Weddings On A Budget
50+ tips to cut the cost of dresses, venues, cakes & more
It's meant to be a fairytale day – but the cost of the cake, venue, dress and all the little special touches can really add up.
The average wedding is estimated to cost a heartbreaking £30,000, according to experts – but there are ways to cut back. This guide offers a host of tips including cheap venue advice, the top used bridal gown sites and how to nab an all-in reception package for less than £1,000.
53 cheap wedding tips, including...
- Buy someone else's cancelled wedding
- Rent a holiday property for your venue
- How to save big on the dress
- Find hidden eBay local wedding steals
- Look ravishing with free makeovers
- Plan your big day with free tools
- Set up a FREE wedding website
- Free DIY invites
- Make your own confetti
- Tips on asking for cash
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The proposal – how to find THE ring (after finding The One!)
OK, so you're ready to pop the question – first, you have to find the ring. Jewellery advertisers would have you believe the rock should cost two months' salary, yet whatever your budget, you can still get your bling for less ker-ching – and you could even find some gems on eBay*.
Cheap jewellery quarters
Londoners and Brummies can take advantage of precious metal dealers on their doorstep. The UK has two world-famous jewellery districts: Hatton Garden in London and Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.
These are full of hyper-competitive specialist merchants, which deal in bulk and are usually cheaper than normal high street shops. Haggling's a must – see our Haggle on the High Street guide for top tactics.
Pick up a second-hand sparkler
Vintage rings can be gorgeous, as well as thrifty. Don't think second-hand means second-rate – many celebs sport vintage engagement rings on their fingers.
You can find some real gems in vintage and antique shops. It's also worth hunting on eBay*, though read sellers' feedback carefully and ask lots of questions (more help in Ebay Buying). One thing to watch out for is loose stone settings – fix these before wearing or it could kill the romance.
A much-loved family heirloom can have more significance than a new ring – and best of all is free. So ask family members if they can dip into their jewellery boxes for hand-me-downs. You might get lucky.
Spend Tesco points in store and they're worth 1p, yet convert them to Boost vouchers and the value can triple. One reward up for grabs is Goldsmiths vouchers.
Every £10 Clubcard voucher gets you a £30 Goldsmith voucher, so a £600 ring costs £200 in Tesco vouchers. Rings from Goldsmiths start at around £200, so doing this can seriously shave pounds from your budget. See the Boost Tesco Points guide for a full how-to.
Check diamonds carefully
If you're buying a diamond ring, it's worth noting that the quality and look of diamonds can vary (even in the same range). So always check the ring for yourself if you can.
There are some helpful MoneySavers on the Weddings forum board – see the engagement rings thread for more on how to buy and what to look for.
Don't forget to insure your ring
It's easy to forget you may have just added a few grand to your personal belongings. Call your insurer and check your rings are covered – you may need to add a separate policy for it. See the Cheap Home Insurance guide for full details.
The perfect day DOESN'T mean spending loads
Too many couples work through a wanna-have list – a film star dress, flowing champagne, platinum rings, a five-star honeymoon. Only then do they ask how they'll pay for it.
One disgruntled father told us: "I asked my daughter what her budget was. She asked me, 'Dad, how can I work out my budget until I know what I want?'"
So, instead, ask "what can we afford to spend?" Then work out how to have the best do possible within that budget. A picnic in a park with close friends can be just as magical as a blingy bash for 300. Use our Free Budget Planner to help.
Before we get too far into this, and you skip straight to this guide's bargain-grabbing section, it really is worth pausing to think about the financial effect of your celebration.
As Martin says:
While a wedding is a wonderful dream day, it's important to remember that one of the biggest causes of divorce is debt and financial worries.
If the cost of your wedding leaves you financially crippled and in debt for most of your married life, it's a pointless waste.
Get max interest on your wedding savings
If you're saving up to get hitched, or perhaps your parents have given you some money, make sure you maximise the interest.
The personal savings allowance (PSA) introduced in April 2016 means every basic (20%) rate taxpayer can earn £1,000 interest without paying tax on it, higher rate £500.
For most people, the personal savings allowance means tax is now not an issue, so to maximise interest pour your cash where you earn most.
Your best bet's an easy access account, which means you can easily withdraw the cash when needed. See the Top Savings Accounts guide for a daily updated list of best buys.
Play the wedding prioritisation game
Once you know your budget, the aim's to work out how much you can actually afford to spend on different areas and prioritise what's important to YOU.
Write down all the things you need to spend cash on on a different piece of card – from cakes to cars, rings to registry office fees. Always keep in mind that you don't need to stick to convention or have everything you're told you need.
Discuss what's most important to both of you. You may fancy a funky themed wedding cake, but would you prefer a honeymoon abroad? Or a professional photographer? Remember, venue costs are likely to account for about one third to half of your budget – and leave room for contingency too.
Whatever your budget is, whatever you think you're going to spend, budget for at least 10% more. Presents for close family, stamps for sending out invites – it's the little unexpected things that all add up.
- MSE Guy
Consider using a spreadsheet to keep close tabs on everything you're spending (see a list of free tools you can use below). Being aware of how you can trade one item for another helps you see how far your budgeted cash will go. If it doesn't go as far as you want, you need to change your list – but not your budget.
The end result may be that you can't afford the wedding you wanted. But at least you won't spend what you can't afford.
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Pick an unconventional day or season and save 50+%
The venue usually creates the biggest dent in your budget. So get this right and you'll be on to a budget bash winner.
Pick an unpopular day. Fridays or Sundays can cut the cost of the reception venue by up to half – Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays by even more. Discounts are often available for photographers, florists and registrars as well.
