This part of wedding planning could quite possibly be the trickiest and stressful part of your wedding experience. Parents, grandparents, friends all giving their input and putting the stress on who you need to invite!! It is enough to drive any bride crazy.
No one really realizes just how many people you know until you start making your wedding guest list. I suggest you start this process soon after the engagement before you start looking for venues. You will need to know the core group of people you have to fit and most all places you visit will ask you how big your wedding will be. This will also help with the catering and bar budget and everything else!
We started making an Excel spreadsheet (yes, I know, I am a dork) of family on one page and friends on another. That way both lists were organized and separated. You can make columns for each name, address, what names you want on inside envelope and it also gives you a central location to keep the RSVPs as they come in. You can also keep track of gifts each guests sends as well and have their address handy for thank you notes! This one list will keep you organized throughout your wedding process:)
So now the tough part. Where do you draw the line on who to invite? We set a budget and are trying really hard to stay within it. Our guest list way exceeds the budget we set, but our wedding falls on a holiday weekend, so we are assuming that may play into who will actually be able to make it. We also made the preliminary list and THEN asked the parents if anyone important was left off. This will eliminate them adding a ton of people that you may end up having to trim down. While you want to keep them happy (especially if they are helping to pay) this is your wedding and you don't want a ton of people there you don't know.
Also remember a few etiquette tips...do not invite anyone to a shower or wedding function that will not be invited to the wedding. Never tell someone you can't wait to come to their wedding unless you are 100% sure you are invited. Another biggie is whether or not to let single friends bring a guest. While tradition says you don't have to give them a plus one unless they are seriously dating someone, if you can swing it with your budget it is always nice to give them the option. I was the single girl for years and it was never fun to be reminded that I didn't even have the choice to bring anyone.
Bridesmaid tip: Help keep your bride calm through the process of the guest list. Offer her advice on if she should invite her kindergarten teacher just because her mom wants her to...and help her realize it will all be ok in the end!