Prince Harry and Meghan Markel’s wedding day may have cost a cool £32 million, according to wedding planning app Bridebook.co.uk. But, even if you’re not landing a prince or princess, you can expect to pay an average of £27,161 to tie the knot.
Calculated by Hitched.co.uk, this bill includes a whopping £4,354 for the venue, £4,695 for the food and drink, and £923 for the rings. Even small items, such as invitations and make-up can come with hefty price tags, with these costing an average of £149 and £94 respectively.
“There are so many weddings in the limelight nowadays it’s very easy to get wedding envy and believe you need to spend, spend, spend,” says Deborah Vickers, channel director at comparison website MoneyGuru. “If you can avoid being sucked into this, it’s possible to have an amazing day without it costing the Earth.”
Big day budget
The key to keeping costs under control is to set a budget. “Sit down together and work out what you can afford to spend,” says Lynn Burns, financial adviser at Solicitors Financial Services (Central Scotland). “Your wedding is a party that lasts a day while your marriage is a long-term commitment. Don’t start it in debt.”
As a very bare minimum, the legal costs of a wedding aren’t much more than £100 (£35 each to give notice plus £46 for the ceremony at the register office and £4 for the wedding certificate), but few people will stick to these basics.
To help you work out how much you’ve got to spend, Helen Pye, senior digital writer at Hitched.co.uk, recommends prioritising your non-negotiables. “Put together a list of your priorities – for instance, food and drink – so you can see how much you’re spending on the non-negotiables and what’s left for the extra bits,” she says. “A flower wall is gorgeous but it’s not worth getting into debt over.”
This is exactly what Hannah Otton, a 23-year-old full-time mum from Weymouth, Dorset did when she married her husband Liam in June 2017 (pictured above and below).
“My future mother-in-law, Gail, recommended picking a couple of things that were really important to us, spending on these and cutting back on everything else,” she explains. “We picked a photographer and our wedding rings as our priorities as these will last much longer than the day itself.”
By far the largest costs for most weddings are the venue and the food and drink, with these costing more than £9,000 according to Hitched.co.uk’s averages.
A bit of research can bring this figure down considerably with plenty of venues offering cut-price packages. As an example, Wetherspoons launched an all-inclusive wedding package earlier this year, giving couples a three-course meal for 100 guests, sparkling wine and a DJ in one of its London pubs for £3,000.
Being a bit creative with your venue can also help, with everything from farms and campsites to local pubs and even a family or friend’s garden saving you money. For example, when Maria Newman, a 41-year-old art promoter, got married in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset in 2012, she knew it had the potential to be very expensive.
“I had a big fat Greek wedding with around 350 guests for the whole event,” she explains. “We booked a venue that was council owned. This was cheaper than a hotel or banqueting suite and also meant we could provide our own alcohol. This saved us a fortune.”
Not being tied to a venue’s catering can help the budget too. With their wedding in a barn, Hannah and Liam asked their favourite fish and chip van to provide the food. “We both love fish and chips and it meant the meal cost just £10 a head,” she explains. “We also bought ice cream for dessert, went to the supermarket to get food for the evening and Liam, who is a head chef in a local restaurant, cooked shortbread as the wedding favours.”
Even if you’re tied to a traditional venue with the food and drink included, there are ways to trim the cost. Miss Pye recommends steering clear of the peak season. “Everyone wants a Saturday in August, which makes it incredibly expensive,” she explains. “If you’re willing to choose a mid-week date or a month outside the wedding season (May to October), you can save thousands on the venue.”
While the venue and catering bill offers the biggest potential for savings, you can cut costs on other items too.
Take the wedding dress – it has an average cost of £1,209. While retailers, such as Asos, H&M and Topshop, make it possible to get a dress for £200 or less, Miss Pye says you can still shop in bridal boutiques without spending a fortune.
“Look out for sample sales at the end of the season and don’t be sniffy about pre-loved – most will only have been worn for a day and will be a fraction of the retail cost,” she explains.
Auction sites such as eBay are worth a gander for cheap dresses and other wedding bits and bobs but a spot of haggling can also save you money. Maria did this with her dress.
