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Cheat Sheet

Wedding Etiquette For Dummies

Wedding etiquette rules have relaxed a bit over time, but common sense and basic etiquette are still necessary in every phase of wedding planning — and on the big day itself. Familiarizing yourself with what to do before, during, and after your wedding will help ensure that everyone enjoys all your wedding festivities.

Etiquette Tips for Compiling Your Wedding Guest List

Etiquette can help you decide your wedding guest list. Compiling a wedding guest list can be extremely stressful because people's feelings are involved. Here, etiquette calls for extra tact and sympathy for others' feelings — and patience and understanding to avoid conflict. Here are some etiquette guidelines for building your wedding guest list:

  • Find out how much money you can spend per guest on food at the reception, and use that amount to determine the number of guests you can invite. After all, the head count at your reception is the biggest expense in your wedding budget. Establish your budget, and stick to it.

  • Before creating a master guest list, you and your spouse-to-be make a list, your parents make a list, and spouse-to-be’s parents make a list. Compile these lists and work graciously together to come up with a final master list and reach the desired number of guests that fit into the budget.

  • To prioritize your master list, you first have to determine the must invites, the should invites, and the could invites. Does your budget cover all the must invites? If so, move on to the should invites and then to the could invites. By using this system, you ensure that the people who are most important to you, your spouse-to-be, and your families make the cut.

  • As a general rule, always invite family first. Remember that the guests at your wedding are your “witnesses,” so they should be family and close friends whom you care about and will stay in touch with for many years.

  • If any single friend or family member is in a long-term relationship, invite that person and his or her significant other by name even though they aren’t married. Also, if your budget allows, give the single members of the wedding party and any single family members the option of bringing a guest. If your budget doesn’t allow for each single guest to bring a date — and many couples’ budgets don’t — address the invitation appropriately. Don’t include “and guest” in the hopes that they won’t bring one because they probably will.

  • Don’t feel obligated to invite co-workers because, after all, you may not work with them six months after the wedding. Remember, no hanging invitations on workplace bulletin boards! If your budget allows, you can follow the unwritten rule that says to invite the co-workers and business acquaintances you socialize with outside of work. However, inviting everyone on your team except one person isn’t appropriate.

  • Determining whether to invite children can be tough. Before you make the decision, consider the type of wedding you’re having. If it’s a black tie affair and your reception begins in the evening, you may have to deal with a few meltdowns as children become tired. If you’re having a casual garden wedding in the early afternoon and your motto is the more the merrier, by all means, invite children.

  • Children count toward your final number, and, if space is limited at your reception, you may have an easier time making your decision. Keep in mind, though, your flower girl and ring bearer are part of your wedding party, so you should invite them, of course. If either you or your spouse-to-be has children, you should absolutely include them, too. If either of you has children in your immediate family (that is, brothers or sisters), you should invite them, as well.

The Etiquette of Writing and Addressing Wedding Invitations

There's a purpose for all the etiquette surrounding written wedding invitations. The etiquette of writing and addressing invitations provides important answers for wedding guests: They'll know who the hosts are; who's invited; and the locations of the ceremony and reception. Before you select your invitations, you need to know how to properly word your invitations; send all the right enclosures with your invitations; and properly address the envelopes so that everyone clearly understands who’s invited:

  • Spell out professional titles, such as Doctor and Reverend, and all military titles (General, Major, and so on.) for names on your invitations. Acceptable abbreviations are the nonprofessional titles of Mr., Mrs., and Ms. Don’t include academic titles, such as PhD, on the invitation unless the person is a minister with a theological degree. And no nicknames! Use full names instead (such as Michael rather than Mike). If you choose to include any middle names on the invitation, spell them out, too.

  • Spell out street names, such as Avenue, Boulevard, and Street, on all invitations. Also spell out days of the week, dates, months, times, and numbers in addresses for invitations to black tie and formal weddings. For invitations to semiformal and informal weddings, you can use numbers freely.

  • For a ceremony in a house of worship, use the word honour to show reverence to God, as in “request the honour of your presence.” For a location other than a house of worship, even if the ceremony is religious, use the phrase “request the pleasure of your company.”

  • Give the hosts of your wedding top billing on the invitation.

  • Do not include gift registry information or gift suggestions on your invitations. And never, ever, handwrite anything on the invitation.

  • Include lodging information on a separate enclosure card with a map and directions to your ceremony and reception. You may also include this information with your save-the-date cards and/or on your wedding Web site.

  • Address the inside envelope with exactly whom you’re inviting. For example, writing “Mr. and Mrs. Swanson” tells your guests that just the Mr. and Mrs. are invited, not their children.

Etiquette Pointers: Registering for Wedding Gifts

Using a wedding gift registry makes it easy for friends and family to shop. Registering for wedding gifts is fun, but remember your etiquette! Consideration is key, whether you're working with the gift consultant, settling matters of differing taste with your beloved, or choosing your items with a range of prices in mind:

  • Call ahead and make an appointment with the registry consultant at each store where you choose to register. Always be patient with and kind to consultants because they’re often being pulled in different directions by the many couples they’re trying to help.

  • List items in different price ranges on each of your registries. Many national stores have lots of fun and useful, less expensive gadgets that make great gifts. Of course, it’s okay to register for some pricier items, as well; often friends and family go together to purchase one larger, more expensive item, such as a new grill. Don’t be concerned with having too many items on each list; your guests will appreciate having options to fit any budget. Besides, you have engagement parties and bridal showers, plus the wedding! Feel free to register for more gifts than the number of guests who will attend the wedding.

  • Feel free to list “gift cards welcome” on your registry.

  • Try to register together with your spouse-to-be or at least discuss each other’s likes and dislikes before registering. Be respectful of your different tastes!

  • Let your family and wedding party spread the word about where you’re registered. Noting where you’re registered, as well as any gift alternatives, such as contributions to charities, on your bridal shower invitation and wedding Web site, is also acceptable.

  • Check your registries throughout your engagement period (especially two weeks before and one week before your wedding), and add items as needed. If the pricier items are the only ones left, be sure to add some less expensive items.

  • Keep a detailed list of who sent gifts as you receive them; also keep the enclosure card and receipt for each gift. This organization makes writing and sending thank-you notes much easier — and hopefully provides an incentive to start writing thank-you notes immediately.

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