Budget Wedding Myths: The Guest List

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

When you are trying to plan a wedding and stay on *any* sort of budget, you end up paying really close attention to budget wedding planning tips. Sadly, lots of the tips that get passed around are not super helpful. The tip you hear most often is that the first thing a budget bride should do is cut down her guest list. Now, if you and your partner want a small ceremony and reception, this is great advice, because it’s the easiest way to make your wedding affordable. That said, if you have a big group of family and friends you want to celebrate with, this advice is enough to make you tear your hair out. You can’t invite your Great Aunt Sue because you don’t have a lot of cash? No fair! To you or Aunt Sue! More then a few tears have been shed over this nugget of budget advice, believe you me.

So, I’m going to step in, and say that there is another way. Miss Manners, she of the wise advice, has ruled that we should first think about who needs to be at the wedding, and then think about what we can afford to feed them. Hear, hear! No matter what you might think from reading some of the wedding glossies, it is not rude if you fail to serve your guests fillet mignon and shrimp. It’s not even impolite if you don’t serve your guests a meal at all. The old fashioned wedding, after all, involved punch and cake on the church lawn, and punch and cake is still a proper way to go (with or without the church).

When I was eight, I was a flower girl in a wedding cake and punch wedding, and it was great fun. The church in question had a large lawn, light appetizers were served, along with mounds of cake and cookies. The kids all had punch, and the adults had champagne. I remember loving it (Hello? Punch + Cake + Pretty Dress + Game of Tag = Best Wedding Ever) and the adults had a grand time chatting and drinking. The bride’s brother played his bagpipes for the end of the service, and the highlight of the party was when the bagpiper started up the pipes, the brides sisters jumped up, grabbed the bride, and they all three performed a lively impromptu Scottish jig on the middle of the lawn, in full wedding garb. That will be one of the wedding moments I remember that for the rest of my life, and it was free.

So. I don’t care what all the budget wedding guides say, you can stay within your budget, invite all your loved ones, and still have a memorable (and stylish) time. And you will still think back on your wedding 50 years hence and get misty.

**Update: with awesome blogging synergy, it just so happens that Kathryn of Snippet and Ink posted a Punchy Luncheon inspiration board today! You can see a previous punch and cake
inspiration board as well, both proving that you can do this with great style.**

Picture via Myrtle & Marjoram Photography (Thanks Kathryn!)

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com. #NASTY

Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Anonymous

    I would totally agree and if my guests were mostly local I would be all about the brunch or dessert reception. However, over 50% of our fairly modest guestlist is flying in from both coasts of the US and several foreign countries. Now this is probably wrong of me but I feel the least I can do for them is a nice dinner and some dancing. I know they are there because they love us but wouldn’t spending $500 on a plane ticket be a bit of a let down just for an event that lasts 2-3 hours.

  • Meg

    Yep, we are doing the same, for the same reasons. But I really do think there are options :)

  • I am also having a large amount of guests fly in from the opposite coast and in order to still do things in an affordable fashion, we are prioritizing, prioritizing, prioritizing. For us, this means, lots of food (but nothing expensive, i.e. ham and caesar salad), tons of wine (of the cheaper sort), and 5 hours of dancing. We are also providing transportation for all our guests. So, sure, no one is getting a wedding favor and all the food is buffet-style, but everyone will be dancing till they drop and/or the shuttle bus takes them home. it can be done!

  • Thanks for posting this! It makes me beyond angry when I see descriptions of wonderful chic “budget” weddings to which only 80 people were invited.

    We’re inviting about 200 people. Fortunately, our location has a space limitation, because we might have invited more. Some of these people maybe aren’t the most important people in our lives, sure. But we’re excited about the idea of having a big, FUN wedding with a lot of different people from different times in our lives.

    We’re saving money by, among other things, doing it on a Friday (which works for us primarily because about 90% of our guests are local, buying our own alcohol, and DIYing pretty much all the decorations. It’s also been helpful that my dad is a wedding photographer, so that’s a huge expense that we don’t have to worry about, because the guys he works with are doing ours on the cheap. And also he has a fancy printer for my DIY decorations!

