The Wedding Series – The Guest List

Planning the Wedding Guest List Can Be Stress Free
~ Said No Bride Ever

As the bride, planning your guest list usually starts out as a fun project (this often contrasts with the groom’s view that it’s just another chore!). You start your “unofficial” list in your head and with a few jottings soon after becoming engaged, while you’re still basking in the glow. But somewhere along the line you become entangled in discussing finances, planning the budget, managing parental expectations and navigating politics among family, friends, professional associates and others. In time that fun project becomes anything but enjoyable, sometimes even threatening to drive a wedge between you and your fiancé or between your families.

Even for the most modern and organized bride the guest list can evolve into a major challenge. And it’s simply not the same approaching your wedding guest list as you would one of your professional projects because of the emotional and personal aspects to it. But, you must rise above it by calling upon your practical side and organizational expertise in tackling this important task. Here are some tips to help you sort out the steps (and the issues):

  • Start With Your Parents – Whether either or both the parents of the bride and groom will be funding all, part or none of the wedding, it’s a sign of respect — not to mention a very wise move — to consult with all parents regarding their thoughts. Even if money is no object, it’s important that the bride and groom maintain some control over their wedding. If you and your groom are laid back and don’t care how many guests your parents invite as long as all your friends will be there, fine. But if you have financial constraints as well as definite ideas on the size of your wedding and the guests you wish to invite, be considerate and respectful but manage the expectations of your parents. Provide them with your vision and guidelines, and ask them to adhere to them.
  • Draw Up Your Wish List – Draw up a first draft of your guest list by listing everyone you’d like to invite as well as those you feel you must invite — all your relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. — everyone, without thought to budget, venue or anything else at this point. You’ll likely have to reduce it, but keep this first draft as a reference.
  • Decide On The Number of Guests: After drawing up your Wish List, you will determine the actual number of guests that you can accommodate. Your decision will be driven by your budget, the size and location of the venue and other factors.
  • Edit the List: Consult with your groom and all your parents and start cutting back. If you are reluctant to eliminate any of your friends, negotiate with your parents to see if they can cut from their lists, but try to keep a fair balance.
  • Don’t Invite More Guests Than Your Budget Will Allow: Many event planners recommend inviting 10-20% more guests than you expect to attend an event — because that’s the percentage that usually decline. But remember that this is merely an average and there is no guarantee that 10-20% of your invitees will decline. The number of “yes” replies you receive could depend on the time of year and date of your wedding; the distance to be traveled; the age and health of your invitees; how close emotionally you, your fiancé and your families are to them; and so on. If your budget is tight, this can be risky. Another option is to have two lists: an A-List and B-List, as describe below.

The A-List and the B-List – Pro and Con 

Pro – The popular on-line wedding planning website, The Knot, makes the case for two lists as a way to invite more guests without adding to the headcount or cost. The A-List will include your must-invite guests, not to exceed the number you have decided you can afford or accommodate; thus if 100 guests is your limit that is the total number you should include on your A-List and invite. As the replies from the A-List come in, for each declination a guest from the B-List may be selected and sent an invitation. Just be sure to mail your A-List invitations 12 weeks before the wedding and your B-List invitations no later than six weeks before the wedding (earlier when possible) and order two sets of reply cards with two different “reply by” dates. Generally, save-the-date cards are mailed six to eight months ahead of the wedding date and invitations are mailed six to eight weeks before the date.

Con – Emily Post’s 6th Edition Wedding Etiquette, compiled and written by Emily Post’s great-great granddaughters, Anna Post and Lizzie Post, takes the opposite view. “While not ‘improper,’ a standby guest list is a very risky proposition. If a guest perceives even a hint of B-List status it can cause hurt feelings and destroy friendships,” they write. They advise that it’s better to work with just one list and manage the budget by offering a simpler or less expensive menu; but caution that if you decide to work from two lists you must observe the utmost discretion to keep that fact an “eyes only” closely-held secret.

The choice is yours; I can see value in both approaches, depending on how long the wish list is, the budget involved, the lead time available to be able to send out two sets of invitations and how organized and discreet the wedding couple and their parents can be. Also remember that you will not be sending save-the-date cards to the B-List, which could be another consideration in deciding on one or two lists.

Trimming the List

After due consideration, if you find that you must trim your list — especially if it is ballooning out of control with friends and plus ones, couples, relatives you haven’t seen in ages or have never met, too many work-related people, friends with whom you’ve lost contact and so on, go about it methodically and thoughtfully to keep yourselves and your parents happy and in agreement. Some good advice on this topic is to tackle categories first — to be fair and keep the peace — such as, certain groups of relatives (cousins), children, those who live far away, professional contacts, neighbors, etc. Once the list has been scrutinized in that fashion, if further trimming is required start looking at individuals. The Huffington Post has a clever chart to help with the trimming decisions.

Do be fair, however; for every name the groom’s family eliminates, for example, the bride’s family should consider doing so as well unless the other family graciously insists that it’s not necessary. Whatever the case, everyone should be thoughtful and understanding of others’ feelings.

The Master List

The result of your careful, disciplined and thorough planning will be your Master Wedding Guest List, which is a thing of beauty. To protect it I recommend that you place it on a spreadsheet or database with complete contact information for each guest (address, phone number(s) and email address), whether they are on the A-List or B-List (if applicable), and also include the following information to help keep track:

  • Relationship To Bride and / Or Groom: (College roommate, cousin on mother’s side, boss, favorite aunt, etc.)
  • Save-the-Date CardsAs you send them out, check them off and record the date sent.
  • RSVPs to InvitationsThis will help you monitor the number of guests and follow up on anyone who has not replied, as well as manage your A and B Lists if you decide to go that route.
  • Gifts Received / Thank-You Notes Sent: It’s a good idea to note if the gift is a wedding, engagement, shower or other gift, and to send thank-you notes as gifts are received to avoid delays and a task that grows out of control.
  • Other Special Situations: Keep track of issues that arise with certain guests and how the situations were resolved.

This will be the bedrock document that you will use for all the aforementioned planning. Be sure to make an external drive or cloud backup copy!

Until next time,




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