How to Finalize Your Wedding Guest List

You'll need to be certain before ordering save the dates and invitations.

As stressful as wedding planning can be, the guest list may be the cause of the most woes. It affects the budget, venue options, family drama, and the vibe for the event you want to host.

Photo: Adam Barnes

As stressful as most aspects of wedding planning can be, the guest list may be the cause of the most woes. It affects the budget, venue options, family drama, and the vibe for the event you want to host, which is why you shouldn’t select a venue until you have at least a rough idea of the guest list. How you divide it up is ultimately up to you and your future spouse. If you are covering the whole tab, it certainly provides more freedom for who you invite, although plenty of couples offer up spots on the guest list to their parents. While parental contributions may affect who is on the invite list, if only one family is paying, the other side may feel hurt and insulted to not be included in the decision. The most common method is to give the couple 50% of the list, and each set of parents 25%. 

how to finalize the guest list for your wedding
Photo by The Day by Ira Lippke; Bridal Salon: Mark Ingram Atelier

However, generally this rough guest list is made about a year before the actual wedding will take place. There is a good chance that once it’s time to order save the dates or invitations, you’ll have changed your mind about who you want to invite. Couples may have broken up, new relationships have started or gotten more serious, you’ve become closer to some friends while growing apart from others, family members are estranged or have reconciled – these are just some examples of why you might need to make some changes before finalizing the guest list.

When an adjusted guest list leads to fewer than you initially anticipated, it is usually an advantage. The money you had allocated on the enjoyment of attendees can now go farther, such as a wider array of appetizers at cocktail hour or expanding the bar to top-shelf liquor. On the other hand, if you find the guest list has now ballooned, you may have to make some cuts in order to accommodate the capacity of your venue. This can be tough, but usually is a necessity. It’s often most tempting to cut distant family members instead of friends, but tread carefully. If you eliminate all second cousins, that’s fine, but barring extreme family strife, one aunt invited means all of your aunts and uncles should be included.

New friendships, as well as relationships, are exciting and it’s understandable to want to invite these folks to your wedding. However, they’re more likely to understand not being included than your oldest pals. That said, if you haven’t hung out – or talked regularly, in cases of long distance – with someone for over a year, it may be time to accept the friendship has run its course. The most important thing is to make sure anyone you can’t imagine the day without is in attendance.

For more tips and ideas, learn design differences between save the dates and invitations and find out what to put on an RSVP card.