Hi, and thank you for taking a look at our mini guide on how to start planning your wedding. Now before we go any further please allow us to provide you with some context. We are a couple who celebrated our 10 year anniversary last year! We were married at 24 years of age, we paid for the entire wedding ourselves, and we spent in the region of £15,000! Before you think we are a pair of wealthy, flashy show offs - no, we certainly are not. In fact we borrowed money to help pay for our wedding, and although we both had decent jobs, at the time we were below the UK average pay. This meant we were willing to spend a lot of money that we didn't and couldn't really afford to create our 'perfect' day.
The reason for mentioning the cost is to raise the issue of how expensive weddings CAN be. They don't have to be, and the aim of this quick starter guide is to help you make some informed initial decisions that are based on our knowledge of the wedding industry, our own personal experiences, and experiences of others that we have taken on board over the years.
Although we wouldn't class ourselves as 'experts' in the wedding industry, I don't think anyone can say they are an expert really. The reason for this, is YOUR wedding is about YOU, and not someone else's wants, needs and preferences. So a person either has a more detailed experience and knowledge of weddings, or they have less experience, but there are no 'experts' as the topic is a subjective one. This wedding planning guide is for those who really don't know where to start and want a rough guide about the decisions they need to make.
Different people have varying tastes, budgets and circumstances. Your big day should be built on a foundation of choices based around what YOU want.
After years of working in the public sector with a leadership, management and customer service background we are now videographers and photographers who focus on the client. A good story relies on the characters - if you are getting married you are the lead part! It is therefore vital that you are doing this based on what will make YOU happy!!!
So we will briefly touch on a number of elements which will contribute towards your wedding day, and will have you spending your hard earned cash (or maybe someone else's if you are lucky!) With each element consider what YOU value, what is important to YOU. We will try to give you our thought process behind the decisions we would make if we were getting married again - tomorrow! Here goes:
1) Venue & Catering
Unless you are having a very small wedding (nothing wrong with that), it is inevitable that you will spend the largest chunk of your budget on the location, structures, food and drink. The great thing is there are soooo many options these days.
Once upon a time you got married in a church or a registry office. Churches were strict. Very few places were geared up for large wedding parties and events at scale so in an geographical area, only a handful of places could feed a large wedding group.
Going back ten years when we got married larger hotels had wedding licences for civil ceremonies, but it usually came as a package deal. If I remember correctly I think we paid over 8k to our venue. That would be more like 12k now!!! You had to take their food package, their drinks package, their evening buffet package, and their DJ if you wanted to get married there. They had you over a barrel.
Luckily things have changed and the competition in the market means most places have relaxed things a little. Yes, if you want a particularly popular venue they can dictate the terms, but there are so many more venues that are licensed and equipped for weddings now. It is also a lot less difficult to plan weddings abroad, so if saying your vows on the top of a mountain, or standing on the sand is what you are all about, then get on that plane. Remember it is YOUR day, and you will not please everyone in your family - so if you want to go to Santorini or Ibiza to get wed, just go and make the family happy with a party when you return home.
You can get married inside, outside, in a hotel, barn, or special outdoor structure that does not resemble a building. Churches have relaxed things a fair bit so you don't have to jump through quite as many hoops as you once did, and so many places are prepared to cater for large groups that you can do it YOUR way. You can also have more choice over your food, so if Hog Roast or BBQ sounds more your thing than having a full roast dinner, take the nosh in that direction.
So what is it that makes you happy?
Go with a venue that compliments the theme you want, rather than trying to make the venue match your theme. Quirky bohemian in a tipee, rustic chill in an old barn, or glam and elegant in a 5 star hotel. This is a big decision, so go and look at lots of places and do it way in advance of the wedding to get the best date and the best price. You will build the rest of the wedding around this.
2) Dresses, suits, looks and bling.
I'm grouping a few bits together here because in themselves they can be very expensive. But as both parties getting married, and entourage are going to need clothes then you have to view it as one expenses. Nice Jewellery is never cheap, and it's not just about the rings. Girls like bracelets and necklaces, and boys like watches. It can get very expensive.
Now here is our view on this area of a wedding, it has two points to it. The first being that you get what you pay for and if you want the peace of mind of things being of good quality with someone to put things right if you’re not happy then you need to budget for this. That doesn't mean a dress from china or a suit from the charity shop can't work out for you, but just don't expect that it is going to be the same as getting a Charlotte Balbier from a reputable boutique.
This brings us into the second point. We are not wealthy, and we don't normally dress in bespoke designer clothes. So, a mainstream wedding dress boutique, and boys suits from somewhere like Next makes total sense for us. You can look nice and smart, without spending a fortune. BUT IF you can afford it, and you are into your clobber, then potentially expect to be paying a few thousand. Just remember you will probably never wear any of this stuff ever again!
Now the rings are a little more important, because you will probably (hopefully) be wearing them until the day you die. They are a bit of an investment, so put a decent chunk of your budget aside for them. Make informed, practical decisions. Try things on, think about their durability. If you are a bloke with a manual job is a shiny gold ring the way to go? We have known men choose a band/bracelet or other piece of Jewellery very for practical reasons. Don't be pressured into sticking with the norm.
