By Casey Nilsson
The big guy in the red suit sure has it easy: A person’s either naughty or nice. That’s it, black and white. It could be because he has all those elves doing his grunt work; he can afford to be a little generous.
Us brides on a budget, well, our list is trickier. An old friend from an old life is nice, but not nice enough to bring a guest if she’s single. And all those college and high school acquaintances that you haven’t spoken to since the last reunion? Naughty — that is unless a few nices send their regrets in early.
I’ve obsessed over my guest list to a fault, and new questions are always bubbling up. Is it polite to draft a second-string nice list, in case of an RSVP deficit? It seems a little tacky to me, but a lot of people resort to it. I suspect a few of you are wrangling with your invites, so I’ve compiled the tried-and-true tricks that have helped us simplify our out-of-control head count to a moderate 120 — and without feeling too bad about it.
1. Pick a number, any number. Well, not just any number; one that feels right. We decided on 120, as it’s big enough to accommodate our two sizable families yet small enough to feel personal.
2. Organize your list in tiers. Start with the essentials up top (immediate family and friends), then continue down with extended family, distant family, family friends and old friends/acquaintances. Count from the top down and cut accordingly.
3. When it comes to family, follow the horizon. If you, too, have gigantic families to consider, I suggest you invite horizontally, i.e. all first cousins versus some here and there. It’s a much less offensive tactic than inviting three first cousins but not their cellar-dwelling brother, even if he hasn’t emerged in years. We’d like to do our day on the cheap, but proper etiquette is still a priority.
4. Make a decision about kids and stick with it. The little buggers sure are cute, but they can send a guest list through the roof. Aside from our ring bearer and flower girl, we’ve chosen to have an all-adult reception. If you take that route, be clear on the invitation by listing the names of the invited; strongly enforce your decision when the RSVPs start rolling in. And — here comes the harmless plug you’ve been waiting for — be sure to check out Engaged’s brand-new Perfect Pears custom wedding websites, which include an RSVP feature so guests can respond online. It’s the budget bride’s social media dream come true (catch that, Disney?): Your custom site is free for a year when you sign up through Engaged.
5. Be stingy with the plus-ones. In an ideal world, every guest would be able to bring someone along, whether it’s a new beau or a partner in crime. But the best way to keep costs down is by following the golden rule of invites: guests in serious relationships get plus-ones; everyone else flies solo.
5. Check it twice (and thrice). Santa’s got the right idea. Create an Excel sheet organized by family and pass it around to your parents and future in-laws. Even if you created the list with them, there are always opportunities for mistakes. It’s best to err on the side of eye-numbing accuracy when you’re sending formal invitations.
The guest list may have been the toughest part of planning for us so far. But I’ve tried to remember that while it doesn’t feel good to exclude anyone, it will feel good to share our day with the most important people in our lives — and without blowing our budget. As always, advice and tips are warmly welcomed in the comments. Happy inviting!
Casey Nilsson is the copy-editing extraordinaire for Rhode Island Monthly magazine. She’d like to marry her dreamboat, throw a personal, romantic reception and avoid angering any immediate family members — in less than eight months and for about $8,000. Follow her thrifty, DIY journey here or on Pinterest @cnilssonRIM.