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The big day on a budget

15 June 2011

Getting married does not have to break the bank, says Julia McGuinness

CHOCOLATE fountains, tiaras, designer wedding dresses, birds of prey flying in with the rings in their talons — a wealth of extravagant options are available to couples getting married. And they all cost money. Couples in the UK today are shelling out up to £25,000 on their wedding. The average is about £18,500.

The Church of England’s website yourchurchwedding.org shows that legal costs for a church ceremony are less than £350. So, even allowing for the extra expenses, such as the services of a verger, organist, and bell-ringers, the church comes low down the bill.

About 75 per cent of a wedding budget goes on the “big five”: en­gagement ring, wedding dress, re­ception, photography, honey­moon.

The Church of England’s policy adviser for marriage and family, Sue Burridge, attributes the rising cost of weddings to consumerism. “Wed­dings are big business, with wedding fairs an opportunity to sell the dream,” she says. “With so much on offer, brides can see things they then start to feel they would like for their big day.”

This can makes couples vulner­able to overspending. Like many others, Jess and Andy Ritchieson, who married last year, found it diffi­cult to know where to start in plan­ning their wedding. “We had no idea what sort of costs might be in­volved,” Mrs Ritchieson says. “We went to a wedding fair to find out.”

Helen Brady, who also married last year, subsequently set up the budget-wedding website my-cheap-wedding.co.uk. She says that couples can be tempted to spend it like Beckhams. “They get caught up in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and want to marry like the rich and famous,” she says. “It’s eye-watering, what some couples spend on a wed­ding. They can get so taken over by the details, they lose sight of what they are doing it all for, and end up borrowing to the max for the big day.”

RATHER than risk paying for the wedding long after the event, a more cost-conscious approach starts with agreeing a budget. Mrs Burridge says she is surprised at how few couples and parents talk this through. “Couples need to decide who is paying for what. Will they pool their resources or keep finances separate? Are they really willing to go into debt for the ultimate wedding?”

Mrs Brady suggests putting money aside regularly into a desig­nated wedding account to save in advance for the day.

Nicola Ray, whose website cheap-wedding-success.co.uk is another resource for a marriage budget, says that sticking to a budget is as import­ant as setting one. “Many of my friends just got into the wedding zone, and started buying whatever they saw that others had.”

With a little work, you can make your money go further, Mrs Ray says. “Don’t just go with the first supplier. Get several quotes, and be prepared to negotiate. Don’t be pressurised into accepting something you don’t want. There are always other alterna­tives out there.”

Mrs Ritchieson says: “We visited 15 potential reception venues. The one we liked best was not the most expensive. We also negotiated the particular package we wanted with the photographer.”

Most couples set out with the assumption that their wedding must include all the set-piece traditional elements. Not so, Mrs Brady says: “Couples need to think outside the box. Instead of the big formal sit-down meal at the reception, you could have a buffet or a barbecue.”

Avoiding weekends and the wedding season will also nudge down the cost, Mrs Brady says. “We got married on a weekday in October. It is more awkward for guests, but those who really want to be there will come.”

A HONEYMOON may be delayed to off­set cost. Wedding fairs promote getting married in an exotic loca­tion as a way of combining your wedding venue and honeymoon. “But your guests have to get there, too,” Mrs Brady says. “It’s a big ask.”

Since she set up her website in 2006, when she married for less than £5000, Mrs Ray says that it has become much easier to find ways of cutting wedding costs. “There are more online retailers these days. High-street options for dressing the bridal party are also getting better; things now have to be very com­petitive.”

Wedding dresses can be sourced any­where from eBay to Oxfam, which opened the first of its 11 UK bridal departments in 2007. Oxfam’s wedding webpage (www.oxfam.org.uk/weddings) was launched in February, with offers on dresses for brides, brides­maids, and best men. It also has its own alternative favours and wedding-gift list.

Wedding dresses can be sourced any­where from eBay to Oxfam, which opened the first of its 11 UK bridal departments in 2007. Oxfam’s wedding webpage (www.oxfam.org.uk/weddings) was launched in February, with offers on dresses for brides, brides­maids, and best men. It also has its own alternative favours and wedding-gift list.

“We sell part of our wedding stock online, or you can book an appoint­ment at one of our bridal depart­ments,” Oxfam Wedding Shops’ publicity officer, Guilia Biasibetti, says. “Prices are a third of what you would pay in the high street.”