The hair and make-up thing is definitely a personal taste. You may ask your usual hair stylist to come and do your day and decide your bridesmaids can do your make-up for you if you trust them. But honestly finding a good MUA should be something you do in advance, and I would suggest choosing someone who specialises in bridal parties so that you know everything will go smoothly on the day. Ensure you obtain a fixed quote for these services and if possible settle the bill in advance of the day. We have done weddings where a disagreement over payment amount with the MUA has soured the day before the ceremony has even begun.
3) Memories & documenting
We will try and remain impartial here, but as we tell wedding stories we would rank this the third most important thing after having somewhere to get married, something to eat and drink, and people not being naked during the proceedings!
Hopefully this will be the only time you do this, it will be upon reflection in years to come one of the most important days of your life. It is also probably one of the only occasions in your life when you will have all of your nearest and dearest in the same place at the same time. Into the future some of those people will no longer be with you and this maybe the best memory you might have of them.
You may have children who would love to see when their parents got married. Also, you have already spent perhaps the largest wedge of cash you've ever let go of for elements 1 & 2 of this day, so being able to look back at how lovely everything has to hold some importance.
Like everything else with the wedding, it has to be treated in proportion to your budget and plans. If you go to the local registry office and then pop down the boozer for a pie and a pint with a couple of witnesses, then I wouldn't suggest going crazy with a photographer and videographer. In fact, it's probably the one situation where I would say just capture some snaps on your phone and they will be an adequate memory of the day.
BUT if you are spending thousands on the day, and the occasion means a lot to you then you will only regret not investing accordingly on keeping those memories alive.
I am not going to give you a rundown of why you need a professional to capture the day for you, if you want more on that you can read it in another one of our blog posts. What I will say is the generally guide has always been spend 10% on your photographer. Well that is all good and well, but if your wedding budget is £1000 then that's £100. Again - unless you find a very reliable photography student don't spend £100 on a photographer. Put that cash behind the bar and take snaps on a phone. I'm not being derogatory to lower priced photographers, it's just that it will almost certainly be a waste of money if you spend that much on a photographer (this is explained in another blog post).
We provide both photograph and videography services. We do packages where we offer both together which keeps things as simple as possible for our clients and prevents having to compromise on one. But if I had to choose between having wedding photos or a wedding film I would choose film. A number of clients who have hired us for videography and someone else for photography have remarked afterwards that they treasure their wedding film more than the photos - and the photos were taken by bloody good photographers!
The main thing with choosing your videographer or photographer is that you choose someone based on three simple things. First of all set a budget that you are able to spend. This needs to be in proportion to what you are spending on the wedding in total, and although there are professional's working at a variety of price points I would budget at least £1000 for each as a minimum. But if you can afford more than that you will probably end up with better quality images/films.
The second thing is to choose the style of the photography/videography that you like. This is a topic in itself so I won't go into it here, but once you know the style you like, research local photographers who provide that style, create a shortlist, then arrange a chat or a meet with your favourite ones. This leads nicely on to number three - research the person you plan to hire, speak with them, maybe meet them, you need to like them as a person. You will be spending the entire day with them and they will be with you on some of the most important moments of your life. There are some real odd balls out there in the world of photography/videography, so make sure you don't end up spending thousands to be irritated by someone (I am speaking from personal experience here!)
4) Music & Entertainment
We are now starting to think about elements of your wedding that I would class as optional luxuries. There are definitely options to explore if you have a restricted budget, but equally if you can afford Elton John to perform at your wedding then why not!
Choose the entertainment and music to your own tastes and to complement the feel of your wedding. We have filmed barn style wedding venues where they had a Scottish Ceilidh all the way through to the traditional disc spinning wedding DJ in a plush hotel.
If like your cheesy pop, don’t just assume you need a DJ. There are some amazing function bands out there these days, and they will play everything from Bon Jovi to Bruno Mars. These musical maestros can really get that dance floor filled and give your guests something to watch rather than just listen to.
Personally, I love my house music, and I can’t resist singing along to a good R & B beat, so I would hire a good DJ. But nowadays you can get amazing live musicians who will fuse their saxophone with a DJ to create your own Ibiza vibe at your reception. Remember it’s your day - create the day you want!
Music isn't just restricted to the evening. Consider sound for the day. Maybe you like strings, jazz, or a pianist to provide some ambiance at the drinks reception. You can hire live singers performing Opera through to Motown - whatever you can think of there are options out there.
Other ways to entertain the guests and add a little extra razzmatazz to your day is to hire a performer like a magician. I’ve seen some pretty impressive tricks whilst we have been filming, and I can say they are always a hit with the guests.
If you are inviting a significant number of children to your reception I great investment to the sanity of you and your guests is a children’s entertainer. There are some great options out there from Disney style characters walking around and interacting with the kids to full blown portable play gyms! There are also numerous options out there to hire large scale games like Jenga or Connect Four.
