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How to cut your wedding guest list

Avoiding hurt feelings while staying on budget is tricky. These experts can help.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 13, 2012 1:47PM
Image: Wedding ring (© Jamie Grill/Photolibrary/Photolibrary)Trying to keep your wedding-guest list short? Good luck with that. Deciding whom to invite (and whom to leave out) can be an unwelcome challenge.

Apparently, anything under 50 guests is now considered a "small" wedding. In fact, the Our Wedding Day notes that "many consider anything below 100 to be a small wedding."

Wow. Maybe that's why the "average" wedding allegedly costs $27,000.

When you consider that both sides of the family are angling for as few as 50 seats, the place could be packed before you even start thinking about your friends. It's a tough call, since it involves two potentially explosive topics: money and other people's feelings.

However, be sure to remember the feelings of two very important people: you and your intended.

They say that a wedding is more about the family than the two people getting hitched. I disagree. You should be able to have the wedding you can afford.

Or maybe even the wedding you prefer -- i.e., a simple affair versus a floor show. Read on for some tips on how to make this happen.

Cutting it short

If you're keeping the guest list short for financial reasons, don't add a couple of extra dozen people out of guilt, particularly since some of the people who RSVP might not even show up. Wedding planner Sandy Malone is still irritated about folks who said that they and their dates would attend her reception, which was a black-tie affair at the National Press Club.

"I did the math and figured we'd wasted more $2,000 because people were too damned rude to attend an event to which they had RSVP'd 'Yes'," Malone wrote on The Huffington Post(Post continues after video.)

Focusing on your actual budget means limiting how many people you can invite. That's hard. Everyone in the world who loves you might want to attend, but if you can't afford it, you can't afford it. Trim your list with one or more of these tactics:

  • Cut entire categories. No kids, no co-workers, no dates -- or none of the above. Linda Ferone, the director of catering for the DoubleTree by Hilton Tarrytown in Westchester, N.Y., suggests that "couples" include only "spouses, fiancés and live-in partners" if you're trying to keep the list short. "You don't have to invite everyone," she says.
  • Real (not Facebook) friends only. "If you haven't talked to somebody in more than a year or don't stay in current contact via email, skip them," Malone says.
  • Parents' pals? Would you even recognize these people? If you're on a tight budget, "friends of your parents who you've never met don't make the cut," writes Meg Keene in "The guest list (with fewer tears)" on Etsy. In fact, you will probably need to . . .
  • Limit your parents' invites. If each set of parents can invite only 15 people, give them 15 paper invitations. Tell them gently but firmly that you also wish you could invite more but you can't. What you can do, however, is . . .
  • Have an after-party. Plan the intimate wedding you want/can afford, but budget for a party later on. I knew a couple with tons of friends and business associates. They had a very small wedding but rented a hall later for food, fun and videos of the ceremony. (It doesn't have to cost a lot; see "Affordable places to get hitched.")

But suppose Mom and Dad are buying?
The guest list is a little more fraught if you're not covering the costs yourself. "If your parents are major financial contributors, then naturally they'll have more say in who to invite," notes a blogger named Christina at a site called Intimate Weddings.


If that bugs you, then you have only one real solution: Decline their offer of funding and go for a much cheaper wedding. If you're accepting their cash, then you're ceding some control. Only you can decide whether that's worth it.

You'll likely encounter some hurt feelings no matter what you do, since some people won't understand why you want a smaller wedding. "Not everyone will come around. That's okay," Christina says. "This is your wedding. Stay true to yourselves."

I agree. I also think that once you've decided what you want/can afford you should sit down with your beloved and make a list of reasons/rules. Sign off on them.

Seriously: Sign the document. If prenuptial meltdowns threaten (yours, your intended's or either set of in-laws') you can refer back to the list.

Did you have a small wedding? Got any tips to offer?

More on MSN Money:

Aug 20, 2012 11:06AM
If the average wedding costs $27,000, couldn't the couple find a better way to use this money? Why is a $5,000 gown necessary? A wedding and reception is not about receiving an equivalent $27K in gifts, but if you keep it small, really, really small, then you would have a down payment on a home, or money to completely furnish an apartment with money left over. Or have a lovely honeymoon trip.
Aug 14, 2012 9:17AM
I'm not a fan of the "after-party." Chances are, guests who find out that they were only invited to the after-party will find out that there was a "real" reception earlier, and that they didn't make the cut.
Aug 16, 2012 4:08AM

I am saddened by the new wedding rules and etiquette.  I believe that you should make up the guest list and then plan what type of wedding you can afford.  I remember when punch and cake at the church hall WAS a reception and the best wedding I have been to in the last 10 years -and some of them were VERY elaborate - was a simple, sweet one with lots of family and friends.  And yes, many were friends of the parents who wished them well. Weddings are not all about the bride and groom but also for those that care about them AND their families.  I was hurt not to be invited to a wedding where my daughter was a bridesmaid and I had known the bride as she and my daughter grew up.

Upscale dining and dancing and rock star photos were more important to her than people.

Aug 16, 2012 10:24AM

way back in 1973 our wedding was in a small chapel with only closest family and a few good friends in attendance.  About 20 in all.  Reception was indeed cake and punch in the church hall and that evening my new hubby's parents bought dinner for the close family in a neighborhood restaurant - about 10 of us all together.  We had the wedding we could afford as the greatest expense was flying my mother in from Europe.  I saved and paid for that myself.  An off the rack suit for hubby and a long off the rack dress for me.  I suppose it helped that we were married in the city where we were both living at the time, so any family who wanted to attend had to fly in.  I never could understand why anyone would want to burden their parents with debt or start off their life together in debt just for a big party.    Maybe next year for our 40th we'll have a party...



Aug 17, 2012 5:36PM
Another great way to save money is to do a lot of diy projects i.e. bouquets, centerpieces, place cards, etc. Always think creatively and be very frugal. It will ultimately save you thousands in the end. Some things are just not necessary. Cut back on entertainment and shopping sprees to save for your wedding as well, besides, marrying the one you love makes it worth it. Look for people with the best deals or look to family/friends for photography, dj'ing, wedding coordinating, etc. My cousin's hobby is photography, but she is also currently building her portfolio. She took some amazing photos and my husband and I and we made a beautiful photo book on We saved thousands this way. If your going to have alcoholic beverages have an open bar and shop at the grocery stores for special deals on alcohol. Catering does not have to be expensive to be good. We found an itailian restaurant that also caters and can make any kind of food you want and saved big bucks. We paid almost 3 times less the price than other catering companies and got offered much more and our wedding guests still talk about how great the food was.
Aug 15, 2012 5:38PM
The real question is, who the hell wants to go to a wedding anyway?

I'm getting married in two weeks and I can barely muster a "meh" for the event.  Just a giant P.I.T.A., if you ask me.

I can't wait to spend my life with this wonderful woman, but honestly the wedding itself as a self-contained entity leaves me cold.  I didn't have a single friend who didn't groan when I handed him the invite, grousing that his significant other was probably going to make him go.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.