Around this time last year MrsShrink and I tied the knot. In honour of this, I felt I should do the romantic thing and work out how much it cost. The first thing to say is, like our friends Mr and Mrs YFG, we looked at the costs of the average wedding aghast (1). It was actually at one of these £30k+ weddings that MrYFG and I realised we had known each other in real life long before we began commenting on each others blogs. The average wedding in the UK now costs ~£32k, and it’s rising (2). I suspect this is a positively skewed mean, as averages reported elsewhere range from £17.5-30k (3, 4, 5). Either way, no small potatoes. We weren’t willing to hoik ourselves to the eyeballs with credit card debt.
The wants list
Although I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart, MrsShrink and I could never be called religious. MrsShrink would describe herself as a devout atheist. As such a church wedding was off the cards as to her it would be dishonest. So we sat down and tried to decide:
- What is the point of a wedding?
- What makes a good wedding?
- What makes a wedding memorable and what leaves a sour memory?
We reasoned that the point of a wedding was to celebrate our relationship and commitment to each other. How do you celebrate something in most cultures around the world? Throw a F-off party. The ceremony has symbolic importance to family members and friends, so we planned to include those we love in events as much as we could without being too ceremonial. If we were going to celebrate it was going to be with those we wanted to celebrate with, our closest friends. We both come from large extended families which introduced massive stress and financial implications in deciding who came. How do we tell Uncle S we’re not inviting him because we saw Aunty T more recently? Where do you draw the line? We said brothers, sisters, parents and that was it. No cousin B, who you only see semi-annually when someone who shares partial DNA cops it.
What makes a good wedding? The same ingredients as a good party; good food, free-flowing booze, good music, good people. What leaves a sour memory? An absence of any of the above, and interpersonal grief. Supply the first. Only invite good friends and avoid familial beef for the latter.
What did we do and what did it cost?
We planned a three day long party with our closest family in friends in a remote pile in the country. Free-flowing booze, ample food and pumping basslines. Sandwiched in the middle was a wedding ceremony. We kept a running budget as we went along, and a rough target figure, so now the dust has settled down here’s the numbers it came out at.
The average venue hire is apparently £4-5k, with another £500 for a church on top (2, 5) . We set some criteria for what we wanted which reduced our range. Due to our background we have friends all over the country, and if we were inviting them down we figured most would need to stay; therefore onsite or nearby accommodation. A church was off the cards and we wanted something good for all weathers; a stately home or castle set-up. We’ve been to weddings where members of the public are traipsing about gawping; sole use of the venue. None of that comes cheap. Most established venues have set ‘menus’ of wedding options, or slick brochures advertising the ‘packages’ and offers. We wanted to do our own thing; slick wedding packages aren’t particularly individual (to our mind), and you’re paying for the convenience of not planning or thinking. After spending hours of googling the SEO optimised wedding material I had a brainwave. Venues have to be licensed for a wedding…
Check the licensing list.
I pulled up all of the local counties’ government websites and downloaded their lists of registered wedding venues. Among them I found a gem. Minimal online presence, set up to run corporate away-day events in a country house in the middle of nowhere, they had a wedding license and accommodated a few weddings a year. Entire run of the stately home, like a giant self-catering hotel. Sauna, pool, games rooms, en-suite bedrooms for 40+ people. Total cost: £6600 for four days. Blew the budget a bit, but got to love Wales as I think elsewhere in the UK it would have been double that.
Food & Booze
So we’ve got a smallish number of people (~50) for a chilled out, non-stuffy wedding. We opted for a local company using local ingredients, served in an unfussy buffet way. We deliberately over-catered so there would be leftovers. The caterers cost us £1,600, plus a further £250 for waiting staff for the whole day. Significantly less that the £4.5k average (2). We called in favours as chef friends cooked breakfasts and big communal meals on the non-wedding days (2, 6). A family friend made a spectacular cake. Another family friend who runs a brewery supplied beer at cost. We went to Majestic and made the most of their free glass hire and wine delivery service. Alcohol was ultimately paid for by a family member, at a total of around £1000, less than the £1500 average.
The average cost of a four piece band is £1000-1500 for a wedding, plus another £200-800 for a DJ (5). We could have tapped up friends who play in a wedding band, but felt then they couldn’t enjoy the event. We hired a musician to play during the ‘reception’ for a couple of hours for £250, and then a commercial PA/ light system for the evening for £200. I spent a few days putting a Spotify playlist together (14 hour runtime), then cross-fading and mixing transitions. Significant saving, and the music didn’t stop until 4am.
I had put aside £2,500 for an engagement ring (slightly less than the UK average) (2). There was never an intention to buy new, and MrsShrink likes art deco. After a year spent looking for the right ring, I bought an antique stopgap for 1/10th of the price. She fell in love with it. It’s personal, perfect to her taste, and she doesn’t worry about getting mugged for a massive stone. The wedding rings themselves came from a local jeweller and cost £1100.
Wedding Dress/ Outfit
MrsShrink frankly hated the idea of spending £1,000 on a dress to wear once (2). Many national charities run specialist bridal stores where they collect together donated dresses. MrsShrink won’t tell me what she spent, but she ultimately bought two dresses (she couldn’t decide) for (I think) 1/4 of the average above. I decided that my own suit and that of the groomsmen should be something we could wear again. Why spend £100 each hiring a morning-suit when you can buy something decent from M&S for £150? I spent £400 buying suits, ties and accessories for the chaps, and £550 on a tailor-made suit for myself. One of my groomsmen uses his suit for work. I’ve since worn my suit as best for several events and to interviews, and it fits like a glove.
Photography, flowers and decorations
We spent £1000 on this. The average is apparently £1100-1400 (2, 5). We opted out of engagement/ honeymoon shoots. We were happy with some of the photos but not all, and I do wonder if we shouldn’t have scrimped here. Ultimately we have enough lovely photos for an album, and how many do you need/ how often do you look at them? MrsShrink initially made the save the dates, but when we number-crunched it turned out to be just as cost effective to have the actual invites printed (~£100). Standard wedding flowers apparently start at £250 (5). MrsShrink has an aversion to cut flowers – ‘Why would you think something that’s dying is pretty?’ – instead we ordered dried seasonal flowers. Not only did this come in at £220 for bouquets, corsages, button holes and table decorations, but one year on they’re still looking just as pretty on our mantelpiece. Bunting was sown by family members and dried petal confetti was collected by friends.
The final bill
All told we came in around £14,000, of which £3,000 came from family as gifts. Roughly half the ‘average’. If I’m honest MrsShrink was the main source of budgeting success. I struggle to control my spending in the name of a party. The biggest frugal tips we have:
- Make a list of what will make your day special to you
- Use the council wedding licence list to find hidden venues
- Truly think about who you want there. Does it need to be every cousin and their step-mother-in-law?
- Posh, class and tradition does not have to mean stuffy or expensive
- Call on friends talents
- Second hand items and charity shops are your friend
- Dried flowers are cheaper and last longer than fresh
- You’re getting married to the most important person in your life. Who are you trying to impress?
I’m sure we could have been more frugal, but we had a great time, so did our mates, and it’s remembered by everyone as a proper knees-up.
Cheers for reading,