Cut the cost of your wedding

Last updated: Aug 23rd, 2011
Feature by Sam Barrett

Your wedding day is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life but, with the average wedding costing £20,273, according to bridal magazine You and Your Wedding, you could be remembering it for all the wrong reasons.

Later this year I’m tying the knot, and while I want a gloriously memorable day, I don’t want to spend more than £7,000, so I have been investigating creative ways to trim the costs of a wedding.

There are some costs you can’t avoid. “The wedding certificate and the registrar or minister’s time all have to be paid for,” says wedding planner Tanya Brass. However, this doesn’t have to mean booking out a church and filling it with flowers.

You can keep the costs of the legal bits to a minimum. For example, my local registry office charged me and my fiancé £30 each to give notice of our ceremony, £100 for the actual ceremony and £3.50 for the marriage certificate.

Location, location, location

The first major money saver is the venue. The average cost of hiring a venue, according to You and Your Wedding, is £2,529 – and if you want somewhere swanky it’s easy to pay a lot more. For example, the nearest place to my wedding venue, Lulworth Castle in Dorset, would charge us £6,000 just to be there. By far the biggest saving we have made is to pitch a couple of marquees in a field on our favourite campsite for the reception instead.

Alternatively, you can cut the cost of the venue by negotiating. Kate Stinchcombe, PR manager for holidaylettings.co.uk and a newlywed, says it’s an ideal time to haggle. “We’re in a recession and it’s definitely worth bringing this into the negotiations. We booked our wedding before things got bad, but that didn’t stop us renegotiating some of the prices,” she explains.

Michael Taylor, managing director of money-coaching company Moneytactics, recommends finding a handful of venues you like and getting them to compete for your business. “Tell them you’re getting married and ask them to bid for your business,” he advises.

If the venue won’t reduce its prices, consider being flexible about when you get married. As an example, popular Poole wedding venue, Compton Acres Italian Villa, charges £3,955 to hire the venue from 2pm until 12am on a Saturday. Switch to a Monday wedding, and the cost falls to £1,600. If you don’t like the idea of a mid-week wedding, you could move your celebrations to the winter – many venues knock up to a third off their summer prices.

Vittles

After the venue, food and drink are probably the next big expenses, costing an average of £4,534 last year. If you’ve plumped for a venue, you may be tied into its prices, but there are still ways to reduce costs. You can talk to it about the menu, for example.

“A lot of people get married in July and August, when you don’t really want to sit down to a load of hot food. Going for a fork buffet or barbecue will bring the cost down from £35-plus a head to as little as £12,” explains Taylor.

You may also be able to bring your own wine. Almost all venues will charge corkage for this, which can be as much as £12 a bottle for sparkling wine or champagne. However, every penny of this is pure profit for the venue, so a corkage charge is a key candidate for negotiation. 

Without a venue determining the cost, your options are greater. Nicola Ray, who runs website cheap-wedding-success.co.uk, didn’t hire a caterer. Instead, she pulled together family members to help make a cold buffet for her guests. It was one of the things that helped her put together a wedding for just £5,000. 

You can save on alcohol too if you’re doing things yourself. For my wedding, I’ve taken a couple of trips to France to stock up the cellar, and have saved a fortune. But there are other ways to cut alcoholic corners as well, as Tanya Brass explains: “Pour long drinks such as Pimms or Mojitos as these take longer to drink. Also go for prosecco or cava rather than champagne as, most people won’t notice the difference. It’s also acceptable to have a pay bar, especially after the meal.”

Fashion, flowers and photography

The wedding dress can be another major expense, with the average price of £977 dwarfed by many of the designer creations, but, again, there are plenty of ways to bring the cost down. 
Several high street stores, including Monsoon, Debenhams and British Home Stores, have bridal ranges, knocking out dresses for as little as £100. Charity shops are also worth a look.

Oxfam receives ex-catwalk dresses as well as 
second-hand dresses and sells them through its bridal wear shops.

Another significant expense, at an average of £839, is the photography. Lucy Elliott, who runs credit-crunch wedding website thechiefbridesmaid.co.uk, says: “A professional service can cost as much as £5,000, but if you look on bride or digital photography forums you can find freebies where a photographer with experience in other areas wants to branch out into weddings. A photography school might also be able to help.”

However, if the permanent record of the day is a really important part of the wedding, you should consider a professional. You can cut the cost by reducing the amount of time they are with you – a couple of hours to capture the ceremony and the group shots is a lot cheaper than hiring someone for the day.

Then there’s the never-ending list of extras, including table decorations, invitations, wedding rings, table plans and favours. One option is to use a less traditional supplier. Tesco, for example, has a gold wedding ring for just £9.50, and you can also pick up table decorations, napkins and wedding invites cheaply.

I’m saving on flowers by growing my own, and I’m planning to make my own decorations as well. Alternatively, you may make the decision that you can live without some of these little extras.

How would you like to pay?

Nowadays, most of the expenses tend to be picked up by the couple themselves, sparing the bride’s father the pain. However, many parents want to pitch in. It’s worth the parents and the couple getting together first, though, to decide on the best way to manage this. If parents simply contribute, questions may be raised over how the money’s spent or which guests are invited, which could cause unwelcome friction.

A common alternative is to pay for one aspect of the wedding. As an example, my mum waited until we had found a caterer we liked and agreed a menu before she offered to pay for the food. This meant we had freedom of choice and she didn’t have to face a bill for the oysters and caviar we might have decided to feed our guests.

Parents might also want to make a more personal gesture. Making or icing the wedding cake, helping to decorate the venue, arranging the flowers or making the dress, are all ways to help with the cost.

When you’re going to such a huge expense, it’s easy to forget the pockets of the guests. But it’s worth sparing a thought for them too. According to Halifax, every guest spends an average of just over £600 on hen and stag nights, new outfits, accommodation and gifts when someone gets married.

Brass suggests putting singles in touch with one another, so they can share the cost of a room. Or you could hook up people who live close to one another, and they can arrange to share transport.

The wedding day is supposed to be the best day of your life, not the most stressful or the most expensive. Being creative, shopping around, and asking friends and family to pitch in, will help cut the costs and make the whole planning process a great deal more fun too.

Step-by-step guide to cutting the cost of your wedding

This table shows the average cost of a wedding (£20,273) compared with the cost of Nicola Ray's wedding (founder of  cheap-wedding-success.co.uk) which she managed to keep below £5,000.

  Average
cost
Nicola's
budget
How she did it...
Ring £1,412 £1,020 Strict budget and bought from a supplier
Venue £2,529 £1,010 Marguee in in-laws' garden
Catering £3,292 £395 Cold buffet made by friends
Drinks £1,343 £590 Booze cruise to France
Dress £977 £225 High street dress from Monsoon
Flowers £381 £189 Found a bargain from local florist
Photography £839 £0 A friend photographed the wedding
Cake £205 £0 A wedding gift made by friend
Transport £308 £0 The best man drove her
Honeymoon £3,220 £205 Weekend in West Sussex
Other costs £5,868 £1,064.30 The Invites were designed by Nicola, the
bridesmaids bought their own dresses and
an ipod provided the music
Total £20,273 £4,998.30  

Sources:  cheap-wedding-success.co.uk and You & Yours Wedding's National Cost of a Wedding Survey 2008.