Guest list rules to help you keep your wedding small

Guest post by Annie
wave your flags everyone

Our biggest wedding planning challenge was the guest list! From the beginning, Kyle and I knew we wanted to have a fairly small wedding. What we didn't know was exactly how difficult that can be to pull off.

When we started making the guest list we realized that we had two options:

  • Give in and invite everyone we know OR
  • Invite only immediate family to avoid hurt feelings

Neither of those options represented what we really wanted for our wedding, so we decided to go with a third option…

Could we exclude people we considered to be some of our best friends just a short time ago but now only see once every six months? What about aunts and uncles that hadn't even met our son?

That third option? Painstakingly pour over a list of everyone we consider to be either family or friends, and decide which ones would make the cut. This was especially hard because, in the two years prior to our wedding, both of us had gone through a huge growing period (which included meeting each other, falling madly in love, getting pregnant after just four months together, moving three times and caring for our most fabulous son) and therefore our social circle had changed dramatically.

Could we exclude people we considered to be some of our best friends just a short time ago but now only see once every six months? What about aunts and uncles that hadn't even met our son? All of these people still mean a lot to us, but if they don't know us as a couple, what's the point of them being at our wedding? It was, after all, a day to celebrate our life together. And if we exclude these people that we have known and loved for years, can we really justify inviting people that have only become good friends in a matter of months? There was so so so much to consider!

We ended up coming up with two rules which more or less answered all of our many queries:

  1. Only people who knew both of us decently well and that one, or both, of us cared about immensely.
  2. Definitely not anyone that one of us had never met before.

This worked well, both in helping us making decisions, and as a reason to give people when they asked us why so and so wasn't invited.

In the end we ended up with about sixty totally wonderful and important people attending our wedding. Were we happy with how everything went and did we love the intimate feeling this short guest list provided? Absolutely!

Do we hope that people know that just because they weren't invited to our wedding it doesn't mean that we don't love them? For sure.

For more guest list advice, check it out…

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Comments on Guest list rules to help you keep your wedding small

  1. This is a wonderful idea! The hardest part for my fiance and I in the planning so far is the guest list. he has a HUGE extended family, that all live in driving distance. My family is small and live on the other side of the country my list – 20; his list 200. AH! =0) I’m gonna run this by him tonight. When I think of my wedding day I think of only being w/ people I know and love. Not a crowd of strangers.

    • Are we getting married to the same family? All of his family is concentrated in one area. When he told me his side usually brings in 300 people, I sputtered. We’re trying for 150-180 tops. That’s going to mean a lot of cuts on his end. Sorry future family, I do love you!

      • I had a similar problem, but with slightly smaller numbers. I was imagining about 100 people total, he was thinking 200 family between us and about 50 friends!

        Our list is still mostly his family but at least we managed to compromise on 150 total.

      • Ha! Now I’m wondering if we’re marrying the same family because I had the same thing happen–a cousin of my fiance’s told me that his family usually brings in about 300 people to life-cycle events and my eyes bugged out of my head!

        • We’re having trouble getting down to 250. My parents had 310 and 90% of that was my dad’s family. Since I don’t know 90% of my 1st cousins, I think we will be able to use the “I don’t know you, can’t come” rule. I like that rule.

    • My Best friends widowed Dad was invited to my wedding because I love him and I allowed him a guest. My friend has a clique of women friends I don’t particularly care for.
      Lately my friend has ignored our friendship somewhat because she is very attatched to one of these women, this women moved three doors down from her. I love my frined very much but not her friend. Now shse tells me her Dad is brining this friend as his guest What do i do I don’t want her there?

  2. Props to you for getting all that sorted out and sharing it!

    I’m trying to plan a 50-60 person wedding myself, and I HOPE in the process I’m not making anyone angry at me. I’m thankful that my situation isn’t as difficult as yours. My thought is that this is a very important day in my life and I ONLY want to share it with the people I love and that mean something important to me. I LOVE the idea that only people who have met us BOTH are invited! That definitely cuts out a lot of my fiance’s family! Though there are a few we want to invite that haven’t met one of us, but they are very important to us and therefore it’s ok. I’m thankful that my parents are completely fine with my restricting my guest list and I only have to disappoint my mother in law!