“We bought my dress and the bridesmaids’ dresses plus hired the groom and the ushers’ clothes from the same company so we were able to agree a bigger discount. I negotiated on everything where I could,” she says.
Family and friends can also play a huge part in keeping costs down.
Neala Okuromade, a personal finance expert and author of What’s Your Financial Gameplan?, explains: “Talk to friends who’ve got married as they’ll have plenty of money-saving tips but also ask them to help. If you’ve got a friend who’s into baking, get them to make your wedding cake: people love to be asked to contribute to the big day.”
The cake is a great example. Hitched.co.uk’s average comes in at a sweet £275, but you can pick up some plain iced cake tiers from Marks & Spencer for £60 and decorate them yourself. Or go completely untraditional, such as the stack of donuts I bought for my gym buddy Moo Johnson – a 45-year-old chef from Dorset – when she got married last year. As well as being her favourite treat, they cost just £3.50 with the heart decorations and cake topper taking the total bill to £7.
Family played a huge part in Hannah’s wedding.
“Granny made the cake, my sister-in-law hole-punched the confetti and my god-mum did my hair,” she says. “We also got a great deal on our transport, a VW camper van. My dad’s a member of a VW club and his friends let him borrow it, so all we paid was £20 for the petrol.”
And don’t feel pressured by tradition. “Everyone has an idea of what a wedding should look like but try to think outside the box,” says Miss Pye. “There’s been a big trend in people opting for different catering options, such as pizza vans or serving afternoon tea.”
It’s also worth thinking about how you spend. “Use a cashback credit card,” says Mrs Burns. “This gives you some money back but will also protect your larger purchases if there’s a problem such as the venue or caterer going bust. Just make sure you pay it back before you incur any interest.”
Likewise, an interest-free credit card can take some of the pressure off when paying for a wedding. For instance, Moneywise’s best deal for purchases is a card from Sainsbury’s Bank which offers 28 months at 0% interest. Again though, make sure the balance is cleared before interest starts being added (at 18.9% APR).
An Isa can also help to make your wedding expenditure more tax-efficient. For example, Nero Patel, wealth planning director at Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management, looks to Isa savings when advising families preparing for the cost of an Asian wedding – a figure that averages out at £50,000.
“My client was able to benefit from a government stipulation, which said they could take up to £20,000 from their Isa and have a year to put it back in,” he explains. “They were able to withdraw tax-free money, pay for the wedding and then replace it before the financial year end to protect it from further taxation.”
And, when it comes to gifts, don’t feel obliged to go for the usual toaster, towels and tea service list.
“Most people already have everything they need to start their married life, so ask for cash,” says Mrs Okuromade. “You could use this towards your honeymoon or to help with a mortgage deposit. It’s great to start your married life without a huge wedding debt.”
The tax benefits of marriage
Tax might not be top of your list when you’re thinking about getting married, but tying the knot can bring a number of tax benefits. These include:
- Marriage allowance
If one of you is a basic-rate taxpayer and the other earns less than £11,850 a year, the lower earner can transfer £1,190 of their personal tax allowance to their other half. This could save up to £238 in tax this financial year.
- Asset transfers
Assets can be passed tax-free between married couples and civil partners. “This shouldn’t be underestimated and can help across a range of different taxes,” says Rebecca O’Keeffe, head of investment at investment platform Interactive Investor (Moneywise’s parent company).
These include capital gains tax, where you can use a spouse’s annual allowance of £11,700; income tax, where as well as benefiting from their annual dividend and personal savings allowance (£2,000 and £1,000 respectively) you can reduce tax by putting the asset in the lower taxpayer’s name; and inheritance tax, where assets, and any unused nil-rate band (£325,000), can go tax-free to a husband, wife or civil partner.
- Inherited Isas
A surviving partner can inherit your Isa allowance on death. Known as an additional permitted subscription (APS), this is the greater of the value of the deceased’s Isa at death or when the estate is settled. This can then be used to shelter more money tax-efficiently.
Defined benefit pensions come with a range of attractive options, typically including a spouse’s pension of around 50%. Although the pension trustees might pay this to an unmarried partner, it’s only guaranteed where you are married.
Photographs taken by Sadie Osborne Photography.