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How to Plan a Wedding

The Guest List and Wedding Stationery

The guest list affects many of the wedding decisions the engaged couple will make, including the selections for wedding stationery. So, before any of the invitations, stationery, and so on can be purchased, you both have to set the guest list and determine the total number of guests. We'll walk you through the process. And remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

The Guest List

Your guest list generally drives other decisions, so it's often smart to write the list sooner rather than later. Two of the earliest concerns dependent on final guest count are the total budget and the invitation requirements.


The guest count has a trickle-down effect on just about all matters related to the wedding. If your list is extremely long, you both may want to ask only a handful of close friends and family to the ceremony and invite everyone to the reception. The size of the guest list can also affect the mood and tone of the day, as well as the size of your wedding party.

There are three steps to making a guest list:

  1. Do first things first: Some couplels like to set a guest count first and then set the budget accordingly. This is appropriate if they know upfront that they'll have a generous budget. Other couples like to set the budget and then determine how many guests can be invited. This is appropriate if they think funds will be tight.
  2. Divide the list by five: Divvy up the guest list between five categories: the bride's list; the groom's list; the couple's list of common friends; the groom's parents' list; and the bride's parents' list. (Sometimes it's easiest to allocate all family guests to the respective parents.)
  3. Whittle: Now begin removing names until you both hit your mark.

When it comes to the guest list, you both are likely to have some sticky situations. Remember, this is your party; within reason, the guest list is the bride's and groom's decision. But if you both find yourself growing weary or confused, here are a few hints:

  • If you both haven't seen or spoken to someone in over a year, he or she can probably come off the list.
  • If you both need to make cuts, select an entire group, like all business associates or all book club members. If anyone complains, simply explain that you're planning a small wedding.
  • If you both decide against having children at the ceremony, and the Smiths respond that they are coming with all four kids, handle it tactfully and directly. Call them up and say, "I'm sorry, but we simply can't accommodate children at the wedding."
  • If there is an "ex" in the bride or groom's background (this could mean girlfriends, boyfriends, in-laws, or stepparents), ask yourselves if everyone in the extended bridal party would feel comfortable about this person being invited. If you or anyone else might feel uneasy with this guest present, then he or she should be dropped from the list.

The Stationery

You both will need quite an assortment of printed items for the wedding. Depending on which printer you choose, the items included in the wedding stationery package will vary. (Be sure to look at all the package options before you make your stationery order to ensure you get everything you want -- and nothing you don't need.)

The Wedding Invitation Package

You can usually spot a wedding invitation in the mail a mile away -- it has a "LOVE" stamp in the corner and is bursting at the seams. To figure out why the envelope is so jam-packed, read on to find out more about what typically goes in a wedding invitation package.

  • The Ceremony Invitation and Envelope: The invitation announces the tone of the wedding and thus can take on any number of styles -- from traditional to unique. The wedding invitation itself traditionally comes from the bride's parents, but it can also come from the bride and groom. The tone or style of the invitation should reflect the tone or style of the ceremony and reception.There are several different invitation styles, from traditional to contemporary. All are perfectly acceptable. You both will, however, need to set a style before hiring a printer, since different shops have different printing capabilities. There are lots of places to look for style inspiration. You could look at friends' invitations, for example. You should also visit at least two printers and look at their sample books so that you can get an idea of what's available.
  • The Reception Invitation: The reception invitation can have three formats: It can be included on the same invitation as the ceremony information; it can be a separate invitation/card altogether; or if a guest is only invited to the reception, it can be used in place of the ceremony invitation.A combined invitation for both the reception and the ceremony is a great way to save money without sacrificing elegance. If the reception invitation is separate, however, the only thing to remember is that the card style should match that of the ceremony invitation. In other words, it should follow the traditional or contemporary style of the invitation.
  • The Response Card and Envelope: The response card addresses the reception only. It should have a line for the guest name(s), the number of people attending, and the menu choices (if needed). You both should also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the guest to return the response card. The card should have a final response date -- generally two to four weeks before the wedding.
  • Maps: It is increasingly common to include a map to the ceremony site and the reception site with the invitation. This could be a computer-generated map or one that you draw yourself. Just make sure that all of your lines and directions are clear before you give it to the printer. Also include a phone number for the destination. That way, the guest can call if he or she gets lost.

