Sending out your wedding invitations — it’s that decisive moment of no return. These are the people who are going to be there to experience the most important moment of your life. And even if you’re footing the bill for the event yourself, your families are probably also going to want to have input.

It pays to have a strategy in mind as you prepare your wedding guest list. Think of it as an orderly process where you:

Compile Your Dream List

In the early stages of wedding planning, while you are pinning dresses and scouting possible venues online, it’s a good idea also to compile a fantasy guest list. It’s actually a good exercise in knowing what sort of wedding event you want to have, since the number of guests you invite will likely determine your venue choice.

Intimate Colorado weddings are trending in 2016, a fact that might help introverts and destination wedding seekers feel comfortable with lists that include just a few close friends and family members. But if you both are social butterflies, chances are good that nothing will repress your natural inclination to wants hundreds of people at your wedding.

So go ahead and list them all. To save yourself some time later, break that list into categories: immediate family, distant relatives, coworkers, close friends, acquaintance and “plus” guests. That way, you’ll be able to winnow the list down more easily later on.

Know Your Budget and Venue

The first step is knowing how many guests your event will actually accommodate. It seems obvious, but the venue you choose will set an upper limit on the number of people who can be there! And if that doesn’t, your budget certainly will. Use a budget tracking tool, like this one offered by Brides Magazine, to estimate the number of guests you can afford to have at the event. That’s how many people you can put on your wedding guest list.

Set Some Ground Rules . . . and Follow Them

Once you’ve have the non-negotiable parameters of venue and budget out of the way, the hard part begins. Because it involves some of the top sources of marital conflict — finances and in-laws, to name the big ones — deciding on the guest list can be really stressful. Setting firm ground rules can help, but only if you follow through and make these rules absolutely non-negotiable. Here are some things to consider:

  • Decide whether you want children at the event. You might offend some people with a “no kids” rule, but it’s your wedding. Consider your reaction to a toddler screaming in the middle of the ceremony — an endearing moment of life, or the ruination of a sacred event you’ve been planning for a year? Then plan your list accordingly.
  • Decide if you’ll allow guests to bring a friend. Having a firm rule about this can really help later on when you are overwhelmed with late stage planning, and those requests start coming in.
  • Allot percentages to the people with the most at stake in the guest list. In Do I Have to Wear White?: Emily Post Answers America’s Top Wedding Questions, Anna Post suggests that the couple should choose 50 percent of the guest list, leaving 25 percent to each family. Giving families a set percentage of the guest list can cut down on potential pressure from family members who insist on having their way.
  • Agree to certain “cutting” rules in advance. For instance, you may not want to invite anyone you haven’t spoken to in over a year. You may agree to no former significant others. You may say “no” to anyone you’ve never actually seen or heard of — no matter how much pressure your Aunt Jean is putting on your mother to invite her.

Synchronize Your “A” and “B” Lists Tactfully

Let’s face it — no one wants to feel like a second thought. And yet, it’s inevitable that some of your A list invitees will send regrets, and those folks on the B list are people you’d really like to have around. In other words, they’re not afterthoughts, so don’t make them feel that way.

Here’s where your timing needs to be pristine. Send out the first set of invitations three months in advance, leaving plenty of time for RSVPs to come in. Then send the second tier invitations out 6-8 weeks before the wedding. Make sure to also have a second set of reply cards printed as well so that guests can’t tell by the expired RSVP date that they were B-listers. Planning tools like The Knot Wedding Guest List Manager can help you coordinate these deadlines flawlessly.

The Bottom Line

Planning your wedding guest list doesn’t have to be stressful if you break your potential guests down into categories, take your budget into consideration, set out clear ground rules, and send the top-tier invitations out with plenty of time for RSVPs. Thinking about the guest list well in advance can actually help you to decide the scope and parameters of the wedding event you’ll eventually have.

For help with refining that scope, give us a shout. We design dramatic and memorable weddings that will make everyone on your guest list feel indispensable.