Emily Leary pulls together all the very best affordable wedding ideas from the women who have done it.
Let’s face it, most of us are a little obsessed with the idea of a lavish wedding – and how could we not be? Think of films we came of age with, like The Wedding Singer, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Runaway Bride. Even if there wasn’t ‘wedding’ or ‘bride’ in the title of a film, you could bet that the movie would involve an extravagant wedding at some point. It was an epidemic amongst 80s, 90s and early 00s rom coms (and also in Julia Roberts’ early career.)
With all of that being ingrained in our tiny psyches, it’s natural that most of us grew up wanting a big (expensive) celebration on our special day. We wanted the designer dress, the 5 tier cake and the big fuck off band.
But, we also know the harsh realities of living in 2019. We’re aware of the diminishing chances of us ever owning a house and the absolute craziness of spending north of 30K on one party. An average wedding in the UK now costs £30,355. This isn’t because couples are getting more lavish, it’s due to wedding supplier costs increasing by 12% between 2017 and 2018. Even if you cut back on costs like videographers and entertainment, you’re still looking at an average cost of about £17,913 for your wedding.
It’s difficult to justify a huge price tag wedding, especially in your 20s. You have other goals, right? Paying off your uni debt, travelling, buying a house and raising some kiddies are just some of the big ticket items most of us are saving our pennies for. Besides, how can you justify paying for a wedding worth thousands, if only a few years ago you were living off microwave beans on campus?
However, if you have your heart set on a big wedding, there are some tricky things you can do to make it happen. A classy, millennial wedding that doesn’t send you broke is achievable guys! It just takes some crafty footwork and the drive to hunt for better deals. Read below and find some frugal, yet sophisticated ways to pull off your dream wedding.
Ever heard of e-vites? They’re eco-friendly and cost nothing! If you have your heart set on paper invites for your wedding, then at least do the Save the Date cards via email – it’ll save you a bundle on graphic designers, printers and paper. If you go with paper wedding invitations, see if there are any free templates you like online so that you can cut down on creative costs.
Venue hire will usually hit your wedding budget hard, especially if you opt for any of their inclusions or packages, for which they’ll usually surcharge. A wedding venue in the UK costs about £2,790 while the reception venue will cost you around £3,919. But, before you choose a pricey venue, see what your options are in the way of public places and private properties. If the weather is on your side, then getting married in a picturesque park or on a beach could be perfect, (just make sure you have a bad weather back up.) It’s also worth hitting up any generous, wealthy friends or family who many have access to a stunning private property that they are willing to donate for the day as you wedding gift.
However, the best way to cut down on your venue costs is to cull you guest list. A reception room for 200 people will cost a pretty penny more than a venue for 75-100 guests. People are opting more and more for smaller weddings, so this could be a smart way to curb the chaos and save quite a few bucks!
Jess, 24, cut her guest list down to just 45 people at her wedding last year –
“We each have little families, but we were also pretty brutal at culling the guest list. It ended up being a small wedding, but it was so much more enjoyable because it was more intimate.”
Flowers & Decorations
The best way to cut down on your flower budget is to select only locally grown flowers that are in season. These blooms will cost less and stay fresher longer, not to mention they’re more sustainable than shipping in flowers from out of town. Also, consider opting for less flowers. Perhaps your wedding party can carry flowers at the ceremony but the decorations at the reception can consist of lanterns?
Sarah, 29 went for something quirky, crafty and DIY for her wedding décor –
“We wanted to showcase the art of our creative friends. Instead of buying tonnes of flowers for the table settings, we had our paper artist friend create hundreds of origami animals using beautiful patterned paper for our wedding present. Combined with lanterns and candles, we achieved this beautiful rustic, chic vibe at the reception.”
