Wedding Planning Basics, Step One: The Guest List

So you got engaged, you and your fiancé have spent a couple weeks basking in the glow of happiness, and now you’re coming out of the haze and realizing you need to plan a wedding (did anyone else just think, Oh, sugar?) While I’m sure there are five dozen different ways to take a concrete first step, I’m going to definitively declare a clear winner here: make a guest list. Knowing who, and how many, folks you plan to invite gives you and your sweetheart a jumping off point for what your wedding looks like. So, how to go beyond putting together a comprehensive list of your family and friends? Read on…

Call your mom (or dad. Or other important/influential parental figures).

Close family will likely have an idea of who you should invite, and if you’re thinking about a guest list of over 20 people, it’s good to ask for their opinion (opinion being the operative word).

Doing so will will give you an idea of exactly how big or small your relatives are envisioning your wedding will be, which gives you a great excuse to start practicing loving but firm conversations tempering those expectations. It won’t all be rough conversations, though; their input gives you an extra set of eyes to make sure you didn’t accidentally leave off anyone important.


“Hey, stranger at Starbucks. Want to come to our wedding?”

If you’re my husband, you don’t just call your parents and grandparents for a list. You involve everyone, like  siblings and great aunts and make an enormous list of people who could be invited. That third cousin you’ve only met once? Absolutely they should come. Your siblings’ ten best friends? How could the wedding even happen without them! After a couple weeks of gathering names, you look at an Excel spreadsheet with five different tabs for various branches of the family plus your friends, and you add up all the names, and you discover there are 600 people listed there, and then you invite them.

Yes. All six hundred of them.

Why did we do this? Simple. The guest list was, easily, the thing my husband cared most about. He wanted absolutely everyone we wanted to invite to get invited.

Calculating out who would realistically come to our wedding, my husband and I were left with a grand total of three venues where we could host our nuptials. And then we could move on to deciding everything else.

What is that magical everything else?  

Maybe you’ll draw a lot more hard lines than we did about how many people ultimately get a save-the-date, or maybe you’ll do what we did and start inviting people we’d met the week before. But in either case, it’s going to be the first big discussion you have with each other and your family about what this wedding might look like, and it’s going to determine everything that comes afterwards: the venue; the catering; the size of the dance floor. It will also, most importantly, give you an idea for about how much you should budget.

And hey, maybe you’ve always dreamed of getting married in the same church your parents got married in, and it seats 20 and so that’s how many people are going to get invited. Great! But unless you already know of a solid reason why the guest list shouldn’t be the first thing you knock out, then officially consider this your first step.

Sara Kendall

Sara Kendall lives in Redwood City with her husband and dog. Her main hobbies are coffee, books, and musicals.