Well, it's here at last, the Royal Wedding. I truly hope that Prince William and his bride Kate Middleton have a wonderful day. However grand and lavish the affair is, I have to say I don't envy them the pressure they must be feeling having so many people watching them take their vows. I remember nervously hoping I'd remember my own and we only had a few guests who were all close friends and family… it must be much more nervewracking with so many people watching!
I'm sure that the day itself will run without a hitch due to immaculate planning. And you'd want it to run smoothly if you'd spent as much money as a Royal Wedding costs. Which is why I have decided to finally write a post on how we managed to have a beautiful wedding for just £1700!
When I first started thinking about wedding planning, I thought we'd be lucky to manage it for £3000, and I must say that having such a tight budget did mean our choices were somewhat limited. But with careful consideration, plenty of imagination, and a lot of shopping around, we had the day of our dreams for half our original budget. Which meant we managed to bring the wedding forward a year, and did so without breaking the bank.
Budget weddings don't have to be cheap. They don't have to be small. And they don't have to be less than you dreamed of. They just take a bit of time and effort to plan. So, without further ado, here is how we did it.
This was our first concern, because without a venue we couldn't have a wedding. We wanted something fairly intimate but with enough space to hold up to 100 guests. This village hall was ideal, because it has plenty of parking space, an outdoor area for photos, a large kitchen suitable for the caterers, and two function rooms plus a bar. This meant that we could set up the large room for our blessing ceremony, then move the guests into the second room for drinks and chatter while the large room was rearranged ready for the meal. Later in the day these two rooms had the benefit of giving us a place to send our guests post-meal for some live music while the tables were cleared and the disco set up.
The village hall cost us just over £100 for the day, including staff for the bar and we were able to specify if there were certain drinks we wanted the bar to provide, plus the wine we wanted them to provide for the tables at dinner (which, incidentally, was paid for by Tim's parents, so didn't affect our budget). So much cheaper than a hotel venue, and although it meant we had to do a fair amount of decorating, clearing and cleaning ourselves, it also gave us much more freedom. The best part being that once the caterers left, we had free run of the kitchen to make cups of coffee, grab a snack and generally just natter away from the noise of the disco.
Talking of caterers (the above photo is of my mum, not the caterers, but I have no photos of the food and this is the closest thing as she is carrying the menu in her hand!), they were our largest expense at £650. But they were magnificent. They provided jacket potatoes cooked in a traditonal victorian potato oven, with a selection of 8 different fillings (cheese, baked beans, coleslaw, tuna mayo, chilli con carne, chicken curry, lentil bolognaise and unfortunately I forget what the eighth one was!) The helpings were huge and seconds were offered. A side salad finished off the dish and then the whole meal was completed with either apple pie or bread and butter pudding. Everybody commented on how much the enjoyed the meal.
The £650 paid for this for 60 guests, plus a cheese and cracker platter for 100 guests in the evening. I swear, we could have fed 200 guests for the amount of cheese and crackers we had left at the end of the night, and people were being sent home with pieces wrapped in kitchen foil!
I get ahead of myself though, because before we even got to our "venue" we had our official wedding ceremony at the local register office. We opted for the most basic option (which basically meant we had no readings during the ceremony and the music was chosen for us) because we were having our own blessing ceremony later in the day. So this put us back around £300 altogether.
We chose only to have the very closest family members there, as for us this was just a legal requirement and the main part of our wedding was the blessing ceremony that I had written with a friend and which was led by family members and friends of both Tim and myself. We held this with our other guests at our venue and it cost us nothing, but meant the world to us!
We were lucky in that my uncle owns a Bentley and got one of his mates to drive us to first the register office, then to the local Arboretum where we were having some photos taken, and then to our venue. So this cost us abolutely nothing.
Now, I know not everybody has an uncle with a posh car… but this is just an example of one of the ways we saved a ton of money, because we called in favours from friends and family alike. Everybody was so eager to help out that we had a lot of our costs cut by accepting the help of others.
This is another example of how we cut a huge cost from our wedding day. I spent hours searching for a budget photographer, but even those who only attended for the ceremony and a few photos directly following it were charging a good £400 upwards. There was no way I was spoiling our budget that way.