    I think the biggest issue I’m having right now is with a small group of friends… Including partners, there’s a group of 8 people from college/work/former roommates that would hang out together on a weekly basis. There’s Laura(& Husband) and Patty (& boyfriend) who I lived with for 2 years (2 years ago).
    Laura also works with me and sits behind me so I see her a couple times a week when she’s in the office. Also working with me is Greg, who I’ve talked to on a daily basis for the past 5 years and we are friends and occasionally would hang out outside of work (but not recently). I have been invited to both Greg & Laura’s weddings. Finally the last group is Mike and Krystal. Mike, Patty, Laura & I all went to the same college and all work for the same company and began hanging out when we started working here, we’d visit with him weekly and do other things together. Mike, Krystal & Greg also then later lived together for a year. (Mike & Krystal are best friends and always one anothers wedding dates, Krystal is great and I wouldn’t mind her coming, but I would then have to invite Mike).
    I am closest to Patty even though we have only seen each other maybe twice in the past year.
    The problem is that I DO NOT want Mike at my wedding because he always gets really drunk and makes a fool out of himself. I do NOT want attention at my wedding going to him and his antics, I don’t want anyone distracted by his nonsense, and I don’t want anyone’s strong memories of the day having to do with him. But the problem with not inviting him is that I know he would be insulted if I then invited the others.
    I most want to invite Patty, and I feel like I could get away with inviting Patty & Adam if I also invite Laura & PJ, with my reason being that we lived together and therefore are closer than I am to Greg & Mike, even though that’s not really too true because I never really got too close to Laura. I talked to Patty about it and she said she’d go even if she didn’t know anyone else at the wedding, and she also said she’d be fine if we decided not to invite her. So, I’m not sure what to do. I don’t think she’d have as much fun because she’s not really friends with any of my other friends, but I still do like her a lot… I don’t know.. Sorry for babbling my issue here πŸ™‚

    • Don’t worry about the babbling…I’m a total babbler myself. πŸ™‚ You’ve definitely got a hard situation there but it seems like you have it mostly figured out. If you do end up inviting them all could you possibly ask mike about his drunken antics? Could you pull a ‘simmer down there turbo’? If not then I would say definitely go with your gut even if it does unfortunately hurt feelings. It’s your day and they way I looked at it (and maybe this is harsh) was did I want OUR day tainted for US? Or did I want OUR day tainted for SOMEONE ELSE? I sure wouldn’t want someone elses day tainted for me so I thought the answer was obvious!

    • Who do you have tending bar? Would it be possible to give that person a heads up about the possibility of Mike causing trouble if he drinks too much, and ask the bar person to make sure Mike’s “cut off” before he gets too toasted?

  3. I’m not really sure if we had any rules. Officially we did but we seem to have had just as many exceptions.

    For example we cut family at first cousins, but then invited my great aunt and her family on the basis that my mum is an only child so her kids were like my cousins growing up.

    We said friends had to be people we’ve seen in the last year, but also invited my best friend who moved to South Africa over a year ago because I could not imagine getting married without her there.

    So I suppose they’re more guidelines than actual rules. But it’s still very helpful to have a basis for who should be included as a starting point at least because trying to pick individuals to exclude is very hard (and made me feel guilty for choosing between my friends).

  4. Thanks for this! I can completely relate. We’ve cut and recut our guest list more times than I can count, but now I think we finally have come to an acceptable list. Hopefully most of those who didn’t make it will be understanding.

  5. We stuck with ‘If we haven’t heard from or seen you in the past year, you aren’t invited.’

    We ended up inviting about 100 people but due to snow (in Houston, where it snows once every twenty years) only about 40 showed up. We still had an awesome time.

    • For the past two and a half years [as in, way before I even got engaged], I’ve been cringing over the concept of the guest list. We’re still trying to figure it out now, and the wedding is right around the corner! In theory, I’m a big girl who can handle petty family drama….but in reality, I’m the “peacemaker” who is constantly steamrolled by the fear of offending people and causing political issues among the relatives. If I could invite only friends [as in, the people who actually know us and saved our lives by helping us through all our family dysfunction through the years], I would…but it’d be difficult [and probably not the wisest thing in the world] to explain why I chose to not invite either set of parents…

      Here’s hoping I can figure out a middle ground, and fast; thanks for all the helpful advice! πŸ™‚

  6. It seems so hard to keep the guest list down these days, because you also have to consider the +1s and the children of whom you’re inviting. +1s can nearly double your guest list in certain areas! So now I’m wondering whether I should even bother with a social group just because of their +1 additions (like close co-workers, because the s.o. and I did meet at work!) It can be pretty challenging.