Other Printed Items

If you both know in advance the other printed items you would like at your wedding, ask the printer you've selected for your invitations to add in these items at a discount. This will not only save you money but will also ensure that each printed piece matches the style of the others.

  • Pew cards: If you plan a large wedding ceremony and want to make sure certain guests have reserved seats, insert a pew card into the invitation. When guests present this card to an usher, they will be seated accordingly. The pew card includes the guest name(s), the ceremony location, and the pew number and its section (the bride's side or the groom's side).
  • Place cards, matchbooks, napkins, etc.: You can include printed items -- such as napkins and matchbooks -- at the reception tables and scattered around the site, such as at the bar or the appetizer table. These printed pieces can include your names only; your names and wedding date; or the names, date, and a symbol, such as wedding bells. They are generally printed in a color that coordinates with your reception colors.
  • Wedding programs: The wedding program names the bride and groom, the officiant, all members of the wedding party, and any readers and soloists. It also lists the ceremony events, including all songs, prayers, and scriptures to be read. Ushers distribute the programs as well as seat the guests. Either your officiant or your church, synagogue, or temple coordinator can supply previous wedding programs for samples. You could also check with friends and your printer to see other examples.
  • Thank-You cards: Since you both will be writing many thank you cards during the coming months, it's nice to have appropriate thank you stationery printed fto use. These cards are small (generally folded and four inches by five inches) and are usually made of rich white or ivory paper. They have "Thank You," the bride's and groom's names, or their initials printed on the front. Be careful about how you print the names or initials, since the bride may need her maiden name on cards used before the ceremony and her married name on cards used after the ceremony.
  • Wedding announcements: A formal wedding announcement is mailed the day after the wedding to family and friends who couldn't be invited to the event. An announcement can also go to local newspapers and magazines. A newspaper or magazine wedding announcement is worded much like the engagement announcement.
  • At-Home cards: This card is sometimes included with the invitation or the wedding announcement. It tells whether the bride will be using her married or maiden last name and where the couple will live.

Show Proof of Proofing

Can you imagine anything more embarrassing than misspelling your future mother-in-law's name on the invitation? To avoid mistakes, enlist proofing help from at least three people -- preferably a mix of people from both sides. In addition, read each line in the invitation proof backward, from right to left. This forces you both to isolate each word. If you both question any name, circle it and phone someone to check the spelling. Use a dictionary to check other questionable words. As for dates, times, and sites, after you've double-checked this information, go back and check it all again. (And a third check wouldn't hurt, either!)

Addressing the Invitations

It may be tough to forgo the ease of computer-generated labels, but the invitations really should be hand-addressed. It is acceptable, however, to have your return address printed on the envelopes. If the invitation includes an inside envelope, repeat only the names of the guests (including any children under 16) on it. Persons 16 and older traditionally receive their own invitations. Single persons may have "and Guest" printed beside their name. Formal titles, such as Doctor or Reverend, should be spelled out.

Postage Prowess

Don't forget to include the postage costs in the invitation budget. And be certain to weigh the entire invitation to ensure correct postage. Ask your printer for a sample of your invitation, including every envelope (with the postage stamps), every enclosure, and every piece of tissue paper. These samples can be blank, since normal printing doesn't add weight. Take this sample to a post office and have it weighed.

Now that the guest list is set and the wedding stationery is ordered, the couple is ready to get into the nitty-gritty details of the ceremony and reception. On the next page, we will get started by learning more about choosing music for the ceremony and the reception as well as finding a florist.