So, I called on the help of friends and family. Most people have a decent digital camera these days, so to begin with we just asked people to bring a camera and be a bit "snap happy". Then we asked three people we knew were extra keen on photography to do the same. My bridesmaid's dad came to the house to take some photos before we left. My cousin acted as "official photographer" in the register office as we had to have a single appointed photographer during the ceremony. And then a friend offered her time following us around the local Arboretum on a mini "photo shoot", which was so much fun and so relaxed because we could call the shots rather than a photographer making us do things we weren't comfortable with. Between the three of them, we ended up with hundreds of photos to choose from, all of them far more intimate than if we had used a professional photographer who didn't know us.
The dress (and other outfits)
This is one of THE major costs for most brides and something I was unsure about when I first started looking. I considered getting a second hand dress but never saw any I liked enough to try on. So then I started looking in department stores and saw some pretty ones for around £200, but again never any that jumped out at me. And then, one lunchtime, I hit the jackpot.
My sister had seen a dress in Monsoon that she thought might be suitable for the bridesmaids to wear, so I trotted off on my lunchbreak to have a look. I didn't like the bridesmaid dress, but I did notice some wedding dresses in the sale… and one of them was just perfect. I ran back to my office and asked one of my colleagues to come and see what it looked like on me. We ran back and I tried it on and I fell in love, but because it was the only dress I had tried on I felt a bit impulsive buying it straight off, so managed to persuade them to hold on to it for me, despite it being a sale item.
Of course, it was the perfect dress for me and I knew this about 5 minutes after returning to work. So I ran back after the office closed and bought it that evening. And guess what… the dress that should have cost £200 new, cost me a mere £60 and was in perfect condition. It was simply reduced to clear the rails for the next season's styles.
So, I bagged my dream dress for next to nothing. So my advice to any bride looking for a beautiful yet budget dress is to scour the department stores as most only top about £200, and don't forget sales are a great time to bag an even bigger bargain!
My shoes came next and, having only spent £60 on my dress, I was determined not to spend too much on them. I spent two days shopping with a friend looking for shoes that would match my dress and fit my style, and eventually I found some in Debenhams that were ivory silk and of a style that would work for a wedding or non-wedding function. They cost me just short of £40. I plan on having them dyed a nice bright colour like turquoise, red or purple, to wear with jeans or a skirt when going out!
The bridesmaid's dresses came from Debenhams, their jackets came from an outlet store, and the flowergirl's dresses came from Boyes (in fact, one flowergirl borrowed her dress from a family member who had chosen the same dresses for her own wedding and had one in the right size for my youngest flowergirl). Altogether their outfits set us back about £150, whilst they provided their own shoes and bags.
And then we bought a suit for both the groom and best man, both from Matalan and costing less than £100 each. The two ushers provided their own suits as we weren't bothered about them matching the groom.
These were a gift from my mother-in-law, so cost us nothing. We made practical use of wedding gifts, asking people for things like these rather than letting people buy us things that, although lovely, were not so helpful. We weren't bothered what the metal was, so long as it was white and fairly hard-wearing, and so left the choice of rings up to my mother-in-law. In fact we didn't even try them on until the night before the wedding, which was rather "laid back" of us, but was also quite exciting!
I know most people like to choose their own rings, but we honestly never really worried too much about this. Tim isn't a big ring wearer and actually finds with having to wash his hands regularly at work that sometimes wearing a ring can irritate him. So we knew going in he might not wear it every day. And I had initially suggested we only buy a ring for him, as I had my engagement ring (which was a second-hand one, passed on from a family member) and was more than happy to simply keep wearing that. I know we are probably quite unique in not putting more store in the rings, but that's just the way we felt about it.
Why am I telling you this? Well, there are usually certain things that you know you just have to have for your wedding and then there will be just as many things that, though traditional, don't really bother you that much. Finding out what is essential for you and what would be nice but you would be just as happy either not having it or letting someone else buy it for you as a gift is a great way of meeting a tight budget!
All of our bouquets were made from silk flowers, bought from a local warehouse. My own bouquet was handtied red roses. We then had two pre-made bouquets with white roses for the two adult bridesmaids, a smaller red bouquet for my eldest flowergirl and two little balls of red rose buds for our two youngest flowergirls. Altogether the cost was £50… much less than using fresh flowers and we now have my bouquet to keep. In fact, it makes a lovely centrepiece when placed in a vase for celebrations such as Christmas and birthdays.
We did have fresh flower arrangements on each of the tables at our reception, as well as fresh floral corsages for the closest family members, but these were all picked out of my parents' garden and my mum and I made them up a couple of days before the wedding. So our only outlay was on a few bits of oasis and some sweet little ramekin pots that are now in our kitchen cupboard and come in handy all the time!