    • Actually thats the other thing I should have included in the post. No plus ones unless we knew and were also friends with their partner. And actually no one seemed to mind too much which was great!

      • I saw something somewhere with the idea of putting ___ out of 1 attending on the RSVP so that it is clear you’re not inviting any +1s or kids.. but then I mentioned it to a friend and he thought that it would be rude to do… any thoughts?
        I did see guideline somewhere that it’s OK not to invite the +1 unless that person doesn’t know anyone else at the wedding, which makes sense. Though that doesn’t help if you know the +1 is someone you don’t like!

      • We also skipped the plus ones. We had 29 guests total and only person we’d never met (a very good friend’s wife). It was only ever occasionally awkward and there were no long-term hurt feelings. And with such a small group it was obvious that lots of people were excluded and it was nothing personal. Our guests were all people who truly knew “us” and could appreciate all the sappy, strange things we did during the ceremony.

        • Thats great that it worked out so well for you! Especially considering how small you managed to make it.

          • In the process of planning my own wedding, I’ve felt that the smaller the number of guests, the easier it is to justify cutting many people out.
            With only 35 guests, everyone (friends and family alike) was SO understanding when it came to not attending the ceremony. Luckily we’re planning a huge garden-beer-party in a couple months to make it up to them!

          • Thanks for writing something about the “plus one.” We created a some rules, once was that the couple was to be married (if we have not met their sig other) or in a long term relationship. Our wedding is in 2 months. So far 2 people have asked before they RSVP-ed and totally understood. Just recently someone invited a family member, without discussing before she mailed in the invite. I had to break the news to her. πŸ™ We are paying for our won wedding so the rules must be followed. I do have some guilt, hence my search to read about other couples and how they manage the plus one. Thanks again!

        • Im so glad I found this website. I’ve been panicking trying to plan a wedding on a very small budget. I’ve been trying to explain to my fiancΓ©e that we needed to only invite the family who we actually spent time with. He’s so worried about offending someone even if he never sees them. I’d never thought that with such a small guest list people would not take it personally if they weren’t invited. I would love a small wedding with around 20 guests then go to a nice restaurant for a meal and a few drinks. Is it wrong that I don’t care if I offend some relatives I’ve never met?

  7. That’s fantastic!

    We decided to invite all the people we ‘should’ invite – extended family and godparents etc. People assume we’re doing this under pressure but that’s not it at all.

    The main thing is that we’re happy with this decision. If we weren’t, there’s no way we’d do it.

    • “The main thing is that we’re happy with this decision. If we weren’t, there’s no way we’d do it.”

      That right there should be a rule for everyone. Whether you’re aiming for a tiny intimate wedding or a huge party the important thing is it should be what YOU want.

  8. We’ve been pouring over our list for (what seems like) ages. The biggest challenge for us is kids. We’re inviting kids but children of our friends that I can’t name aren’t invited. If the list reads “daughter 1 and daughter 2”, they both get crossed off.

    To expound on another poster’s/respondant’s reply, I would L-O-V-E to see a post on how to deal with drunks at your wedding. My futer sister-in-law is an alchoholic (a falling-down, screaming, yelling drunk) and turns everything – including holidays and her son’s birthday parties – into a drunken debacle. Because my finace comes from a family of alcoholics (albeit, functioning alcoholics) no one will confront her about her behavior. Dare I say a word about her cutting back for the day or do I have to make every other guest suffer by not allowing alcohol at the wedding? Every other guest on the list likes to have a cocktail or two now and again, especially in the company of friends. Any advice on THAT topic?

    • I hear you on this! For the longest time I was thinking I’d have an alcohol free reception since my brother is an alcoholic. I do now want alcohol at the wedding, but we can’t afford an open bar, so I’m hoping that that will curb the alcohol abuse a bit if he has to pay for his own! And at least my parents would be angry if he got drunk and might make him leave…

      Would you do an open bar if you had alcohol? You could always find out if there’s a specific type of alcohol that she hates, and make that into a signature drink πŸ˜‰

      • Were having an open bar only up to a certain dollar amount to keep people from getting wasted. Because my thinking is a drink or two will keep people happy, but not stupid. And then it will turn into a cash bar after my initial amount is spent.

        So maybe you could do that, or maybe you could do drink tickets? Everyone gets 2 drink tickets, otherwise it is a cash bar?

