Reader Wendy asks, "My partner and I are planning and paying for our own wedding and we can only afford a small ceremony with a few of our closest guests. How can I tell extended family, co-workers, and acquaintances that they're not invited without offending anyone?"
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This is an excellent question and I want to commend you for determining a budget and sticking to it. My advice to you is to be completely honest with every single person that you come into contact with. Tell everyone (shout it form the rooftops if you have to!) that you are having a very small wedding. A nice way of putting this is to say, "I've always dreamed of having a small, intimate wedding with just my closest family surrounding me." Right off the bat, you're indicating that pretty much everyone is excluded (but in a really nice way).
You should also be really careful to tell your families your plans regarding the guest list. Again, be honest ("it's not about the number of guests…it's about the feeling of being joined together in front of those we love the most!). This will help put a stop on parents randomly inviting long lost relatives on a whim. Stay constant and vigilant about this – people may offer to pay for themselves or guilt their way in. Do not let them. Just smile and blame each other, "Oh, you know Leslie. So picky about everything – if I added one more person I think that she'd become a Bridezilla!". Then smile, shrug, and change the subject.
One last thing, as you get closer to the wedding, you might find yourself wishing that a few more people could attend. If there is room in the budget (and no one will throw a guilt-trip) then invite them. Better to include everyone than become a slave to your own plans.