Lots of couples also steer clear of Friday 13th weddings because it's considered unlucky in Christian tradition – so if you're not Christian (and not superstitious), you can make even bigger savings by booking then. Wedding planning website Hitched told us: "Venues and suppliers alike recognise Friday 13th to be a less popular day, so offer discounted prices."
Of course, fewer guests may be able to attend if you pick a weekday – though that in itself can be another way to keep costs down.
Major savings are also possible on winter weddings due to fewer bookings being made then. To show how much you could save, we checked the price of a package for 50 guests at one country house hotel, including a drinks reception, wine, canapés, a three-course meal and evening food.
The package cost £12,000 on April to September Saturdays, £6,750 midweek and just £5,950 in January and February.
Our own MSE Rose cut the cost of her venue by over a third by getting married in December:
Getting married outside peak season can be the difference between settling for an 'it'll do' venue in August, or getting one you love in December. And if you don't mind a weekday wedding, quotes from suppliers can come in much lower too.
Plus planning for a winter wedding means you've already factored in the British weather!
- MSE Rose
Check everything's included – especially VAT
Some venues have more hidden charges than Ryanair – one MoneySaver had to pay extra to hire a cake knife. So before booking, ask as many questions as possible and get important answers in writing.
Below are some of the key questions to ask before signing – hopefully they'll help you find a suitable but cheap wedding venue:
- Crucially, does the price include VAT?
- How much is corkage?
- Are there any extra staff costs and is service included?
- Is there a minimum headcount or charge per person?
- Is the cloakroom free?
- Are there extra costs for lighting?
- Is there a marquee hire charge?
- Is there a charge for tables, crockery, glasses, linen or chairs?
- Will we get exclusive use or are there other weddings there on the same day?
- If it's a hotel, does it give reduced room rates for guests?
Party for less – receptions for less than £1K
Holiday Inn, Old English Inns and Britannia hotels have £999 wedding packages – fab if you're on a tight budget and have a limited guest list. The key is you know what you're going to pay from the outset.
Holiday Inn offers a two-course wedding breakfast and evening buffet for up to 30 guests, a wedding ceremony and planner and overnight stay for the happy couple. Packages start at £999 at selected hotels – for more info, ask your nearest Holiday Inn.
Old English Inns
The Old English Inns Lace Wedding Package offers a three-course meal, including wine and a glass of bubbly for up to 50 guests – packages start at £999 at selected hotels.
The offer's valid Sunday to Thursday (Friday and Saturday cost more). Call your chosen venue and quote the offer.
The Britannia Hotels £999 deal includes Buck's Fizz, a three-course meal for 50 guests, evening buffet for 100 guests and room hire.
The offer's subject to availability and is not offered at all its hotels – call Britannia Hotels* to check. Some higher-end branches charge £1,499 for the same package – call your nearest to check.
If you want an affordable, simple affair with some basic food and drink, it won't be easy to organise it for much less. If you're worried it's going to look 'cheap', then take a look at some MoneySavers' feedback:
We had our wedding at Holiday Inn with this special offer. It was amazing. The staff went all out and bent over backwards to give us our fairytale wedding!
We had a red carpet on arrival from the church, the hotel provided a toastmaster, the service staff were fantastic. All in all I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone wanting the perfect wedding day!
I booked the Old English Inn deal and got wed last weekend. I have to say the whole day was fantastic and would def recommend it to others. I really didn't feel like I had cut any corners and honestly don't think the wedding could have been any better had I spent thousands and thousands.
I had an Old English Inns package for £1,000. While you can't dispute it's good value, I had a few issues on the organisation. At least if you do it yourself, you organise it, choose food, drink, etc.
You are restricted to their menu choices, their food packages, and their disco, which plays their music. That said, if you did do it yourself, it would be more hassle and could end up more expensive.
Think very carefully about guests. The numbers soon add up: 70 sounds a lot, but it's only 15 members of each person's family, then 10 friends each with partners. Narrow down your guest list. Stick to close friends and family. And if you want to invite more, just do it to the evening disco.
Play the wedding prioritisation game above and work out what's more important to you – gold-embossed invites or including ex-colleagues?
Benchmark typical wedding prices
Quotes can vary wildly from place to place, so ask friends and look online for typical prices to ensure you don't overpay. As well as researching costs of venues, photographers, florists and others, get at least three quotes for each. Email makes this a doddle.
This way, if a photographer quotes £3,000, but the going rate's £1,500, you'll know to think twice.
Book a £4,000 ALL-IN wedding reception... at Wetherspoon's
Who needs Windsor Castle when you can have Wetherspoon's? The pub chain's London wedding reception costs £4,000 and includes a three-course meal with wine for 100 people, a DJ, decorations and a wedding planner.
Plus this isn't just any Wetherspoon's, it's a swanky pub in the heart of central London.
Afterwards you'll get exclusive use of the venue until 1am Sunday if your wedding's on a Saturday, or 12.30am Monday if you get married on Sunday – although children have to leave the venue by 9.30pm on both days. The offer also includes an extra 200 guests in the evening.
It has a marriage licence, so you can even say your vows there. You'll need to pay the registrar separately – prices vary depending on days of the week, but start from £525, including deposit.
At the moment only one venue offers the deal – The Knights Templar pub, a former Georgian bank in Holborn. To enquire, call The Knights Templar on 020 7831 2660 and for more info on the pub, visit its website.
We found similar wedding packages at a nearby venue starting at £14,500, so if you're happy to celebrate in 'Spoons, this is a decent deal.
If London's too far, many other Wetherspoon's pubs have function rooms available to hire – there's nothing to stop you throwing your bash there. For example, Opera House Wetherspoon's in Tunbridge Wells hires out a room for £3/head.