    • This is a REALLY tricky topic, Jen, because for a lot of ‘functioning’ alcoholics, their strength and conviction comes from NOT admitting they have a problem. If you ask your future SIL to avoid or cut back on the drinking at the reception, you may end up in an argument about why she needs to, which turns into an argument about whether she has a problem or not, and you’ll probably lose. Denial is a functioning alcoholic’s stock in trade.

      I’m usually all for healthy, peaceful confrontation, but if her whole family is backing her up about how “normal” her drinking is, you could alienate them all by trying to get her to change her behavior. That is not necessarily the kind of drama you want to have before your wedding.

      You could a) have a cash bar, b) follow Sue’s excellent suggestion, figure out what liquor she HATES, and feature it, or c) detail a groomsman or a member of Team Bride to stick with her throughout the reception, make sure she doesn’t drink too much, and politely take her aside if she does, so she doesn’t cause too much of a scene.

      Good luck!

    • If you want a bar, could you do drink tickets? So everyone gets 1 drink (or whatever) and the rest is cash, or simply cut everybody off at two? I feel like most casual drinkers would be perfectly happy with two, which is hopefully not enough to bring out the drama.

      That’s a really tricky situation, I hope you find a good solution.

    • Honestly I would not make other guests suffer for the one person with a problem (if it’s multiple people, or one person in a very tiny 10-person wedding, or you, your intended or both are recovering alcoholics, that’s different).

      My solution would be whatever bar I would have had otherwise, in my case an open bar (we could provide our own liquor so an open bar was a very affordable option) but not everyone does this…and have a few designated attendants or people close to me keep an eye on the potential troublemaker. If that person causes a scene, your Bridal Bodyguards take him aside.

      NOT in a “you’re drinking too much” way, because that is an argument they aren’t going to win, especially at a wedding, and it’s not their job to confront an alcoholic about hizzer life choices…just hizzer behavior *at that moment*. But take them aside in a “you’re not acting appropriately” way, potentially distracting them or even making them leave.

      Or, honestly, in the “Mike” story, I do think you can get away with not inviting Mike and Krystal, though I was a bit confused. If it’s a friend and not a close family member it’s easier to just avoid the problem altogether and not invite them.

      You can also warn the bartender ahead of time (or have someone else do it) about the person with a drinking problem, so the bartender knows after two drinks to start watering that person’s order.

      Or just don’t do an open bar…some people will criticize you for it, and it’s “not done” in my family, but you won’t find any judgment here over doing it!

      In the “the whole family is functioning alcoholic” way…if you think you can get someone who is NOT in her family to take her aside, do that. If you think the whole thing will be a big mess because they’re all alcoholic to varying degrees on that side, then restrict the bar in some way or pre-warn the bartender about her. Wedding bartenders get a lot of flak, but they’re used to weddings so a warning to water the drinks of a particular guest will be adhered to. It will be nothing new.

      I don’t think there is an easier solution, unfortunately.

    • I’ve seen some good advice around other sites (I’m fairly new here) that you should give the bad offenders’ pics and names to the bartenders and they serve the first drink or two normal to them, then the rest of the drinks are so spritzer that no one could get drunk off them, but they don’t get ‘cut off’ so they aren’t offended, but can’t get drunk either, so sneaky, so perfect πŸ™‚ we are either doing a ticket then cash bar, or a 3 hours only open bar, depending on the venue as one venue has a 3 hour bar included in the deal, along with MANY other perks, I just need a quote now πŸ™‚

    • We’re not having an open bar, but we are offering a signature cocktail and champagne to toast. If any of our guests can flag down the waitress often enough to actually get drunk, I would be impressed. πŸ˜‰

  9. Great post! We pretty much did the same thing. The guest list was so hard, almost as hard as the seating plan πŸ™‚

    • You’re totally right…the seating plan was definitely a bit of a bitch too!

    • Seating was HELLACIOUSLY hard. Isn’t it just amazing how your social groups don’t fit into neat little packets of 8 or 10? πŸ™‚

      We had a few plans of attack on the seating:

      1.) The Singles Table NEVER WORKS. Don’t group guests by marital status – group them by interest. That means couples and singles can share tables (2 couples/6 singles, 3 couples/4 singles, 4 couples/2 singles etc). Our table groups were things like “The Overachieving Professionals Table”, “The Young Hippie Table”, “The Vintage Hippie Table”, “The Affable Straight-Laced New England Liberal Academic Table”, “The Old Boys Who Like Hunting Table”, “The Traveler and Expat Table”…like that. My family is generally close so most of them just got seated in a big clutch of tables near enough each other that it didn’t really matter exactly where they were.

