The list of pressures surrounding a wedding is too long to list. It’s your BIG DAY. It has to be PERFECT. But worries about everything going to plan, or if people will have a good time, are dwarfed by the general insaneness of just how much weddings can cost.
The average spend on a wedding in the UK is £30,111 – well, according to Brides Magazine. For some reason, they include the gift list in their sums (why?), as well as engagement rings and the honeymoon. Stripping them out the total cost comes to £20, 261.
Obviously, you still need to pay for the engagement ring and honeymoon; but I don’t count them as part of the wedding day itself. Nonetheless, spending £20k on one day – ONE DAY – isn’t something you’re ever likely to repeat.
I got married last year (yes, I know I promised this post ages ago) and, being dedicated to getting the best value from everything I spend, I wanted to share with you how we managed to have a pretty awesome day AND stay on budget.
We didn’t have a frugal wedding – we still spent £16,000 – but I’m confident anyone who attended would be surprised we didn’t spend a lot more, particularly for a London wedding; and that’s because we worked hard to get as much for our money as possible.
Here’s how we planned and paid for a pretty fantastic day.
Setting the budget (and the date)
When we got engaged, Becky and I were both travelling South and Central America having taken redundancy from our jobs. So, we had to start planning our wedding without knowing when we’d start working again.
This was probably the most important decision we made; we didn’t let the date decide our budget, we let our budget decide the date. We could easily have chosen a day six or twelve months away – but we knew we’d not have enough money saved up to afford the day we wanted. So we looked at existing savings and made a guess on how much we’d be able to save each month.
With this in mind, we chose a date two-and-a-half years after our engagement – a long wait by today’s standards. But any earlier and we’d have had to compromise on the day; there was no way we were going to get into debt to fund it.
Deciding the guest list
Money wasn’t the only factor that shaped our guest list – we didn’t want something so big it lost its intimacy – but it played its part.
We could only afford 70 guests for the sit-down meal, so that’s how many people we invited. It wasn’t easy – I ended up inviting my aunts and uncles, and most of my friends’ partners just to the evening – but I think this is where you can totally lose control of the budget.
You probably will lose some people this way, but hopefully most people will understand and enjoy themselves at the parts they do go to.
Choosing reception venue and food
As with any big purchase, we shopped around to compare what was on offer and the prices we’d have to pay. We looked in London, where we live, and Yorkshire, where Becky is from.
Unsurprisingly, prices jump as soon as you mention the “w” word. Working out costs is also incredibly complicated. Some venues will offer all-in, others will have different charges for the venue, staffing, catering, ceremony etc.
We eventually chose the Hawksmoor restaurant in London’s Guildhall for our wedding reception. It held special memories for us and cooks the most amazing steak.
Unlike many of the other places we looked, they operated a minimum spend system. We had to pay up-front, by instalments, £9,500 plus 12.5% service charge. We also managed to negotiate with them a refund of £2,000 if the bar spend exceeded that amount.
We calculated this cost less than a separate room and catering hire at other venues we liked, but with top quality food (it’s genuinely fantastic food – regarded as one of the best places to get steak in the UK), fantastic wait staff and a really lovely venue. Of course, this was only possible as the restaurant closes at the weekend – it’s in the City of London which is a ghost-town at weekends with all the bankers back in their country retreats. To get one of their other restaurants in Covent Garden or Mayfair to ourselves would have been far far more expensive.
All-in and after the drinks refund, £8,700 covered the venue (with a late licence ’til 2am), a few canapés, welcome cocktails, a three-course meal for 70 guests, wine, evening food (lobster roll, yum), the service charge and a couple of drinks each for another 20 evening guests. Not cheap, but I’d say outstanding value for money.
We’d have liked to have provided more free booze for our guests, but our budget didn’t allow it. However, we did save on the fizz to toast the speeches. We found it was cheaper to buy some decent supermarket prosecco (on offer, of course) and pay the corkage charge than buy bottles direct from the venue.
Getting what we wanted for far less
I could write a hell of a lot more here (if I wrote about every element in detail then this article would be well over 2,000 words – another blog post – or two – perhaps), so for the sake of brevity here are other ways we saved.
Buying the dress for less
Becky didn’t choose the dress based on the budget, but it just so happened it was cheaper for us to order this dress from the States and fly to New York to collect it than buy a traditional wedding dress! The savings made freed up cash to spend elsewhere.
My tux was also a bargain. I knew what I was after and happened to chance upon the online Moss Bros sale with one left in stock of exactly what I wanted – for just £79! Becky also found great deals on high-street dresses for the bridesmaids.
Finding the right suppliers
Any London photographer with a decent portfolio will easily cost you £1,500 to £2,000, if not more. We cut this drastically by using someone out of London. She’d taken pics at a friends wedding in Stratford the year before, which we knew were good, and she was happy to come to London for our wedding.
Cakes also don’t come cheap, but, thanks to a huge amount of research by Becky (research by Becky was key to so many of our savings), we found a relatively new baker whose prices were a fraction of others we looked at, but just as tasty, and if anything, more talented in decoration.
The quotes we got on flowers were the most ridiculous, but we found one amazing florist who was happy to work within our budget. She and Becky had very creative ideas to get the most for our money on tables, bouquets and buttonhole flowers. Less really is often more – when it’s done right.
A little bit of DIY
We were also lucky that the venue looked pretty fantastic as it was. We simply added some cheap fairy lights from Amazon to give a little sparkle.
In fact, Amazon, along with Hobby Craft, Not on the High Street and Etsy, was our friend in helping us buy decent quality materials to boost our invites and table plan.
Breaking with tradition
We didn’t buy favours for our guests, choosing instead to give them more booze. Likewise, we didn’t kit out the grooms people in matching gear.
We also asked our guests to contribute to our honeymoon rather than buy us stuff we already had. Not everyone did this, but it made our three weeks in New England far more affordable and allowed us to put more cash into the wedding day itself.
Saying no when we couldn’t afford it
I really, really wanted to hire a mariachi covers band (the ones from those Doritos’s adverts). They weren’t actually that expensive compared to what I know friends have paid for bands, but it was too much for our budget. So sadly we said no. But my carefully curated playlists did the job perfectly, so we didn’t even need a DJ – though we did shell out for a dance floor, PA system and lights.
As much as we’d have liked to have stayed in a posh hotel the first night, knowing we’d have got there about 3am and left at 10am meant it was a bit of a waste of cash – better spent on the first night of our honeymoon. In the end it was lovely to be back in our own bed.
You can read more – and find our suppliers – in this article Becky wrote for Boho Weddings (even though ours was absolutely not Boho!)
I really could keep on writing about this! But I won’t. Instead I’ll leave you with what might have been – the Mariachis singing East 17…