How I planned a wedding without breaking the bank

How I planned a wedding without breaking the bank

When my (now) husband popped the question a couple of years ago, we were in the midst of saving to buy a house. While I was absolutely thrilled, the prospect of diverting all of our hard-earned savings into a wedding fund just didn't feel quite right. 

As far as I could tell, we had two options - wait until we'd bought somewhere and had some time to save again, or forge ahead but try to do it (relatively) cheaply. Neither of us particularly wanted a long engagement, so that left us with the money-saving route. 

Kat and Derek's wedding pictures were taken by Glenn and Lauren at  Through the Woods we Ran

Kat and Derek's wedding pictures were taken by Glenn and Lauren at Through the Woods we Ran

A scarcely believable £38,000 is the average cost of a wedding in London, according to an article I read at independent.co.uk

It seems like a pretty huge amount of money to spend on what is essentially a big party (ever the romantic), even without a house purchase to contend with. I was determined that we could do it for less, even if it meant eloping…

In the end we had a fairly non-traditional city wedding that came in at less than a third of the cost of the average wedding. More importantly, we both had the BEST day and honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing.

I'm pleased to see that shrewd financial planning is alive and well at the FT as well, with "spreadsheet bride" Claer Barrett (@ClaerBsharing how her wedding came in at bang on her £10,000 budget.

Here’s how Derek and I did it...

1. Work out what’s important to you personally

When we first got engaged, we spent quite a long time talking about what we did (and didn’t) want from our big day. From there we had an idea of what our priorities were and could work out where we were willing to splash some cash and where we needed to economise.

For us, this meant making sure that we had some amazing food and drinks for everyone to enjoy, both of us wearing something that we loved and felt comfortable in, and had some beautiful photos to look back on for years to come. Catering, clothing and photography made it onto our spend list, but we decided use a Spotify playlist for the music, skip the cake and make our own favours.

By having established our priorities beforehand, we were more comfortable with the money that we were spending on bigger items and it didn’t feel quite so scary when the invoices started rolling in.

2. Be realistic about how many people you can invite

One of the best things about your wedding is being able to celebrate with everyone you love most in the world. That said, it’s very easy for things to snowball and before you know it you’re inviting distant relatives that you’ve never met or someone that your partner worked with seven years ago.

It can be one of the most challenging and controversial elements of planning a wedding, but an ever expanding guest list is one of the easiest ways for wedding costs to spiral out of control. Once you’ve got a list that you’re happy with, stick to it – even if it means having some awkward conversations with your future in-laws!

3. Don’t be afraid to buck wedding trends

There’s big money in traditional weddings, so it stands to reason that money can almost always be saved by opting to go down a less well-trodden path. For almost every decision that you make about your big day, there is probably an alternative approach that could save you some money.

We chose to get married on a Friday in early May – by avoiding weekends in peak wedding season, we immediately had more flexibility for pretty much everything else. Vendors weren’t booked up years in advance and because there was less demand for our date, we were able to negotiate more easily on the price.

The reception was at our favourite London restaurant – it’s the place that we go to celebrate special occasions, so it seemed only fitting that we’d have our biggest celebration to date there. While it was a mostly sentimental decision, it actually ended up being a fairly financially savvy one too. The restaurant offered us exclusive hire of the venue for free on the basis that we met a minimum spend on food and drink – this meant we could boost our catering budget while still saving some money on venue hire.

We also decided to opt out of some of the more traditional elements entirely – we didn’t have a cake (and after an epic meal I honestly don’t think anyone even noticed) and used a sequence of carefully arranged Spotify playlists as the soundtrack for the day in place of a DJ or band.

4. Play to your strengths

It’s very easy to fall down the Pinterest DIY rabbit-hole, but some of the projects can be time consuming, expensive and (depending on your crafting prowess) don’t necessarily live up to the hype. Instead, think about the skills that you, your partner and any willing friends and family might bring to the table and don’t be afraid to call in a favour or two.

I work in digital marketing so could put together a professional-looking wedding website in a matter of hours. My husband is a Photoshop whizz, so was promptly put in charge of designing anything that needed to be printed. We also roped in groomsmen and bridesmaids for various playlist curation and gift sourcing responsibilities.

I also had some grand ideas of doing all of the flower arranging ourselves, but realised quite quickly that forcing anyone out of bed at 4am for a pre-wedding trip to the flower market might make me distinctly unpopular. Sometimes it is best to just bring in the professionals…

5. Use a honeymoon registry or a gift list

If you’re like me and love to travel, the prospect of planning the adventure of a lifetime is almost as exciting as the wedding itself. However, if you’re on a strict budget, it probably doesn’t allow for the holiday of your dreams that you may have been hoping for.

Enter the honeymoon registry.... We picked Prezola for our registry, which allows you to combine more traditional gifts with experiences. We decided where we wanted to go and booked the flights and accommodation, and then spent a fun afternoon putting together a bucket list of all of the things we would like to do if money were no object. We made sure there was a wide range of activities and costs so there would be something for everyone and used an online tool to build a registry that had photos and summaries of all of the gift options.

It all felt a bit more personal than just asking people to contribute money, and it meant that we could include specific photos of us doing the various activities when we sent out our thank you cards!

Read more: My wedding guest guide: say yes to wedding fever and no to empty coffers 

Read more: Five ways to get the information and advice you need to take control of your finances

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