      • That’s fantastic! I love it! Because our wedding was so small some of the tables only had like 4 or 5 people instead of 8 (but it didn’t matter because they sat at picnic tables). We mostly went with young family + young family = a good match! πŸ™‚

  10. I got married in Darwin (North Australia ) where we live, last year and due to its remoteness it certainly cut down on who was prepared to travel this far, even from other parts of oz. I felt if people were happy to make the trip, they obvipusly regard us as good freinds and it was worth the distance. A lot of freinds live all over the place. Sadly because of this lots couldn’t come from the UK (where our families are)and it immediately solved the family issue and just 5 relations came.

    The trickiest bit was who to invite from Darwin. I was concerned more about the food costs- which was silly really and keeping the rather alternative ceremony intimate. We had more of an open invite after food (about 7pm) for people to enjoy the after after party- which worked pretty well. This could be a solution. To be honest I wish I had just just invited those extra people all day and asked them if they wanted to come to ceremony and party or just party, as it is a beautiful thing to share. It was silly as the videographer’s helper ended up joining in the ceremony and someone’s mum who was visiting and I’d never met- so after the details of who we wanted to be there people were randomly there anyway. But man- the guest list is the trickiest. We had 60 in the day, and proably 90 all up in the evening.
    It’s so hard as some freinds who came in the eveing have become really good freinds since. This is not great advice- I’m just saying- it is a real hard one.

  11. I’m so happy you found something that worked for you! For many (especially those who have a local community and live reasonably near both families) this is some great advice.

    Of course it won’t work for everyone…including us. We live abroad, and while we were best friends before becoming expats, we didn’t start dating until afterwards (it’s a very looong story).

    As a result, other than B’s parents, I’d never met anyone on his side **including his brother and sister-in-law** (simply due to distance), and he’d never met most of my close family (but did know my parents, sister, grandparents, one uncle and some distant cousins…because those extended relatives happened to live in the city we lived in before moving abroad).

    Was B going to cut his own brother because I’d never met him? Was I going to cut my uncles, whom I am close to, but keep my far-flung cousins because they knew him and the uncles didn’t? OF COURSE NOT.

    So…this tactic wouldn’t have worked for us (we would have had similar issues with friends). We were, of course, happy to invite everyone we’d ever met so it was totally cool.

    But…like the STD/no STD debate, I can see how it would work gangbusters for others! It’s just not universally applicable. Very few pieces of advice are.

    • I was trying to think of a way to say something similar – there are a lot of very good rules that just wouldn’t have worked for me.

      I’ve heard someone cut friends when they couldn’t remember their birthdays, but I struggle to remember my sisters birthday so that would leave me no friends!

      I think the universal part is that a rule can be helpful, but what that rule actually is has to be tailored to each couple and their situation.

  12. Great advice Annie! We’re in the excruciating process of finalising our guest list. We can seat 120 people max at the venue, so at least we know there is absolutely no way we can go over that!
    Our biggest problem is whether we invite those couples whose wedding one of us went to a few years ago, but we don’t keep in much contact with now (apart from the occasional facebook remark). Any suggestions?

    • That is a tough one. Honestly my suggestion is that unless you feel that either one of you would actually miss having them there on the big day then I would say you probably shouldn’t invite them. What do you think though? If you see yourself wanting to spend 20 minutes talking with them on the day you get married then I think you should definitely consider it.

  13. This is a great article. I’m in a weird situation re: guests. We can have 75 max because of our venue restrictions, but we’re in danger of going over that.

    My future mister has a huge extended family who seem to have a largely one-sided relationship with him. They’re located in two clusters in Ohio (his parents and siblings + their families) and Ireland (aunts, uncles, cousins) and although he doesn’t really keep in touch with them beyond an occasional Facebook message, they seem to think they’re super close to him and several aunts have mentioned more than once that I’m not just marrying him, I’m marrying his whole family.

