4 Easy Ways to Create A Realistic Wedding Guest List

Let’s Talk About Your Super Unrealistic Wedding Guest List, Shall We? 

That’s probably unfair. If we’re being honest, the chances are that you haven’t even made your guest list yet. (Thus the reason you’re here, am I right?) 

In theory, making your wedding guest list should be super simple. You and your fiancé just need to sit down and write down all of the people you want to be there with you as you tie the knot. You could probably even pop on a rom-com movie and open a bottle of bubbly for the occasion–best idea ever!

Rookie move.

One of the biggest mistakes a couple can make is opting out of creating their wedding guest list until they’ve gotten a good way into wedding planning. You’re wedding guest list will be a HUGE determining factor for a lot of big decisions: 

✅ Budget

✅ Venue

✅ Catering Company

✅ Stationery

✅ Rental Company

…and the list goes on and on! Not to mention who you choose to invite (and not invite!) can get more political than Parliament, so you’ll want to establish a firm list early on. 

Fear not, newly-engaged friend, I’m here to help! 

Keep scrolling to get the four ways to create a realistic wedding guest list: 

1. Craft The Master Wedding Guest List

The first thing I highly recommend doing is sitting down and writing down every single person you could think of. Sometimes, you have to go big to get smaller. Sit down with your partner and make a list of every single person who you would invite to your wedding if money and space were infinite – spreadsheet, pen and paper, however it makes sense to you most.

(In every relationship, there’s always a pen + paper vs. Excel spreadsheet person. Period.)

When making the list, start with your immediate families, really close friends, and then work outwards to include colleagues, school mates and distant relatives. 

This is your master list–but now it’s time to start trimming it down.

2. Create a Wedding Guest List Playbook

It sounds silly, but creating a list of rules and requirements before divvying out those invites is going to save you a lot of headache down the road. You can check out a plethora of wedding planning websites for flowsheets or pre-made Excel spreadsheets, but here are the topics I would tackle ASAP: 

Plus One Policy – It’s hard to tell your friend that his/her new flavor of the week can’t attend your wedding. Your friends will all be in various stages of relationships, so where do you draw the line? I suggest making a clear guideline. For example, if a couple has been dating for six months or more, they get a plus one, and if not, they don’t; AND you have to stick to whatever rule you make up.

Kids vs. No Kids – The same is going to go for children. If you’re asking parents to leave the kiddos at home, please be consistent. Any exceptions to this rule should definitely be explained to the other parents so they don’t get upset!

Parents’ Say – This is always a tricky one. If your parents are contributing to the budget, it seems reasonable to allow them a few invites. I suggest giving each parent a certain amount of “free passes” for the wedding guest list, but that’s ultimately up to you!

Co-Workers & Neighbors – Unless you’re super close with them or you’ve got the budget to accommodate, I wouldn’t feel obligated to dole out an invite. 

Distant Family – We’ve all got them. Those relatives you haven’t seen or spoken to in years, but aren’t quite sure if you should send them an RSVP. You don’t need to feel obligated to invite them to your wedding. Remember, your wedding is a celebration for the two of you and your immediate family; it’s not a family reunion. 

Once you’ve made your wedding guest list playbook, it’s time to hard cut the master list! 

3. Factor In Budget: How Much Does A Wedding Guest Cost, Anyway? 

It’s absolutely unromantic, but your wedding budget will be talked about DAILY while wedding planning. This number will be discussed more than the first grandbaby by grandparents at the family reunion. You’ll need to know your absolute MAX budget and pretend like it’s at least $5,000 less when you start planning for your wedding day. 

Let’s Get Down To Brass Tacks

(I’m going to be honest, I don’t really know what that phrase even means.)

According to ValuePenguin, in the United States the average cost of every wedding guest you invite is $307. In Virginia that number is $363 and in Washington D.C. it goes even higher to $424 per guest.

The Knot does yearly polls of newly married couples every year and reports that weddings with 50 guests or less typically cost around $14,400. Their cost estimate for weddings with 51-100 guests was about $24,600 and the ones that had 100+ guests went upwards of $38,100. 

It’s also important to note that Forbes estimates that each wedding guest you invite will end up spending an average of $611 just to attend your wedding. That’s a combination of attire, gifts, travel, and whatever else! 

So, saying that you should spend some serious time crafting your wedding guest list is definitely an understatement! 

4. Talk With Your Vendors + Venue

You’ve made a list, you’ve checked it twice, and now you’re going to check with the wedding vendors about price! If you haven’t already booked your wedding venue, I would recommend reaching out to ask about their max capacity and if there are surcharges for additional guests. 

The venue of your DREAMS may only allow 150 guests and may charge extra to accommodate more than 100. The catering companies you’ve gotten in touch with may only have the ability to service 75 guests. Your chosen rental company doesn’t have more than 200 rental chairs. Although your wedding planner should be right on top of this, the number guests you’ve penciled in the wedding guest list you’ve made may need to get even slimmer. 

Who Doesn’t Care About Your Wedding Guest List? Your Photographer! 

Well, sort of. 

Wedding photography coverage is typically crafted around hours of coverage, so you can invite as many people as you’d like in our opinion! The only suggestion I have for larger weddings is to consider adding second photographer coverage to your collection. 

With larger wedding guest lists, it’s important to have a second set of eyes to capture those candid moments and cocktail hour vibes whilst I’m hanging out with you capturing portraits. If you’re looking at 150+ guests it’s almost imperative you choose a collection with two photographers to make sure no important moments are missed throughout the day! 

Have specific questions about wedding photography? Get in touch to inquire about your wedding date. I’d love to work with you!

Hi there—

i'm danielle

I'm a Virginia-based wedding & portrait photographer capturing photos that look like actual ART. 

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hi, i'm danielle—

In the past 10+ years as a Wedding & Portrait Photographer, I’ve found that, aside from arming myself with my cameras to catch swoon-worthy moments of my couples on their day, I’m also bringing a few other unexpected things. 

Like my tough love mom-voice that will keep your bridal party in check, my air of calm if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and the corniest jokes so no one has the jitters in front of the camera!

Because so much more goes into getting those gorgeous wedding photos than just hitting “click!”

and I'm not just bringing my camera to your big day.

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