Not all Oxfam’s donated dresses are secondhand. Many are end-of-season surplus stock from bridal shops, or designer dresses, worn on the catwalk, that cannot be sold. “The £250 you will spend on a dress that would cost you £800 elsewhere, will also provide 35 children in the developing world with a school kit. You can make a difference as well as save on your wedding bill,” Miss Biasibetti says.

Lower-cost alternatives may still look as good: wedding rings from a wholesale jewellers’; seasonal flowers from a friend’s garden; and, Mrs Brady says, a single layer of wedding cake topped by two “dummy tiers” will ensure that “you only pay for what you are eating.”

Mrs Ray says that there has never been a better time for the fashion­able but budget-conscious bride: “Today’s ‘vintage’ look is easy to replicate. You can create an on-trend wedding with clothes that are vintage rather than look vintage.’

WHEN it comes to the reception, “The village-hall tea-rooms idea is very popular,” Mrs Ray says. “A wedding planner may bring in crockery and bunting, but, for this sort of event, you can easily make bunting yourself and sort out your own crockery.”

Enlisting the skills of family and friends to make the cake or the stationery, arrange flowers, or trans­port the bride, not only cuts costs but makes the day more personal.

“A DIY wedding can be a cheap buffet in the back garden with a marquee from Argos,” Mrs Ray says. “My mother-in-law and I did the catering for ours. A pasta salad is not hard to make.”

The Revd Dawn Glen, Assistant Curate of Kirk Langley, Mackworth and Mug­ginton, in Derby, who ran a home-made-wedding-stationery business before ordination, agrees that when it comes to doing things yourself, simplicity is the key to success.

“Keeping things simple works best both for design and for what you have. You don’t need matching place-cards, thank-you cards, and orders of service. Just have your invitations done, so that people will be there. The wedding can happen without all the rest.”

Mrs Brady isues a word of cau­tion: “It may not be worth making your own stationery if you are going to cover yourself with glue and make mistakes that end up increasing your costs. But you can save a fortune by assembling something simple like wedding favours, which can just involving putting a few sugared almonds in netting bags.”

A wedding where friends and family rally round can be far from a second-class option. “Some of the best receptions I have been to have been self-catered,” Mrs Glen says. “The food is often better, too.”

It can also add a quality that money can’t buy. “There is a wonder­ful community atmosphere at wed­dings where everyone has chipped in, perhaps in a bring-and-share reception in the church hall after­wards,” says the Revd Ricarda Wit­combe, Vicar of St Paul and St Stephen, Gloucester, a parish where many struggle to make ends meet. “I did a wedding where the bride’s car was an ordinary family car. The care and love with which she was brought to church was very touching.”

HIGHER spending may not mean a deeper impact. “Afterwards, you don’t remember all the parapher­nalia” Mrs Glen says. “I can’t recall what we ate at my own reception. Most of my memories are of what happened in the wedding service itself.”

Keeping things low-budget helps couples to stay focused on what matters most. “The wedding is essentially about the vows you make to each other,” Mrs Ray says.

Mrs Glen, who has been involved in the Church of England’s Wed­dings Project (www.yourchurchwedding.org), says that research with couples who married in church revealed that their decision involved far more than the desire for a cheap venue. “Couples spoke of the holiness of the place, and a sense of connection to God, even if they found this hard to articulate. They appreciated the solemnity of the marriage service and its words, and the warmth of the church’s welcome.”

An expensive wedding does not ensure a happy marriage, Mrs Glen warns. “A friend of mine spent double what we spent on our wed­ding and honeymoon combined on her wedding alone. But she is now divorced.”




Set a budget and stick to it. “Avoid overspending by making sure you keep sight of the overall budget,” Helen Brady says.

Keep talking

Good communication is the key to a successful marriage. Start with the wedding. Discuss what you both want from the day — your hopes, fears, and expectations.


Which aspects of the wedding are most important to you? Could you offset the cost of splashing out in one area with a cheaper option somewhere else?

Go online

“If you like a look you see in a wedding magazine, you may well be able to find it online at a lower price,” Nicola Ray says.

Involve friends and family

They may welcome the opportunity to contribute. “Afterwards, you are more likely to remember what they did than whatever company you might hire,” the Revd Dawn Glen says.

Keep it simple

“Two large floral arrangements as statement pieces are just as effective as lots of small, fussy pieces,” Mrs Brady says. “And you don’t need to release a hundred white doves.”

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