Wedding on a budget: how to slash the cost of getting wed

Bride and groom in bright clothes on the bench
Bride and groom in bright clothes on the bench

The typical cost of a wedding has now hit £18,000. It's hard to imagine how this is possible, until you start planning your big day.

It's then you discover that you'll typically pay £4,600 for the venue - which will insist that you use their expensive caterers and buy their overpriced wine - costing another £3,000. Suddenly you've spent the best part of £10,000 before you've even considered the dress, cake, flowers, photographer, videographer, bridesmaids and hiring a handful of ridiculous suits.

Fortunately there are ways to cut your expenses, which can easily see you married for a small fraction of the cost.

The traditional advice was just to cut back on guests. You'd buy a wedding package with a 'per-head' cost, and if you couldn't afford to invite the 150 family and friends on your long list, you made tough choices and invited 40 of them.
This is still an option, and will suit people who only have a close circle of friends, but can risk causing family arguments and rows with friends if you're not careful.

So it may be better to try alternative ways to shave thousands of pounds off the cost of the day. Here are ten of the best:

1. Take your time choosing your venue
This decision can dictate a third of your budget, so take your time finding a venue that suits you. The wedding itself can take place at a church or registry office, so doesn't have to be a bank-breaking castle or historic hall. The reception, meanwhile, can take place in a local village hall, a marquee in the garden, or a function room. The art is finding somewhere with a reasonable hire cost, which doesn't tie you into any specific food or drink.

2. Be flexible on the timing
A venue that will set you back £5,000 on a Saturday in high summer, could cost £2,000 on a Friday in November, so consider being flexible about when you want to tie the knot. Your guests might also appreciate the fact that they're booking local accommodation out of season too.

3. Get creative with the food
Timing is your friend here. If you get married in the afternoon you don't have to worry about feeding people all day: you can just give them dinner, and they can have wedding cake for pudding. Traditionally cutting costs has meant opting for a buffet rather than a sit-down meal, and this is definitely the cheapest option. However, it doesn't have to mean serving a few curly sandwiches and a packet of crisps. There are lots of creative catering options, from buying in deli food to hiring a pizza van, or getting a hog roast.

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Cutting Costs On Weddings, From Colin Cowie
Cutting Costs On Weddings, From Colin Cowie

4. Think really carefully about the bells and whistles
It's easy to get carried away with things you think every wedding needs, but there's really no need to decorate a venue with flowers, arrive in an expensive car, wear a specific kind of dress, have bridesmaids, employ a 'master of ceremonies' or give everyone a 'wedding favour'. Don't start with the assumption that you need everything: start with the idea of having the bare minimum, and make conscious choices about the things that really matter to you.

5. Negotiate
All the fixed prices are up for negotiation. This can often be a matter of simply asking for a discount, and naming a price that's more affordable. If the supplier can't budge on price, then ask them to tailor what they offer. The photographer, for example, may be unwilling to cut their costs, but you can ask them to come for a couple of hours, and make sure you time the ceremony, official photos, cake cutting and the first dance so you get them all on film.

6. Ask friends and family
Most people have someone in their family and friends who can help out. If they can bake, you could save yourself a few hundred pounds by asking them to make the wedding cake. A dressmaker could slash another few hundred pounds off your costs by making the wedding dress, and a music fan can easily put together an MP3 playlist so that all you need is an amp and you have a ready-made disco.

At the extreme, it's possible to make your wedding a dish-sharing event, where everyone brings a bottle and something for the buffet, and suddenly you don't have to pay a penny for catering. It's not going to appeal to everyone, but if you have lots of friends and a minuscule budget, it's an option.

7. Send electronic invitations
The industry that has sprung up around invitations is incredible. Nowadays, you can easily spend a couple of hundred pounds sending cards with ribbons, buttons, lace and a personalised message. Instead you can find highly creative e-cards online, which will cost you nothing.

8. Buy second-hand
You don't need to buy a new dress off the shelf, because there are hundreds of people selling dresses on sites like preloved and eBay for half the price. The same goes for bridesmaids dresses. Most people wear these things once, so it doesn't make sense to buy any of it new.

Wedding rings may seem like an odd thing to get second-hand, but antiques are very fashionable, and a fraction of the cost of buying new. And if you want to decorate the tables yourself, have a look through the auction sites: there's always someone who has bought candles and vases for every table and is selling them off cheap.

9. Ask for money
Asking your guests for a financial contribution is increasingly popular. This may mean asking close family to pay for something specific - like the flowers or the booze. Alternatively, you can ask people to donate money instead of offering a gift. One nice option is a website, which lets you package up the options, so your guests can pay for specific parts of the reception or honeymoon. Somehow this sort of thing makes it feel like a personal and thoughtful gift rather than an envelope of cash.

10. Save for it rather than borrowing
A long engagement will give you the chance to plan a really special day, it will also enable you to put aside enough money to pay for the big day. Find the right place for your savings, with the flexibility to withdraw your cash when you need to spend it, and a good interest rate. It's also worth looking out for an account that doesn't offer a teaser rate to draw you in and then withdraw it after a few months: if you're planning a wedding you'll have too much to worry about already without having to keep switching savings accounts.

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