On the long list of things that might stress you out like crazy while planning your big day, creating your guest list is likely to be one of them. You're putting together a tally of the most important people in your life, your partner's life, as well as those in your parents' and in-laws' lives. That alone is a lot of people to please. Then, factor in friends and family members who are assuming an invite and it can get messy. The best way to keep things simple is to have a strategy in place. We asked top wedding planners for the best kept tips for whittling down your guest list to the magic number.
Know the cost per head.
No matter your budget, you'll want to know the cost per head and max capacity at your venue so you can settle on an ideal guest list total. "With this number in hand you are armed in knowing exactly how many you can invite based on what you can afford," says Farah Saint-Jean, wedding planner and co-owner of Spectacular Affairs. "For example, if you had 175 people on your list, but after doing this calculation you realize you can only afford for 100 guests, you've just cut down the list by 75 people. The question is who are the 100 guests to invite?"
Only invite people who will be part of your future.
While your wedding day is monumental in respect to your past, it has much more to do with celebrating your future. For this reason, it's important to make sure that most, if not all, of the people you invite will play a role in your future life together. "For instance, you haven't spoken to your friend from high school in over a year, then don't feel obliged to invite them out of respect for your history together," Tessa Brand, wedding and event planner at Tessa Lyn Events. "You likely won't speak to them for a year after the wedding either."
Ask your parents not to go overboard when inviting friends.
Especially if they're paying, your parents will likely start adding every person they know—and those they met recently—to your list. Yes, they're paying, but still it's your wedding. The key here is to ask them to be practical. "Share how important it is for you to keep things as intimate as possible, and instead focus on the people who you wouldn't want to get married without them sharing in your special day!" says Deborah L. Erb, wedding planner at Simply Events Inc.
Write down all of the people you would love to invite on index cards.
Jodi Jackson, wedding planner and owner of Savannah Wedding Dreams, suggests starting with three boxes: Box one is for close family (a.k.a. the people you have to invite), box two is for close friends (a.ka. the friends you think will be in your life for the long run), and box three is for everyone else you want to invite. "You will be surprised by how many people make it to that third box," Jackson says. "This will give you a more accurate count for how many you can invite from box three."
Cut out plus-ones.
Of course you want your guests to be happy, and sometimes that means allowing them to bring a date. But at the end of the day it's up to you to decide who attends your wedding—and if that means saying no to cousin Fran's newest boyfriend of two months, you have every right to hold your ground. "If the budget is tight, consider only giving 'plus-ones' to guests who are in a long-term relationship that you are confident will last," suggests Brand. Another good rule of thumb is to settle on a "cut-off time," in terms of how long they've been dating at the time you send out invitations. That way no one's feelings get hurt.
Say no to children.
"While it can be a touchy subject, eliminating children from the guest count can really help cut down your numbers," says Brand. "After all the parents deserve a night out with each other anyway!" Even if the idea of your cousin's' little kids all dolled up for your big day sounds adorable—and even great for pictures—stop and think about how you'll feel if one of them starts hysterically crying in the middle of your vows. Not so cute, right? Additionally, children can seriously add up and cause your guest list to be 20 or 30 people more than you planned. Saying no to all is much easier than saying no to some.