Haggle, haggle, haggle
Over the years, Brits have apparently come to accept that haggling's rude and impolite, when it's neither. This is never more true than in the wedding industry, where some of the snootier venues and dress shops can give the impression haggling is not the done thing.
This mass hypnosis has left the knowing few with big bargains, and companies' profits intact. The truth is most wedding suppliers are open to negotiation – while haggling cuts profits, if you wouldn't book them at that price anyway, this way they still get work.
It's important to get any agreements you make in writing – so that you have a record in case there are any disagreements in the future. For more tips, see our Haggle on the High Street guide.
Get them to chuck something else in for free
Some venues and suppliers say they're not allowed to give discounts. An easy starting point is asking them to throw something in on top. Whether it's champagne, lighting or chair covers, if you need an add-on, try not to pay extra for it.
If the price is already reduced – because it's short notice, winter or midweek – there's often more flexibility. The boundaries have already been flexed, so the psychological loss for your supplier is reduced.
Tap into friends' talents
One way to avoid the price-trebling effects of getting married is to use the talents of your friends and family.
Ask for their help in lieu of a wedding present. It'll cut the cost of saying 'I do' and perhaps save on a gift for them. Plus it will make your big day all the more personal and memorable. Read former MSE Rebecca's blog on baking a cake that saved her bride-to-be pal £480. Examples include:
- Do you know a keen baker who can make the cake?
- Is someone a talented photographer or video cameraman?
- Do you have a friend who is a DJ, musician or even magician?
- Do you have an aunt or uncle with a landscaped garden they'd let you use for the reception?
- Is your mum a florist in the making?
- Is a relative in the printing trade?
- Does someone have a holiday home you could use for the honeymoon?
- Will your friend do your hair or make-up for you?
- Is a friend handy with a needle and willing to make your dress as a gift?
- Will a friend be your master of ceremonies?
- Does your grandad have a posh old classic car and is willing to chauffeur?
- Will any pals who've got married recently lend you wedding shoes and bags, or even dresses and suits?
Should you borrow to pay for the wedding?
If you can possibly avoid it, don't borrow for the big day. Leaving yourself in debt at the start of your married life is not the best idea.
Having said that, a wedding is a major expenditure, and like buying a house, many people simply cannot afford to do it without a loan. The difference here is afterwards there are no bricks and mortar – only memories – to keep from all that cash.
Never borrow more than you can afford to pay back within a year
We can tell you not to borrow till we're blue in the face. But if you ignore that, at least do it the cheapest way. Ask:
Can you afford the repayments?
Can you pay them back in a year or less?
Have you planned the expenditure so you need to borrow as little as possible?
Are you borrowing the cheapest possible way?
If you have to borrow, use the longest 0% SPENDING credit card possible, and always repay in full before the cheap rate ends, or rates rocket.
Avoid dangerous high cost credit, including payday loans. With APRs of up to 6,000%, these are the Mac Daddy of loans to avoid. There are now some longer term 100%+ loans too (ouch).
Protect your wedding expenditure
Sadly, firms go bust. Often wedding suppliers ask for a deposit far in advance, so if the worst happens, it's a nightmare.
However, Section 75 laws mean if you use a credit card (not debit card, cheque or cash) to pay even partly for something costing between £100 and £30,000, the card company's jointly liable for the whole amount.
Section 75 doesn't apply to purchases under £100, but there's still an option which can help if you use a Visa, Mastercard or Amex credit card, or any debit or charge card. See the Chargeback guide for full details.
Use Martin's Money Mantras and DON'T overspend
It's easy to get swept up in the romance of the moment. To keep you disciplined, use Martin's Money Mantras.
Different scenarios require different approaches, so there's normally one mantra for those who are skint and one for those who aren't. Hopefully any spending should be within your wedding budget, so we'll assume you're not skint. Before you buy anything ask yourself:
- Will we use it?
- Is it worth it?
- Have I checked if it's cheaper elsewhere?
If the answer to any of these is no, don't buy it!
The most important question here is "is it worth it?" While you may use something, could the wedding cash be better spent on anything else? Are stunning £250 heels that'll be used once and then packed away worth it if the same money could buy other items which will be used more often?
Get free mini Money Mantras to print and put in your wallet as a reminder.
Bag 5% off all your wedding shopping
Cashback credit cards pay you every time you spend on 'em – and while you won't be able to use a card for all of your wedding purchases, it's a great boon when you can. The idea's you grab one, then set up a direct debit to repay in full every month so it's interest-free.
If you've a good credit score, the American Express Platinum Everyday* gives new cardholders 5% cashback (max £100) for three months and up to 1% after (you must spend at least £3,000 in the year to get any cashback).
Always set up a direct debit to repay in full so you avoid interest, or it's 22.9% representative APR on purchases. Full help and best buys in the Top Cashback Cards guide.
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Web clearance outlets for up to 80% off
Outlets sell end-of-line bargains – ideal for snapping up suits, shoes, cheap bridesmaids' dresses and more.
Nowadays you don't need to drive miles to an out-of-town outlet store – lots of high street and high-end stores have online outlet stores, either via eBay* or special websites.
See our Outlet Stores guide for a list of big names including Hobbs, Karen Millen, Figleaves and more.
Go for off-the-beaten track venues to pay less
While a hotel or country pub is in an obvious choice for a reception, don't disregard church halls, village halls or local sports clubs.
Less obvious venues can cost a fraction of big hotels, which are in it to turn a hefty profit. They still look the business once they're decorated.
Even better, if you've family or a friend with a sizeable garden, ask if they'd consider hosting it for you. Ensure you discuss what you want though, so you both have the same expectations, and make sure you have a good plan for the catering and the clear-up afterwards if you're worried they might feel imposed upon.
