I got married in 2011, on a frightfully low budget. I’d been with Mr B for almost seven years by this point, so we knew the time was right. We also knew we wanted to take complete control over our wedding, and to make sure we could have our wedding, our way, we decided to pay for it all (even though we had a very low combined income). That meant planning how we were going to cut corners on absolutely everything, but still have an awesome time.
Warning: contains extreme budgeting measures; not to everyone’s taste.
Expense no. 1: The Venue
Humanist weddings are not yet legally recognised in England and Wales. Whilst some people see this as a barrier, we see it as a freedom – you do not need to use a licensed venue. More and more places are setting up as wedding venues, applying for a commercial wedding license and charging a grand old sum for the privilege. Of course these venues can be amazing, but were way out of our price range. We had the option of a run-of-the-mill budget hotel wedding package (not really our thing), or find an alternative.
Now I can’t lie, we were incredibly lucky to be renting the gate lodge to a stunning countryside manor house, and the grounds of the estate extended through the woods from our back garden. We rather nervously asked permission from our landlord to use his gardens for our ceremony, and were blown away that he agreed – for no charge. So we got the most beautiful ceremony space for free. You might not be in as fortunate a situation, but my advice is look around. Where do you see yourself getting married? What does the space look like? Inside or outside? Barn? Woodland? Field?
Do you or your family have a lovely big garden to use? Does anyone have a farm or outbuildings you could decorate? Could you be bold enough to ask a private landowner? I’ve conducted weddings in public spaces too – steam railways, bandstands in public parks, and the beach.
(Do be aware that even in a public space you may need to ask permission from the relevant council etc. for what is classed as a ‘gathering’.)
Expense no. 2: The Food
The next biggest expense is usually catering for everyone. A simple way to cut costs is to cut down the number of guests, but there are other ways to feed the (what feels like) five thousand.
Think about the time of your ceremony. Having it around 2 or 3pm means that your guests will have had lunch, so you’ll only need to provide an evening meal.
For our wedding (back in our meat eating days) we had links with the gamekeeper on our estate, who sold us pheasants from the shoots that took place there, at only 50p a brace (two pheasants). We used the meat to make a pheasant stew, with the meat portion working out at 12.5p per person! We also happened to be shopping late at a large national supermarket as they were selling off three whole salmon, in the region of £6-7 each. They went straight into a huge chest freezer and fed loads of our guests. Our veg was bought at our local market. We kept it simple with potatoes, carrots and peas. We asked a local caterer to provide the kitchen staff, and two people to serve (we asked guests to go and get their food table by table rather than have a full waiter service, which saved money and kept a relaxed atmosphere).
We served canapes, made by my mother in law, instead of having a formal starter, and served wedding cake for dessert (see below for cake). Later in the night we had cheese and crackers – did you know you can freeze cheese? We bought huge wheels of it that were being sold off, and froze them until the wedding.
If we were getting married now, we’d probably have an amazing vegan meal, perhaps with a vegan curry, homemade hummus and guacamole dips for starter, and fruit with aquafaba meringues and soya cream. (Ok, maybe not to everyones taste but we’d love it!)
Other ideas for extreme moneysaving are approaching local food waste organisations and see if you can get some cheap or free perfectly edible food that would otherwise be wasted. They may even be able to help you cook and serve it. Or for a village feast style wedding there’s nothing wrong with asking people to bring some food for everyone to share. Think giant picnics…
If all that seems a bit much, have a look into ‘relaxed dining’ rather than a formal sit-down meal. Food trucks, fish and chips, burgers – people love them. The best wedding meal I’ve had is probably being served pie and mash in a barn. If you’re planning to party late into the night, serve robust and recognisable snacks like 9pm pizza or cheese on toast, rather than flimsy doll-sized canapes. Your guests will thank you for it.
Expense no3. – The Champagne.
Often used as a drink for toasting. Four options:
Serve prosecco or other sparkling wine. Cheaper than champagne and most people won’t notice the difference.
Serve your champagne or prosecco as an artisan cocktail by watering it down with something else – orange (bucks fizz), peach (bellinis), cassis for a wintery wedding, or anything else that looks and tastes great.
Serve something else. Why just champagne? Try Pimms for summer or mulled cider for winter. Yeah, it’s not a traditional toasting drink but, hey, it’s your wedding! And you could always opt for alcohol-free sparkles.
Fourth way (what we did), make your own elderflower champagne! We used Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s recipe and made a big vat of it (https://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/sparkling-elderflower-wine) For 75 guests it cost us about £10 to make, tasted great, and totally impressed everyone.
Expense no.4 – The Dress
For me, this one was easy. To acquire your dream dress for potentially no cost: buy second hand and sell second hand.
Like cars, wedding dresses lose value the moment you use them. I bought my Essence of Australia dress for £300 on ebay. That included shipping, a professional storage box and a hoop. Plus it had been dry cleaned. At the time it was still being sold in wedding dress stores for £1,200. Straight after the wedding I listed it and the hoop on ebay (stating ‘not dry cleaned’), and they sold for £315. I made a small profit.
I knew I was never going to wear it again, and I’m not sentimental about things like that. We had also just moved house and had no-where to store it. I knew that if I held onto it for a while before selling, its value would have dropped as the style became less ‘current’. And it felt kinda nice that someone else would be getting joy out of it too.
