Wedding planner Joyce Scardina Becker has a simple system for compiling wedding guest lists. Divide people into three categories: yes, maybe and no.
"'Yes' includes parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, plus friends you see often," said Becker, president of Events of Distinction in California. "'Maybe' means relatives you see occasionally, new friends, neighbors and co-workers. 'No' includes distant relatives and old friends you rarely see."
Your budget and venue will dictate whether you get beyond the yeses or maybes, she said.
Becker's rule of thumb is a good starting point, but emotions create complications. Following are some dos and don'ts.
• Invite true friends, not people you feel obligated to invite.
• Compile the guest list together. "This is a reflection of you as a couple," said Elaine Swann, an etiquette coach based in San Diego.
• Discuss the list with both sets of parents if they're paying for the wedding. "If you're paying for your wedding, you have complete control of your list," Swann said.
• Start early to allow for changes.
• Overinvite. Wedding venues suggest you invite 10 percent more guests than you can accommodate to allow for no's. The exception is the very small wedding, where an exact head count matters.
• "We invited 240 and 200 came," said Melinda (Mel) Parrish, of Alexandria, Va., who married in 2014. "The 40 (who declined) included some far-flung relatives."
• Allow single guests 18 or older to bring a date.
• Say "adults only" on the invitation if you do not want children at your wedding. "Then don't make exceptions," Swann said.
• If your partner has a large family, accept his larger list. "You're marrying a family, not just one person," Swann said.
• Handle each guest list faux pas individually. If you can, ask a close relative to handle the calls. "Even though ours was adults only, a few people replied that they would bring their kids," Parrish said. "My mom handled it."
• Be forthright with those you haven't invited, notes TheKnot.com wedding website. If someone you did not invite says, "I can't wait to come to your wedding," reply with, "We'd love to invite everyone, but, with our venue and budget, we cannot." Then, change the subject.
• Apply the same rules for second weddings. "It gets easier," said Simone Vega, a New York City wedding planner. "You're older. You're not as likely to make decisions out of guilt."
• Create A and B lists. "Thanks to social media, the B people will quickly learn they received their invitations much later than other people did," Swann said.
• Let your parents bully you, warns TheKnot.com, particularly if you are paying for the wedding.
• Equate your guest list with a gift solicitation list by including people you know won't come. "That's gauche," Swann said.
• Refuse to invite a parent's new partner because you don't like him or her.
• Invite people to the wedding but not the reception. "Imagine being the guest in the parking lot who realizes everyone else is headed to the party, but you're not invited," Swann said.
• Send online invitations.
• Share your list on social media. It may be seen by uninvited acquaintances, and it may hurt feelings.
• Assume a guest is a "yes" or "no." "Be prepared for them to come, no matter the circumstances," Parrish said.
• Bottom line: "It comes down to respect and consideration of your guests," Swann said. "With each decision you make, think about how they will feel."