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When brides-to-be imagine their wedding, who’s there is often a big part of it. A grand affair? An intimate evening? A just big-enough-but-not-too-big event? Most of us fall into the final category, looking to compile a modest guest list for what will likely be the best party we ever throw.

But hitting the perfect medium of who makes the cut and who doesn’t get your hand-addressed, letterpressed invite in the mail is a challenge of Goldilocks proportion — how many people can we invite without overwhelming ourselves and our budget?

Today’s couples are finding that the happy middle ground is actually smaller — about 141 guests — down from a high of 184 back in 2003, according to a wedding market analysis.

Cost is clearly a factor here. Smaller weddings mean cheaper weddings, or more money to splurge on other areas of the wedding. A small venue for fewer people might let you afford a better band. One less table at dinner might give you the money to do an extra dessert offering. Two fewer cousins might mean two more flower arrangements.

Some of the best advice I’ve read while planning my wedding is to understand that the best way to cut wedding costs is to cut the number of invitees. When it comes down to it, will your night be more special if certain borderline guests are there, or if you are able to spend the $50-$150 per person on buying other things for the wedding?

This was a part of planning that I was especially dreading since size of the wedding dictates the rest of the event. Plus, I thought sitting down with my fiancé and going through our memories, address books, Facebook pages and family trees would be a stressful activity of cutting who’s in and who’s out. Turns out, we don’t know that many people — our families aren’t that big and we were easily able to decide who we wanted to be there.

As far as the pressure from family or members of the wedding party to invite people that you’d actually rather not — a phenomenon colorfully chronicled in this recent Wall Street Journal piece — I was able to avoid that mess by insisting my fiancé and I be the ones to pay for our wedding.

But if you want mom and dad’s money, or the financial backing of your in-laws, you are going to have to be more judicious. First, voice your concerns. Tell them about the size, feel and tone of the wedding you are going for, and why you invited the people you did. If they still want to add to your list, try to compromise by letting them add a fixed amount. Or, ask if they are willing to spring for the full cost of the invites, meals and drinks of the additional guests. It’s a tough call.

The WSJ piece includes a wedding expert’s advice for cutting the list. Since I’m only an expert in the sense that I’m going through this now with our 90ish-person list, I’ll include some of her tips too:

  • Don’t wait until last-minute. Make sure both sides get in on the guest list review/debate early on.
  • Both sets of parents should get to invite the same number of guests.
  • Make a policy on who gets a plus-one, and whether children should be invited.
  • Recognize that this may be your day, but it’s also special for them too.

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Image by Wedding Paraphernalia, via Flickr

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