Matching Your Wedding Guest List to Your Budget

4 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Budget Weddings

Preparing a wedding guest list that matches your wedding budget can be a challenge. Choosing whether to set your guest list or your wedding budget first is sort of like deciding whether the chicken or the egg came first. Neither method is better than the other; it depends on your circumstances and priorities.

If you set your budget first, you can figure out the per-guest cost, which gives you your guest list limit. Say, for example, your reception budget is $2,500, and the cost per person at the site you want is $25 for food and $15 for the bar (wine, beer, and soda). That limits your guest list to about 60 people (60 x $40 = $2,400).

On the other hand, you can figure that you’ll have 100 guests, which means you need to keep reception costs at $25 or less per person. That per-guest cost likely rules out most traditional reception halls, so you may have to start brainstorming nontraditional ideas for your reception.

Keep the following tips and suggestions in mind when matching your guest list to your budget:

  • If you and your betrothed have large families, maybe you’d rather have a cookout reception so you can invite all your relatives. If you expect your guest list to be smaller, though, you can let your budget dictate the number of people you invite.

  • General budget or guest list estimates help you eliminate venues that are out of your price range or are too small or too big for the number of guests you expect. Whether you start with your budget or your expected guest list, you should come up with at least a ballpark figure for your guest list before you start visiting possible ceremony and reception sites.

    A vast church sanctuary is the wrong place for an intimate ceremony, for example, and even a mid-sized ceremony may feel small in a church that can seat several hundred people. On the other hand, stuffing 100 people into a space intended for 50 makes everyone uncomfortable.

  • With most ceremony and reception sites, you can get by with a handful more guests than you originally expected. But if that handful grows too much, it may push you out of those affordable sites and force you to come up with a new plan for your celebration. And reworking your plan definitely creates a lot more work and may cause stress overload.

  • Before you get too far into your planning, share your budget and guest list with your parents and your future in-laws; they’re the people who are most likely to insist on additional guests. If they know upfront what you can afford and what you have in mind, they’re more likely to curb their own requests. If either set of parents still insists, tactfully remind them of your limits and suggest that you’d be happy to invite their extra guests if they’re willing to cover the additional expenses.

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