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How to Stick to a Small Wedding Guest List

Make a small guest list and stick to it with these expert tips for cutting down your wedding guest list so it fits your vision and your wedding budget.

By McCall Minnor

couple exits church after wedding
Photo by Zola

For whatever reason (budget, venue size, personal desire), you and your partner have decided to have a smaller wedding. Because of this, you need to create an intimate wedding guest list that fits your wants and needs. This can be tough, especially if you’re considering inviting both of your families, friend groups, and others. To avoid going overboard, here’s how to create a small guest list and stick to it.

Make your wedding adults-only.

Unless you have children in your family or life that you’re very close to, make your wedding kid-free. While some venues and caterers offer kids’ food and drinks at a reduced rate to help save money, you still have to factor children into your final headcount. For some large families, keeping the kids at home can make all the difference.

If you feel bad implementing this rule, offer to invite kids to your engagement party or rehearsal dinner. You can also organize and hire a babysitter to watch the kids at the hotel or a family member’s house during the wedding.

That said, if you go kid-free, you have to go totally kid-free. You can’t allow one guest to bring their children, but not another. Favoritism can cause unneeded grudges and hurt feelings. If you’re setting this rule, stick with it.

INLINE CoralBeePhotography 1080x720 Gabrielle&Michael Photo Credit // Coral Bee Photography

Limit plus-ones.

An easy way to stick to a small guest list is to limit plus-ones right away. If you want to go this route, we recommend giving plus-ones exclusively to those loved ones in long-term relationships. Otherwise, you’re not obligated to give anyone an extra invite.

This is a super common method to keep weddings small and/or to keep costs low. If an intimate ceremony is what you’re after, this is an easy way to accomplish that. Be prepared for potential pushback—some guests may either request a plus-one or ask why they can’t bring one. Stick to your guns and kindly explain the situation (if you feel comfortable)—it was a space issue, a financial one, or simply your preference.

Only invite immediate family members.

Many couples invite their immediate family plus much of their extended family (on both sides) to their wedding. However, consider how many branches there are in your family tree. If you’re dreaming of a smaller celebration but come from a larger-than-average family, you may need to do some reconsidering, especially if you’d also like to include some friends.

When it comes to family, it’s not out of the question to cut things off after first aunts, uncles, and cousins. If you’re going really small, then keep it to your parents, siblings, and grandparents. Don’t feel the need to invite your distant third cousin—yes, even if they invited you their wedding years ago.

In fact, don’t feel the need to invite any family you’re not close with. Sure, talk may spread a bit, but it is what it is. You have to stand your ground and trust that they’ll be understanding.

Keep it to your close friend circle.

In that same vein, co-workers, old acquaintances, and friends-of-friends you sometimes see when you go out don’t need spots on your intimate list. Again, you might feel the need to invite an old friend simply because you attended their wedding at one point. Don’t. The important thing to think about here is your current relationship with them. If you’ve since lost touch or had a falling out, they don’t require a spot on your wedding guest list.

If you’re lost on what to do, ask yourself two simple questions: Will not inviting them negatively impact your friendship? Do you care? If yes, put them on a B-list to reconsider once you’ve solidified the rest of your list. If no, don’t add them at all.

INLINE StudioOpia 1080x720 Ada&Jay Photo Credit // Studio Opia

Keep your final list private.

Once you finalize your guest list, keep it between you and your partner. Sharing with family and friends often leads to many what abouts, especially if your list is small. However, if you do end up showing someone (parents, in-laws, etc.), be sure to set boundaries. Let them know that, after thinking long and hard, your list is final. They probably have an idea of who they’d like to see at your wedding, but if you’re clear about wanting a small wedding, they should respect that.

The only exception is if your parents or future in-laws are contributing to (or footing) the bill. In this case, you may want to limit them to a certain number of people they can invite. Everybody wins—they can invite friends or distant family members and you don’t have to worry about hosting their entire circle.

Try not to overthink anyone’s reaction.

In the end, you’re not obligated to invite anyone. If you’re not absolutely thrilled at the thought of someone being a part of your wedding day, they don’t need to be there. Besides, if you’re not exactly close, chances are they won’t be too offended by it.

At the same time, it’s considerate to reach out to anyone who ends up feeling snubbed. Reassure them that it’s nothing personal—you just have a budget or venue capacity to keep in mind. Sticking to a small wedding guest list may seem uncomfortable or difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. You can approach the situation and your loved ones with poise and explain your preferences. Simple as that.

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