    And yeah, we’re not feeding anyone steak and lobster. But it’s not going to be paper plates and a bucket of fried chicken either.

    I agree with danicalynn – it definitely can be done.

  • I just found you… and I love you. I’m not “officially” engaged yet, but the bf and I have been unofficially planning things for a while. We also come from gigundo familes (70+ on my side, and about the same on his. Just. Family.) and we’re pretty sure that we’re paying for the wedding ourselves.

    The idea of eloping and telling everyone “surprise, we’re married” looks better and better every single day, but I’m a girl. And I want a big party where I wear a white dress my mother in law made (she sews. And she’s awesome.) I also heart your bridesmaid dresses idea. I’m thinking of giving mine a few swatches and say “make sure it matches with this” and just go with it. I’m all about mixing patterns and textures, because it makes it interesting. I don’t need (nor does anyone need) a cookie cutter wedding.

    Though we haven’t started any real planning, I already know a few areas we’re cutting costs. I have no problem getting married on a Friday or a Sunday. My father has been in food forever, so he is taking care of food. I have a very good friend who is a radio DJ, and another very good friend who is an incredibly talented photographer. We haven’t asked the DJ or the photographer yet, but we wouldn’t want anyone else doing it anyway. I also found a wholesale flowers website that does bridal flowers to real people and not just florists… so I’m considering doing my own flowers. That’s still undecided.

  • melanie

    We’re also planning on dinner, since almost all of our guests are flying in, but we’re thinking about serving burritos from our favorite local taqueria. The burritos are huge, and at about $8 a pop, it’s still pretty affordable for our big group.

  • I totally agree with you!! We are having a long coctel reception (2h and a half) so that all the people can talk and enjoy the company of the other guests. Then, we will have the dance and more drinks. We are having an amazing venue (Me by Melia hotel in Madrid, Spain) that needs no decoration. We are having 150 people invited (and coming), stylish food, gorgeous dress and still be under 15.000â‚Ź (well, Europe is more expensive nowadays).

  • We are so playing tag at your wedding!

  • when we first got engaged, it made me so mad that the top two suggestions were 1) trim your guest list and 2) don’t serve a meal. i know that both of these are options for some people (a cake and punch reception sounds so cute and old-fashioned! in a good way!), but for us, neither one was going to work. and suggestion #3 is always friday or sunday! but fridays are tough on out-of-towners, and catholics (at least where we’re getting married) don’t do sunday weddings. so what about us??

    we basically made ours up as we went along… i saw a magazine article about a picnic wedding (who knew my budget wedding inspiration would come from martha stewart weddings, of all places!) and ran with that. less catering staff, no need for expensive lighting setups, and it has given us the opportunity to focus on the part of the meal we like best – dessert! we’re having a whole dessert buffet (can you say costco? and also home-baked treats?) in addition to the cake.

    just be creative — there’s something out there for everybody!

  • I agree, too. My husband’s best friend got married and served wine from a local winery (that hooked him up with a deal for going local) and served appetizers, which is pretty much my favorite kind of food, anyway. Yum. And very budget-friendly.

  • I wish I could convince my Future in laws that we don’t or are expected to have this and that.

    They seem to think that you can only have prime rib at a wedding and a taco bar and BBQ buffet is just not right. Not to mention all the pointless props like an aisle runner.

  • hear-hear!

  • Yeah, I watched the original “Father of the Bride” with Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy the other day. And this was exactly the wedding she had. Of course it cost $3.75 per person– if only that were true now…

  • Great post. I agree, it makes a lot more sense to work out what your priorities are before deciding where best to make cut backs.

  • beaninca

    i hate to disagree, but we have no choice to invite exactly 54, that is what my maximum number of people per head is allowed in my site.
    while difficult to not let everyone come and be so restrictive its impossible for that to happen (especially at expensive CA sites)