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Ahh, the ever-important guest list. Knowing your total number of guests is a crucial foundational step that needs to come before most other aspects of wedding planning, so creating your wedding guest list is an important task to complete right from the start. We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know as you decide who will be celebrating with you on the big day!

Set your budget

Guest list size usually correlates with budget size. If your budget is on the smaller end, a 300-person guest list probably won’t be feasible. A larger budget will allow you to invite more guests or, if you’d still like to keep the guest list smaller, so you have extra funds to spend in other areas. The size of your guest list will not just affect the amount spent on food and drink, but you also need to consider table linens, rentals, centerpieces, favors, and – of course – stationery! You always want to plan as if everyone you invite will attend.

Keep in mind who is paying for the wedding

If you and your fiancé will be footing the entire bill, etiquette rules state that you certainly have the final say in who’s on the list. However, if parents, in-laws or other family members will be helping to pay for your wedding, their guest list requests should be accommodated as best as possible.

Start big then pare it down

You and your fiancé will both want to create a list with names of the following: close family, close friends, extended family, other friends. From there, you’ll want to prioritize the names into three groups: non-negotiable invitees, preferable invitees and potential invitees. A good rule of thumb to ask yourself for those on the fringe is: have I interacted with these people within the last 6 months? If not, they may need to be bumped down a priority level until you confirm your budget can accommodate inviting them.

Remember, you don’t owe anyone an invitation, even if they invited you to their wedding. Realistically, and especially with a larger guest list, you’ll likely only be able to interact with guests outside of your family and wedding party for minutes or even seconds at a time on the big day.

Use technology to your advantage

You’ll want to be able to easily see (and organize) not only names, but numbers. The guest list is not something you’ll want to be editing by hand with pen and paper. Use a spreadsheet you can quickly update and move around, or better yet, use one of the dozens of free tools online for managing guest lists. Even if you’re doing traditional invitations with mail-in RSVPs rather than online RSVPs, these programs can help you keep track of everything related to your list as it changes day to day.

Guest enjoying themselves during a wedding recepiton.

FAQ with Managing Your Guest List

Should we invite children or plus-ones?

If you know a guest is engaged or in a serious relationship, it’s proper etiquette to allow them to bring a date, but for single guests not dating anyone, there’s no need to give them a plus one. Not inviting children can save costs in several areas of the budget and it’s perfectly fine to host a kid-free affair, especially if your wedding is more formal. There are plenty of ways to politely word an invitation to indicate children are not invited. Just ask your wedding planner or invitation designer

How many wedding guests will actually show?

You can expect 75% – 85% of invited guests to actually show up (fewer if you have a high number of out-of-town invitees or are doing a destination wedding).

What about a B-list?

The B-list refers to a short list of invitees who would only receive an invitation in the event first-priority guests decline. B-lists can be socially tricky and risk hurting feelings, but if you do decide to send a second round of “overflow” invitations after you receive initial RSVPs, create that list of possible invitees from the get-go, don’t send them a save-the-date and make sure their invitation suites are printed with a later RSVP-by date.

Marsha VanArk, a professional wedding planner

Photo Credit: Ann Ilagan Photography & Ali Lockery Photography