The No-Stress Guide to Wedding Guest Lists

Read this guide to learn how to manage your wedding guest list with ease!

Creating a Budget-Friendly Guest List

Once you've set your wedding budget, the next step should be to get an idea of your guest list. The average wedding in the US consists of 167 guests, and each guest can cost anywhere between $91 – 365…. The number of guests you invite to your special day will directly influence the cost of many different elements of your wedding from the invitations to the catering and wedding favors!

Bearing this in mind, it’s easy to see how a large guest list can get expensive, and fast! As such, if you are trying to save costs on your big day, trimming your guest list is usually the best place to start.

The Hardest Part of Planning a Wedding

The hardest part of the wedding planning process for many couples is creating their guest list. It can be especially challenging if you are planning with a smaller than “average” wedding budget. If you want a very intimate wedding but have a large family and friend group, trimming your guest count to a manageable size is incredibly challenging. You may also have a differing opinion or viewpoint on your wedding size than your partner. These challenges are just the beginning of navigating joint decisions and compromise in your marriage. Additionally, you may find an imbalance in family size or the split of guests between the two of you. If either of your parents are divorced, these issues can compound even further. These guest list dilemmas can be one an area of tension during planning and should be tackled in a formulaic and strategic way to be most fair to both sides.

Straddling the Line Between Savings & Sensitivity

For the majority of couples, it’s just not financially feasible to invite everyone you know to your wedding. As a result, managing the guest list can quickly become quite stressful as you try to find a careful compromise between staying on budget while also avoiding hurt feelings. Taking names off your guest list can be a hard job, but it’s essential to approach the process with sensitivity and tact.

Common Wedding List Dilemmas

As you plan your list, there are a number of key questions you should ask yourself? Deciding on these questions straight away will save you a lot of time and money down the road:  

  1. Will you invite the children of your guests?
  2. How many (if any) of your colleagues will you invite?
  3. Should all guests receive a plus-one or just a select few?
  4. How many guests will your parents be able to invite?
  5. How many guests will you invite to the after-party portion of the wedding?

Setting Guest List “Rules”

Common rules used by couples in order to cull their guest list might read as follows:

  1. No Kids Allowed
  2. Plus-ones only for those in long-term relationships, ie over 1 year, co-habitating, engaged or married.
  3. Restricting the number of friends your parents can invite

Essential Guest List Questions to Ask

To ease the tension and minimize your list, consider these questions to ask regarding each potential invitee:

  1. Has the person met both my fiancé and me?
  2. Will the person be a part of the next chapter in my life that includes my fiancé?
  3. (If a relative) Have I seen or spoken to this relative in the last three years?
  4. (If a plus one) Is the couple married, engaged, or living together?

With these questions, you should be able to successfully whittle down your list to the essential and ideal wedding guest list!

wedding guest list flow chart - TheBudgetSavvyBride.com

No B-list

But what happens if after asking all of those questions, you still end up with a list that’s longer than your agreed upon guest count? Unfortunately, that can happen. After asking the questions above, you may still have additional people that you really wanted to invite. The hard truth may be that you can't afford to. This is where the concept of having a “B-list” usually comes in.

buy used wedding decor

A B-list is a list of friends and/or family that almost made the cut (The A-list), but that you simply don’t have enough space for, so you create a secondary list of wedding invitees that you’ll pull from if any of your A-list invitees decline attendance.

Our best piece of advice on this is “don’t have a B-List”.

This may seem like a simple piece of advice, but it can be majorly impactful. It’s actually quite easy to fall into this pit of B-lists & C-lists out of guilt, obligation, or desire to include as many people as possible and avoid hurt feelings. Any bride can tell you that the guest count always has a way of expanding naturally– think unexpected plus ones, recently-engaged couples, and long-lost relatives. So the savvy thing to do would be to save any guest spots that open for those unexpected guests.

wedding guest list seating chart

When People Assume They are Invited to Your Wedding but They Aren't

Managing others' expectations is truly one of the biggest challenges related to wedding planning. If you've found yourself in a situation where friends or family members have made references to the wedding but haven't made your final guest count, what's a kind and gracious bride to do? Being faced with these situations can make you feel guilty, awkward, stressed, or even confused. Obviously, traditional etiquette suggests certain responses, but when you're in the actual situation it can feel much harder to address the subject. You obviously don't want to hurt feelings or cause any waves so it's best to be prepared for how you'll answer these questions.

When people you know make assumptions about their invitation to your wedding, it's best to tackle the misconception early. Lead with honesty and leave no room for ambiguity. Politely explain that your soon-to-be spouse and you have chosen to keep your guest list small. If your venue is restricted to only a certain number of guests, that can be cited as a factor in your decision.

In the case of your wedding budget dictating your small guest count, it is appropriate to share that detail if you feel comfortable. You could say something like, “In an ideal situation, we would invite everyone we know and love, but unfortunately our budget just doesn't allow for it.” No matter the reason for your limited guest list, just kindly and gently explain. You could also let them know that you are honored that they would want to attend. The people who truly love and support you will respect your decision!

Master the Art of Guest List Planning

If you are grappling with an unmanageable wedding guest list, then you should scroll down through the infographic below from The Wedding Band Shop. This super informative graphic offers some tips on how to organize your list with advice on how to overcome common guest list dilemmas.

It will likely be difficult to not invite people you truly love, but if you make the choice to dig a little deeper and ask the questions a little more critically, you can come to a guest list size that suits your vision and your budget!

At the end of the day, your wedding is a day for you and your partner to celebrate a new beginning in your lives. The only people you technically need there are the two of you and a witness/officiant. Everyone else is just an added bonus.

Also, remember as a bride, it’s not your job to please everyone. In fact, it’s simply not possible. If you plan the wedding that the two of you want to have, that fits your values and vision, you'll be sure to enjoy it no matter how many people attend.

The No-Stress Guide to Wedding Guest Lists

Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here