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7 Steps to drawing up your wedding guest list

Text: Sarah Browning; Photography: Fairchild Archive

September 18, 2014

Ralph Lauren's 40th anniversary party at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park in 2007.

Drawing up your guest list is one of the trickiest parts of planning your wedding – how do you choose who to invite? And what about those distant family and friends who you know are expecting an invitation, but who you aren’t planning to include? I found the politics of the guest list one of my least favourite parts of wedding planning. On the one hand, both my parents and my fiancé’s parents very generously contributed money towards our wedding – awesome! – but then I felt we needed to include their guests, whether Franz and I knew them well or not. And including too many of their guests meant we wouldn’t be able to invite all of our own friends. Hello, dilemma! So here’s what we did – and what I learnt.

 1 Include your parents – but be clear about limited numbers

I asked my parents and Franz’s mom to draw up a list of who they’d want invited to the wedding. I asked them to ensure they listed people in order of importance – the guests they most wanted there needed to be at the top of the list. I also made it clear from the outset that we simply wouldn’t be able to include everyone they’d like to invite. Be up front; it’ll save fallouts later on.

2 Think about your guests separately to your fiancé (at first)

Franz and I then compiled our own separate lists, following the same rule we gave our parents – the most important people to us at the top of our lists. We did separate lists initially so we could each think about the people we really wanted at our wedding without arguing about it. It also helped us play fair when it came to step three…

3 Have a system that keeps things fair with your fiancé

Franz and I compared our lists: everyone who we both named flew to the top of our joint list. For names that the other didn’t include, we would take turns to add them to the joint list. So, I would nominate a friend’s name, then Franz, and so on. It was the fairest way to list guests in order of priority – those at the bottom would be the first to be cut if we were struggling to keep numbers down.

4 Don’t give one set of parents priority over the other

Franz and I then looked at the lists our parents had made. Again, if they listed someone who we had already listed, they were placed at the top of the final list. We then gave our parents four to five people they could include as a priority, who we would otherwise not have invited, and the rest of their guests-to-be landed at the bottom of the list. They’d make the final cut only if we had space.

5 Be realistic about numbers

We followed the rule that you can assume 10% of your guests will RSVP ‘no’; as we have budget for 120 guests, we allowed 12 extra names to appear on our final guest list, meaning we’d send out initial invitations to 132 people. Be realistic here: you don’t want to invite the world, have them all say ‘yes’ and then be screwed for numbers (and budget!). You can always add more to the list later when you know you have the space for them.

6 Still got way too many people? Have two lists

After merging all of our lists together in steps three and four, we drew a line under the 132nd name and anyone featuring on the list after that became part of the ‘B list’ – people we’ll invite if enough people on the ‘A list’ RSVP ‘no’.

Phew – complicated! The key is not to compromise on the kind of big day you want to have (small and intimate or big and inclusive?), or blow your budget just so crazy aunt Bee can come. Keep the communication lines open with your fiancé and family and be honest about the number of guests you can accommodate from the outset.

7 Try these tips from married members of the GLAMOUR team

“Cutting down on the number of guests is the easiest way to save on costs. We narrowed down our guest list to 70 by inviting people who would be going on the journey with us in the future. So we included friends, colleagues and family who we thought would still be part of our lives in at least the next five years.” – Michelle Brownlee Smith, deputy editor and beauty director

“We had a small wedding with only 50 guests. To keep things intimate, we chose friends over family – the only family attending were our parents and grandparents. In my opinion, it’s so much more fun to celebrate your big day with people who are a part of your life every day, rather than with the aunt you haven’t seen in five years. My big tip: even if they’re helping to pay, limit your parent’s involvement in the planning – they’ll always want your wedding to be a big family reunion!” – Stacey Calitz, managing sales executive 

“My guest list was purely budget related, so we had to keep it small. We stuck to blood relatives, a few family friends and then friends who were close to both myself and my fiancé.” – Emma Coyne, promotions executive

“When my fiancé and I started planning our big day, our provisional guest list was sitting at 120 people. But as we searched for a venue, we realised that most places could only accommodate up to 80 guests – motivation for us to scale back on numbers. We also realised lots of people on our list were there ‘just because’ – ‘I’ve known them forever’ actually translated into ‘We see them once a year, if we’re lucky.’ Straight away, we cut these people. But when we discovered how much money we’d save (literally thousands!) if we slimmed the list even more, my fiancé and I agreed: it didn’t matter if one of us had known someone since primary school, what mattered were the people who knew us as a couple. So we kept everyone who’d supported us in the last four years of our relationship, and that was it. We ended up with 59 guests, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way; I still felt like I didn’t get to see everyone enough throughout the evening. Plus, some of the cash we saved from cutting back the guest list meant we could afford an overseas honeymoon – bliss!” – Claudia Stephenson, online advertising sales executive

How many guests are you planning to have at your big day? Tweet us at @GLAMOUR_sa with #GLAMWedding to share!

Sarah Browning, 24, is the managing editor of GLAMOUR. She moved to SA from London three years ago and lives in Cape Town. In this #GLAMWedding Wedding Blog, Sarah’s sharing her wedding-planning journey with you. Join the conversation! Tweet your thoughts to Sarah via @GLAMOUR_sa using #GLAMWedding.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmbrowning

For tips to manage your wedding budget, click here.

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7 Steps to drawing up your wedding guest list

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