You're engaged and ready to start planning. Before you visit any venues, book the band, or start designing your Save the Dates, you have the terrific task of putting together your guest list! Who will be there to celebrate with you on the biggest day of your lives? This can be a daunting task, especially when you have a large family, a lot of friends, a lot of kids in your lives, parents who want to invite a lot of their friends, and especially when you don't know your budget yet. So talk to your parents first, come up with a budget based on what everybody will be contributing (See theknot.com's Wedding Budget 101 post), then ask each set of parents to write down invitees, and do the same with your fiance (there's a good chance this list will be too long. Don't worry about it yet). Plan a get-together meeting with your parents if you can. At the meeting, ask each party (each set of parents, yourselves as the bride & groom) to use 3 different color highlighters to show who:
- Definitely will be invited (and plus ones- see below)
- Should be invited (and plus ones)
- Could be invited (and plus ones)
(You could use a 4th color for children, if you're not sure whether you'll be inviting kids or not)
Consider a percentage system, where the bride & groom get to invite 50% of the guests, and each set of parents invites 25%. If your parents are paying for the wedding, offer them a higher percentage. This will have to be adjusted for families with different parent situations, and you can just do what seems fair. In any case, try to figure out numbers at the meeting if possible, and let parents help you Trim Down the Guest List (below). If you find that there are extra spots from one set of parents, perhaps you'd like to offer them to the others, but this will ensure that your parents are not already going to their 3rd cousins with details on the wedding you haven't started planning yet, which they will obviously be invited to (eek!).
*Side note: If you're paying for the wedding yourselves, your percentages will change, and your budget will most likely be lower, so you'll be inviting fewer guests. No biggie, do it your way and it'll be an amazing celebration no matter what :) You'll still want to ask parents for ideas on who to invite from the family, and you'll want them on board with the planning, but ultimately, the decisions will be up to the two of you in this case.
Who to Invite-
Family is the first priority, then close friends. Your guests will be witnesses to your wedding, and then to your marriage, and you want to share that day with the people who are likely to be in your lives the longest and be there for you through thick and thin, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, and so on. Discuss with your parents who will be invited from each side, and try to make it fair, but remember that guests should be people who are special to YOU as the bride and groom. If one side of the family is MUCH larger than the other, consider asking the smaller side's parents to invite a few more guests who are friends, or consider drawing the line a little bit closer on the big side. You do not have to invite your co-workers, but can certainly invite those who you spend time with outside of work (if you work on a team of 10 and you're inviting most of them, you should invite them all). When it comes to long-time friends, you do not necessarily have to invite the people you've known the longest if you're not close anymore, but you do what feels right to you. Have you seen the person or talked to them in the past year? Two years? Not for 3 years? Hmm...maybe they don't need to be at your wedding, after all. This goes for college friends, too. Don't feel guilty if, during your engagement, you run into, talk to or facebook message someone you're not planning to invite. You can't invite everyone you've ever known, they understand that, and if somehow a friendship is rekindled during your engagement, you will probably have the option in the final month or so to invite them if your budget and space allow. Lastly, if your initial guest list is huge and you're worried about a lot of people being offended if they're not invited, consider having a small wedding with family and close friends only, then having a brunch or get-together when you return from your honeymoon with more people.
*Side note: If you're having a backyard or park wedding and have fewer constraints, then you'll have some different considerations and a different budgeting process, but you still want to invite those whom you consider to be the most important figures in your lives!
You may want to invite your unmarried friends and family members with a guest. Remember that some people will take this as a chance to bring a close friend for a good time, some people will bring today's-boyfriend-or-girlfriend-who-may-be-out-of-the-picture-tomorrow, and so on. You don't necessarily want to be looking back at your wedding day pictures going, "Who is that?". May I suggest you draw a line and stick to it? A good idea is to invite a guest if a couple is married, engaged, or living together. If there's a long-term relationship situation that does not fall into any of the above categories, and you're very close to the couple, you may want to invite the guest as well. Know that there is some flexibility here, but for the sake of your sanity (and your guest list), set a line right off the bat for curious 2nd-cousins. Hey, depending upon your situation, you may want to (and be able to) invite all of your single guests with Plus One's- it'll certainly make for a more enjoyable bouquet and garter toss, and who knows- love may bloom at your wedding in an unexpected place?!
Google Docs, now found under the Drive tab at the top of any Google account page (especially easy if you use Google's free Gmail service), is a priceless tool for wedding planning, and they know it! Using an online document, which can be shared among bride & groom, parents, and even the Maid of Honor and Best Man (for planning of showers and bachelor/ette parties) can save you so much time! They now have templates (such as the Guest List Google Doc Template), so you can easily plug in information about your guests' names, addresses, email addresses and dietary restrictions (good to know when planning a meal), then use it to log when you send Save the Dates and Invitations, when you get RSVP's back, when you receive gifts for different wedding events, and even when your Thank You's have been sent. Aca-awesome, don't you agree (small Pitch Perfect joke, just because)?! I'd suggest starting this doc at your parent meeting, sharing it with the parents and your fiance right away, and asking everyone to start putting in/checking addresses as soon as possible.
Per Guest Budget-
Figure out, based on your budget and the total number of people on the list, how much you'll have to spend on each guest. Typically, about 50% of the budget goes toward the reception- food, drinks, venue space- and the going rate is anywhere from $65 (on the very low end) to $150+ (on the higher end) per person. Many places in the Philadelphia area have a nice wedding package for about $100 per guest, with children's meals around $25-$30 (plan around $50 if you can and use the rest to hire a babysitter for a kids' room if it's available!). If you calculate 50% of your budget, divided by the total number of people on your list, and it works out to be around $100, then you're good to go and you can go ahead and invite everyone! Woo hoo, that's easy :) Unfortunately, it doesn't always go that smoothly, because we just love so many people and want to include them in our celebrations.
So...Here are some ways to refine your guest list:
Step 1: Initially move the 'could be invited' people, the children, and/or the 'should be invited' people to a backup list depending upon your budget and priorities. You can always invite some of these people later if you find that your budget does allow it, or if you get RSVP's back from your A-listers saying that they cannot make it.
Step 2: Long-time friends. Have you spoken or seen each other in the last year? Two years? Three years? If you had a crew of friends from high school who were really close but have fallen apart, don't feel obligated to invite them. How hurt would you be if you weren't invited to their 'hypothetical' wedding? Will you still be friends in 10 years? If you do decide to invite most of them, you should invite all of them. Just saying.
Step 3: Saw this online and laughed. Have fun with it! Take guests on the bubble and do something fun to determine whether they'll make the cut! Play beer pong, do a coin toss, thumb wrestle and the winner can pick. LoL!
Optional Considerations: Would you invite this person to your home for dinner? Would you take them out for a dinner (your treat) for a celebration? Would they do the same for you? Would they visit you if you were in the hospital? Would they send a card or a gift? Would you do the same for them?
Your guest list has some obligatory invitees (who you want to invite, of course!) and then it should be made up of the rest of the people to whom you are closest and around whom you are the happiest! Have a great time with your guest list, stay organized, don't stress, and know that when it's pretty much set...
You can start looking at venues based on your approximate number, start looking at dates (if you haven't already), start telling your Aunt Linda to get a fancy new dress ready and telling your flower girl to get some pretty new dancing shoes, because your wedding is going to be a blast!