Wedding planning can be as stressful as it is exciting, with countless decisions to make about everything from colour scheme to venue location. For most couples, a significant source of stress when wedding planning is money, unless you are Pippa Middleton and have almost £750,000 to drop on your big day. Celebrity weddings aside, the average UK wedding now costs over £30,000, which is still a lot of money for most couples. If, like me, your budget is less than half of that don't despair! Here are 5 simple steps to help you prioritise your wedding budget.
Step 1: Write a List of Everything!
Seriously, I mean EVERYTHING. Before you rush off and book your dream venue, or drop thousands on a designer dress, make time to write a detailed list of every single category and expense you can think of. There's no need to price any of these items yet, but try and be as detailed as possible. Here's some categories to get you started: Venue, Rings, Transport, Attire, Food, Drink, Photographer, Entertainment, Wedding Favours, Ceremony Fees etc. If you can, break each category down into detailed mini-lists, for example, under attire you might have Bridal, Bridesmaids, Groomsmen and Groom, plus accessories. For some categories you might want to list different possible options, so under Food you might have Buffet, Light Refreshments, BBQ, 3-course meal etc.
Step 2: Estimate Your Guest List
How many people you invite to your wedding will have a huge impact on the cost. If you want a traditional wedding with a sit down wedding breakfast, the cost is pretty much directly related to the size of your guest list. The numbers of guests will determine the size of your venue, as well as how much food and alcohol you have to provide.
Thinking about your wedding as 'per-person expenditure' can help you put the costs into perspective. Yes, there are some costs that are unlikely to change much based on the size of the guest list (photographer, wedding dress, care hire, entertainment), but for many items the guest list will generate how much your need to pay for - including wedding favours, invitations, chair hire, and servings of cake.
If cutting your guest list isn't an option (it wasn't something I considered for more than about 5 seconds), and increasing your budget isn't either, then you need to make sure that you...
Step 3: Choose Your Non-Negotiables Carefully
It's likely that you and your fiancé will have slightly different priorities, so it's important to communicate honestly at this stage. Maybe you want an open bar for your guests, whilst he would rather splurge on the food. I always advise my clients to spend lavishly on the things that matter to them, and to cut ruthlessly on the things that don't.
Go back to the detailed list you made in Step 1 and rank each item based on how important it is to you. Start with the larger categories. If having the dress of your dreams is non-negotiable but hiring a videographer is a 'nice to have' then prioritise accordingly. Next, go through your mini-lists. This is a good time to cross some items off the list. Perhaps personalised invitations cards are important to you, but you're happy to have online RSVPs. My fiancé and I eliminated several items during this stage. Whilst I considered wedding favours and canapés as nice to have finishing touches, my fiancé didn't regard either as necessary at all, so in the end we just crossed both off our list as we knew there were other things we cared about a lot more.
Step 4: Do Your Research
So you now have a list (and a guest list) and you've ranked your items in order of importance. Now it's time to price everything. Starting with the most expensive categories like Venue and Food, do some research and find out what it is likely to cost. As a rough rule of thumb, around half your budget will go on the reception (including venue hire fees, food, drinks and decorations) and half on other costs (attire, entertainment, photographer, stationary etc).
When getting quotes from vendors, it is worth remembering that prices are often cheaper for off peak or midweek dates. For example, the venue we chose didn't have any Saturday dates available so we decided to go for a midweek date. Not only did this save us over 30% on the venue hire fee, it also allowed me to negotiate a shorter package with the photographer we wanted. If we had gone for a Saturday wedding the photographer wouldn't have been able to be as flexible and we would have had to opt for a 'full day' package that was over £1000 more than the one we actually booked.
Even if you have your heart set on a particular venue/caterer/florist/photographer, make sure you get a variety of quotes so that you can compare prices. If you are prepared to be flexible and are honest about what you need then most vendors will work with you to find a solution that works. For example, we knew that with our guest list of over 100 people the food was going to be a major part of our budget and we would have to be careful not to over spend. It was important to us that the food was high quality and that there was plenty of it, but we wanted our wedding to have a more informal festival vibe so the traditional seated wedding breakfast didn't seem like it was right for us. We chatted to several caterers about various options and have now booked food trucks from the amazing Fresh and Lush. This has kept our budget on track without having to compromise on anything important.
Step 5: Do The Numbers
You should now have a pretty good idea of what each element will cost, so now is the time to work out if what you've costed for fits your budget.
If you are way over budget I would encourage you to go through the previous four steps and see if there is anything you can eliminate. Focus your attention on areas like catering and venue hire as these account for a large percentage of your overall spend. Make sure you factor in as many hidden costs as you can at this stage. For example, make sure you talk to your venue about corkage fees, whether they include tables and chairs in the hire fee, what staff they will provide etc. These hidden costs can add up quickly and can really blow your budget out the water. If you are hoping to bring in your own alcohol for your reception, its worth finding a venue with a no corkage policy, even if this means paying slightly more for venue hire.
Google sheets have a really useful free wedding spreadsheet which I used to create both a rough budget and a detailed budget. You can share this spreadsheet with anyone else who is involved in the planning process and it is a really good way of keeping track of the different costs.
Step 6: Focus On What Really Matters
At the end of the day the most important thing is that you and your partner were able to celebrate your commitment to each other alongside the people you care about. It is so easy to get so caught up in the stress of wedding planning that you forget what really matters. Spending more doesn't mean having a more joyful day, and even if you decide to get married in a £50 dress at the registry office, I guarantee it will be a gorgeous and memorable wedding.