I went to two weddings last weekend, at opposite sides of the British Isles.
For practical reasons my girlfriend and had to drive from one to the other, which meant getting up at 7am on the Sunday after hitting the pillow at 3am the night before.
Roadworks on the Sunday morning also saw us getting dressed for the second wedding behind an outbuilding in a car park. You can’t fake class like that.
Attending two weddings in a weekend was great fun, but far too expensive. My personal finance tip would be to have less friends, so it’s less likely to happen to you.
When it comes to money and hosting weddings though, I realised that actually I do have something useful to offer.
I might be something of a perpetual bachelor (note: bribing all those brides to throw the bouquet away from my partner doesn’t come cheap!) but I’ve been to a couple of dozen weddings over the years, and watched what works and what isn’t worth the money.
Here then are a few less ordinary tips for any brides, grooms or anxious parents on how to throw a wedding on a budget from the point of view of the most important person there – the bride, the bride’s best friend, me!
They’re a little less tongue-in-cheek than my intro suggests, and I’m sure they’ll save you money without spoiling the big day. Your wedding is naturally important but it’s only one day of the rest of your life.
Also, note that my title says ‘good-value wedding’, as opposed to ‘cheap’. I’m not saying don’t have a blast. I’m just saying don’t throw common sense out of the window.
1. Save for the wedding first
This is by far the biggest money-saving move you can make to cut the cost of your wedding, but almost nobody does it.
The average UK wedding costs £25,000, and many couples pay for it with a personal loan over a decade or more.
Given that the average marriage only lasts 11 years (see point 7 below), there’s a good chance your wedding debt could outlast your marriage.
Starting married life with £25,000 of debt is insane, even by the standards of the modern world. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it is. It also explains perhaps why so many people get divorced.
The statistics are already against your marriage lasting. Don’t make it worse by loading yourselves up to the hock from day one.
Two people saving £200 a month each at a very realistic 5% interest could amass over £30,000 between them over 10 years. (Obviously I’m suggesting we start saving before we meet our partner, rather than all marrying in our forties!)
Alternatively, an 18-year old could amass a £30,000 wedding fund by the time he or she was 28 saving £150 a month. (As could parents saving for a child’s wedding…)
Marrying younger, or saving later? Then cut your cloth. People are having Mama Mia! style weddings in Greece for £3,000.
I realise these are big sums to save for many people (though perhaps not all Monevator readers) but if you’re going to have an expensive wedding, you’re going to have to pay for it somehow.
£25,000 debt will cost you £35,000 over ten years at 7% – that’s £10,000 extra you could instead spend on a car, your new kids, a family kitchen or even a few romantic dinners every year, for a long time after the wedding is half-forgotten.
2. Invite MORE people
Okay, having started on a downer, the rest of my suggestions are a bit more fun. And what could be more fun than inviting more people?
I say invite more people for two key reasons:
- Weddings where you know more people are much more of an event.
- Lots of your wedding costs are fixed, so your incremental costs are low.
For instance, if you’re hiring a venue, booking entertainment, and spending thousands of pounds on clothes for the wedding party, you can probably stand to invite another 10-20 people at say £50 a head.
Far too many weddings are packed to the doors with blank faces from dusty branches of the family that nobody knows or spends the rest of the year avoiding.
If you’re going to have a big marriage, then at least make sure all the people that matter are there.
It will cost you more in nominal terms, but in terms of value for money it makes sense to push for more people.
3. Do something cheap and funky with invitations
Don’t spend a fortune on special bespoke wedding stationary. Nobody cares except your mum and your mother-in-law.
I understand some women spend hours if not months fussing over this stuff (I don’t mean to be sexist, but it is virtually always women).
Forget it all – expensive bespoke flowers, live fish in fancy bowls, and gift bags for guests (they have a fancier name that I don’t know). Just do something simple and elegant and concentrate on having fun.
In terms of stationary, you often won’t even get decent RSVPs posted back any more, just an email or even a text message, which really negates the value.
And your £10-an-invite stationary will end up as landfill.
One wedding I went to recently did the invites on nice ‘Conqueror’ paper in the style of a funky and minimalist club flyer. (Honestly, it was better than it sounds – no lurid pics of gyrating girls in hotpants etc).
An idea I’ve had is to send invites via cheesy tourist postcards from the town where the wedding is to be held.
Far cooler than some gilded invite that looks and reads like a parchment from The Lord of the Rings.