Is wedding insurance worth it?
Weddings are an expensive and emotional business, so you should carefully consider if you need insurance.
Wedding insurance covers a problem with the venue or a supplier, or a key wedding party member falling ill. It doesn't cover a change of heart.
Our Wedding Insurance guide explains the basics of insurance for a wedding or civil partnership, everything it covers and how to get it cheaply.
Lay on a posh picnic
Some savvy MoneySavers have taken a punt on good weather by having their wedding reception in the park with a picnic-style buffet.
Just provide blankets for people to sit on and take some food. You can cut costs even further by making them bring a bottle and even nibbles. The only thing you can't plan is the sunshine, though it worked out for former MSE Sam:
My husband and I tied the knot at London's beautiful Marylebone Registry Office, then strolled across the road for a picnic in Regent's Park with our closest friends. We popped open champagne we'd got on a Tesco offer, and clinked flutes from Poundland.
We were lucky to have picked a date in the middle of a May heatwave, so there was glorious sunshine and everyone walked barefoot on the grass. It was cheap but extra-special – if you had to pay for a venue with such stunning grounds, it would cost thousands.
- Former MSE Sam
Buy a last-minute or cancelled wedding to bag 60% off venues
Cancelled Weddings is a broker that matches people looking to sell on their cancelled wedding packages with couples hoping for a cut-price celebration.
The site also features late-availability offers. For example, we found a package at a manor house in Suffolk with catering for up to 120 guests and dates available in October and November 2019 for £3,995 – a 65% discount on the original price of £8,495.
More recently, we've seen that most of its offers are on last-minute availability weddings, rather than cancelled. But it's still worth keeping an eye on.
This works best if you're flexible with dates, or you're planning to tie the knot soon. You'll also need to be happy with the package the original couple agreed if it's a cancelled wedding – although there's often space to tweak details such as menu and guest count.
This is still a fairly new concept, so tread carefully. Please let us know your experiences in the Cheap Weddings discussion.
How much can you save?
When we checked, typical discounts on cancelled weddings were 35-55%. The company makes money by charging wedding companies for adverts. It's free for individuals to buy or sell cancelled weddings.
How to do it
If you spot a wedding you're interested in, email the couple selling to negotiate. There's no guide price – it's up to you to strike a deal, but bear in mind the average discount is 57% off the original price, as above.
You're more likely to get a result if you're polite and charming, with some sympathy for the couple's predicament – see our Haggling Tips guide for pointers.
Most venues are happy to transfer the wedding, according to the site. But of course, always speak to the venue directly to confirm it's on board.
Cancelled Weddings then prepares a binding agreement that has to be signed by the seller, the buyer and the venue. Consider asking a solicitor to check this over. Finally, only transfer money directly to the venue (some charge the new buyer a £20-£50 admin fee).
Rent a holiday property for your venue
Book the right way and holiday rental sites let you rent five-star private country houses and villas at two-star hotel prices. Many make fantastic wedding venues and can undercut established venues.
You usually need to sort your own caterers, table hire and lighting, so do your sums first. But the advantage is it becomes your house for the week (or weekend), so there's usually no corkage charge and guests can stay in the rooms.
Always email the owner to check it's okay to use it as a venue before throwing a bash there. They may charge extra, but they'll often help you plan the event.
Direct booking sites let you quickly search for holiday rentals. Be careful how you pay – there's less protection when booking directly with an owner. See Cheap Holiday Rentals for top booking sites and safety tips.
Don't let the bank steal your wedding cash
'Setting off' means banks can swipe big money from our accounts without permission. So if you've a loan or credit card debts, be very careful about other people, such as your parents, giving you cash to fund your wedding.
This outrageous law allows banks to grab cash from your account to repay debts without permission and without telling you. See the Setting Off guide for the full legal info.
This wrecked wedding story sums it up.
How one bride's wedding day was ruined
No tale more gut-wrenching has landed in our mailbag than that of poor Peter Wilson, whose generous wedding gift to his daughter was then taken by her bank to ruin her cherished day.
The proud father had saved up £12,000 with his local credit union to give a cheque to his daughter towards her day.
Two days after it went in her Northern Bank account, the bride-to-be's white day turned black, as she was horrified to see £6,000 had been lifted to pay off her credit card debt elsewhere with the bank – even though a repayment plan was already in place.
Peter told us his daughter was inconsolable, adding that for the bank to do this and ruin her wedding day was despicable.
"We told the bank that credit union officers would sign a statement to say that the money was ours, but it still refused to refund the money," he added.
Dress tip I: £100 dresses from China
China has a roaring dressmaking cottage industry you can tap into via eBay. Quality and reliability varies massively, so research is vital.
The weakened pound means dresses might cost slightly more than they would have from China. But if you strike it right, you can get a made-to-measure dress for around the £100 mark.
Simply search for "custom wedding dress" on eBay* and a raft of sellers offering super-cheap dresses will appear.
On auction-type sales, bidding often starts from £1-£15, yet the real cost is often the postage. Each seller offers a variety of styles but often, if you ask, they'll make alterations to the design according to what you want.
Also check your local independent bridal shop's sale rails, and get typical prices.
It's important to understand though, this isn't a straightforward click and buy situation. You need to consider if the site is legit, and avoid any who offer counterfeit designs. It's easy to be scammed on eBay and there are horror stories, so have your wits about you. Do your research and use this checklist as a starting point.
Ask lots of questions
Ask plenty of questions about the dress, delivery, measurements and design. Genuine sellers will be happy to help you and professional responses hint you'll get a good result. Most sellers will send swatches so you can check colours and fabric quality before you buy.
