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Congratulations! Time to Make Your Guest List?

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Congratulations on your recent engagement! Depending on your personality, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed at the daunting task ahead. This is, after all, is arguably the biggest day of your life. I know when my daughter and I were planning her wedding, we had all sorts of ideas swirling around in our heads. So where should you start? I’m going to suggest something that may seem a little wacky to you, but stay with me for a few minutes. The first thing you should do is make your guest list. I know, it sounds crazy, and hopefully, you haven't clicked the X in the upper-right corner.

The number of guests you invite will impact many of the other decisions you will make, especially the venue.

Why in the world would you make your guest list 12 to 18 months before the wedding when you need to pick a venue, create a Pinterest board, and buy a dress? Well, the number of guests you invite will impact many of the other decisions you need to make, especially the venue. When my daughter got married, she decided she wanted around 200 guests. I have no idea how we got that number. I guess it just seemed like a nice size for a wedding. With that decision made, we began searching for the perfect venue. We looked at three venues that accommodated our imaginary guest list of 200, and booked a date in early November. Yes, October is the new June for weddings, so you may need to be flexible with your wedding date. In the end, we made our target of 200ish guests work, but we wrote off some nice venues because they only held 150 or 175 guests. Maybe she could have gotten that coveted October date had we been able to trim a few people off our list? I often hear couples say they want a small, intimate wedding. Then, once they start making their list, they realize that they have no room for anyone except family and the bridal party. If you've already booked a small venue, you could be in trouble. I suggest you make two decisions before you can even think about booking a venue. Set your budget, which we'll tackle in another blog post, AND make your guest list.

Divide the List

If the thought of creating your wedding guest list seems daunting, you are not alone. Not only do you need to decide who makes your list, but you have to determine how to divide the list between three (or more in the case of divorced parents) groups. Here are some things to consider when you determine how to allocate your guest list:

  1. Remember the golden rule. Not the "do unto others" rule you were taught as a kid, although that should always be in the back of your mind. I'm talking about the other golden rule. The person with the gold makes the rules! I'm not suggesting that the party paying for the wedding makes all the decisions, but when it comes to the guest list, they get more people.

  2. Do not impose a marriage penalty. If one set of parents is divorced and the other is married. It's unfair to split the parent share three ways.

  3. It's your wedding day. While you can and should work with your parents to determine an equitable way to allocate the wedding guest list, it is ultimately up to you and your fiance. The final decision of how to divide the guest list is yours, and you should get the majority of the allotted invitations.

How you divide your guest list will be based on your individual situation, but these are some general guidelines.

Who is paying for the wedding?

Guest List Allocation: Couple l Family l Family

Evenly between couple and both sets of parents

50% l 25% l 25%

Evenly split between both families

​40% l 30% l 30%

​One family pays

​40% l 35% l 25%

Some brides choose to take responsibility for the entire guest list, but I find it more manageable to divide and conquer. Split the list between the couple and families and let each party decide who to put on their list. There may be some overlap, but you can deal with that when you get their lists.

To Invite or Not Invite?

There are two methods for approaching your guest list. You can start with a target number and use the table above to determine how many guests you and your families can invite, OR you can create your guest lists and let that number drive the total number of invited guests. Either way, you need to start putting pen to paper or, more likely, fingers to keyboard. As you compile your list, here is a quick test to determine if they should stay on the list:

  1. Have you talked to them in the last 18 months?

  2. Do they know your fiance's last name?

  3. Do you interact with them outside of work, the gym, or school?

  4. Will they make the wedding more fun?

  5. Would they invite you to their wedding?

If you can answer yes to all five questions, definitely put them on the list! If you can answer yes to four of the questions, mark them as maybe. And, if you can only answer yes to three or less, take them off the list. I'm going to add a caveat here. If not inviting them will cause drama, you may need to make an exception. Remember the golden rule!

Now, you can compile all the lists and remove any duplicates. If you gave each person a target number, you probably already did the final trimming. If you are letting the guest lists drive your target number, you may have some additional decisions to make. Are you comfortable with the number of guests on the list AND can you afford them?

Each guest will add about $100 to the overall cost of the wedding. Of course, this figure varies greatly based on venue, caterer, type of bar, et cetera, but this is a good place to start. The reason I suggest completing your budget and at least a draft guest list before you make any other decisions is so you have all options available to you. You can choose a less expensive venue and maybe go with a DJ instead of a band if you want to additional guests. Or, you can trim the guest list and get the venue and entertainment you want. It's easier to make those decisions when you actually know who you would be cutting from the list.

Time to Celebrate!

Now that you have tackled one of the most important wedding tasks, it's time for some fun! After all, you've got an engagement photo session and party to plan. Check out our cute jean jacket at the Copper Boom Etsy store. It's a must-have for any bride-to-be!

We'd love to hear your ideas and experiences with creating your guest list. Drop us a comment below.

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This is super helpful! I am working on my guest list now and these are all helpful questions I am going to think through when determining the list!

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