Expense no.5 – The Transport
It’s a classic case of ‘who you know’. If you need a nice car, does anyone have one you could use? Add an ivory ribbon to any ‘nice’ car (that’s a posh make, vintage car or quirky camper etc.) and it becomes a wedding car. My local florist is even offering the use of their 1972 baby blue VW camper van to get to the wedding if you buy your wedding flowers from them!
Another option is to go for a classic London black cab. Looks chic and metropolitan, and you can find them all over, not just in London.
Third option – don’t use fancy transport. I knew my guests would already be seated when I arrived for the ceremony and wouldn’t see me arrive. My sister and chief bridesmaid simply drove me down in my little Peugeot cabriolet.
Expense no 6. The Cake
Gone are the days where you need an immaculate 3-5 tier professionally iced fruit cake (who likes fruit cake anyway, unless your wedding happens to be on Christmas day).
Who do you know who likes baking? Can they make a cake instead of a wedding gift? As a rule, people generally like to be asked and included – it’s quite an honour. It doesn’t even need to be perfectly iced – ‘naked cakes’ are still on trend (be clear – that’s the cake not the baker). I know of a bride who held a ‘cake competition’ at her wedding, asking people to bring in an entry with them, which the bride and groom judged and gave rosettes to, before the guests scoffed the lot.
For my wedding I asked my best friend’s mum to make her special yoghurt cake, and my great aunt to make her signature sultana cake – both were so nostalgic for me and were such a touching gesture.
Other alternatives – forgo the big whopper and have individual cupcakes instead, again, maybe made by friends or family. Anyone can bake a cupcake! Just make or source a fancy or novel stand (then probably sell that later too). Or… if you’re gonna put a ring on it have a doughnut tower. My local supermarket sells 12 perfectly iced pink doughnuts for £2.50!
Expense no. 7 – The Flowers
Fresh flowers, artistically arranged by a florist are exquisite – and expensive. We’re talking about two things here: the venue decoration and the bouquets/ posies/ buttonholes.
Whether you need flower decorations very much depends on your venue. If you’re holding your ceremony outside, you might have flowers and foliage all around you anyway. Mr B’s nanny grew some lovely big pots of flowers to frame our aisle, which she let us keep afterwards. You might find you can use fake flowers, candles or paper cranes as decoration instead. If you’re getting married in an established venue, or at Christmas, you might already have enough decoration without adding floral displays.
For my bouquet, and my bridesmaids, plus buttonholes, Mr B’s nanny and her gardening friend grew some lovely roses and sweet peas which were tied together beautifully with ribbon. One of my previous brides had a last minute bouquet emergency and had to pick up a bunch of flowers from M&S. Add some ribbon, and I guarantee that no-one was the wiser. Another crafty bride of mine made a paper bouquet, which looked amazing and will last forever.
Expense no. 8 – Confetti
Sure, you can buy the cheap paper cut outs from your nearest card shop and we’ll stop there. This is really for those of you, perhaps having an outdoor wedding, that want the natural petal confetti. There are some great suppliers, but not always cheap! In the 12 months leading up to my wedding, I’d buy a £2 bunch of roses whenever the house needed brightening up. As the roses died I’d simply pick off the head and they’d all unravel – dozens of petals. I just let them dry and had loads of them stored for the big day (although I never actually used them on the day, but that’s another story*)
Expense no. 9 – Invitations and stationary
Save the date, invitations, maps, order or service cards… the cost of stationary can really mount up. We made our own invitations from a stock image, blue ribbon and sealing wax, then bought nice card and printed them all out. They were quite ‘classic’ and I’d probably have made them a little bit more funky now, but they worked well at the time. Now there are a host of online templates to suit any theme (search ‘wedding invite’ on https://graphicriver.net/). Invitation templates are about $4-6 dollars, so just add your own details, cut out the middleman, print and go.
Expense no. 10 – Rings
You can spend an unlimited amount of money on your wedding rings. We went ring shopping and I picked out a ring that was all sparkles – an eternity ring that had delicate little diamonds all the way round. It was beautiful, and around £1,400. I found a very similar ring in a high street jewellers for £900, and they’d even let me have it for £750 (must have been some quota they needed to meet). I also tried a ring designer – I showed them the picture of what I wanted and they said they could replicate it for around £650. That’s less than half the price of my first quote. And then I shelved the idea. In reality, there was no way we were going to spend that much on a ring. A ring is just a token, a symbol of something deeper, something priceless. It doesn’t need a lot of value in itself.
Mr B’s ring was £50. We bought it second hand. It came boxed up with the receipts showing its value of £395. Some people may be superstitious about buying a second hand wedding ring, but I quite liked the idea that it wasn’t the rings fault it was no longer required, and it felt nice to give it a second chance at fulfilling its purpose.
My wedding ring cost £40. I bought it on ebay, brand new. It’s thin, plain and made of palladium. And I love it. We said at the time that we could always upgrade our rings when we were at a different stage of life. Well we’ve been married for five years and still wear those original rings. Who knows – maybe we’ll do a renewal and ring ceremony for our tenth anniversary. Or maybe we won’t.