Wedding Costs Part I

Published on:

June 29, 2005

The average cost of a UK wedding is now around £17,000. Yes, there's no escaping the fact that weddings are big, expensive and legally binding. However, bear in mind there is a clear distinction here between the cost of marriage and the cost of weddings. In England and Wales, you can marry at a Register Office for around £100. This leaves £16,900 accounted for by the wedding industry!

Up and down the country, thousands of shops, companies and publications beaver away tirelessly with a single aim in mind -- helping families to spend as much money as possible to make the perfect day, thus warding off the bad luck pixies that cause marriages to fail.

Flicking through any bridal magazine, you'll be hard pushed to find any practical details on the ceremony, financial planning, legalities and so on. What you will find are pages and pages of glossy advertisements, interspersed with advice on where to buy everything from silk thongs to vacuum cleaners. Prospective brides stepping into a wedding dress shop are swept away by staff into a dreamy white fairyland of silk and satin, with photographs of the happy brides who have passed through this till before pinned allusively to the cash desk. Against this kind of emotional onslaught, even the most Foolish bride-to-be would struggle to keep a lid on the costs.

There is nothing romantic about starting your life together heavily in debt. But then again, as the wedding industry would say, it is the most important day of your life, and besides, spending money is fun and now you have the perfect excuse. So how do you get the fairytale wedding without the nightmare overdraft?

The most important rule is: be realistic. The wedding industry is based on fantasy, but at the end of the day, if it rains, if you break out in acne the day before, if the bridesmaids are sick on the vicar, there is nothing you can do about it, regardless of how much you have spent. That's not to say that anything or everything will go wrong, but that no matter how hard you try, you can never make things truly "perfect" in the abstract sense. Many wartime brides will tell you they had a "perfect" wedding, in spite of very "imperfect" circumstances.

Apply this sense of gritty, down-to-earth realism to your budget:

  • Make sure that everyone who is paying for the wedding is happy with the budget.
  • Try deciding what you really want and then seeing how inexpensively you can get it.
  • Shop around for everything -- a bridal shop may not be the best place to buy hosiery, for example.
  • Try deciding who you want to be at the wedding and then working on the invites, rather than deciding on 100 guests and then inviting people at the office who make your life hell, or relatives you last saw when you were six, just to make up the numbers. Remember: you are buying copious amounts of food and alcohol for these people.
  • It's common practice in many areas of business to label up the most expensive packages as "Premiere" or "Regal". Start with "Budget" and work upwards.
  • Watch out for hidden costs, like you've hired the room but chairs are extra.

There is such a thing as "wedding insurance", with policies priced from around £45 to cover up to £3,000 worth of cancellation expenses. None of these policies will cover being left standing at the altar, or having to cancel because his divorce didn't come through in time. When deciding whether to take out cover and how much cover you need, work on how much out of pocket you would be if you didn't turn up on the day. This will generally be any deposits or payments up front, plus any cancellation penalties. Bear in mind that items like dresses and cakes may survive to be used at a later date, but flowers and so on will probably have to be re-ordered.

If you're changing your name, expect administrative chaos for at least the next six months. All those shares to re-register, all those PEP and ISA details to change. Note that some naughty ISA managers may charge for name changes.

So, a rough cost guide so far:

Ceremony only -- Church of England standard fees set by the Archbishops' Council are £198 for the marriage service only, £18 for the publication of banns and £12 for the banns certificate. You will be looking at around £100 for a Register Office ceremony and from around £250 all in for a licensed venue civil wedding.

Rings -- 9ct plain gold bands start from around £30, men's are often a little more expensive. You can get some real second-hand bargains, but only from reputable jewellers.

Dress -- Standard wedding dresses start from around £300 up to... well, add a nought or two. Throw in tiara and/or veil, underwear, shoes, net underskirt (usually hired), make up, hair, stole or wrap (essential for cool-season ceremonies), handbag, gloves and you are looking at possibly the same amount again. Then there's the bridesmaids to kit out...

Flowers -- basic bridal bouquets start from around £30, simple buttonholes from around £2. Floral arrangement prices will depend on size, the flowers used and so on. Depending on your ceremony style, you may need allow up to a few hundred pounds for flowers.

Reception -- Venue hire from around £50 to silly money, catering from around £15 per head for a fairly standard set menu or buffet to restaurant-level prices.

Hmm, there's a lot more to this marriage lark than meets the eye, isn't there? In Part 2 of this guide, we look at the nitty-gritty of planning the ceremony itself!

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