Whittling Down Your Guest List

No matter what you think, the wedding guest list is the one sore spot for most couples-to-be. With parents and possibly stepparents chiming in with wishes to invite your third step cousin twice removed, the groom’s wish to invite his entire beer guzzling fraternity posse, and the bride’s dream to have her entire running list of girlfriends present, the wedding list becomes a point of contention for every couple. But just how many people do you need to invite?

For starters, let’s consider the budget.

The more people, the more expensive the wedding. On average, guests can cost anywhere from $50-100 per head for a modest-average wedding (yes, that’s right!). Then you have to consider your ceremony and reception venues, the rental costs and fees associated with both (some places have flux rates pending guest count, and its very common for larger facilities to require a certain number of guests on busiest days, like Sat. nights).

If you and your fiancĂ© are planning on splurging on your wedding and want all of your friends and family present, then you’ll want a big venue and an even bigger budget. If however, you’re like most people with some budget restrictions and modest venues, you’ll have to whittle down the numbers to save money and space for all guests that make the cut. But where to start?

Have 2 Lists

Have both sets of parents, the bride and the groom make two sets of guest lists: an A list and a B list. Your A list should include everyone that you definitely want present; your B list will have everyone from the A list and a few others you think it would be nice to invite. Before you see any of the lists (besides your own of course), identify a total headcount you want to stay within reach of (this will serve as the wagering piece for all future guest list negotiations).

Once all 4 lists are in hand, figure out how many A list people are present on all 4 lists: These people obviously made the cut. What number are you at now? How many more people can be invited? How many heads over are you if everyone’s A list is honored? If you’re over, then ditch B lists (for the time being) and have everyone redo their A list with a new headcount for the remaining available spaces.

Its likely that all of your A lists will be to big, and most of your B lists wont make it if you’re working with a smaller budget, so once you’ve identified the must-haves, figure out who is financing the wedding. Are the bride’s parents paying, the groom’s, both, or is the couple taking the wedding on themselves? If the latter, then it becomes a matter of negotiating and compromising among bride and groom; realistically, the parents don’t really have much room to “demand” certain guests be invited. If, however, either set of parents are contributing to the wedding, then you’ll want to be respectful to their guest list wishes, within reason.

Respected wedding source, The Knot recommends inviting 10% more guests than your total headcount; this allows some squeeze room for remaining questionable A and B listers because it’s next to impossible that everyone will accept your invitation.

Round Two

If you send your invitations out early enough and get responses early too, those newly empty spaces can be filled with B guests. Be sure and send them a formal invitation though, and should they inquire why they received their invitation after Uncle Bob, you can either try and gracefully explain the situation to the disgruntled guest, or you can flat out lie and tell them you sent the invitations in two shipments. Hey it’s your day; don’t let B listers stress you out!

If you’re down to the wire, consider phoning last minute invites with a sincere invitation and a graceful explanation. These people are likely acquaintances rather than close friends and they’ll usually understand your time and budget constraints. Should they accept your invitation, think of them as having just “moved up” on your list as weddings are equally expensive and time consuming for guests and this guest just willingly obliged your last minute invitation!

Parent’s Guests

To be fair, each set of parents should get the same number of invites, though if one set of parents is footing the bill, they may be more pushy about extra invites; just be flexible, again, within reason. You don’t want to tell your parents they only get 10 guests and then have to explain to them why your fiancĂ©’s parents invited 2/3 the total guest count.


When it comes to inviting coworkers be careful. If you’re close with your boss, you could invite them, but it’s not necessary. You don’t want to invite more than one or two people from work unless you want to risk having water cooler gossip about “making the list” stressing you out for weeks up until the wedding. Our recommendation: Unless you’ve been in your career long enough to have established strong professional or social relationships with a certain group of people, avoid work politics and stress by limiting the total number of invited coworkers.

(No) Kid Zone

Decide if you want to invite kids and when making out invitations to couples with children, be sure and specify through invitation etiquette that it is a “no children” wedding. If you want kids at the reception, then great. If you don’t, you’ll have to set guidelines, respectfully address your invitations accordingly, and just to be safe, check in with a phone call to make sure these guests know this is a “no kids” zone. Hey, it’s your big day and its just one night. Of course, you understand if they can’t come.

As a general rule of thumb, morning and lunchtime weddings are usually more kid friendly, while sit-down dinners and nighttime receptions tend to be more “adult only” occasions. But there are exceptions to every rule.

Tit for Tat

If you’re still over on your headcount, be fair and do a “tit for tat” cutting session where you cut guests, one for one, from each of your lists. Of course, if you start cutting fantasy football friends with first cousins, you may need to reevaluate if “evens stevens” numbers is the best way to divide the list. Chances are, if one member has a larger family, they’ll have a larger number of guests; not because they have more friends, but more family. So, because they expect to invite all those family members, they should be more gracious about you inviting your friends, even B list friends, since their A list family largely outnumbers yours. See, compromise is the stuff all great marriages are made of; consider this Test One.

If you’re still over on the headcount, here are a couple other guidelines/questions to consider:

Have you talked to this person at least once in the last 6 months?

Have you hung out with this person at least once in the last year?

Has this person neglected to return your last 2 or more phone calls?

Will you still be friends with this person in 5 years?

Will this family member not speak to you any longer if you don’t invite them? Do you have much of a relationship with them now (anyhow)?

Does this person have a lot of children and will they expect to bring these children to the wedding?

Have you broken plans intentionally with this person more than once?

Will the wedding cost this guest a lot of money to attend and will you be able to spend enough time with them to make it worth their while? (Consider flying out to visit them after the wedding)