And of course, there's an ethical consideration to all this. It's hard to check out small overseas eBay businesses' labour practices, so if you have any concerns, you may wish to avoid.
eBay has a ratings system, so carefully inspect what others have said before buying. Have they delivered on time, have people received what they expected, and has the seller swiftly sorted any problems?
Get the measurements right
If ordering a standard size, make sure you're using UK, not US sizing. Most sellers offer made-to-measure dresses, so get a friend to measure you properly and follow the sellers' instructions. Good sellers will give a precise how-to.
Factor in import tax
Overseas goodies can look cheap, until you add VAT, customs duty and Royal Mail handling fees. There's usually no VAT/customs to pay on items costing £15 or under, but above this level, it can cost a lot.
When buying £15+ items from outside the EU by post, you have to pay import VAT. If it's £135+, add customs duty too. If you pay charges, Royal Mail adds an £8 handling fee. Double-check this on Gov.uk or call HMRC on 0300 200 3700.
Always factor in postage fees
If a seller hasn't listed shipping charges to the UK, get them to confirm them via the 'ask seller a question' button before bidding. Otherwise you could be subjected to sky-high charges.
I got my wedding dress from China last year – £150 for dress and lace jacket and it was stunning. It was the talk of the day and no one guessed the cost or where it was from.
I got it taken up a bit by a dressmaker – she said the fabric was amazing for the price, really heavy satin. I loved it and felt amazing in it.
It's worth noting every time we mention this guide, we get complaints from wedding dress stores and others in the wedding industry, talking about dangers and quality issues. Yet this does work for many people – though of course there are some who have a bad time with it.
However unlike some of the wedding magazines out there who won't touch the subject of buying abroad due to fear of advertiser reprisals, we won't be scared away. There is nothing wrong with ordering from abroad providing you're aware of the risks and act to mitigate them.
Dress tip II: Top second-hand wedding dress sites
Some MoneySavers even try on dresses in shops, pick their favourite design, then look online to see if they can find a secondhand version to grab it for less. But to be fair to the shop, try to minimise the amount of their time you use if you're going to buy it cheaper elsewhere. And why not give them a chance to offer you a discount?
Do it right and you could grab a film star number for a fraction of the cost, like forumite laura_hoggle did:
I tried on dresses in a shop and found one I loved. I was really lucky to find someone selling the exact same dress in my size on SellMyWeddingDress.
I would have been happy to wear a second-hand dress, but this was brand new, unaltered, tags still on – the woman selling it didn't end up getting married. It was advertised at £400, but she said she was open to offers, and accepted £350 straightaway.
Buyer beware: shopping safely online
eBay has strong buyer protection. Yet with other sites, as you could be spending £100s, always carefully inspect the dress in person and pay cash on collection. Ask if you can return the dress if you're unhappy when you get home.
Dress tip III: Grab an Oxfam frock
Oxfam has 12 specialist bridal departments that stock dresses from £35 as well as accessories, plus you get one-to-one help and advice. So not only can you bag gowns for a fraction of the price, you help a charity at the same time.
It says many dresses are donated by designers, straight from the catwalk and many are brand new, so you really can pick up a bargain.
Forumite little_miss_sunshine was chuffed with hers:
I bought my wedding dress from Oxfam in Leicester. No one noticed and it was a fraction of the cost of a new one. It was in great condition, I felt good about giving money to charity too. I also got my bridesmaids' dresses second-hand – got two lovely dresses for £50 each!
Dress tip IV: Bag a high street bargain
Here's what some of the big retailers offer:
ASOS: You can pick up wedding gowns* from £36, as well as a selection of bridesmaids' dresses.
Debenhams: There's a range of simple wedding dresses* starting from £28, as well as bridesmaids' dresses and mother of the bride outfits.
To cut costs further, you could ask your bridesmaids to wear shoes and accessories they have already.
Find hidden eBay local wedding steals
Whether they're wedding gowns, cake stands or champagne flutes, eBay sellers often specify items must be collected in person. As this often means fewer bids, there are bargains to be had.
You can't normally search "collection-only" sales, so we've built a mapping tool. Tell our Local eBay Deals Mapper your postcode, plus how far you're prepared to schlep, and it maps nearby gems.
For more help tracking down hidden bargains, our eBay Buying Secrets guide lists tools to find underpriced goods, exploit spelling mistakes, auto-bid to cheaply seal deals and more.
Amazon 75%+ hidden discounts on decor, rings & more
It's the original e-giant, and like any megastore the challenge is to see behind the shelves to dig out mega-discounts. Our ever-popular Amazon Discount Finder manipulates Amazon web links to create customised bargain basement pages, eg, rings 70%+ off* and wedding decorations 50%+ off*.
Remember, just because it's discounted, it doesn't mean it's a bargain. In the tool there's an input box for the CamelCamelCamel site, which lets you instantly check a product's Amazon price history to see if it's ever sold for less.Then compare prices in other stores online.
Look ravishing with free makeovers
While some brides go DIY, it may save a lot of stress if you get make-up done by a pro. Before you start wincing at the fees, there are sneaky ways around this.
Get your make-up done at a beauty counter in a department store, then simply buy the lipstick to 'touch up' (you could even ask if they'll give you that as a freebie sample).
Department stores also run beauty courses that you could attend. You can learn a new skill, do your own make-up on the day, and even help out at your friends' weddings.
Alternatively, check out local beauty training schools. They may do your hair and make-up free on the day as part of their training. Check Beautyfinder for a directory of training schools and colleges in your area.
Plan your big day with free spreadsheets, tools & apps
Do a spreadsheet to keep tabs on estimated costs versus actual costs.
