How To Shorten Your Wedding Guest List Without Offending Anyone

Jeff Marsh

“We have room for you in our hearts, just no chair for you at the ceremony. Still, send gifts.”

Maybe that's how the announcements should read, at least some of them. We'd all like to have the all-inclusive guest list, but things like budgets, venue size and logistics often make that impossible.

While there are several ways to save money when planning, one of the easiest is to simply reduce the number of invited guests, which immediately affects the venue size and simplifies logistics. Except that isn't simple when people's feelings are involved.

There are all kinds of tools online and elsewhere designed to make these decisions less painful. My fiancé and I decided to use a budget-like approach, marrying allocation of people to seats just like we do dollars to bills.

1. Calculate your available budget.

In our particular case, we debated the question of which should come first, the venue or the count? Do we pick a venue and then match the numbers to what the venue will hold? Or do we make a guest list and pick a venue that will hold that number?

Most experts will tell you to select the approximate number of guests first and then select the venue. The list size may be based on what size venue you can afford and if you want the wedding indoors or out. It may also depend on whether your reception is at the same location or held elsewhere. Make educated estimates based on all the information you have instead of guessing, don't go too low and provide yourself with contingencies.

Typically in a budget, people spend what cash they have on hand. In a venue, you will fill what seats you have (probably). If you have more seats available, it's likely you'll expand your guest list to fill them, which will increase expenses in other areas.

Even before you decide on a final number, start with what percentage of the list belongs to each person. This may vary, but usually 50 percent of the list belongs to the bride and groom and 25 percent belongs to each set of parents. As soon as you settle on an overall number, give parents their limit early, before they start calling and inviting distant relatives you don't necessarily want to attend.

2. Figure out who might not come and who for sure won't come.

This is not, in this instance at least, related to money. The question is -- how many people on the list might not come and which ones for sure will not come? We all have those relatives, friends or just out-of-town guests who we invite knowing they either will not come, can't come or won't be able to afford the trip. While we can offer them tips to save money, even if they can't attend, we send the invite anyway because it would be rude not to.

The key here is to create tiers. Prioritize your list by category: essential and immediate family, close friends, extended family and finally, colleagues and other friends. Assign each a number of importance and when evaluating this number, stick with how important it is to you that that person attend.

One way to save hurt feelings is simply not to invite certain groups, rather than just inviting a few people from the group, like co-workers, your writing critique group or your college English class.

3. Establish a firm plus-one policy.

Do you want to include plus-ones? The rule for this generally is only if you have socialized with the couple. If someone wants to bring a guest, you may have to simply explain to them that many other singles will be attending too and some colleagues and friends didn't get an invite at all due to budget or venue limitations, making them feel good about being invited at all.

Remember, if you say yes to one, word may spread and suddenly you will have 50 extra guests you don't have seats or food for. Establish a firm plus-one policy and stick to it.

Also ask what you want your day to look like. Do you want the ceremony to feel intimate and close or large and open? This can help influence the selection of the location as well as the decision about plus-ones. A large venue with a small crowd will feel just as uncomfortable as a small one with too many people: the discomfort will just be for a different reason.

4. Make use of "no" RSVPs.

Do you have a “B” list if you start to get several “no” RSVPs? How long do you wait and how much does the primary list have to shrink before you move people from the “B” list to the “A” list?

An easy method for determining if someone should be on the “A” list or the “B” list, is to use the one-year test. Ask “have I seen or spoken to this person in the last year?” If the answer is no, they can probably stay off the “A” list, but they still might be a good fit for the “B” list.

That time factor can be expanded to decide the “no” list. If you haven't seen or talked to the person in two years, it is probably more than OK to leave them off the list entirely unless you really want to invite them. If you get down to 90 days from the wedding and your list is still sparse, you may want to move some of your “B” list to the front of the line.

These decisions depend solely on your ideas for your wedding. While, in this case, we are talking about the guest list, these budgeting principles can be applied to the whole of wedding planning.

Remember, while the ceremony is for friends and family, the entire event is your day. Asking the right questions early and using these tools early can help set the tone and reduce the stress of difficult decisions.