My top 5 money-saving wedding hacks
So we all know that weddings cost money. Often, quite a lot of money. As soon as that ring finger is decked out in diamonds, the planning begins...and the ideas grow...and before you know it you have a spiralling wish list and an over-stretched budget.
I remember that feeling all too well when I was planning my own wedding 4 years ago. From the moment my then-boyfriend whipped out a ring on a bridge over the Thames, my head began to buzz with ideas. Having worked in the wedding industry for 10 years I had stumbled across so much beautiful inspiration for venues, decor, dresses...stationery, favours, food...it was exciting and overwhelming in equal measures, and the temptation to go all-out was stronger than I’d expected.
However, I also knew that we didn’t have money to burn and with our house mid-renovation we simply couldn’t afford the average UK wedding - at that point around £20k*. If we wanted the day of our dreams we would have to be savvy.
I threw myself into planning, not only with huge enthusiasm but also a steadfast determination to have our day without it costing a small fortune. I’ve always been stubborn (ask my husband...) so it became a challenge to beat the system.
It was important to us that we had a day which reflected who we are and was relaxed and informal, but still beautiful. We had nearly 100 guests, some of whom had travelled a decent way to be with us so we wanted to make sure they felt really included in the whole day, and this meant ceremony right through to reception. Most of all we wanted everyone to enjoy it, which meant plenty of good food and drink and a fun, friendly atmosphere. And all on a sub-10k budget.
So how did we pull it off?
Well, everybody’s happy place is different right? But for us it had to be a city wedding in summer. August is probably the quietest of the summer months for weddings, so that worked for us in terms of finding venues that had availability and were not too pricey (some even offered us a discount). We started with a civil ceremony in the grand yet intimate Council Chamber at Islington Town Hall, hopped on a private-hire London bus to our reception venue (a Victorian-built pub secreted away in the back streets of Clerkenwell) and partied the night away with simple, delicious food and plenty of prosecco. It just felt like a lovely afternoon in your local pub (with extra fairy lights and cake).
I’m a lover of DIY and craft so I took on everything I could during our 4 month engagement - I made the cake, I designed the stationery, I made the seating plan and table decorations and bought the flowers wholesale to be bunched together haphazardly into bouquets the day before. I loved every second. Friends and family were fundamental in making all this happen and I handed out little jobs left, right and centre. My best friend took my crazy idea for cake toppers and made it happen with some toys from John Lewis and scraps of fabric.
I bought ‘high street’ dresses for some of my bridesmaids and tailored them myself. For the others I bought ready-to-wear samples at a great price from my friend, the insanely-talented designer Charlie Brear, who also made and gifted me the dress of my dreams. I asked my bridesmaids to buy their own shoes and pay for their own makeup, and do you know what? They didn’t mind one bit. It meant they got to wear shoes they actually liked! They were also incredibly patient with me when I asked them to make 100 paper cranes to use as place cards...
I know doing it this way won’t work for everyone but it definitely did for us. The feeling of achievement at having done so much ourselves only added to our enjoyment of the day.
If you don’t have the DIY bug there are definitely lots of other ways to keep costs low. Here are my 5 top wedding hacks. Things we did and things we should have done to create a day we were proud of - and also enjoyed a hell of a lot - without busting the budget.
Use your friends...but be willing to pay for it.
This may seem like a strange piece of advice for saving money, but it’s all about balance. We are both always keen to avoid asking too much of people as we don’t want to take advantage. But if you have friends with skills you could use, paying them ‘mates rates’ is a great way to get exactly what you want at a discounted rate without the guilt of asking for their help for free.
We have beautiful, relaxed wedding pictures - exactly what we wanted - because I asked a photographer friend in the fashion industry if she could do me a good deal. Her rate was half what most wedding photographers wanted to charge us - still a big chunk of money but because she was being paid she did a professional job.
What I also learned during this process is that people LOVE being involved when it comes to a wedding, so you may find just being willing to pay is enough and they’ll insist on doing it for free anyway...
Find your compromise.
Wedding planning on a budget means that compromise is going to have to happen somewhere, so get organised and figure out where you can cut corners before you even start.
Download a wedding planner list (Pinterest has a ton to choose from) and look through it, highlighting the things that are important to you and adding notes as you go - it might be the dress you’ve coveted for 3 years, or having amazing live entertainment, or a venue big enough to house everyone you know without having to chop down the guestlist . Now pick the top 3 items from that list - these are the things that you can hold on to - no matter what, you both agree not to compromise. The other items you’ve highlighted are the things you compromise on - you still have them, but you compromise. Did you quite fancy a ride in a Jag to the reception venue? Well, maybe just get on the bus with your friends instead...you’ve got the rest of your life to be alone with your other half!
And what about the other items on the list, that you didn’t highlight? Split them in to things you need and things you don’t - keep it simple with the former and forget about the latter. Remember it’s your day, if something isn’t important to you then why pay for it?
Think outside the (venue) box.
By far one of the biggest spends for your big day will be the venue. If you want the convenience of a space which is set up ready to go with all the bells and whistles you can have it, but it’ll probably cost you. Instead, search around for places which maybe aren’t a traditional venue, or those you would need to dress yourselves - a cute church hall or basic barn. Our pub venue was an absolute gem which we found after much googling. As they had only quite recently begun offering wedding hire they weren’t known for it and therefore their prices were incredibly reasonable. Don’t be afraid to ask your favourite local if they’ll host your day - we asked lots who don’t usually do weddings. Many were receptive and the costs varied hugely so it’s always worth an ask . Our runner up venue was a beautiful cafe / gallery / workspace on the canal in Hackney - the building was AMAZING and food out-of-this-world. The thing that made it affordable is that we would have had to share - whilst we were in the beautiful gallery with our guests, the rest of the building would still be open to the public.
Do some professional borrowing.
On a day to day basis I tend to avoid hiring goods and equipment as it feels like wasted money. Hire a carpet cleaner for £50? Why, when you could buy one for a hundred and use it whenever you like?? But when it comes to weddings - something you’re only planning to do once - it really is the money-savvy way forward. If you find that great-but-basic space, hire yourself a ton of decorations from someone like The Surrey Wedding Company for a fraction of the cost and hassle of buying them. Rope in some friends to help put them up on the wedding morning so you don’t have to stress. It’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper (and in my opinion much more fun!) to design your own decor.
Week-Day is the new Week-End.
It’s an obvious one but definitely something you should seriously consider if you don’t want to compromise on big spends like a luxurious venue or dream designer threads. A weekday wedding could save you up to £6,000** so have a think about whether that could work for you and your guests. Monday - Wednesday are where you’ll make the biggest savings, but even opting for a Friday or Sunday could shave off a fair chunk.
Also think about timings in general - June and September are the most popular months to get married in the UK so wedding vendors and venues are likely to charge more at that time. Keeping your day short by getting married at 5pm means you only have to feed people once. Or if you definitely want a full day of celebrations then maybe just invite your nearest and dearest to the day and throw a huge party for everyone in the evening? And whilst it might seem financially counter-intuitive to spread your nuptials across more than one day, it could actually work out cheaper to have a small wedding and celebration with your besties in an amazing, intimate venue, followed by a cocktails and canapes type-affair the next day for the full list.
I hope those pointers are helpful, but more than anything I’d say you need to enjoy your day. Full. Stop. Really think about what would make you happy rather than what you think you should be doing and plan for that. So even if you go over budget, at least you'll know you've only paid for things you love!
*Figures from Hitched.co.uk wedding cost survey 2015 and 2018
**Figures from bridebook.co.uk 2019 wedding report