Your Guest List...and Your Budget

Think your budget and guest count have irreconcilable differences? Here's how to bring them back together.

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The size of your guest list will greatly affect your wedding expenses, your reception site options, and the entire feel of your event. It's a rare bride and groom who don't need to edit down their original list, whether you're dealing with 30 or 300 people.

Most likely, you, your fiance, and both your families will be contributing names to the guest list, and each party will have his or her own ideas about who is necessary and who can be eliminated. To keep the honing from getting too hectic, try this list-cutting strategy:

  1. Start by setting a goal for your list size. This can be based on your budget, on space limitations of the site you want to use, and/or on any other factor that's important to you.
  2. Have everyone involved in the inviting submit a list of the people they'd like to attend. They should rank the names in order of importance, starting at the top.
  3. Compare the lists and cross off any duplications.
  4. Add up the names that are left and compare that number with your goal.
  5. If your count is over the limit, determine how many names you need to eliminate.
  6. Then, have each person cut an assigned number of names, starting from the bottom of his or her personal list.

Not inviting children can be an efficient way to eliminate an entire block of guests, and though some parents may be offended, they shouldn't expect you to invite their kids. (Just be sure to apply the decision uniformly, and don't make exceptions.)

The Coworker Question

You probably spend more waking hours with your office-mates than with your future mate, but does that mean you need to invite them all? Don't worry—unless you're close enough friends that you already socialize outside of the office, they probably don't expect it (and may even be glad not to have to give up a Saturday night).

If you do decide to invite coworkers, remember that you'll need to invite their spouses or significant others too, as described above. And if you don't invite them, stop bending their ears about wedding plans all day!

A-List, B-List

One way to make sure you invite as many people as possible but don't exceed your desired number is to have a back-up list of people you invite only after you receive regrets from your primary list. This means you need to send your A-list invitations out eight to 10 weeks in advance. Have the B-list mailing ready so as soon as you start receiving negative A-list replies you can drop them in the mail.

The only real downside to this approach is the risk of hurt feelings if a guest realizes he or she wasn't a first choice. To avoid this, make sure nothing on the invitation or envelope indicates A or B, and don't send out any invitations too close to the wedding date.

Bride's Side or Groom's Side?

Back when the bride's parents paid for virtually all wedding expenses, the custom was for them to tell the groom's parents how many people they could invite. Now that the groom's family is as likely to contribute funds, or the couple may be covering all expenses themselves, the allocation is much trickier.

The simplest approach is to let each set of parents invite the same number of people, or a number in proportion to the amount of funds they're contributing. Of course, real life is rarely so tidy, and list allocation will be skewed by many factors—perhaps your future in-laws both come from huge families, or the wedding will be held in your hometown so your parents want to invite all the neighbors. If you're lucky these imbalances won't cause strife, but be prepared to get firm with your families.

If your parents or in-laws absolutely must invite more then their assigned number, consider asking them for additional funds to cover the cost. But beware list creep—at some point, that additional couple here and distant cousin there will swell your crowd beyond the size you'd envisioned, and may even exceed the capacity of the site you want to use.

"And Guest?"

It can be tempting to limit your list by not inviting your single friends with guests—and that's just fine, if they truly are single. But if they're married, engaged, living with someone, or in a long-term relationship, you must invite their significant other (yes, even if you've never met him or her). Not only that, but you should include the significant other's name on the invitation—don't just write "and Guest" if there's a specific person in your friend's life.

No Kidding

Including children in your guest list is an entirely personal choice. Some couples couldn't imagine getting married without their adored nieces and nephews in attendance; others don't want the sticky little rugrats anywhere near their elegant affair. Children's meals are often less expensive than adults', but kids do take up as much space—or more, if you set aside a play area for them.