It’s not a party without guests, so the next step on your wedding planning checklist—after setting your budget, of course—is to create your Guest List. Although it may initially seem like a simple task to write out the names of all the people you want to celebrate with, making the guest list proves to be a pretty difficult step for many couples. Who you invite plays a big role in the tone of your day, and how many people attend impacts many other big decisions, such as choosing your wedding venue and setting your catering budget.

We get it: having to decide which friends and family members make the guest list isn’t the most fun part of wedding planning. However, it is one of the most important, and a necessary step. To make the process as easy as can be, we’ve outlined the steps on how to make a guest list, and trim it, below.

How to Make a Wedding Guest List

There are four steps to making your wedding guest list:

1. Decide Who Has a Say

First decide who has a say in which guests go on the list. It may just be you and your partner, but both sets of parents might also wish to contribute, especially if they’re pitching in funds or paying for the wedding in full. We recommend asking your families whether they would like to add some names to the guest list. There’s no promise that you have to ultimately invite their chosen guests, but it’s important to take their suggestions into consideration.

2. Build Your Wish List

Next, collect a wish list of names from everyone who is contributing and compile it together. While you may not end up inviting every individual on this list, it will give you a start towards figuring out whom and how many you will invite to the big day.

3. Finalize Your Numbers

Whittling down your dream guest list to a manageable number of invitees is undeniably the hardest step in making your guest list, but there are ways to make it easier. To get started, see our suggestions on how to trim your count in the section on Ways To Cut The Wedding Guest List below.

Remember, your budget should serve as a guide. The more people you invite to your wedding, the more expensive it will be thanks to per-head costs like catering, rentals, and the need for a more spacious wedding venue. Keep your guest list to a size that your budget can easily accommodate.

4. Create a Tracking System

Once you have finalized your guest list, it’s important to devise a tracking system to manage your RSVPs. Before your wedding day, many of your vendors will request your final guest count—you should have an accurate total on hand to share. Some couples opt to manually track of their guest list and RSVPs in a spreadsheet, but Zola couples turn to our handy Guest List Manager, which allows you to collect addresses by sending a link to guests via email or text, get real-time RSVP updates, and more.

Ways to Cut The Wedding Guest List

Here are our favorite tried-and-true strategies for trimming your guest list.

  • Make an A-List and B-List If you want to invite as many people as you possibly can, a great tactic is to break your guest list down into two sections:
    1. An A-List for guests that you absolutely must invite.
    2. A B-List for guests that you’d like to invite, but don’t fall on the A-List.

Send out invites to everyone on the A-List first, then, as guests from the A-List send in regrets, slowly choose people from the B-List to send an invitation. Just make sure that it isn’t obvious that someone fell on the B-List by sending the wedding their invitation too close to the wedding day (6-8 weeks before the wedding day is standard protocol).

  • Have an Adults-Only Wedding

Having a no-kids policy at your wedding is a simple way to shrink your guest list, since little ones of all ages add to your overall wedding costs. If you opt to go this route, just make sure that you don’t make exceptions for some families and not others. Otherwise, you risk insulting some of your nearest and dearest.

  • Limit +1s

Allowing guests to bring a +1 can quickly drive up the count on your guest list, so we recommend limiting them to guests who are married or in long-term relationships. Again, make it fair to avoid hurt feelings.

  • Get Married on a Weekday

Weekday weddings aren’t just great for cutting wedding costs—they’re also great for reducing your number of guests because they are harder for guests to attend. However, bear in mind that a non-weekend date may also mean that your closest friends and family members cannot attend.

  • Host a Destination Wedding

Another strategy is to host a destination wedding with a guest list limited to your closest friends and family. Similarly to weekday weddings, destination weddings tend to have few guests since they are often more expensive and harder to travel to for many guests.