    This is leading to sticky issues because his aunts and cousins are assuming that they’re invited AND that they’re getting +1s… even though Future Mister hasn’t seen them in years and we can’t afford (space-wise or money-wise) to invite them. Then there’s my mother who wants to invite all of her friends because they’ve “seen [me] grow up” and it’s unthinkable not to have them at my wedding (since for her it’s more of a celebration of what a good job she and my dad did raising me than a day centered around me and Future Mister).

    • What worked on my mother (and his mother and a few other people) was to make a list with ALL these people and then show it to them.

      All the family, even the ones I’m sure I’d never heard of before, all our friends (yes they pushed us to add more friends), all their friends, all the old neighbours and the relations relations (SIL’s MIL? WTF?), everyone who “had” to be invited.

      Unsuprisingly it was a HUGE list and it made it very clear cuts had to be made somewhere. Of course everyone wanted to cut other peoples extras; my mum wanted to cut his old neighbours, his mum wanted to cut my mums friends and so on. But it did open a dialogue about the fact that we had to limit it somewhere.

  14. If you see yourself wanting to spend 20 minutes talking with them on the day you get married then I think you should definitely consider it.

    Awesome clarification + lots of others – thank you so much! Perfect timing for this post.

    Here is my debate – I work in a small department (8+me). I am having a Friday day wedding, so that would eliminate the +1s. I am really close with 2 members of the department but how do I only invite them? We are trying to keep this small (less than 80) & my fiance is only inviting 2 former work colleagues, so ….. ? Thoughts?

    • I’m in a similar boat – I want to invite people from work but not everyone. We are having a ceremony and reception for some and then dancing, drinks and cake in the evening (where we’ll do our speech) for more people eg those we might have a beer with on a Friday but nothing serious. I have made a point, though, of having a quiet word to the colleagues who I also consider good friends and who are coming to the whole thing, that some others are only joining us in the evening (hint: don’t make it obvious that we have two lists)

      I’m not sure how that would work in a department of 9. Would it be a problem to invite everyone? Alternatively, would the 6 you’re not so close to understand if they weren’t invited?

      Ref an earlier comment about children, we have told our guests that their children are “very welcome” at our ceremony, the implication being that the rest of the event isn’t suitable for kids (plus we don’t know most of the kids well, so the only one who will be staying is our nephew, though we won’t refuse a newborn who’s on the boob) For friends who are coming from out of town, we have said on our website that we can help them find childcare if they’re struggling. We *might* pay for/subsidise it…but haven’t said so explicitly.

      PS yay for Friday weddings πŸ™‚

  15. Alternatively, if your guests are anything like ours, you can cut the list in half just by asking them to tell you their address … then explaining you couldn’t invite them because they never got back to you!

  16. I’ll be inviting everybody.

    If that means we can only afford to eat sandwiches then so be it

  17. Perfect timing! I’m debating whether to invite the aunts, uncles, and cousins because they total more than the whole number of guests we’re shooting for… but I know that some of them really want to make it and it wouldn’t be fair to invite some but not all.

    On the other hand… my FH hasn’t met a single member of my extended family. And we’ve been together for six years! That’s what happens when you live far from your home state and you don’t come from the same one! And you’re too poor to travel.

    We’re just going to have to assume that many of those whom we invite won’t make it.

    I can’t even think about inviting work friends. I work at a restaurant with well over 100 staff, even if I invite just waiters… Even just the ones with which I’m closest. Goodness. What a nightmare. I can’t even imagine the drama. Plus, many are rowdy drunks. That’s just the lifestyle!

  18. We’re having a 30 guest max wedding (finances)and having difficulty deciding whether to invite my mother’s brother or not. She only has 2 siblings and I am inviting her sister. My fiance has never met my uncle, I’ve never mentioned him prior to this (in our 3 year relationship), and I haven’t seen my uncle (or spoken) in 10years. Is it correct to invite him or should I just go over the guest list max?

    • Since the wedding is going to be so small, I would think it would be fine if you didn’t invite your uncle if he really has no place in your life. If he means something to you and you haven’t seen him because he lives far away that would be one thing, but if he just isn’t a part of your life I think it would be OK not to invite him. If you haven’t seen him in 10 years I’d think he hasn’t really put in much effort to stay in touch with you so he shouldn’t be offended if you don’t invite him.

      • My mom had a big reaction to the ‘not inviting him’ news. She gave way (at least at the time) but I’m wary of more drama.

