Wedding date? Check. Venue? Check. What’s next? Your guest list! The guest count is a foundational element that will shape the vibe, aesthetic, and pace of your big day. It’s also typically one of the most difficult and time-consuming items on your wedding checklist. As such, it’s totally normal to feel a little stressed out trying to answer the question of how many people to invite! But don’t worry–we’ve compiled expert insights from knowledgeable industry sources, and we’re going to guide you through the process of making a decision.
Wedding size overview
Couples in 2021 had an average of 105 guests at their weddings, according to a survey conducted by The Knot. If you want your wedding to feel typical in size compared with other weddings, 105 is a good ballpark estimate–but remember that not everyone you invite will come. Usually, around 70-85% of people you invite will show up, so factor that in when sending invitations. Keep in mind that this figure can also vary according to where your invitees live. If you invite a lot of people who live far away, your RSVP rate is going to be substantially lower.
What if I have more friends than budget?
Let’s face it: there’s a good chance you’re going to want to invite more people than your budget allows for. While it absolutely sucks to be faced with the difficult choices called for by this situation, there might be some mitigation measures you can take. Are there other areas in your budget where you can cut costs? For example, if you’re planning a more lavish wedding, but you’re absolutely gutted over the prospect of failing to include important people, ask yourself which is more important.
If it’s more important to have everyone you care about present, you can save money by making your wedding more casual. If you were planning to have plated dinners, opt for a buffet instead. If you want to spend a lot on decor and fancy invitations, try some creative DIY touches. Your guests are there to support you; they care more about seeing you happy and surrounded by everyone you love than seeing you in a wedding dress that costs $5,000.
What about plus-ones?
Yes, you do need to include some plus-ones in your invite count. Guests who are either married, engaged, or in a serious relationship will likely want to bring their significant others. These days, it’s also conventional for single friends to have the option of bringing a date. By these standards, pretty much everyone should be able to bring a plus-one. That’s problematic because it clashes with the reality of most weddings: There isn’t enough space or budget for every single guest to bring another person.
In this case, wedding experts from The Knot suggest a few ground rules to help you determine who doesn’t necessarily need to bring a plus one. For starters, friends who are casually dating but not seriously involved with anyone don’t really need a plus one. Nor do single guests to whom you’re not very close but who will know other guests. As long as both of these groups will have plenty of options for socializing at the wedding, they won’t feel awkward. These are also two demographics that might enjoy the opportunity to meet someone special at the wedding itself. However, if there’s a single guest who won’t know anyone, consider allocating them a plus one.
Finally, any co-workers you invite don’t generally need to be given the option of bringing plus-ones. There is one exception to this rule: if you’re very close to some of your co-workers and you know their significant others, it would be strange not to invite them. Otherwise, your co-workers will be fine socializing amongst themselves and mingling with your other guests.
Finally, be ready for people to whom you didn’t grant a plus one to ask you whether they may bring a guest. If your budget allows for it, you can decide this on a case-by-case basis. If there’s no wiggle room, be prepared to politely set some firm boundaries. Try saying, “We would love to have you bring a guest, but we’re going for something more on the intimate side, and unfortunately, we aren’t able to allow everyone to bring another person.”
What if our close friends or relatives try to tell us who to invite?
This is a really tricky one. Particularly if a relative is footing part of the bill or volunteering a lot of their time to help with planning, then it’s prudent to accept their influence regarding the guest list–within the limit. As the old saying goes, “If you pay, you get a say.” If you’re feeling uncomfortable with how strongly someone is pushing to influence the guest list or headcount, tell them directly. Tell them that you love and care about them and want to honor them by catering to as many of their wishes as possible, but that at the same time, you don’t have an endless budget, and you and your partner also have your own set of wishes and priorities. It also helps to remind them that each guest will cost you $200+ and that you have important savings goals you’re working towards for the future.
Another way to approach this issue is to give some of those who want a lot of say in the guest list a certain number of invitations they can extend to whomever they want. They get to choose, but beyond that number, you’re in charge.
You can also adopt a common rule of thumb, which dictates that the invite count is split between you and your partner and both sets of parents. Allocate 50% of invitations to you and your partner, 25% to their parents, and 25% to your parents. Of course, if these percentages don’t feel suitable, you can adjust them to align with what you feel is right for your situation.
Must I invite kids?