4. Offer a hot or even a cold buffet
Like I said in the intro I’ve been to a couple of dozen weddings, and generally the food has been lovely.
But I can only remember two of the meals I’ve had (not counting last weekend’s meals – I’m not senile!)
One was at a wedding where the bride was Nigerian, and her family contributed amazing African dishes for a hot buffet. I can still remember the awesome goat curry to this day.
Another was a buffet where the queue for the food was a great ice-breaker amongst guests who’d otherwise be stranded on their table islands for most of the evening.
i.e. Both meals I remember were buffets.
You can usually buy more interesting food for much less money if you do a buffet – especially a cold one – and you need far fewer staff to serve it.
Really, I know the place you looked at said it will serve food as part of the package, but that package costs a fortune and there’s only so many mass catering meals anyone wants to eat in their life.
Do something interesting and cheaper instead. You’re getting married, not opening an Angus Steak House.
Special bonus tip #1
Marry a Muslim or a member of some other teetotal community, or convert yourself at a push. So-called ‘dry’ weddings will save you a fortune, and in my experience (as a confirmed drinker!) the novelty means they’re just as much fun, especially if there’s a with-drinks reception later (see tip 6 below).
5. Tap your friends’ talents
Most people have some friends who can play the guitar, sing, bang some drums or spin some turntables.
Virtually all of them will be delighted to be asked to perform on the big day, which can save you thousands on your reception – getting professional musicians to spend Saturday night playing to your Aunt Nora isn’t cheap.
Your musically inclined friends are not to be used as slaves – they’re still guests, they get their meal and they don’t work all night. But wedding receptions with a personal touch are far more fun for the guests and usually much cheaper.
I’ve even been to a couple of weddings where friends played during the ceremony as the bride walked down the aisle, and both times it was magical.
If you’ve only got a sister who plays the recorder though, move along.
Also, think twice before asking a friend to take the official photos. Firstly, it’s a lot of hassle and much less fun than playing in a band. More importantly, photos are forever – you need a professional to blame if it goes wrong, and it’s too much pressure to put on a mate.
6. All back to mum and dad’s place
This seems to be a new trend among the younger cool kids of my acquaintance, and whether they’re doing it out of necessity or flair, I’m all for it.
What happens is instead of hiring a venue for the night, you retire to the bride’s parents or uncle’s house for the afternoon or evening reception. (I say bride’s parents because the wedding is almost invariably held in her home town).
The old rich have always done this, of course – I can almost hear Monevator‘s U-readers tittering in the background – but I’m not suggesting you only do it if Daddy has a spare ballroom in the Big House going begging.
At the second of last weekend’s weddings, we retired to a semi-detached house in the suburbs. The back garden was festooned with fairy lights, there were some elegant gazebos erected on the lawn, and a big outdoor grill had been borrowed for the day to serve up endless vegetable and lamb kebabs.
The great thing about this is you often hear a lot about how a wedding is bringing a whole load of people into a family’s life to share in a special day, but in reality it is a lot of near-strangers milling about a town hall or hotel conference room.
This way you really do feel part of the family, and the conversation is much more informal.
Bonus tip #2
Have an interval between events to enable people to change into smart casual clothes for the at-home reception. Far more fun than getting funky in a monkey suit.
7. Draw up a prenuptial agreement
Okay, let’s end where I started – on a realistic note.
The statistics for marriage are not good, let’s be honest. You’re about as likely to get divorced as you are to stay together, assuming it’s your first marriage. After that it gets worse.
Given that prenuptial agreements have been confirmed as having legal weight here in the UK (and always have done in the U.S. as I understand it), I think it’s foolish not to ring-fence any big imbalances in the wealth that you both bring to the partnership.
Sure, once you’re married and making decisions together, I can see an argument for saying that everything you accrue should be divided 50/50.
But the divorce system as it has generally stood can only put wiser asset-rich people off getting married. The chances of the marriage collapsing and half a lifetime of work going with it are just too great.
And if your partner baulks at a prenuptial, you might just have found out something about them that will save you the cost of the wedding entirely…
Conclusion: Have a great wedding!
I hope I haven’t lost you with that last tip, and I sincerely wish you all the best if you or anyone in your family is getting married.
I keep going to weddings, after all – I’m an old romantic at heart! 😉
Got any tips for an affordable yet special wedding? Please do share them in the comments below!