Google templates help you organise the seating plan, guest list, menu and music playlist (here's an example - or just search for them). You can also share documents, so two people can edit it at the same time. All you need to do is create an account and log in when you want to edit info.
Hitched offers similar tools, but also includes ideas on decoration, dresses and more.
Nifty little app Wedding Happy lets you be your own wedding planner, tracking deadlines and ticking off tasks. You can also track your spending against an overall budget.
Pinterest is another great website (and app) for ideas. Use it for inspiration for everything from invites to lighting, then do it yourself for a fraction of the cost.
Set up a FREE website for your wedding
You can create a free personalised website for your wedding, using GettingMarried.co.uk, a wedding website provider. This will help you update guests about your big day, let you keep track of RSVPs, set up a gift list and guest book, and share photos after your wedding.
There are free templates to customise your website's design, and tools to help you share your timetable, seating plan, travel tips and even add an FAQ section. These make Getting Married popular with forumites, and former MSE Sally used it to set up a website for her wedding.
We saved money on invites by creating a website with all the details of our wedding (eg, a list of local B&Bs) – it meant we could keep the paper invites short and sweet.
- Former MSE Sally
It's worth noting, however, that Getting Married is owned by a wedding gift list company (called Prezola). So although you can create a website for free, it does encourage you to set up a Prezola gift list. This is completely optional, and you can add a link to another site (eg, John Lewis) instead, if you already have a gift list elsewhere.
You'll usually need to pay for a premium subscription if you want to set up a honeymoon fund or create an option for cash gifts – although this is currently free if you sign up for Prezola.
Don't mention the 'w' word
If there's one thing guaranteed to increase the price, it's when the suppliers you're buying from know it's a wedding. So when negotiating flowers, wine etc, try to avoid the word 'wedding'. Call it a party or celebration, and only once the price is agreed should you mention it is for a wedding.
Having said that, if you're eloping, or after smaller bits and pieces, such as make-up, then mentioning you're getting married can mean freebies galore. Forumite laughing cow said her wedding was a secret elopement...
It was like catnip – lots of squealing and loads of good quality free samples (Clarins, Space NK, etc). Same thing on the plane – got chatting to some other passengers and crew and said we were eloping. Cue lots of champagne on the flight and a bottle to take with us.
- laughing cow
Free DIY invites & cheap stationery
Designing and making your own invites is easy, especially if you use free DIY printing sites such as Wedding Chicks.
Of course, you'll have to pay for paper and ink when you print them out yourself (although if you really want to keep it free, you could email them instead). Alternatively, why not ask your workplace if they'll let you use its company discount on stationery?
If you're willing to pay just a little, then Etsy – a site which is a bit like an eBay for arts and crafts – is full of sellers who will design bespoke invitations for as little as £5 and email you a PDF to print off yourself. Just search for 'printable wedding invitation'.
Try Vistaprint* for super-cheap self-designed cards, scour eBay* for cheap sellers or get off-the-shelf invites from high street shops such as Paperchase*. If you do pay for invites, always check if the cost includes envelopes and factor in the cost of postage.
Instead of posting save the date cards, let people know by text or email. Alternatively, create an event on Facebook (choose 'private' in the event's privacy section, so only guests can see).
Free place settings
You can easily make place settings for free. Why not collect pebbles or shells on the beach and write the guests' names on them?
For thank-you cards, find a really good snap of the two of you, reprint as many times as necessary and write your personal thank-yous on the back, by hand. See Free Digital Prints guide for a list of freebies.
DIY favours such as paper flowers add a nice touch. Or you could just do yourself a favour and forget them – many guests leave them behind in their hazy state.
Make your own confetti
Forumites suggest making your own confetti using small heart or flower punches and colourful paper, which should all be found in your local craft shop.
You can also dry your own rose petals in the oven – if you have friends or family with rose bushes you're onto a winner, but some forumites have managed to haggle cheap roses from flower markets at the end of the day.
Make pretty cones to hold the confetti using doilies, which can be found in pound shops, craft shops and on eBay*.
Make friends paparazzi for the day
Many of your guests will record the day for posterity, so why not ask them for a copy of their photos and videos?
You can encourage this further by leaving disposable cameras on the tables at the reception (though a number of our forumites have said they wish they hadn't bothered, as the photos weren't half as good as those taken with digital cameras).
Even though they're not pros, if they take enough shots, hopefully some of them will be good ones. Use our Free Digital Prints guide for free prints and cheap photo books.
If you want a professional photographer, get your haggling hat on, like forumite Tiger_greeneyes.
We went to a wedding show last week and got chatting to a photographer. She charged £575, which we couldn't afford. So I asked if she would charge less for a weekday (we're getting married on a Friday) and she said she'd discount £50.
It still wasn't great for us, so we mentioned that we'd only want a dozen or so photos. She said "make me an offer". I replied "£250 cash" and she accepted! Don't ask, don't get.
This is what former MSE Dan managed to get, after using some charm and chutzpah:
The photographer can be tricky to haggle with, as they sit you down, give you tea and biscuits and put you at ease. But that doesn't mean it's impossible.
We wanted a pre-wedding shoot, plus the photographer to stay for an extra couple of hours to catch speeches and cake cutting, but this added a fair whack to the overall cost.
This is where the friendly atmosphere helps. As the photographer considered these to be added extras, we didn't book on the day – just hopefully left a good impression – then emailed a few days later after considering, asking nicely if she could wrap them both into the same price, effectively getting the pre-wedding shoot for free, which she agreed to do.
- Former MSE Dan
Everyday savings help towards the big day
Small sacrifices can boost your wedding coffers. If your big day is a year away, cut out something today that you buy every day. If you cut out £2 on crisps and Coke each day, you'd have 365 x £2 to spend, making £730.
