider the following numbers: 1) how many guests your venues hold, 2) the amount of must-invite guests you have (close family and friends), and 3) the number of people on your might-want-to-invite list. If the second number is bigger than the first, you need a bigger venue. If it’s smaller, then the difference between the two numbers determines how many people from list three you can invite.
- Consider your budget: Okay, so you’ve calculated that your reception venue can hold up to 200 people. But can you afford to feed 200 guests? When determining your wedding guest list, consider all the costs associated with each guest. If your catered meal costs $50 per person, choosing each guest may be more a matter of finances than of space.
- The two-year rule: Have you seen this person within the last two years? If not, have you at least talked to them one-on-one? If not, then they’re probably not an important enough part of your life to need an invite. This is an easy way to eliminate old friends off the list. If someone was a part of your past but isn’t a part of your present, they don’t need to be a part of your future.
- Plus ones: There’s a lot to say about plus ones, but it boils down to this: plus one invites are for long-term partners of your guests—spouses, fiancés, or partners who’ve been around for a significant amount of time. You don’t need to hand plus-ones out to every friend you invite. You should pre-establish a few courtesy exceptions, however, for members of your bridal party and out-of-town guests (especially ones who don’t know many other people who will be at the wedding).
- Inviting by categories: Sort your prospective guests into categories: immediate family, extended family, close friends, casual friends, co-workers, college friends, book club friends, yoga friends, etc. If you’re over your allotted number of guests, see if you can eliminate an entire category. The all-or-nothing tip works great for co-workers. Sure, you spend a lot of time with these people, but if that’s more because of physical proximity than genuine friendship, they don’t need to be on the list. If you don’t invite any of them, then none of them have a valid reason to complain. Of course, you can make an exception for those with whom you have a genuine friendship outside the office, but then they’re more likely to be in the “close friends” category after all.
Family Is a Must on the Guest List
There’s no getting around it—family is likely going to be the largest portion of your wedding guest list. You may not regularly talk to everyone in your extended family, but they’re undeniably a part of your life. This can become a challenge when narrowing down your guest list, especially if one of you has a large family and the other doesn’t! While you should invite family members, you can decide together where to draw the line. You don’t have to invite great aunts and uncles if you don’t want to, but if you invite one family member from a certain category, it’s good etiquette to invite them all. Inviting five of your seven cousins could start unwanted family drama.
Consider Proportions of Family to Friends on Your Wedding Guest List
There’s no perfect ratio for determining what percentage of folks on your wedding guest list should be family vs. friends. This depends on how big your family is, how many close friends you have, where the wedding is vs. where your family and friends live, etc. Something to consider, however, is a statistic about RSVPs we include in our wedding planning checklist. Typically, 85% of the family you invite will attend, whereas only about 50% of friends are able to make it. In the end, family is more likely to show up.
Wedding Guests Are Expensive!
Budget is an important factor in determining who to invite and who to leave out. Sure, more wedding guests means more gifts, but typically you spend more on each guest than the value of their gift. Besides, your guests aren’t there just to shower you with home goods—they’re there to celebrate with you! While the cost of food may be the biggest financial factor to consider, don’t forget about the cost of wedding favors, reception drinks, postage for save-the-dates, invites, and thank-yous, etc. “It’s out of the budget” is one of the best reasons not to invite those extra people on your list.
Remember, however, that there are other ways to budget rather than cutting wedding guests! For example, some of the things most guests don’t care that much about are physical save-the-dates, fancy invitations, and printed programs. If having those people present is more important to you than having nice stationary, then maybe you can squeeze a few more friends onto your list.
Consider RSVP Rates for Wedding Guest Lists
When budgeting for the number of guests you can invite, keep in mind that not everyone invited will be able to attend—200 invitees does not mean 200 guests. According to our estimates, about 75% of invitees show up on the big day. This number is higher for local guests and lower for out-of-towners, but this is the overall average. This tidbit may help you relax a bit and give you flexibility to leave in those last few people.
You’re Not Obligated to Invite Anyone
Don’t let your future in-laws pressure you into inviting a bunch of people you don’t know and have never met. It is courteous to give the ‘rents a few seats to use at their discretion—especially if they’re helping pay for the big day. However, don’t be afraid to reign them in (and don’t be afraid to ask your partner to back you up!).
Obligations don’t always come from other people, though—sometimes we put undue pressure on ourselves to invite certain people. Among the most notorious to fall into this category are the people who have invited us to their weddings once upon a time. Our professional opinion is that invite reciprocity is a wedding myth—you don’t have to invite someone to your wedding just cause they invited you to theirs years ago! You should only invite people you actively care about now.
Wedding Guest List Tips for the Most Indecisive
If you’re “Minnesota Nice” like us, it may seem easier to just invite everyone in order to avoid all possible confrontations or snubs. We’re here to assure you that it’s not rude to leave someone off your wedding guest list. Ask yourself questions like these and see if it helps you feel better about leaving certain people off.
- Do I really want this person there? It’s a gut feeling. You either do or you don’t. What’s your first instinct when you imagine greeting this person on your wedding day?
- Would I want to be invited to this person’s wedding if they were the one getting married? If the answer is yes, invite them. If not, cross them off.
- How do I feel when I take this person off the list? Sometimes we leave people on the wedding guest list just because we put them on during our initial brainstorming session. If you’re on the fence about someone, try crossing them off. Did you feel relieved or guilty? This can help you determine your gut feeling.
- Can I recreate my list from memory? Without looking at your original draft, rewrite your side of the wedding guest list from memory. Who didn’t make it onto the new version? Maybe these people are not as important as you think they are.
If you absolutely can’t make a decision, then go ahead and invite the person. Just make sure your fiancé is on board! Try your best to go with your gut about whether or not this person will add to the joy of your big day. In the end, that’s what it’s all about: enjoying your wedding with those who are most special to you. Do you have any tried and true tips for deciding who makes the cut on your wedding guest list? Let us know in the comments!