Think about your biggest wedding day stress and it may not be the dress, venue or squabbles over the chicken or fish. Instead, you’re likely thinking of those late nights worrying over the wedding guest list. Maybe you’ve even spent a few sleepless nights agonizing over who to invite and who to cut from your list.
These days, wedding guest lists are starting to shrink, leaving more room in your budget but putting higher stakes around guest list etiquette. Unfortunately, there’s no science or magic formula behind who gets invited. But there is a way to decide who gets an invite to your wedding and how to plan accordingly.
Before you send out your favorite save-the-date cards, brush up on your wedding guest list etiquette.
1. Invite Family Members as a Set
With few exceptions, immediate family should get an invite to the wedding, as well as anyone contributing to the big day financially. However, no one wants to turn their wedding day into a display of favorite cousins, aunts, and uncles while others are bewildered at being left out.
As a general rule, if you invite a few aunts, then you need to invite all your aunts and their spouses. There are some exceptions to consider. For example, a close aunt who’s also the groom’s godmother can likely score an invite, while other aunts no one has seen in years can sit out the big day. You can also get away with just inviting first cousins and leaving distant cousins from the list without worrying about the fallout.
2. Keep it Equitable
Figuring out how to cobble together a guest list with input from the bride and groom and all the relatives can get overwhelming fast. So before the in-laws decide to turn the occasion into a family reunion and a way to impress their co-workers, lay down some hard and fast ground rules. Allow anyone involved in the guest list to have an allotted number of guests to invite, and stay firm.
Now, what if the groom’s family says their list is small and only needs half of the allotment? Clear it with everyone else to redistribute the leftover spots fairly. Ultimately, from wedding planning to time with future grandchildren, you’ll create more harmony in your marriage if you follow the equitable rule early and often.
3. Set Rules and Veto Power
There are no hard and fast rules for building a wedding guest list, except for careful planning. A small wedding venue requires a small wedding guest list and needs a strategy. Invite only immediate and close extended family, as well as tight-knit friends. Co-workers, distant relatives, and casual acquaintances can be left off the list. A kid-free wedding is also fine as long as you’re firm and clear about it upfront.
However, it might be wise to offer a little veto power. Consider special requests on a case-by-case basis. For example, it might be wise to consider the request of an otherwise agreeable mother-in-law who insists it’s bad news to invite her brother.
4. Stay Firm and Polite
No matter how well you plan the guest list, people outside of your veto power zone will still ask for exceptions. Ask yourself this: Do you have your heart set on a small wedding? If that’s the case, don’t sit around passively when a guest writes in the name of a random date they want to bring.
To smooth over any tension, consider throwing an informal pre-wedding party for friends, colleagues and anyone else you can’t invite to the big day. Bonus points that your extended network will still feel included in the new chapter in your life.
Remember, It’s All About the Bride and Groom
Ultimately, a wedding day is about the bride and groom first and foremost. Embracing the occasion as a way to include treasured loved ones can help shift the focus on togetherness and celebration. Of course, if all else fails and the guest list gets out of hand, you can always elope and skip the list altogether. You’ll still walk away married.