Are you newly engaged? Have you dreamed of this big day for years, or, conversely, never planned more than a BBQ in your life and have no idea where to even start? How do you plan the perfect wedding and stay on budget? Here’s my advice!
Thanks to the pandemic, I ended up planning my wedding for over two years when I really intended to plan it for nine months. All of that time pouring over details and thinking and dreaming about the day is more than a little stressful – just don’t renovate your house at the same time as we did that and found there were just too many moving parts to organise! Here’s some general advice on wedding planning to help your plans succeed, so you have a day to remember for all the right reasons.
Stay on budget
One of the most important things I did successfully when wedding planning was sticking to my budget. That budget also included £250 wasted on extra bridesmaid’s dresses I bought when I thought I wanted a more boho mismatched bridesmaid look only to go way past the return dates so I was stuck with dresses that my bridesmaids didn’t want and didn’t fit me (as I’m nowhere near the tiny size 6 that my cousin is). It also included a £260 tablecloth upgrade, which in real terms was probably a waste of money to have grey crushed velvet table cloths instead of plain white that the venue provided.
Experts say weddings in the UK typically cost anywhere from £9,000 to £32,000 (yikes!). In 2020, Bridebook’s December 2020 survey noted that the average wedding cost was £14,442 in 2019, which included the engagement ring and honeymoon and in 2021, that same average wedding cost was hiked up to £17,300.
With inflation and economic uncertainty, weddings in 2022 and beyond could set you back even further.
My wedding came in that figure at £12,000 (£2,000 of which was gifted) which didn’t include the honeymoon or the ring. Our honeymoon, which we are taking on our first anniversary, will be paid for with a combination of money we received as gifts from our wedding day and additional savings. To see what I looked like at my wedding, check out my bridal beauty secrets blog here.
Was it all worth it? Well, I had the absolute best day, but would that £12,000 have been better spent on getting garden furniture and/or a fourteen-day trip to an over-water villa in the Maldives? Only time will tell. And the answer is probably maybe.
My husband is not one for pomp and circumstance or attention so he was nervous about the day. When it came to the actual day, though, he had an absolutely brilliant time as he didn’t have to worry about anything – I did all the worrying for both of us – and he just enjoyed the day surrounded by fifty of our loved ones, which was a guest list much reduced because of flight restrictions and those who were nervous about catching Covid.
When I asked my husband was our big day worth the expense at a hotel venue he said, “Yes, because it ran like clockwork and we wouldn’t have had that experience anywhere else.” Like I said, I absolutely loved my day but there were probably areas where we could have cut back and been just as happy, but we both agreed that our venue, The Abbey House Hotel and Gardens in Cumbria, was great value for money.
Our venue included a hotel stay the night before our wedding, a honeymoon suite the night of our wedding, all the basic decorative trimmings, and a three-course meal for up to 60 guests for £3,000. Of course, they made their money on any extra guest meals, extra nights at the hotel, bar drink sales, additional table decorations, the aforementioned table cloth upgrade, and so on.
Here are things that you’ll typically spend your money on at your wedding.
- Venue hire
- Registry office fees
- Notice of intent to marry
- Marriage certificates
- Invitations/stationery (plus postage)
- Place cards, wedding day order, menus, table numbers, etc
- Wedding dress
- Groom’s attire
- Bridesmaid’s dresses
- Wedding party outfits (i.e. flower girl, ring bearer, page boys)
- Groom’s men’s outfits (i.e. best man and groomsmen)
- Centrepieces and venue decoration
- Wedding cake
- Catering per head (if not included in your venue cost) and catering for your vendors (such as your photographer and videographer)
- Drinks (if paying for additional alcohol or an open bar)
- Entertainment/music (harpist, string quartet, live band)
- Bridal hair
- Bridal makeup
- Bridesmaid’s hair
- Bridemaid’s makeup
- Bridal shoes
- Groom’s shoes
- Wedding party shoes (if you’re purchasing them)
- Bridal accessories (such as hairpieces, tiaras, hair extensions, jewellery, etc)
- Wedding pampering (such as a spray or fake tan, nails, massages, facials, skincare, makeup, etc)
- Wedding rings
This list probably isn’t even an exhaustive one, even though it includes over thirty categories of places you could spend your money. As you may see, it’s easy to get carried away with the budget and overspend.
For my wedding planning, I created a very detailed spreadsheet with every item I was spending money on and then I had a “cost” column, a “paid” column with dates of when I’d paid that cost, and a “remaining” column. The cost was put in the remaining column if I hadn’t paid out for it yet and for every column, I used the sum formula so there was a running total. That way, I knew if one category of spending went up, something else had to come down.
