Tying the knot on a budget: why less is more
Getting married should be one of the happiest days of anyone’s life, but it takes plenty of planning – especially if you have a relatively modest budget. Here, Faversham-based groom Neill Barston relives the countdown – and cost! – of his DIY wedding…
Standing on the beach looking out towards sun-kissed blue seas as our wedding reception pictures were taken was a truly magical occasion. It was a surreal, yet wonderful experience almost too hard to express in terms of its effect as a pinnacle of fulfilling our hopes and dreams.
While we had been genuinely overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness in the build up to our big day, there had been the very real concern of how we were in fact going to pull this off on a relatively tight budget.
Then there was the not insignificant issue it was just this March we decided to set our date for July – which would leave many a wedding planner tearing their hair out in frustration.
According to national figures, the average cost of tying the knot stands at a staggering £20,000, and, if some magazines are to be believed, should be planned up to two years in advance. Frankly, we weren’t doing well against either of those counts, but where there is a will there’s a way.
As one of my wisest friends in Kent said to me earlier this year in recalling his own special day, some of the biggest costs relating to a wedding don’t actually have to be a major factor at all.
He explained that his wedding reception took place at his local pub in Rochester for a mere fraction of hiring out a lofty country residence for the day. The thing that was most vital of all, he rightly said, was that you have the people there who matter most to you in the world.
So where to start? Being an academic librarian in Canterbury, my fiancée Catherine loves a spreadsheet, so she was very quickly able to draw up tables for costs of many of the key areas for us to consider.
In terms of venues, we picked up a host of brochures and scoured online for somewhere that really fitted the bill for our purposes. There is in fact a bewildering array of possibilities that could have served us ably.
Kent is awash with amazing options, ranging from relatively modest pubs and hotels, through to lavish locations such as Leeds or Hever castles. These days you can even get married with an exotic backdrop of rhino and giraffes at Port Lympne Animal Park – which naturally comes at a premium. However, deals are always out there to be had, so you shouldn’t be afraid to bargain a little to get what you are after.
This is all the more the case with ideas to be gleaned from the wealth of wedding fairs that now crop up offering everything from dinner table accessories and rings, to mini golf games to entertain guests and an array of blinging motors to whisk off the bride or groom on their big occasion. In truth, the more you can manage yourself, the greater the savings you are likely to make in the end.
For us, with a large percentage of our family in Sussex, a natural choice was the lovely 11th century Norman church in the village of Pagham near Chichester, where Catherine’s sister Rebecca had herself been married.
The fees for this were in fact relatively modest and are on a par with civil ceremony venues in terms of the outlay for a ceremony are concerned. This really is something that’s a highly personal choice, but I’d definitely recommend choosing somewhere you have a real connection with.
In our case, the seafront Grade II listed Dome in my hometown of Worthing is a building that I’ve always had huge affection for after joining a campaign to save it from demolition as a child in the late 1980s. The place has oodles of Edwardian charm and has proved an evocative backdrop for the Emily Lloyd Brit movie, Wish You Were Here.
It was just perfect for us and crucially it cost us less than a number of potential options in either Kent or Sussex, which I was pleasantly surprised by.
Where we were able to save a significant amount of money was in not having a formal sit-down meal for all our 150 or so guests, which from experience is generally not the most memorable part of any wedding.
Instead, we opted for an informal lunch for close family nearby at a lovely Italian restaurant with sea views – which fitted neatly with our theme of having got engaged in Italy last summer.
Clearly, we couldn’t let the bulk of our guests go hungry, so there was an evening buffet available at the Dome reception, which went extremely well. Thinking laterally like this can save you literally thousands.
There are so many smaller detailed items that you can shave money off your budget as well – the cost of wedding invite stationery for example, can run into many hundreds. Like an increasing number of couples, we did those ourselves for a fraction of the cost.
For my part, there were quite a few well-meaning remarks that “I didn’t in fact need to worry about much other than turning up in church”.
While I will readily admit that I may not be world-renowned for my organisation, I found myself thinking there were at least some elements I could assist with – particularly on the fun, entertainment side.
As most who know me will probably testify, one of my grand passions remains anything to do with the arts and music, and I’ve been very fortunate in my career to encounter some very talented creative people who came to our aid.
This is another area that can really leave you with quite a headache, but thankfully a good friend of mine (and talented DJ) Andy Steeples, came to our assistance as his wedding gift to us and brought together a song list at very short notice, which was brilliant. Had he not been available, I would have been prepared to resort to my iPod, which wouldn’t have been a patch on having it all done properly!
Another big expense can be in terms of photography – this was our one real area of luxury. While I’ve plenty of friends who are good with a camera, in my opinion there’s no substitute for professional pictures.
Some firms we looked at were charging well over £1,000 for a day – this really was too much for us. Thankfully, I called on another friend and photographer, Matthew Walker, who did us more than proud for a figure that was much more in line with our budget. So it’s worth shopping around to help you create those memories that will last you a lifetime.
We were very lucky in also being able to make some savings with having another friend, Julie, a demon cake maker who pulled out the stops for us on the day, as did another family friend who saved us hundreds of pounds in very generously providing a wedding car. There were also some things that I really wasn’t expecting – some added glamour was lent to our evening do through my jazz singer friend Gwyneth Herbert. She was also amazing in freeing up her schedule to sing a lightning set including a special dedication as well, which was immensely moving.
“In my opinion there’s no substitute for professional pictures”
This is something that could have added considerable expense, so it’s worth looking at what options you have – many people know at least one person in their wider circle who is in a band or is a singer.
For a couple of hundred pounds extra, we were lucky to add a further touch of fun to proceedings with some ‘marryoke’ in the separate gallery bar of the Dome, which once the night wore on proved a hit with guests.
It could all so nearly not have happened though, as I discovered with less than a week to go, that all the musician’s equipment needed to be fully PAT electrically tested, which I thought would be covered by general insurance, but was not in fact the case. But thanks to some last minute help from a handy local electrical company, we got there in the end. So re-reading the finer print of any contract with venues was the key lesson learned from that unwanted experience so close to our big day.
But as people told us, weddings are never supposed to go 100% as you planned them – that’s just the nature of life, however hard you try and accommodate for every possible scenario.
We were just incredibly fortunate that so many of our friends turned out to celebrate our happiest day. Our parents were a huge help in starting off the finances for it, but we also set up our own wedding fund from our wages, which helped keep an eye on the costs.
I do not know exactly how much Catherine’s beautiful Spanish designer wedding dress cost, but she has an eye for a bargain and her top tip for future brides is to check out the sale rails in bridal shops and get any necessary alterations done by a friend!
Finally, we remain massively indebted to everyone who instead of wedding gifts had offered a contribution towards our honeymoon in Italy, which we enjoyed immensely. I couldn’t think of a better gift anyone could have given us, so it’s little wonder that this is becoming an increasing trend rather than people scrabbling to put together wedding lists crammed with trinkets that frankly may not be needed at all.
So we were very fortunate indeed – managing to gain a late deal in Sorrento, which few could believe we were able to do with just a week or so to spare before tying the knot.
While there were a few very minor hiccups, our wedding really could not have gone any better, and we owe it all to our amazing friends and family – and my wife’s impressive spreadsheets!
Congratulations to the new Mr & Mrs Barston!
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Photographs Matthew Walker