Laying out a guest list for your big day might seem like a no-brainer at first. You might be thinking, “I’m just gonna invite my close friends and family and call it a day”. Maybe you’re even thinking you don’t have that many close friends and so the process will be quick, easy, and painless. But, when you finally put your pen to the paper to start making your guest list, you'll find that the initial 50 people you planned on inviting has rapidly transformed into 200.
Yes, your guest list for your big day is a big deal. Your wedding guests determine your general plans (food, tables, party favors), the type of wedding you can have, whether or not you can choose your dream venue, and yes - most importantly - it will determine your budget.
So, I’ve broken it down for you into ten easy steps which might not make the process completely painless but will save you from a significant number of headaches.
1. Start with the basics: how many and who!
As much as you might want to, avoid picking your venue first. This is definitely where your mind goes as soon as you start the planning process (who wouldn’t want to immediately check out potential spots for their future wedding?...). But as much as you can, avoid going 100% into planning your venue. First, sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm about your guest count and guest list. How many people would be too small of a wedding? How many people would be too big of a wedding? Does this ideal number of guests seem reasonable in terms of your budget (remember every head costs $$$). While you’re considering the guest count, make a rough list of your guests. Remember, this doesn’t have to be final, but listing everyone out will allow you to start considering who you really want there and how the numbers can add up faster than expected.
2. Keep in mind small weddings are much more affordable.
If you're on a strict budget, definitely keep this in mind. Imagine that in the end, you invite 200 guests. Right now that may seem like a lot, but that number could be around your actual headcount. Now (taking food for example) if every plate costs $30, then suddenly the bill for food alone is $6,000. Let’s imagine that you reduce the guest count to $75. Suddenly your food bill is only $2,250. That’s a drastic difference - just for the food alone! If you’re trying to stick to a budget, definitely consider how the guest count is going to influence the total price tag before you send out the invitations.
200 guests x $30/plate = $6,000
75 guests x $30/plate = $2,250
3. Be organized from the start.
When it comes to all aspects of your wedding, it’s going to save you a lot of stress if you commit to being organized from the get-go. This means staying organized through all the major parts of the process. Below are the major To-Do’s. If you can break the day into manageable pieces, you’re golden.
The Guest List
Contracts and Negotiations
Photography, Food, Music, Cake, and More
Decor: Rentals, Flowers, and Favors
Accommodations and travel
The Day Itself
For the guest list itself, staying organized can mean making a spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet, you want to have the name of the guest followed by some information for that specific person: their home address (for the invitation to be sent), whether or not they have RSVP’d yet, the number of people they’re bringing with them, their food choice, and any person-specific notes that might keep the paramedics from having to arrive on the scene (if, per se, they’re allergic to peanuts).
4. Don’t get bullied by relatives.
This is a special day for your family too, so be open to compromise. But in the end, it is up to you (even if someone else is paying). So don’t let yourself get bullied into making cuts or sending invitations out to people who you really really don’t like. Your family should understand the ideal size of the wedding and that not everyone can come. This is the reality you’ve had to face, don’t be afraid to explain to your relatives what you’ve learned so far.
5. Do you want children at the wedding?
Keeping kids from the wedding is automatically a no-go in some families. However, if you have the freedom to even consider this option, here’s a reason you may want to consider it for your own wedding: it can drastically change the guest count - which may drastically change your budget.
If you invite distant cousin Sally and she brings her husband and three kids, that means she’s bringing four extra people! To feed the cost of her kids alone, that’s an extra $90! If you know your sister or brother is going to bring their children, that’s fine! You can totally say “No kids, except my sister Joanne.” People will understand that. If your guests are concerned about finding babysitters for their kids, make sure you’re making the “no kids” announcement early on to help give them time to work on finding a solution. In the end, do what you want, just be sure to consider the pros and cons before deciding.
6. Decide on your "must-have" people first.
Your "must-haves" include your close relatives and close friends. The people who, if you didn’t invite them, would literally knock on your front door to ask for their invitation. These are the people you know you have to invite. Add them to your list, but don’t forget their plus ones and kids.
7. Go back through your "must-have" list.
Always good to just go through the preliminary list you made above and make sure that these are really the people that you have to invite/the ones you really really want to invite. Cross off the people that aren’t “essential” (but don’t worry, you can totally add them back in later). Now is a good time to show this list to your parents and other family members to make sure you’re not forgetting anyone super important.
8. After the "must-have" list is done, make cuts.
Once you have a pretty finalized “must-have” list of guests for your wedding, add the numbers up and figure out how many more you can invite. Are you over your ideal headcount? If so, it’s going to be tough, but you either have to re-adjust the “must-have” list, or readjust your budget… If you’re under your headcount, great! Now start inviting the more non-essential, but still super important, second-cousins, old teachers, distant friends (anyone who didn’t make the first list but whom you would enjoy having there).
9. How to cut people.
Depending on your budget and ideal wedding size, you’re likely going to have to make some cuts. Follow the rules above to make sure that you cut only the people you really need to. It’s not easy! Remember it’s your big day, so putting in a little sweat now will pay off in the long run when you’re out on the dance floor busting a move.
10. Never over-invite: try a rolling guest list.
Really really try not to over-invite. It’ll be a headache for you, I promise. Not everyone will make it to your wedding, but you should plan on the worst/best case scenario: you over invite and they all actually do show up. Then you’d be in a world of trouble. A good way to make sure you don't over invite is to try a rolling guest list instead.
With a rolling guest list, the first wave of invitations you send out are comprised of your “must-have guests”. Then, as the RSVPs (or lack thereof) slowly roll in, record the names in your spreadsheet from above and send out your second wave of invitations. For every cancellation you get from the first wave, send out an invitation to someone from your second wave list to take their place. Ba-da-boom.
That’s it! In the beginning, planning a wedding and all its moving parts may seem overwhelming. But, with a little planning, it can be handled - almost “easily”. A month before the big day, the biggest difference between a couple who feels overwhelmed with the process and one that feels cool, calm, and collected was the amount of planning and organization they did. Not for you? Consider forking out a little extra moolah for a wedding coordinator or just ELOPE!