Consider the details carefully
There are lots of places where I wish I’d saved money and had been more self-disciplined and less impulsive and driven by all the noise that surrounds weddings. Really think about the elements that are important to you. For example, we did save money on our wedding cake because we didn’t want to spend £800 on cake (yes, most wedding cakes cost that or more), so we found a really lovely baker who made a very delicious cake for £130 that was just a simple three-tier cake without decoration. I then asked my florist to add flowers to the cake. And, trust me, no one noticed that we didn’t have an expensive cake. Our cake was so delicious that all of it got eaten (except the quarter I rescued to put in the freezer for our anniversary). Even £130 is a lot for cake, but our vendor was local to the area, she delivered the cake, and set it all up so I didn’t have to take the cake on the two-and-a-half hour long drive from our home in West Yorkshire to our wedding venue in Cumbria. We needed two cakes for our wedding because my father, sister, and niece (and other guests) are vegan, so our vegan wedding cake only cost £50 from a local baker and it was a huge hit amongst all the guests, and it was elaborately and beautifully decorated.
Not my actual wedding cake!
Every item on a wedding list seems to cost £1,000 or more. Flowers £1,000. Wedding dress £1,000. Photographer £2,000. Videographer £2,000. Groom’s outfit £800. Bridesmaid’s outfits £1,000. You get the idea. Sometimes you feel that the costs are worth it, like I did with my amazing and committed photographer, yet some costs won’t seem worth the value – like I spent £130 on printing bespoke place cards, menus, wedding day brochures, and kid’s activity packs (all designed for free by one of the amazing designers at my work, Claire). I’m quite sentimental so I took one of everything home (as it was my wedding) but so many of the items (like the little trivia packs I’d put on the table and bride and groom quizzes I’d made) never even got used. Even the cute children’s scavenger hunt I’d created (for our five child guests as it was a no children wedding), barely got coloured in. It’s worth talking to people about what they did and didn’t think made a difference to their day. Another example of details going wrong was that my cake toppers got put on the wrong cakes and I thought I was clever by having a picture mount to sign instead of a guest book, yet most of my guests still didn’t sign it! Every little detail from hair accessories to engraved cake slices to ring boxes or ring bearer cushions and engraved cufflinks can add up.
I also decided to pay for my bridesmaid’s outfits (£220 for four), hair (£25 each), and makeup (£25 each) and their children’s outfits (£50-65 each) which was really expensive and I even went very “American” and had matching bridesmaid’s robes (£126). These, on top of the cost of their bouquets (£40 each), and even though I didn’t pay for shoes, all of these costs mounted up to over £1,200 (including £200 worth of “mistake” dresses). I was conscious that weddings are expensive and so many brides demand their bridesmaids shell out hundreds of pounds they don’t really have for their wedding day and their wedding shower and their hen night and whatever else and I didn’t want to be one of those brides, but it did mean that I spent quite a lot of money. While I think about it without the “wedding goggles” on, for £1,200 I could’ve taken them all away for a mini-break. And these are “northern” prices. I imagine weddings in other parts of the UK could be far more expensive.
I’d recommend you consider all the details that you want for your wedding, how much they cost, and what will make a difference to your day. When planning my wedding, I thought back to the most elaborate wedding day I’d attended – it was my cousin’s wedding back in 2013, which she told me cost in the region of £16,000 (after being with her now-husband for well over a decade). And when I was trying to think about what she had on her menu or what her wedding decorations looked like or if I even had a piece of cake or what her DJ was like, I simply couldn’t recall those things. So, as a bride, it’s important to have perspective. Every single detail feels so, so important when you’re planning your day. My cousin, Pam, can tell you that her bouquet contained her favourite white fragrant David Austen roses and that particular rose merited her expensive flower bill, but how many guests on the guest list would have noticed? I went really big on my flowers, but I didn’t realise my bouquet would feel like a dumbbell and the pictures would have looked just as nice with a smaller bouquet (that didn’t cost over £125). At my cousin’s wedding, I remember how beautiful she looked and I remember happiness radiating from her. I remembered how handsome her husband and son looked, but I don’t remember the details she so carefully planned out – except maybe the photo booth which everyone loved. She will remember all of the details that went wrong – as I did on my day (ahem my dress revealing more cleavage than I wanted it to) but the guests will just remember having a great time.
