Narrowing Down Your Guest List

How to narrow down a guest list when you have too many people.

Many brides and grooms struggle with who to invite to their wedding. Friends and family try to console you by saying, “It’s your wedding, invite who you want.” However, we all know it’s not that simple. Someone is bound to be offended and, often times, you have to please your parents and in-laws with their must-have guests. How do you keep the guest list realistic? 

First of all, set your expectations first. This means figuring out the total budget for your wedding and working backwards from there. The average wedding in South Dakota in 2019 cost $29,000, and the average guest costs $70 per person just in catering. You also have to consider alcohol, cake, seating and rentals into that figure. When all is said and done, the money you spend on your guests is the biggest factor in your budget, so know how much you have to spend. 

Also consider where your money is coming from. If your or your significant other's parents are paying for the wedding, they should get a say in who is invited to the party. If you want to have total control over the guest list, you may have to have an honest conversation with your parents, or pay for your wedding yourself. It's best to discuss the size of the wedding you and your partner want before asking or accepting financial support from anyone. Traditionally, the couple gets half the guest list, with each side of the family getting a quarter each. Finding a similar plan may be an amicable way to divvy up the list, but make sure all parties agree up front. 

Now that you've decided who gets a say in the invitation list, start writing out names! Now is a good time to start a spreadsheet you can add addresses and gifts or thank you notes to later. You can add everyone you can think of and pare down from there, or only add close friends and family that must be there and add more if you have extra spots. Either way is fine, just work together with your partner to come up with a list.

Who Makes the Cut

When you're done, it's almost inevitable that you'll have to cut people. Here are a few questions to ask yourselves when considering who to invite and who not to:


First, would not inviting them to your wedding cause a family feud that would rival the Capulets and Montagues? Do you get together for holidays? Do you keep in touch regularly? Are they supportive of your marriage and will they play an active role in it? If the answer to these questions is no, you might reconsider them, but make sure you check with your parents.


Do you get together on a regular basis? Are they friends to both of you? Have you even spoken in the last 6 months? If your partner has never heard of someone, that's probably a good indication that they shouldn't make the list. 


Have you ever socialized outside of work? Do you feel more like friends than co-workers? Would you even keep in touch if you didn’t work together?

For all of these categories, keep in mind that just because they invited you to their wedding, does not mean that you have to invite them to yours. This can also be true when it comes to picking bridesmaids and groomsmen, just because you were in their wedding doesn't obligate you to have them in yours. 

If you have made cuts and still can't get your list small enough, consider having your wedding on a weeknight or in the morning. Many of your vendors offer discounts on days and times that aren't as in-demand, and if you have your wedding earlier in the day you can expect a lower alcohol and food budget.

Dealing With Last-Minute Additions

It happens without fail: you've sent out invites to your carefully curated list, and someone writes a plus one in on their RSVP. Or your aunt and uncle call and say they want to bring all five of your step-cousins you hadn't planned for. What do you do now? First of all, you can hopefully avoid this situation entirely with one simple trick: write the names of the guests you are inviting on your RSVP cards. This removes your college roommate's ability to write in her boyfriend she's been seeing for a week when your catering costs $70 per person. 

If you find yourself in a bind where people are asking to bring along so-and-so, the best thing you can do is be honest. Simply tell them that you meant your invitation to be for a certain number of people, and you can't afford extras. Make sure you set boundaries about who is invited and stick to them. This is where all your prep beforehand really pays off, as you and anyone involved in the guest list planning know what to expect. Last but not least, know that your wedding is your day, don't let people bully or whine their way into it or make you feel bad about your decisions. This is meant to be a celebration of your love and beginning a new life with your best friend—be honest with people and focus on what matters, and your day will be perfect.