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Narrowing Down Your Wedding Guest List

Choosing your wedding size and creating a wedding guest list with or without a template (like this) can be one of the most challenging parts of planning. There are so many factors to consider, including your vision, families’ expectations, and your friends’ feelings. You may feel like you have to please everyone, but the truth is, that’s impossible! After you’ve done all the priority items on your checklist, it’s time to think about narrowing your wedding guest list. 

Unless you are dealing with an unlimited budget, everyone has to cut down their guest list eventually. Here are some tips for how that can be achieved: 

Focus on a venue that fits your vision and budget

Selecting a venue and deciding how much you are planning to spend get locked in before just about everything else. Even if the venue you dream of can hold a ton of people, a small intimate gathering might be what you’re actually looking for. In this case, book the venue you want, but set a limit to how many you invite. (And make sure you know the venue’s guest capacity… it might not accommodate as many people as you think!)

Divide and narrow your wedding guest list by tiers 

Trying to cut people from one long list can be both intimidating and uncomfortable. One way to make the process easier is to divide everyone into categories: immediate family, close relatives, extended relatives, close friends, family friends, coworkers, acquaintances, children, and so on. Then rank those categories in order of importance and start cutting from the bottom.

You might com across guests who fit into two different categories. Put those people in the highest-ranking category you feel comfortable with. Using this divide-and-cut method allows you to cut more people at once while also decreasing the risk of hurting anyone’s feelings once they realize they weren’t singled out in this process.

This is a wedding, not a social event 

A wedding day is not the time for introductions—couples divide their time and need to find ways to stay present. While taking personal relationships into account, your wedding guest list should rule out any people you haven’t talked to in the last year, and anyone you don’t see yourself keeping in touch with if you don’t invite them. Remember… this is your wedding. It’s not a social event! 

Allocate a percentage of invites for your parents’ friends

It seems to go against the last tip, we know. One of the hardest issues to navigate when creating the guest list is dealing with parents’ expectations. Keeping both families happy and sticking to a vision is easier said than done! But there are a few ways to handle this split, and the conversation. If you are paying for the wedding yourselves, up to 20 percent of the invites can be allocated to your parents. If your parents are helping or paying in full… 

Parents Who Pay Should Get a Percentage of Invites

A fair split in this situation is 50 percent for you and your fiancé and 50 percent for your parents combined—whether that means 25 and 25 for either set of parents, or a smaller percentage for multiple sets of parents. If one parent is paying for the majority of—or the entire—wedding, they might get a larger percentage. However you decide to split it up, make sure you don’t give up more than 50 percent of the guest list. Your guests are the top priority!

Remove the “plus one” option 

It seems harsh, but it is an easy way to cut your wedding guest list down. Either make plus ones exclusive for the wedding party and immediate family, or make a general “no plus ones” rule across the board. 

Make it adults-only

Adults-only weddings will never go out of style, especially if budget or venue constraints mean choosing between inviting your friends and including their children. While it would be great to invite everyone’s families, it’s often not realistic. If you decide to have an adults-only wedding, make it clear in your wedding invitation and on your wedding website so there’s no confusion. If there are too many children in your circle for an adult-only wedding, consider hiring a babysitting service or designated play area for children at the venue so the kids are nearby but don’t require an extra seat.

Stagger the Invites

If all else fails and the wedding guest list still isn’t quite down to the number you need, send your invitations in waves. Break up the final list into two groups: People who must attend and people who would be missed. Send invitations to the first group 5-6 months before the wedding. As you begin to get RSVPs, send out invitations to the next group of guests in an agreed-upon order. Make sure you give the second wave of guests enough time to RSVP and make travel plans. Make sure all the invitations are sent no later than 8 weeks out from the big day. Keep track of RSVPs in a spreadsheet and adjust your asks accordingly to meet your final guest list goal.

Turning friends away from your joyous day will never be fun, but there’s no getting around it. I hope these tips helped cut through some of the noise and made those tough decisions a little bit easier. Once you’re able to narrow down the wedding guest list, pick out some gorgeous invitations… I can’t wait to photograph it all for you!

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