I must admit in our newly engaged haze we were a little naive about how far our budget could stretch. My lovely parents had been more than generous and we had over a year to save, which would give us enough money to have the wedding of our dreams and a honeymoon, right?
Dead wrong, as soon as we mentioned the word ‘wedding’ costs started to triple. We spend many meetings perfecting our poker faces as vendors quoted £7,000 for the hire of a drafty barn. Or £70 per head for food (not including the alcohol), which is more than I would ever spend on myself let alone 80 of my nearest and dearest! Talking to my best friends the other day, we coined a new phrase: wedding brainwashing. When you are so bombarded by outrageous quotes that £4,000 for three bouquets, two buttonholes and a centrepiece starts to sound reasonable.
Here are my top ten tips on what to do if you have champagne tastes and a bucks fizz budget.
Before you even set foot in your first beautiful barn conversion sit down with your fiancé and set your budget. Be realistic about how far your money can stretch and where you are going to spend the bulk of your money (clue: food and drink). It can be easy to succumb to wedding brainwashing and think you need that ornate stately home/exquisite dress/vintage wedding car (delete as applicable). But remember in the end the wedding is just a day, it’s the marriage that is important. Don’t sacrifice one for the sake of the other.
2. Check your calendar
The majority of people want to get married in summer on a Saturday. You can exploit this and make big savings by choosing to get married mid week and/or off-season having a winter wedding. Often you will be saving not only on the venue hire cost, which can be heavily discounted but other vendors such as caterers and florist will offer discounts if you book when they are less busy.
If you are mega organised you can pick up last minute deals or cancellations at the wedding venue of your dreams that you could never afford booking a year in advance. The downside is that you have less chance to notify guests so people may not be able to attend.
Finally my top dates to tip is to check when the bank holidays are. Because I am going back to university this October we had to be pretty rigid about dates and could only get married in the holidays. However, my mother-in-law-to-be discovered that our dream venue was charging weekday prices for the Diamond Jubilee bank holiday. This means we can get married at our dream venue, without breaking the budget, on a Monday in June, yet our guests get the next day off thanks to Queeny!
If you have a budget you have to be strategic about how you allocate your money. Spend your money on areas that are important to you both as a couple. For example getting married in a beautiful place where we could relax with our guests was a priority – a DJ wasn’t.
4. Bargain, baby
I have a rather British attitude towards negotiating, ie avoid wherever possible. Luckily I am marrying the Negotiathan, who has a steely look in his eye founded in the bazaars of Lebanon. He has convinced me that you should always ask vendors nicely what they can do for you. If you’re not happy walk away and think about it. You can always sidle back later.
Wherever possible shop around and get at least three quotes so you can see if that great deal is really as good as you think it is.
5. Think outside the box
If you want to get married at a place that specialises in weddings you will be paying a premium. If they have an all singing all dancing website, you will be paying for that. Look for venues that are off the beaten track: halls, restaurants and bars, we even looked at a gentleman’s club. What you save in venue hire you can spend elsewhere such as decorating your venue. Alternatively book a gorgeous venue that needs no decoration. As a general rule keep an eye out for venues that offer no corkage charges and a choice of approved suppliers, which allows you to shop around.
A friend found her dream wedding dress in an overpriced boutique, a quick ebay search later and she bought her dress for a fractition of the price. My sister-in-law-to-be got her exquisite dress by buying the sample dress in the shop. If you are flexible and think outside the box you can make big savings
6. Check the small print
Before you sign the contract make sure you are clear as to what is/isn’t included. There are advantages and disadvantages to every venue, for example a barn is a blank slate allowing to personalise your wedding, which costs, whereas hotels are more generic but you might spend less on decorations. Remember to factor in hidden costs, for example the hire costs of some venues will just cover the bricks and mortar. You will have to pay to hire the chairs, tables, table cloths, cutlery… Some places include VAT, some don’t. Some vendors charge you for waiting staff some don’t. Consider taking out wedding insurance as a safety net for your big day.
7. Numbers game
Most people spend the bulk of their budget on catering and alcohol costs so the more guests they have the more expensive it gets. For this reason some couples opt for luxe for less by having an intimate wedding and massive party later on. However, it was really important for us that the people we loved were there for our special day – even if we did have to feed them soggy sausage rolls afterwards (sorry guys)!
8. Bucks fizz instead of champagne
Your caterers will say you have to need canapés and four course wedding breakfast and an evening buffet. You don’t. Opt for a buffet as the wedding breakfast or an afternoon cream tea and you cut your catering costs in half. Or you can do as we are and have a starter, main and serve the wedding cake for pudding. Or cut your alcohol costs by choosing cheaper options such as bucks fizz instead of champagne.
9. Follow your bliss
Before that glittering ring is on your finger people will be telling you what you should, no, have to do. You have to have fruitcake/favours/a first dance… Remember it’s you and your fiancés wedding. That tradition for a diamond engagement rings as the romantic ideal… was invented by De Beers to sell diamonds. Follow your bliss and figure out what you wish to do and don’t get backed into a corner by others expectations. Of course you may then decide that there are traditions that have meaning to you and your partner or to create new traditions!
Use blogs and wedding magazines as inspiration not or examples of the perfect wedding you aren’t having.
Do It Yourself is touted as the ultimate budget saver. All you need is a small investment in supplies, lots of time and… no small amount of talent. For the less naturally crafty, aka me, who foresees nights of sobbing over a glue gun: remember even better than Do It Yourself is Do It Together. Are you parents green-fingered gardeners with a large garden paradise: get them to grow your centrepieces (ta mum and dad). If your parents-in-law-to-be are award-winning graphic designers, ask them to make all your wedding stationary. If your best friend is a talented make-up artist, beg her to do your slap on the day to prevent you having to invest in shares of waterproof mascara. The nicest thing about this is that it means everywhere you look you can see how the people you love have helped build your wedding day.
The sky’s the limit: clever friends have brewed their own alcohol for the toasts, made their own wedding dresses and even self-catered yummy wedding breakfasts. For your own sanity if you do opt to DIY only take more than one big project if they don’t coincide. For example making your own stationery and baking the cake can be done months apart. The last thing you want to do on the morning of your wedding is ice a cake while arranging flowers!
However, there is no shame in realising you have neither the time or the inclination to DIY and buying a little piece of mind.
Coming up next week: the venue hunt.