Try our Demotivator tool, which reveals your annual spend on coffees, snacks, cigs, mags and other discretionary purchases to help you cut back.
Need fast cash for your wedding? Flog it!
If a few quid more in the wedding fund would really help, get flogging. Selling via eBay usually pays best. Our Ebay Selling Tricks guide offers a crash course, from cutting eBay fees by tweaking start prices and using no-charge listing weekends to adding extra pics with special tools.
You can also harness Facebook's power to sell to others in the local community. The best bit is there are NO fees, so you keep the profit. See our Facebook Selling guide for tips.
Prefer speed and ease rather than getting the top price? Several sites let you enter details, they offer a price, and you post the goods free. See our Flog It guide.
Also consider setting up a specific bank account to pay your earnings into. That way you'll see the wedding cash pile up, rather than just disappearing into your current account. See the Top Savings Accounts guide for best buys.
Buy your own booze to cut costs, and look out for sales
Cut costs further by supplying your own alcohol. You'll usually need to factor in the corkage fees, which can be as much as £15 per bottle. Do the maths – buying your own and paying corkage often still wins.
Remember, like everything, corkage isn't fixed, so haggle. Even better, look out for venues that don't charge for corkage, then check out our Wine Deals page for codes to save you more.
Also check shopping comparison Mysupermarket's wine section, which includes all the big supermarkets.
Some sellers, such as Majestic, offer a "sale or return" policy (terms apply), letting you take back any plonk you don't get through on the day. It's best to mention this when you're making your order if you think you'll want to take advantage of it.
If you're in the south east of England, a quick (and low-cost) trip to France could help you get crates of cheap booze and champagne. You could also opt for cava or prosecco instead of champers to keep costs down. See Cheap France Trips to check for any current deals.
And, as always, please be Drinkaware.
Food is where most couples go over-budget, especially if you go for a meal during the day and a buffet in the evening. So, look at how many people you've invited (factoring in more guests for the evening if you're having two lots of food), work out your budget and divide by the number of guests for your per-head budget.
Meals will cost the most, but buffets, hog roasts or even picnics can be just as smart as well as being far cheaper. Local independent caterers may trump all offers you have, so check out neighbourhood cafes and restaurants.
Another way to massively reduce the cost of food is to have the ceremony later, followed by one big meal, rather than the standard two. Many of our forumites said much of the evening buffet food at their weddings was wasted, and they'd have been better off providing just one meal.
For nibbles and platters, M&S* and Waitrose* have party food sections. Many supermarkets and off-licences offer free glass hire too. You'll usually have to clean the glasses before returning them though, and will need to pay a deposit in case of breakages.
Also consider having the wedding cake as dessert, to avoid paying for pud. You usually have to provide a meal for the photographer, band and master of ceremonies, so ask caterers if they can do a cheaper option, such as fish and chips.
Buy a basic cake and decorate it yourself
The cake is one of the easiest places to save a stash of cash, as wedding specialists can charge an arm and a leg for these. By this stage most guests will be too stuffed to put away much cake anyway.
Here are a few tips to cut the cost of a cake.
- Buy a simple sponge cake, or whatever takes your fancy, from the supermarket and then decorate it yourself. You can buy glitter, sugar flowers and edible pearls cheaply.
- Instead of making one massive cake, make three small ones, or even cupcakes. To avoid massive cost and waste, you can also have one small cake for show and another plain one in the background to serve to guests.
- Instead of cake, why not go for a cheese wheel? Serve it in the evening as part of, or instead of, a buffet with crackers and relishes, which can be bought cheaply.
- If you do decide to make your own wedding cake(s), former MSE Debs recommends freezing them ahead of time.
My mum and I baked 120 cupcakes for my sister's wedding the week before, but didn't have enough freezer space to store them. So we called the local Iceland supermarket. It kindly agreed to lend us one of its industrial freezers free of charge.
- Former MSE Debs
Super-cheap decorations & flowers
Flowers and decorations can cost hundreds, if not thousands, if you go to wedding specialists. But with a little time and effort, much can be done yourself.
Pick a day before or after Easter or Christmas.
It often means the church is decorated lavishly. By the same token, if someone's getting married an hour before you, ask the flower secretary at the church if they can leave them up for your ceremony.
Ask friends to help set up the venue.
Doing it yourself will take time you might not have, so enlist the help of friends and family. Many hands make light work!
Make your own wedding flowers.
It's amazing what you can do with some vases, spray paints and a bit of elbow grease. eBay's* a haven for cheap bits 'n' bobs to furnish your venue, with tealights, candles, vases and more.
If you're new to flower arranging, YouTube has a mass of how-to videos on making wedding bouquets and corsages. Also swap tips in the forum's Do your own wedding flowers thread.
If you're particularly handy, brooch bouquets are popular with MoneySavers. Here, you fashion a bouquet from old collected brooches instead of flowers.
Don't overlook markets
Good quality flowers can be found cheaply on the village market or down the local grocer's shop.
Check flower delivery costs
Using someone local can make it cheaper. Some will also charge to move flowers from the ceremony to the venue. Rope in mates to help do it for free.
Think carefully about what prezzies you ask for
Too many people only consider wedding gifts at the last moment. But they can be worth a significant amount of cash so consider as soon as you can what you want people to get and how that fits in with your own financial plans – so that the two fit together. See Martin's blog: Am I alone in wanting to know what to give to couples?.
Don't be embarrassed to ask for cash
Most people are happy to give cash as a wedding gift if asked – many even prefer it to the hassle of picking a gift. Of the 21,000 who voted in our poll, 55% would prefer to give hard cash, while a further 34% would give it if requested (see the full results).