To avoid a hangry guest situation, its ideal to provide some nibbles, even if you don’t do the whole three course, sit down meal at your wedding. A no-fuzz grazing table or some simple canapés are your best bet if you want to meet in the middle between a sit down dinner and nothing at all. If you’re budget’s tight but you want to provide an open bar, then you might want to place a limit on the bar or put some bottles of wine on the tables. Self-serve is always cheapest! (And you can limit the amount of people who go for spirits over wine by making wine more accessible.)
When it comes to the cake – the days of immaculate, expensive 5 tier wedding cakes are over. We live in the era of tiered cute cupcakes and quirky doughnut wedding towers. Go for something different and you might save yourself a buck or two.
We watched Bride Wars sometime in high school and were taught by Kate Hudson’s and Anne Hathaway’s wedding-obsessed characters that a Vera Wang wedding dress in the end goal. Seeing as the dress in that movie actually costs $6,000 USD, it’s probably not too realistic for a millennial wedding.
Your dream dress is non-negotiable, sure, but there are so many ways you can acquire your dress without breaking the bank. Going for designer or specially made dresses is great, (if you can afford it,) but you might find that places like large retailers, eBay, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, preloved wedding dress stores, and rental shops will have your dream dress hidden somewhere – it just takes a bit of savvy shopping and meticulous research to find it. Going for a preloved dress is also a great for the environment.
Need some thought starters? For something second-hand, try browsing Bride2Bride and Bridal Reloved, while Girl Meets Dress.com and Vonlee Bridal Hire have extensive options if you want to rent your dress. (You only wear it once anyway!) Large retailers like Missguided, ASOS and Topshop now have lines with affordable wedding dresses, with modern designs made from quality fabrics; while Reformation and Fame & Partners also offer beautiful dresses in a slightly higher price range.
You don’t need a big band. You just don’t. Unless your dad is Secretary Cleary and you’re having your wedding reception at a luxury colonial hotel by the water, (Wedding Crashers,) paying a traditional big wedding band is probably not feasible in your 20s.
What are your other options? Well, there’s some pretty reasonably priced DJs out there, while you could also ask a talented friend to play at your reception or ceremony as a wedding gift to you.
You can also try your luck at finding local musicians. Evie, 29, went to her local university and pub to source musicians for her wedding –
“I found a violinist for our ceremony at the uni by sending some emails around. She was keen to do it for the experience and just a small fee. We also saw a local guitarist and singer playing at a pub and approached them to play at our reception. They didn’t charge much because they were just starting out, but they were so good! Because they were students and not necessarily professionals, they charge a whole lot less than a traditional band. But they catered well to our requests and performed amazingly.”
You need a professional photographer, at least for the ceremony and wedding party shots. But if you’re lucky enough to have a photographer friend, then definitely tap into that resource. With wedding photographers costing north of £1K, this is definitely an area in which to be clever.
At the reception, consider placing disposable cameras on each table or around the venue so that your guests can be the photographers. Monica and Chandler did it at their wedding! You’ll find the pics you get back are much more authentic, plus you’ll save alotta mullah by skipping a photographer for the reception. In true millennial fashion, you should either go for a full social media frenzy, or have a strict no social policy, like a celeb. Have a hashtag for people to use when they post their snaps; or, ban smartphones altogether – there is no in-between.
Extra Tip: Negotiate with Vendors
Always search for a bargain and never take the first price vendors give you. Wedding supplier surcharges have driven up prices, but high competition means there’s always room to haggle.
When you call your list of vendors to get their best prices, make sure you don’t mention it’s for a wedding – at first. Get a ballpark figure by asking – ‘how much do you charge to photograph an event for three hours?’ or ‘how much is a decorated cake for a retirement party with 70 guests?’
There’s always a wedding surcharge, and you’ll eventually have to reveal that this service is for a wedding, but you’ll be in a better position to negotiate if the vendor has already revealed their other rates. It’s sneaky, but hey, some extra craftiness may equal a longer honeymoon!
Words: Emily Leary
Illustration: Nina Goodyer