The guest list is a huge determinant on how your wedding is planned, how it plays out, and how you’ll remember it. Should you have a huge wedding or keep it as small as you can get it? What’s the best way to trim it down? How many mortal enemies are you likely to make? Here are some tips on ironing out the kinks in your Santa impression.

Start Big

There’s time to make cuts later: start by writing down everyone you would possibly want to invite, even if you’re almost certain they won’t make the cut later. Just get all the names down: family, friends, coworkers, third cousins, your favorite barista, what have you. Just get all the names down so you have a reference point, both for now and for the future if you decide to move up a size from your initial choice.

Now Be Realistic

Time to start thinking about a number. The biggest determinant here is your budget and your venue. Every mouth means another plate for your caterer to make, another favor, another spot at the table, and another slice of cake. Though it might be tempting to roll the dice on some declining, try and avoid inviting more people than your venue can handle, or the last days before the ceremony might be even more stressful than they need to be. Feel free to start conservative: if you end up with more space once you get more of the details worked out, you can always go back to the master list and send out more invitations.

Make Rules For Cutting – And Keep To Them

Cutting guests can be one of the first disagreements you have with your new fiance – at least as your new fiance. Before naming any names, create a few rules that you can keep to to keep personal judgments at a minimum. For example: do we want to not have any children at our wedding? Have you not spoken to them in at least three years? Are they only on the list because they’re friends of another guest, but not necessarily someone you want to share your day with? Go for the low-hanging fruit first.

Send Invites in Waves

Once you have a reasonable number of guests, sort them into tiers (though maybe don’t tell them about this part). Send invites out to everyone on your top tier guestlist: close family, close friends, people you can’t imagine not having at your wedding. As you get a better picture of those who will not be able to attend, start sending out invites to your B-list, and if you’ve still got room, the C-list, and so on. The number of tiers and the number of people on each is entirely up to you.

Avoid Last Minute Additions

As you near the special day, things are already stressful enough. Resist the temptation to add anyone else to the list, whether it’s a brand new acquaintance or someone who wasn’t invited and is not-so-subtly dropping hints about that fact. Don’t let parents or in-laws push you into inviting more people you don’t want to, either. It’s not the easiest conversation to have, but be polite yet firm: something like “We’d love to invite everyone, but with our budget and venue we had to keep the list very trim.”