It's time to create a giant Excel doc of the people you, your groom, your family, and your future in-laws want on this wedding guest list. Now add to that the fact that each of these special individuals will cost you $84, on average. Do you still have to have all 400? Yeah, about that.
We get it: narrowing down every single person you love—including relatives, sorority sisters, past and current co-workers, childhood besties, and on and on—to a list of names and addresses is a tough task. It's also necessary and one of the first things you have to do as an engaged couple (before you set the budget, book your venue, et cetera). That's why we called on etiquette experts, newlywed editors, and friends to chat about all things guest list, from plus ones to kids and the ever-debated "B list."
The result? A BRIDES-endorsed, 11-step plan to building the wedding guest list you truly want. We hope it makes the process as painless and drama-free as possible (meaning you can cut numbers and keep your friends).
1. Divide and Conquer
Start by setting your total guest count, then divvy it up among you, your parents, and your future in-laws. Lizzie Post, president of the Emily Post Institute, suggests splitting it in one of two ways: one, give equal thirds to you and your groom, your parents, and his parents. Or, two, keep 50 percent as a couple and assign 25 percent to each set of parents (with multiple sets, each side gets 25 percent total). If you're footing the bill, you may want to increase your stake, and that's okay. Just remember: you must offer the same allotment to his parents as yours, regardless of who is paying for what.
2. Account for Package Deals
You have to ask your officiant's spouse, the parents of children in your wedding party, and the spouse or live-in partner of each invited guest.
3. Add Plus-Ones Consistently
Your friends are in various stages of relationships, so where do you draw the line? Post suggests making a clear and fast rule. For instance, if a couple has been dating for six months or more, the SO gets an invite, and if not, he or she doesn't; and you have to stick to whatever rule you make up.
4. Adopt a Kid Policy
The same goes for kids. If you're asking parents to leave their children at home, be consistent. "I recommend an age cutoff, like only children over 14 are invited," says Post. Note: any exception to this rule must be explained to the included parties prior to the big day.
5. Remember Reciprocity
If you attended a friend's wedding within the last 12 months, you should ask her to yours if your event is a similar size (and especially if you're asking mutual friends). Having a more intimate affair? Explain your situation; she'll understand.
6. Limit Co-Workers
It's polite to invite your boss and assistant if numbers allow. Beyond that, ask just the people you socialize with outside of the office.
7. Cut Carefully
Try to trim in groups (all second cousins, spin buddies, et cetera) to avoid hurt feelings. And if someone does have the nerve to ask about her non-invite, simply explain that you had to make tough decisions (you did!), but you'd love to celebrate with her another time, suggests Post.
8. Accept That Friends Grow Apart
Include only the ones you're in contact with or have been within the past year. If you text with five sorority sisters on the reg, ask them without feeling like you have to invite your college squad of 20.
9. Skip Courtesy Invites
If you send one, be prepared for the person to come.
10. Forget The B-List
You've seen it done but trust us, don't—it's not a good idea. Your friends will know they're the second tier, and feelings will be hurt. Plus, there's no reason to add to your headcount for a number's sake; that drives up your bill.
11. Set a Deadline
If you don't hear back from someone by the date indicated on your invitation, call. Your caterer needs to know—you need to know!