This one is completely up to you, and it doesn’t have to be 100% yes or 100% no. You could allow kids of immediate family members to attend. You could allow some of your close friends’ kids. You could allow all kids. You could allow no kids at all. Whatever you decide, make sure you think your options over carefully and settle on a clear policy so that your guests will understand exactly what’s allowed and what’s not. Just be wary of ‘ceremony only’ kid invites because staying behind and watching the older kids head off to party at the reception isn’t the most enjoyable experience for them.
One way to decide is to consider the timing of your wedding. If your reception is in the morning or afternoon, it will likely feel more casual and, therefore, more appropriate to invite kids. If it’s in the evening (when kids are usually winding down and getting ready for bed anyway), you might be going for a more formal affair. In this case, it would be more fitting to ask that all your guests are over the age of 18.
Who’s on our A-list, and who’s on our B list?
First, start with this inconvenient truth: some guests will have to be cut. This is just a fact of wedding planning. However, there are ways you can make the decision-making process easier. First, make your “A-list.” Guests who absolutely must be invited go on your A-list.
Next, compile your “B list.” These are people who you would like to see at your wedding but who don’t necessarily have to be invited. You can even send out this round of invitations slightly later than the A-list invites, and you might even have a different RSVP date on them than the invitations you sent to your A-list; this will allow you time to receive RSVPs from your A-list before you finalize the number of invites you’re sending out to your B-list. For this strategy to work, make sure you send invites with plenty of time to spare before the wedding so that you’re not scrambling to pin down the size of your guest list at the last minute.
Since 15-30% of your invites will be declined, you can safely invite 15% more people than your ideal number of guests. If more than 15% decline your invitation, then you can go for yet another round of invitations if there are still other people you’d like to include. Again, make sure you leave plenty of time for this process to play out. This isn’t only to save you the stress of last-minute accommodations; it’s also polite to your guests; you don’t want any of your invitees to suspect that they were ever on the “maybe” list. If you invite them at the last minute, that could raise some eyebrows.
Who will you still be in touch with in five years?
After compiling your lists, go through with a fine-tooth comb, consider each guest, and ask yourself whether you’re still likely to be in each other’s lives in five years. If the answer is ‘no,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be cut. How strong is your connection right now? Is it a relationship that’s important to you at the moment, despite the fact that it’s likely temporary? If yes, you might still invite this person if there’s space for them.
What’s the deal with co-workers?
If you’re close with some of your colleagues, you’re probably considering inviting them. However, how do you decide which co-workers to include and who not to invite? If you work on a small team and you feel close to four out of the six people you work with, you should probably invite the other two anyway. However, if you work in a big department and collaborate with a large number of people, inviting all of them would be an expensive affair. The best option, in this case, is to invite only the people with whom you are close friends outside of work and keep wedding talk in the workplace to a minimum so that no one feels left out.
Steps to Take in Making the Decision
The questions listed above will help you refine your thinking, but you might still be feeling a little unsure of how to actually make the decision. Here we’ll present another approach: A set of steps you can take that will guide you toward your final guest count.
Step 1: Imagine the vibe you want to create
Does your ideal wedding consist of a busy ballroom with lots of people milling around, or is it an intimate occasion where you’ll have time to connect with all your close friends and family members? If you start by picturing how you’d like your wedding to feel, you’ll have a general idea of how many people need to be in attendance to make that feeling a reality. Remember, your guest count shouldn’t be about how many people you feel obligated to invite to your wedding. It’s your day, and it should come down to how many people you want to have present.
Step 2: Create your budget-be-damned guest list
Sit down with your partner and make a list of all the people you’d ideally like to invite if budget weren’t an issue. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should include everyone you know; focus on the people who are important to you–but don’t worry about making any cuts yet.
Step 3: Talk about budget
Examine your finances and determine exactly what your budget is for your wedding and exactly how much family members are contributing, if anything. The cost per guest is anywhere from $200-$500 or sometimes even more. The average is around $300. With an eye toward your budget and the vibe you want to create, determine how many guests you want to attend.
Step 4: Make hard choices
Once you’ve decided on your budget, you can start thinking about who to cut from your ideal guest list. This is the stage at which it can be helpful to separate your first list into an A-list and a B-list.
Step 5: Finalize
When you receive RSVPs from your A and B-lists, you’re ready to finalize your guest count! Congratulations.
Once you’ve decided how many people to invite to your wedding, you’re free to work on fun stuff like making a gift registry, sampling different types of wedding cake, and planning your honeymoon. Good luck; may your wedding be even more beautiful than you imagined it.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]