Wedding bells, balls-ups and budgets


IMG_0144It’s that time of year again: wedding season.

I’ve just been to the most wonderful wedding on a beautiful farm in the middle of the countryside. The day was full of carefree fun: playing with my niece, exploring barns, dancing, eating and drinking too much and catching up with people after FAR TOO LONG apart.

It made me think back to my own wedding, nearly two years ago. We’ll be celebrating our anniversary in a few days. See the picture above for a frighteningly accurate depiction of how we looked on the day (I’m on the left).

Our wedding day was, of course, the happiest day of my life. I married my best friend. I wouldn’t change a thing. (Except maybe that one thing about the….nah, forget it, Claire. Move on)

But the weeks, months and even years planning the thing, stressing about the budget and worrying about how our big day compared to other people’s? That wasn’t so good.

There’s always one person in a couple who does the bulk of the organising. That person was me. I was struggling with loads of debt at the time and my girlfriend and I had made a solemn pact that we would not borrow more money for the wedding. I’ m so glad we decided that.

But it meant we had to make really tough decisions. I remember at one point, as we were getting pressured to put this person or that person on the guest list, I broke down in tears in the middle of a phone conversation to a relative. I knew we just couldn’t afford to host any more people, no matter how much we might have wanted them there.

Here’s the thing: organising a wedding is not easy and despite what the glossy magazines might tell you, it is not always fun.

But in the end, we worked our socks off to get the best day we could on the budget we had.

This is my advice for anyone who is planning a wedding at the moment.

  • Work with what you have. Set a budget and include some contingency cash. Things will go wrong and having extra money on hand will alleviate stress. But if you have the budget for a shotgun wedding, you won’t be getting married in a castle. Accepting that is the first part of the battle. Work out the best wedding you can afford on the budget you have. Don’t get attached to a fantasy plan you will never be able to finance.
  • So you can’t afford an identikit wedding? So what??! Consider out-of-the-ordinary options; it can really inject some personality into your big day. We got married at a beautiful old building which is the home of a children’s charity. It was offering better rates than many of the hotels’ wedding packages and as a bonus we knew our cash was going to a good cause. You might want to consider getting married on an unusual day, or out of season, to save cash, or you might consider a pot-luck meal instead of a more formal dinner.
  • If you take people’s money, you also have to accept their input. Parents and other people might be kind enough to help you pay for your big day. But with that donation, they can also reasonably expect to have a say in how their money is spent. You may be pressured to invite great-aunt Nora, have a sit-down meal or hold your big day in a certain place. If you want complete freedom to make your own decisions, you have to pay your own way.
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle with suppliers. Flattery goes a long way. We found a DJ who we really liked, but the company was a little more expensive than the competitors. We fired off an email saying we were dying to book them but couldn’t quite afford their rates. Guess what? We got a discount.
  • Call in any favours you can get. We managed to get friends to perform music, a colleague’s daughter to use her staff discount to help us buy bridesmaids’ dresses and another friend to give us mates’ rates on photography. They may be happy to help, and consider it their wedding present to you. But don’t pressure any of your friends into working on your wedding. They might just want to kick back and enjoy your day with you. Give them the choice.
  • Enter competitions like CRAZY. I won three!! Hair styling on the day, wedding favours and the table plan, all hustled through entering all the contests I could find.
  • Feel free to get crafty, but beware: it may not always be a money saver and certainly isn’t stress-free! We made our own invitations using a kit and embellishing with our own decorations, which worked really nicely. But I also took the mad decision of baking our own three-tier cake with different flavours in each tier, which was really stressful and I’m sure didn’t save that much money, once I got all the stuff I needed.
  • Economise like mad on the areas you don’t care about, so you can spend more on the things you love. I got married in £35 high-street shoes so I could go on a honeymoon to Thailand. If your budget means you can’t do it all, make a list of your priorities.
  • Don’t be afraid to skip things. We didn’t have a wedding car. My wife rocked up in her band’s van and my dad dropped me off. That’s money saved and one fewer contractor to deal with.
  • The most powerful money-saving tip of all is to try your hardest not to see weddings as a showing-off contest. I know that sounds high-and-mighty and I really don’t want it to, because I had a real struggle with this. ‘It’s not a competition’ became the mantra I was often uttering through gritted teeth, not quite believing it. The truth is, you want people to have the most fantastic time at your wedding. Of course you do. But first and foremost, this is about the start of a marriage. Getting into loads of debt for one day is just a heap of stress you don’t need.
  • Lastly, enjoy your day. You may have worked your behind off bringing the damn thing under budget, but when there’s a hitch – say a friend announces at the last minute that they can’t make it – you can either fret over the wasted money on their non-refundable meal and the now-inaccurate table plan, or you can just shrug and let it go. Make a conscious effort to do the latter.

Before I go, I want to give a quick shout out to people struggling to pay to be a guest at weddings. I hear you! It can be a pricey business – the gifts, the outfit, the hotels and especially the hen or stag parties. A warning to people younger than myself: you will hit an age where you inexplicably have five weddings to go to within a few months and you’ll soon be broke, broke, broke, flat broke.

If you’re planning a wedding, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is the wallets of your guests, as you tuck into another meal of cheap noodles to save a few more quid for the big day. But you can help them by keeping any pre-wedding parties affordable, pointing wedding guests towards hotels that would suit all budgets,  letting them know that giving you a gift is optional and hooking them up with other guests (not in that way! Well, maybe…) so they can share rides. They’ll thank you for it!

3 thoughts on “Wedding bells, balls-ups and budgets

  1. Christine says:

    This is very timely! I’m planning my wedding currently. I don’t have a specific vision, and I’m not trying to “win” at the wedding game, but I think I do worry about people finding it inadequate. I should try to shake that off. The people we are inviting are people I consider close friends and family, and I don’t consider them a judgemental group at any other time. Great food for thought!

    1. That’s a great point. People don’t become insufferable snobs just because they are at a wedding. They will be in the mood to enjoy themselves and will be cheering you on all the way! Hope you have a great day.

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