We cut a huge cost by making most of the decorations ourselves. I hand-painted the table names with autumn leaves in watercolour. The frames they sat in cost £2 each and are now used around the house to display photos. My parents made sweet little chairbacks to cover the plastic chairs provided, which were either taken home by guests as mementos or kept by me. I have a box full that still need to be turned into cushion covers or bags. We cut out leaf shapes in autumn colours and printed out information on the different trees for each table to use as placemats instead of having too strict a table plan. And friends of the family sent crocheted hearts in autumn colours which we strung around the place to carry the autumn theme throughout the venue.
I don't have an exact cost for the materials used as first of all some of the items were gifts (like the crocheted hearts) and some of them used items I already had (like the watercolour paintings and leaf-shaped placemats). The biggest cost was the material for the chair backs, but as we used a lining material that was on offer and just small amounts of coloured material to decorate them with, this was pretty minimal too.
The cake and the favours
Our cake was made by the mother of one of my sister's friends. We met her before the wedding and explained we wanted a simple cake with an autumn leaf theme, and provided her with some of the paper leaves we had used on the wedding invites (which, incidentally, my mum made for us, again cutting our costs). She came up trumps with the gorgeous cake… one layer of fruit, one layer of sponge, and one layer of gluten-free cake. It was massive and we were sending pieces home with people for ages after the wedding. It set us back £165, part of which my sister paid as a wedding gift.
The favours were made up my my parents and consisted of chocolate hearts and chocolate leaves in a silver organza bag. The bags were bought off eBay and the chocolates from our local market. You'll have to forgive me as I forget just how much it cost to provide 60 wedding favours but I it can't have been overly expensive as I remember us discussing how much we were willing to spend and it wasn't much.
We had two lots of entertainment at our wedding: a live musician who played a variety of songs for our guests after the meal, allowing them to relax and chat amongst themselves as the food went down; and a disco that ran all evening.
The musician (Jonathan Nowell) is someone my grandma knows through her church and she offered to pay for him to come and play for an hour, which was wonderful. We told him we wanted a repertoire that would suit a variety of age ranges and tastes, and he came up trumps… in fact the flowergirls loved dancing along while the rest of us rested our legs and had a good natter.
And the disco was provided by my cousin as a wedding gift, as he regularly did discos for events just like ours and decided it was the best thing he could offer us as a gift… and he was right! People had a good old dance, and even got to look at some of the photos from the day as my "photographers" uploaded their pics into his computer, from where he was able to display them as a montage on a screen at the front of the disco.
So, our entertainment didn't cost us a single penny, and was much loved by all!
The Other Bits
There were, of course, odd little extras such as the wedding invites and a few bags of crisps, nuts and things for the evening, but these were so minimal that we can say that they all came to less than £50. My mum made the invites, keeping costs down, and all of the decorations like the table names were made using materials we already had at home.
The Wedding Night
Tim and I decided not to have a honeymoon because we knew we wanted to start trying for a baby shortly after the wedding was over and felt the money would be much better spent on things for a family than a couple of weeks away. We had been lucky enough to travel to Italy the year before for another friend's wedding and as this was where Tim proposed, it was a magical holiday in itself. And after all, we had lived together for almost 3 years at this point, so we didn't need that "adjustment" period!
We did, however, spend the wedding night at a local hotel, in a four poster bed, courtesy of my parents as a wedding gift. It was a lovely night, waking up to look over the Arboretum where we had had our photos taken the day before, and we couldn't have asked for more.
The Grand Total: £1700 approx.
I say "approximately" as I have rounded up certain things like the cost of materials for the chairbacks and any little extras I may have forgotten.
Everybody commented on how beautiful and relaxed the day was and Tim and I certainly had a fantastic time!
So, you see, weddings don't have to cost as much as the average wedding costs these days, as long as you are willing to look very carefully at your budget and work out where you can make savings. Of course, if you have the money to spash out, then have fun doing so… but I wanted to write this post to inspire brides-to-be like I was who want the wedding of their dreams and don't want to have to put it off for years just because of finances. It pays to be a bit "savvy"… many venues and suppliers will double, triple and even quadruple their costs if you even mention the word "wedding", and cheaper options are often available, you just have to be willing to do a bit more work yourself.
I do hope that this post might help someone planning their big day, even if it just saves someone a couple of hundred pounds here and there.