Wedding gifts aren't just a pleasant way of wishing a new couple a great life together. Historically, they're there as a form of social banking.
So before you decide what to ask for on the big day, here's what Martin has to say:
It's worth understanding the function this ceremonial gift exchange performs.
Far too many think of wedding gifts as an added extra, yet financially it needs to play a core part in your plans. You're likely to be shelling out a serious sum of cash for your wedding, but lots of people are willing to effectively pay you back in return for going to the ceremony.
Of course, etiquette rightly suggests no one should 'ask for gifts'. So what we're really talking about here is whether you can express a preference for cash over presents for those who want to give.
Gift giving is a form of social banking
Older generations would give gifts or money to younger ones to help them start off in life before they'd had time to build their own finances.
Then once that couple grew older they effectively gave back to the same community when they attended weddings of younger couples by giving them gifts. Thus the money moves in a circular way and is targeted at those who need it most.
Yet in recent years things have changed radically, many couples already live together when they get married and have much of what is needed in their homes – whether it's toasters, kettles or silverware. In fact, perversely, the biggest cost of getting married for many couples isn't setting up home, but the wedding day itself.
Therefore don't be afraid to ask for cash on your wedding day. It's part of what the original ceremony was all about; if you're shelling out, this is likely to be the most efficient way for you to receive the cash back.
Tips on asking for cash
There are many ways to do this: envelopes on the day, money into a special bank account, even perhaps a targeted honeymoon fund. Many people find that less clinical, but you don't need to spend it all on the trip.
As for how much they should give? Well, that's up to the guest. There are a number of factors: the closer they are to you the more they should give, the more expensive the wedding ceremony the more they should give (effectively offsetting the cost). But if they're struggling, expect less.
Here's a poem one MoneySaver, Luke Pritchard, suggested putting in the invite:
Because at first we lived in sin,
we already have the kitchen bin.
A gift from you would be swell,
but we'd prefer a gift to our wishing well.
- Luke Pritchard
Or this worked for MoneySaver slickster:
As you all know we have lived together for many, many years now and so have all the possessions (kitchenware, bedding etc) that we can make good use of. Therefore, we are not intending to produce a gift list.
The one thing which we are working to save towards is a memorable honeymoon, so if you did wish to make a small contribution to that fund then we would be very appreciative.
Ultimately, just attending our wedding is an expense for everyone who is travelling from far and wide and so we really do only wish for you to join with us and share our special day.
Beware vouchers and wedding lists
Gift vouchers are now nearly as popular as gift lists themselves, often to fund the honeymoon or kit out a new house.
But remember, vouchers and wedding lists are just a promise from a company. If it goes bust (as wedding list firm Wrapit did in 2008), you have no rights.
If the worst happens, your chances of getting all your cash back are slim. Secured creditors and employees get first dibs, and only after that will you get a share of the leftovers. Cash is dull, but a safer present. See Gift Voucher Warning.
Ask a friend to be master of ceremonies
Ask a friend who has a flair for public speaking to be your master of ceremonies. Not only will you save a wad, it's likely to be a crowd-pleaser too. Or if you do want to hire one, delay the booking until the last minute. That way if they want the job they'll still do it and this can halve the price.
Drive down the cost of transport
Even if you don't live in the capital, go for a London-style cab as a wedding car and you'll get smart black transport atmosphere at a much lower cost.
Even better, if you live near the ceremony venue (and you're lucky enough to get good weather) why not follow French tradition and walk?
When comparing venue costs, factor in the cost of getting yourselves (and possibly guests) from the ceremony to the reception. It can work out cheaper to choose a slightly pricier venue which can hold both, rather than paying for transport.
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Secret five-star honeymoon hotels at two-star prices
For plush honeymoon hotels at bargain prices, Lastminute.com* has a Top Secret Hotels option, which offers big discounts – but you only get the location, star-rating and price, NOT name, until you book. Yet often you can cut and paste key phrases into Google to discover its identity.
Once you've got the hotel's identity, you can often identify it with a quick Google, then check whether it's really a bargain compared to the top comparison sites. See Cheap Hotels for how.
Don't miss cheap honeymoon package holidays
The internet's great for flights or DIY city breaks. But if your honeymoon's specifically for seven, 10 or 14 days to a traditional holiday destination, then package holidays often come up trumps.
When it comes to booking, timing's crucial: the later you book, the cheaper, but this means limited choice, perhaps not ideal for honeymooners.
If you can't book late, book as early as possible. Full step-by-step help in Cheap Package Holidays.
MoneySavers do it together...
I set up an alternative email account to get quotes and haggle them down. I then emailed the suppliers from my regular email address saying a friend had passed on the info. That way I didn't have to bother dealing with lots of pushy, expensive tradespeople or be spammed for ever more.
I wish I'd known to request a second copy of my marriage certificate at the time I got it. If you're changing your surname to your husband's, many people will request the original marriage certificate, so if you have two, you can keep one safe and use the other to send off, which saves the worry if it goes astray.
A company we saw at a wedding fair was going to charge us £300 for a sweet cart, jars, sweets, scoops and bags (super-popular for weddings). After a quick look on eBay and a trip to Costco and Makro, we did our own sweet table for £50!
Make sure you have some alone-time with your new husband/wife. For us it was the car journey to the reception.
Don't look at wedding magazines! You will feel as though you need all these things which bump up the cost when you don't. Plus, the magazines are the same every month – same recommended suppliers, same photos, etc.
The big day is here – enjoy it!
Most of all, congratulations. Enjoy the day, don't stress too much, and we wish you a healthy, financially fab, wonderful life together!
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