        Thanks for your perspective; it’s nice to know I’m not crazy for not extending him an invite

        • Does he have family that he would bring with him? If it involves also inviting a partner and/or children, that would be worse than if he just came alone, then it might be worth it just to make your mother happy. Also, do you think he’d definitely come? You could always go the invite-him-and-hope-he-doesn’t-come route.

          • It would only be him and his wife. And I definitely think they’d come. My mother called him to announce my engagement (telling sign) and they recently spoke again (a birthday – only talk twice a year usually) where the wedding and plans were discussed.

        • Dude. My mom not only invited my uncle (who I strongly dislike and basically cut off contact 14 years ago) but she invited him to the REHEARSAL DINNER. Then, even after we had a strongly worded talk about what “immediate family” meant, she then invited HER COUSIN to the rehearsal. *sigh*

  19. Just because I don’t mind being the broken record, GREAT post. The invite list ended up being the bane of our existence. We went with the “only immediate family to avoid hurt feelings” route, and still wound up hurting lots of people’s feelings, even including said immediate family, which wasn’t helpful. There’s still actually a lot of guilt bombs being lobbed in our direction, as a matter of fact. But, we were paying for the wedding ourselves and neither of us wanted a big to-do at ALL, and I don’t regret our decision. As in this post, I think coming up with rules that come from your gut and you can really stand behind is the best bet. Well done, Annie!

  20. Our rule was, if we don’t have your number stored in one of our phones, you’re not invited. It worked really well for us!

  21. Thanks so much everyone for reading (and enjoying) the post! I’m so glad it resonates with so many people. I guess the guest list issue is a universal one!

  22. I’m not really cutting down my guest list. I figure if I’m going to throw a big wedding, I’m going to do a big wedding!
    However, I did put my foot down and said no to inviting my mom’s coworkers. I don’t even know those people. I’m not really inviting anyone with whom I just have a business relationship. And my rule for inviting people I serve in the Army with? If I wasn’t deployed with them I’m not inviting them. That cuts it down a bit.
    Of course, I don’t expect most of the people I’m inviting to show. If they do, hey, that’s great, we’ll make room for them in my back yard. If not, more food and beer for the rest of us. Oh yeah!

  23. The guest list has been a pretty hard thing for me to figure out! I think it really depends on where I have the wedding. Most of my family lives within 4-5 hours of each other and I’m currently living in another state 10-20 hour(driving) away from all of them! My mom really wants me to have the wedding back home, which would mean having the whole family (and a guest list of 50-60) but I found a really great venue where I’m living and if we did it here the guest list would be 20 people tops! (just immediate family and a few friends). The other factor for us is that we both aren’t big on attention and while the whole guest list is family (+4 friends), I would feel awkward!
    Good post! πŸ™‚

  24. We want a smaller wedding, but my fiancee has over 100 in his family, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, and first cousins. They all live less than half an hour away and we see them regularly. Meanwhile, my family totals 9, including my cousin’s boyfriend and my grandmother (who probably won’t be able to come – but that’s a whole other issue). So, already, we have more guests that I’d like, and I do want to invite some of our friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in years because we’re scattered all over the country and the world. I guess we’ll just have to suck it up and find the cheapest catering we can. To me, it’s more important to have everyone there.

  25. Great article. Originally, my fiance and I were considering a 60 – 70 person wedding, which is large for us. Then we decided to keep it intimate and have invited immediate family only, my three best friends and my fiance’s two best friends. We reduced it to 20 people and I think it’s going to be a fantastic wedding.

    • I poured over this site while I was planning my own offbeat wedding, and have wanted to post for a while. I’ve finally been convinced by this topic!

      This is actually one of the reasons we decided on a surprise wedding. We have huge families, but wanted a quiet intimate wedding. We are very close to our family, and they have been with us through good and bad, but my husband didn’t want the crowds and attention of a traditional ceremony. So given the choice of potentially offending family – or having my husband to be feel comfortable and at ease…. it was a no brainer- we had to stick to immediate family and a few very close friends. Then we came up with the idea of a surprise wedding. We’ll tell our immediate family and a few close couples/friends -swear them to secrecy, and they will be there for our ceremony. Then we’ll have a christmas party in the evening, invite everyone, and they’ll show up and realize we’re married and they are attending our reception! That way, nobody can be offended, because it’s done- celebrate!

