Taming Your Guest List

Figuring out whom to invite—and not invite—can be a breeze

Ah, the guest list. According to your recently married friends, it's breeding ground for teary showdowns with your fiancé and shouting matches with Mom. (Thank goodness Dad is neutral.) Why is this must-do task plagued with such drama and tension? Because, in most cases, your budget doesn't match your wish list, which means you can't invite everyone. Or one of your parents insists you include relatives you never see or don't like. Or maybe you want to have a small wedding (50 people, tops) and your fiancé has dreams of reconnecting with his bunk mates from summer camp. Just take things one step at a time—we'll tell you how—and put together a list that everyone can happily live with. No argument there.

Getting Started

If you haven't done so already, figure out the general size of the wedding you want. Are you dreaming of the biggest party imaginable? Or do you picture a more intimate event, the two of you spending quality time with each and every guest? Next, consider your budget for the reception, from flowers to petit fours. Most couples plan the guest list around these two all-important numbers, and quickly realize when they're at odds. If, for example, you've got $10,000 budgeted for the reception, and 250 people on your wish list, you'll be spending more than a few sleepless nights scheming how to host everyone for $40 a head.

Deciding on the type of setting you prefer will affect the length of your guest list. If you've got your eye on a favorite local restaurant or your decidedly non-palatial childhood home, 300 guests might end up sitting in each others' laps, not to mention breaching fire regulations. On the other hand, if you're considering a cavernous space—a ballroom in a grand mansion or a museum atrium—you'll want a large enough group so the place will feel full, not barren.

Which step should come first? Each factor affects the other, so you'll have to consider lots of things simultaneously. (Welcome to the world of multitasking!) Once you've come to a decision, locate your inner diplomat and you're good to go.

Divide and Conquer

To reduce confusion and tension down the road, clarify the extent of your family's involvement in the guest-list process early on. Typically, each family invites half the guests, but if one family is paying for the lion's share of the wedding, or if you two are bearing much of the financial burden, consider a different formula. If you've been away from home for many years, chances are you've got lots of friends of your own to invite, in which case you may feel more comfortable dividing the list into thirds: one third for each family and one third for the two of you.

Of course, there's arithmetic—and then there's real life, which doesn't always provide a neat solution. A two-way or even three-way split may not be fair if you have enough relatives to fill a multiplex and his can fit in a cubicle. (On the other hand, he may want to invite each and every fraternity brother.) The person with the huge family obligation should take a long, hard look at the list. Will your parents really be offended if you omit some relatives, especially those you haven't seen in years?

Give a Subscription to Brides Magazine as a Gift

Thank You
for Signing Up!

Check your e-mail inbox for the latest updates from brides.com