The Bride Guide: The Guest List

The Top 6 Things That will Affect You Wedding Guest List

The Bride Guide Week 1



Photos by Perfect Capture Photography, Stationery by Star Noir Studio

A very important place to start planning is the guest list. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a full-length list of every individual attending at his point, but it is a good time to decide how large of a wedding you want. The size of the guest list can affect everything from the budget to the size of your wedding party so it is something I always suggest you think long and hard about in the beginning, before you do anything else.

An important thing to remember is your guest list will affect more than just you.  There will be a lot of emotion involved in who’s invited and who you just can’t fit on the guest list. More than just you and your fiancé will have a stake in this- parents, grandparents, friends and other family members will all have an opinion on who should attend.

Let me go ahead and break the bad news… you can’t invite everybody. You just can’t. From venue limitations to budget concerns, every single person you want to invite won’t be able to fit on your list. And there is more bad news… everyone you invite won’t be able to attend.   Even though you toil away at crafting the perfect guest list and are forced to prioritize some friends over others, some of the lucky ones that get an invitation won’t be able to come.

Go ahead and take that in, and get ready to prioritize.   Here are the top things that will affect your guest list the most and a guest list template to help you get started drafting your own list.

wedding invitation ideas

#1 The Investors

Figuring out who will attend will be greatly impacted by who is paying for the wedding. Of course brides and grooms that foot the total bill themselves will have the most control, but usually that isn’t the case. You can opt to have the guest list split up 3 different ways:

  • Half & Half

This half for the Couple, half for the Parents.  It means for a 100 person wedding your and your fiancé would have 50 total spaces and parents would have 25 spaces for the bride’s family and 25 spaces for the grooms family.

  • Even split

Sometimes it is best to allocate an equal portion to every “side” involved. This would mean a 3-way split with the couple, the brides parents, and the grooms parents. This is usually seen as the most “fair” but it doesn’t account for family size or step-parents, and with the modern American family, that can be a problem. Sometimes to alleviate these concerns one party will get a larger percentage of invitation to hand out. For example, if your mom and stepdad have been together for 12 years but your dad is single, you will most likely have more family to invite on your mom’s side vs. your dads.

  • Veto Power

This will probably cause the most drama. In this case the couple has full control over everyone invited and parents must get the ok on each person they want to attend or the couple can simply say “no”. I don’t recommend this as you will spend your days toiling over each individual guests attendance. And it is really hard to compare your work colleague to your mom’s sorority sister from college. Separating your list by parties involved and handing over some control to your parents (and most likely “your investors”!) will create some boundaries that you will be thankful for later. Let it be mom’s responsibility to prioritize her guest list, not yours.

#2 The Budget

Each person that attends your wedding will cost you more money. In fact the number one line item that can affect how much you will spend is the budget. Each person usually requires a chair, a meal, a drink, a favor, an invitation and space requiring a larger venue. This means more tables, more centerpieces, more postage, more food, and ultimately more money. Before you get started planning, have an honest conversation with your fiancé and family about finances.

cute wedding favors

#3 The Location

Of course destination weddings are more expensive to attend and will have less guests. Choosing a city you are from or one that is an easy trip for family and friends will usually up the RSVP count.


#4 The Day of the Week & Time of Year

Saturdays are of course the most popular days for weddings, but the six other days of the week are great days for weddings too! Having an event on a weekday or even a Sunday can lessen the guest list due to travel issues, work/vacation time, and school being in session.   Weddings during the school year may have less guests attend if they have to travel far with young while school is in session. Even having a Friday night 7 pm ceremony that gives people enough chance for a quick change after work will yield more guests than an 11 am brunch-style wedding on a weekday. Consider the Time of Year, Day of the Week, and Time of Day when estimating your guest list count.

#5 Children

If you are having an event that isn’t very kid friendly, consider an adults only reception. If your guest list count is getting way out of hand, cutting attendees 12 or under is a way to lessen the number quickly. Most guests will understand, but let me be clear- a few won’t. And whether its sour grapes because thier 2 year old son isn’t allowed to attend or it’s just really hard for them to find a babysitter, some guests will not attend if their kids can’t.  Just be understanding when you decide to nix the kiddos.


#6 Family Size and Structure

I come from a family with both parents being divorced and remarried and so does my husband. This means we had EIGHT parents between us, and EIGHT families to invite to our wedding. Needless to say, our wedding was huge because our family is huge. If you have a big family get ready for big numbers, plain and simple.  If your family is closer, emotionally or geographically, you will have more people attend.

If you do have to draw the line before all family members are invited, making a general rule usually alleviates some family drama. For example, think about an immediate family only ceremony or stopping the guest list at first cousins across the board. This makes it way easier to break it to fourth cousin twice removed that she can’t come. Because after all there are RULES (that you created but still, RULES!) and you can’t break them.

The bottom line is when creating a guest list is be prepared to get hit from two sides that are opposing each other. One being financial constraints and the other being emotional attachments. You won’t be able to afford to invite everybody unless you are ready to drop major cash. This will put you in a situation where you have to prioritize your friends and family over one another and this can cause some hurt feelings.   Breaking the news to some that they didn’t make it into your top 50, or even your top 150 can be tough (yes, expect that some people will ask you why they weren’t invited in person!).

Not all wedding planning is glitz and buttercream icing. This is one part that is fun and exciting at first, but when it comes down to it finalizing your list and waiting for RSVPs can be one of the most stressful parts of planning. This is why I suggest you start on your guest list early by talking to you fiancé first and understanding each other’s wants and then meeting with your families to understand their expectations.

I recommend having the couple and parents write out 2 lists- one very short list of VIPs that must attend and another prioritized “if I could invite everyone I ever wanted” list and go from there. Here is an excel template to help you plan your guest list. Good luck!

Wedding Guest List Template from Custom Love Gifts & Events

Tomorrow we talk all about The Budget, so make sure to stop by!

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The Bride Guide to Planning Your Wedding