      For us, it was perfect. Our ceremony had 15 guests and was perfect. Then we took pictures, had dinner with our guests, and watched as people showed up to the restaurant, shocked and happy for us. Nobody was offended, and everyone had a great time. There were many other advantages too, no fuss, or stress or skyrocketing costs. It was just a fun party, no invites (I used evite to invite people to a christmas party), no decor(christmas decorations already set up!) no pressure to bring gifts (we didn’t want that), no bridal party, no expensive travel plans/guilt for people living away. I had my doubts, but in the end, we had everything we wanted on our wedding day and nothing we didn’t.

      So it’s not for everyone, if you like pouring over wedding details with coworkers and friends, and involving people, it’s probably not for you. But if you want a laid back, stress free, memorable day without the hassle and stress -and a short guest list – have a surprise wedding!

  26. I’m brand new on this site, so hi everyone!
    My BF and I live in Austria, but I’m from California. My mom lives in South Carolina, though, and that’s where my immediate family is based. We are in very early planning phases, but the basic issue is that we’re on a pretty tight budget, and our people are too, but they’re in 2 different countries and spread across 2 coasts. I’d like to get married in my mom’s backyard in South Carolina (50-75 people max) and then have a big reception in Vienna for the Austrian side. Does that sound reasonable? I don’t want to shut my boy’s family and friends out, though. Also, if we held it in SC, all of my extended family are in California and I basically have to invite them. However, we’re not that close and I doubt that really any of them would come. So I guess these are my questions:
    1. Has anyone dealt with international weddings on a budget? Any advice?
    2. How do you deal with inviting lots of people who probably won’t show up? How do you plan for that?
    thanks a bunch for any advice.

    • Hi RG, I’ve seen a few brides on the tribe dealing with those issues. Sounds to me like you’re far enough in planning that you should join. There are many people with similar situations there. (Your idea sounds reasonable to me!) GL!

    • Well, didn’t have to do the multiple countries thing – good luck balancing that, it adds another wrinkle but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

      BUT – we did end up doing a wedding where we live attended by my immediate family, our joint local friends, and now-husband’s family and friends and next week we are doing a second reception where I grew up that will be almost entirely old friends of mine (and family). The decision on where to do the wedding itself came down to whose family could afford to travel. It wasn’t an awesome feeling to realize the majority of my friends would be at the “wedding” itself, but it made sense for us. We are getting to have a second party celebrating how much we love each other, and that is fun. And we do get to celebrate with friends.

      So – doing a wedding in SC where it seems you really want to plus an extra reception in Vienna after-the-fact sounds great. In our case, everyone understand the 2-event plan and was super supportive. And the plus side is that most people get to go to the event near them and it’s chepaer/easier πŸ˜‰

  27. Our “everyone we know” list was 135. We wanted more like 75. We’re from the Midwest but live on the West Coast. Much of the family back home won’t be able to make the trip so his parents decided to give us an engagement luncheon back there instead. A lot of people will be going to that instead so that makes for a lot fewer people for us to pay for here. It’s not a lot of money for his parents either because a restaurant lunch back home costs a third of what an evening dinner at a banquet hall costs here.

    Co-workers: only if we’re friends outside of work. That cuts my list to 1.

    Kids: local ones can get a babysitter. If the whole family is flying cross-country, then they can come.

    +1’s: Only if they are coming from out of town and won’t know anyone else.

    I like the surprise wedding idea.

  28. Excellent advice. Truly, I want only people we see regularly and who have met both of us to be at our wedding. However, it would mean splitting family and not inviting a handful of people from a group of friends I care about very much. It’s making my neck and shoulders tense just thinking about it!!

  29. My guest list rules came from my wedding philosophy. I see a wedding as a celebration of a relationship. The only people who should attend a celebration are the people with something to celebrate. Therefore, if they helped make my relationship succeed, then they belonged there. We had a guest list of eight, and I don’t regret a single invitation.

  30. I used Rule #2 to rein in my mom and my FMIL with their guest lists. My fiance couldn’t recognize a handful of his parents’ guests, so when we had a phone call to talk about wedding stuff, we were able to let her know that if they can’t recognize him in the street, they shouldn’t be invited. Same went for my family. It’s definitely helped, especially since our venue has a strict “no more than 112 guests!” policy.

  31. We’re thinking of having a small ceremony and dinner afterwards for our actual wedding, then next summer having a big party with everyone. That way we don’t have so much to do for the wedding, it will be easier and cheaper. The party next summer will be just that, a party. Not a big fancy wedding, just a late party to celebrate us getting married πŸ™‚

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