Decide how you'll divvy up the list before you accept any financial help.
We're not going to tiptoe around the truth: Deciding who gets to choose what percentage of the guests can get messy, but it's especially tricky if one or both sets of parents are involved in the planning or are contributing financially. That's why you should set any expectations about the guest list before you accept help. Even if you're paying for the wedding yourselves, it's a good idea to get the families together and talk guest list, so there are no surprises. Once you've started putting down deposits with someone else's money, you're in a bind, but before you start spending, you can still negotiate or choose to decline.
Tip for the taking: Traditionally, the couple gets half the guest list and each set of parents get a quarter of the guest list. So if you're planning to invite 200 people, you'd get 100 guests, your parents would get 50 and your fiance's parents would also get 50. The most drama-free approach is to play fair, and split the list evenly three ways.
Design your dream list.
When you start building your list, jot down everyone you could ever imagine attending your wedding, from old camp friends to that funny third cousin you met once at a family reunion. And, just for this part, take your budget and venue out of the equation. Sure, you'll have to do some trimming later on, but first, think big.
Tip for the taking: If you're tempted to invite more people on a whim later on, go back to this list as a reality check. Let's be real, if they were never on your dream list, why are they really a must-have?
Be realistic about the number of guests to avoid stress later on.
Crunching the numbers isn't the most exciting part of wedding planning, but this is a digit you really can't avoid: your guest list count. Your budget and venue size are the two main factors that should play into this decision. Each guest adds to the number of plates your caterer will prepare, favors, chair rentals and amount of cake you'll need to pay for. Choose a number that's larger than your venue's capacity and you'll be holding your breath every time you open an RSVP. It's much better to keep your number on the conservative side, and then, if there's room in the budget or you end up having more space than you thought, add later on.
Tip for taking: Make it easy on yourself and use our budgeting tool to play around with the numbers and see how much you can save or spend by subtracting or adding from your guest list.
Make some cutting rules (and then actually follow them).
It's time to come back to reality and start slashing until you get to your magic number. The easiest way to cut the list is to come up with some rules for yourselves, and then to follow them. Making the rules is the hard part. But if you actually stick to them, we promise it'll be easier in the long run and you'll create less potential drama down the line. What do we mean by rules? Here are a few common ones:
Rule #1 If neither of you have spoken to, met or heard their name before.
Rule #2 Is their bedtime before 9 p.m.? They'll miss the cake cutting anyway, so don't feel bad about nixing all the under-12-year-olds.
Rule #3 If neither of you has spoken to them in three years and they're not related to you.
Rule #4 Anyone who's on the list because you feel guilty about leaving them off, maybe because you were invited to their wedding or they're friends with lots of people who are invited.
Tip for the taking: Trust us: We've heard just about every guest list horror story. And through experience, we know the only way to make this process go smoothly is to be as fair as possible when you're cutting. It's going to be hard at first, but for each person you take off your in-laws' or parents' list, take one off of your own as well.
Make an A-list and a B-list.
Shhh, we'll keep this little secret between us. Having two lists is how you'll get to invite the most people without actually raising your budget or finding a larger venue. Here's how it works: Your A-list is made up of the must-invites who you couldn't imagine not having at your wedding, like your family and close friends. They'll receive your first round of invitations. Your B-list is still guests you really want to be there, so don't put just anyone on it. If you start getting RSVPs back and it turns out you have enough "regrets," then you'll start sending invites to your B-list (in order of importance).
Tip for the taking: Send out your B-list invites too close to the wedding (within a week or two) and you might as well tell those guests they're second-best. Do it without being obvious: Send your A-list invites three months before, and then there's still time to send your B-list invites six to eight weeks before your wedding. Print a second set of reply cards with a later RSVP date too (sending RSVPs with a date that's passed is a dead giveaway).
Get organized using a system that's collaborative.
There are a lot of different ways you can make your guest list, but the best way to do it is to use a system that's collaborative, so anyone with input can make edits in real time and see the most up-to-date version. Tools like Google docs or, even better, a guest list manager, where you can easily convert your list into a seating chart and track your RSVPs, make it easy to keep your guest list organized. Beyond your wedding day, it's great to have everyone's contact info all in one place, so that later on, you have a list for holiday cards, baby announcements and anniversary party invitations.
Tip for the taking: Don't delete any names; instead, use several tabs, color-code them or make a separate document for names you're unsure about. You never know -- you might find out you do have extra space, and if you totally erase the names, then you'll have no idea who you might want to invite.
Include names on the response cards.
Yours wouldn't be the first wedding where a guest crams two (or three or four) names onto one line, even though the invite is made out to one person. The way to avoid this problem is to print or calligraphy the guests' names onto the RSVP card. Do this, and there's almost no way anyone can force an invite on you.
Tip for the taking: If for some reason you still get an extra write in, it could be that guests just don't know the protocol. So don't take their faux pas personally; it's unlikely they're trying to intentionally bamboozle a free meal out of you. Just politely call and tell them the real deal: You'd love to have everyone, but budget and space means it's just not possible.
Don't let your parents and in-laws bully you.
Boundaries – set them and stick to them. When it comes down to it, this is your wedding. If budget is the issue, then the solution could be as simple as having whoever wants more guests to chip in extra to pay for the overflow. But in a lot of cases, your venue caps the guest list. That means if your mom insists on inviting her entire spin class, either your fiance's family or you will have to forfeit some of your guests. First, try to compromise. Why not invite just one and then put the rest on the B-list? If that doesn't work, don't waiver. It won't be easy, but bend now and you're going to end up with a lot more requests down the line.
Tip for the taking: Have any hard conversations face-to-face. You want to make sure you're sending the right signals, and when there are a lot of emotions involved, you want your point of view to actually being heard and understood.
Avoid last-minute add-ons.
Whether or not you spread the word yourself, you're probably going to get one or two awkward comments along the lines of, "I can't wait to come to your wedding!" from someone you're not so sure about inviting. In the moment, it can seem like an easy out to respond, "Me too!" But do this and you'll either end up having to add them to the list or having an even more uncomfortable conversation that's basically akin to disinviting them. The best thing you can do is steer clear of wedding specifics while you're still in the early planning stages.
Tip for the taking: Prepare yourself for potentially awkward conversations by coming up with a polite, but firm, response that can't be misinterpreted. Something along the lines of, "Of course we'd love to invite everyone, but unfortunately with the venue space and our budget, we aren't able to." Then, take the conversation in a totally different direction.