Decide what kind of day matters most to you
I love an afternoon tea party, a sit-down meal, and dressing up. My husband loves his own home cooking and relaxing in our garden – and the occasional holiday where he wears shorts and trainers! But for our wedding, he researched and found our venue himself. He loved the look and feel of the hotel (Tudor style but built in the 1900s instead) and the fact it was in the countryside near a ruined abbey. When we set up an appointment to meet a wedding coordinator there, we knew we’d found our place.
Funnily enough, we’d been planning something local, something more low-key and more casual but we ended up going with somewhere that would run the day for us so we could enjoy it. As much as a low key (and lower cost) would have been good too, I didn’t want guests having to pack away food, take down decorations, or help us wash up on the evening of our wedding.
Do you want your wedding at some exotic dream vacation in Mexico, Mauritius, or Greece, go for it! Do you want a beer truck and a pizza truck and have everyone dress casually and dance the night away, go for it! Do you want an elaborate high-end city centre wedding at the Savoy, go for it! Don’t think about what will please your parents or your siblings or any number of people. Create the wedding you want.
We had people complain that our wedding was too far away, but the people who mattered came. The people who matter will also be trusted not to make snide remarks about your dress being ugly or the centrepieces at cousin Jimmy’s wedding being much more tasteful or your food being too spicy and too weird (these are all made up scenarios of course).
Limit your guest list
One more piece of wedding planning advice is to limit who you invite to your wedding. You may want to invite all the people special to you (and that might be 250+ people) and then if you invite Aunt Susie you have to invite all six of your cousins and their spouses and their children and, before your know it, you’re trying to squeeze people on your tables and the numbers aren’t working out quite right. Try to think about the people who will be in your life in a decade. Think about all the people you’ve lost touch with or don’t see that often and will it really matter if they aren’t invited?
I also like to think not inviting some people is a kindness. Think about this: as expensive as it is to throw a wedding, it’s also very expensive to attend one. By not inviting that distant great uncle or that third cousin you’ve only seen four times, they don’t have to spend hundreds on a hotel room, they don’t have to buy you a wedding gift, they don’t have to drive or fly x amount of hours, they don’t have to book time off work, they don’t have to buy an outfit, they don’t have to socialise with everyone, and so forth. Unless they are close family or close friends, they might not really want to come but feel they are obliged to come because you invited them.
In the end, Michael and I just invited very close family (not even friends) and we decided to have a child-free wedding (we only allowed the bridesmaid’s children who were our two nephews, our niece, and my cousin’s two children, and all part of the bridal party too). Having a child-free wedding caused a lot of controversy and several people didn’t come because of that.
As a non-parent, I don’t have to worry about childcare issues and I do understand that not everyone has parents, grandparents, babysitters, etc to watch their children nor do they want to travel two to three hours away without their children. But despite causing some upset and despite loving our families’ children, we didn’t want children at our wedding because of multiple factors: the cost of the meals, the strain on the seating arrangement, the potential mess from messy eaters, the adults being able to have a better time without worry about tired little people, and so on. The point is it is your choice, not anyone else’s choice.
We had the perfect amount of people, the perfect people, and the perfect number of children – for us – in the end. I had wished that some of my American girlfriends and their husbands could have come because we had some key people missing on our day, but we, ultimately, had the best time and a smaller wedding allowed us to talk to everyone there.
If you invite everyone your parents want you to invite, like your father’s mates from uni or their next-door neighbour or even their third cousin, you could end up having a guest list so large that you either spend the day in a welcoming procession – talking to all 250 guests, for example, for one minute takes four hours – or you spend the day enjoying it.
Take time to breathe and enjoy the day
That brings me to my final point, one of the best pieces of advice I got about my day was to take time to enjoy your day. As a bride, you’ll have a million details to take care of, but do delegate as much as you can, otherwise, you’ll get swept up in so much planning and organising that you don’t take the time to relax and enjoy your day. Look into your husband or wife’s eyes, take stock of the guests you’ve invited, take pleasure from the details you’ve brought to life, and just breathe. Be happy and appreciate the reason for the day: to declare your lifelong love for your special person.
Whether you want a big wedding or just a small registry office do with a meal to follow, make sure your day is the kind of day you want. Get your future husband or wife involved too since it’s also their big day, ask family and friends for advice, and ask people to pitch in to make your day as stress-free as possible.
Let other brides know on social media the best advice you had on your wedding day and the best advice you have to give. What did you do well? What would you have changed? Did you enjoy your big day? We can’t wait to see and be sure to share some snaps too!