Photo booths, mirrors, video booths - these have been all the rage in recent years. They are popular for a reason, and I have thought about offering these services alongside our videography and photography. But as fun and entertaining as they might be for 5 minutes per guest, I don’t personally feel they are a priority investment for those on a budget. So if you can afford go for it, you will end up with some great fun photos - but they will probably look the same as the ones at every other wedding. Whereas an actual wedding film, or your wedding photos will be completely unique to you and your day. So, if I was looking at how to distribute the budget the photo booth thing would be less important than a lot of other things we have already discussed.
If you are into your fireworks, a display or sparkler tunnel adds a lovely element to your evening reception, and they look amazing in your video or photos - so if you want the looks, these are great additions.
5) Cakes, fancy things, stationary and decoration
Each element is important and will make up the finer details of your wedding, but they are further down the list for me. Not that they aren't important, and not that you shouldn’t go all out if you can afford to. But unless you are going to put on a free bar for all your guests for the entire night these elements will be the ones you and your guests will appreciate and remember the least - and could cost you a lot more than investing in a good videographer or photographer.
For example when we got married we had a cake maker build a replication of New York’s Empire State Building. That was where we got engaged and was the theme for our wedding reception - the cake being the party piece. The 4 foot high, cake of amazement cost was over £500, which in today’s money is pushing a grand. ON A CAKE! I really wouldn’t advise this. Other than one photo of us (fake) cutting our cake, it was meaningless in the bigger picture of the day.
We also had a chocolate fountain, it was great, a big hit with some of the guests who were partial to a spot of chocolate fondue. But did we enjoy it and would it have mattered if there was no fountain and the cake was a simple sponge from Asda - no I don’t think it would have impacted on the day at all! We never made use of the fountain, and we never ate any of the cake.
That’s £1000 of our budget that in reflection wasn’t really worth spending and I wish we had spent it elsewhere like the honeymoon, entertainment, or a better photographer! The same applies for all those other 'extras' you can have on your wedding. What I am saying is don't feel pressured to do things because you think you should provide this for the guests - it is your day and you are allowed to think about yourself.
As for decor, that really is one of those areas that can get really expensive really quickly. I have seen some impressive set ups over the years. I love the light up letters, beautiful bows, table centre pieces that represent art works, and elegant seating plans and place names. If you can afford to decorate your room to create that magical feel, then you definitely should, and if DIY doesn't sound like fun, hire a room decorator. But I would say if it’s between purchasing a drinks package for your guests to enjoy with their meal and during the toasts, or a fancy vase for their table I know which one they are going to appreciate more!
More weddings these days are not held at churches, and that means there are fewer occasions where the places the wedding party is getting ready, having the ceremony and celebrating the reception are in different places. So although there are fewer weddings that require transport, there are a lot more options when it comes to getting to the church on time!
There are the old classic vintage cars that look elegant and lovely, a Rolls Royce Phantom to add some real bling to the day, or maybe you prefer something a little quirkier like an old VW camper van. If you want to keep everyone together so they can ditch the cars and get straight on the booze you could hire an old bus (or a new one!) Finally for those fairytale dream weddings, they wouldn’t be complete without the horse drawn cart or carriage.
Don’t feel you can’t just use Dad’s Jag with a bow on it, it really isn’t going to make a big difference unless your hiring your ‘husband to be’ a Ferrari to make his way to the ceremony! But when choosing transport, if your investing in it for your wedding, make sure it reflects your personality and matches your theme.
I am going to write much here. It’s a holiday, potentially the holiday of a lifetime. These days it is commonly expected that people will give you money instead of a wedding present, and what better to do with that money (other than pay off the visa bill you racked up on the wedding) than on an awesome holiday.
A week camping in the dales, to a week in Dubai. It really is down to what will make you smile. But just remember your going to need a decent slice of rest and recuperation after planning and executing your wedding, so unless you really have no choice don’t go back to work the Monday after your big day!!!
Now as we come to the end of our wedding planning guide post there are a couple of other things you need to consider and add to the list of planning your perfect wedding, but we don't want to overwhelm you. There are the legalities, you need to register and give notice to get married anywhere. This needs to be done at least 28 days before the date you plan to marry, but it is better to be a lot more organised than that, so make those enquires with your registry office at the same time as the rest of your plans. If you are planning a church wedding you will want to approach the church, way in advance, maybe even before anything else. Nearer the wedding you will have to attend church a number of times to have your bands read, and the minister at the church will have a lot more input into your wedding ceremony than a civil registrar.
Way before the big day you need to be thinking about the roles people will play in the wedding, and the logistics on the day of where people will get ready, how they will get there, and how they will get home!
With all of the above you may have racked up a small fortune in services and products to pay for, so because you never know what life will throw at you it is a good idea to protect yourself against the unexpected. You insure you car, your house, your life, so why not invest in some wedding insurance.
Right, that’s about it. None of the opinions expressed in this blog are intended to suggest that you shouldn’t bother spending money on certain elements of a typical wedding set up. If you have 20-30k you can probably have it all and be happy you spent the lot.
I am merely trying to suggest where I would prioritise my budget if I was to get married again. I see many posts on forums etc that show lists of people’s budgets and they have spent the same on a photo booth as they have on their photographer, and that doesn’t make sense to me when I consider the time, effort and expertise that go into the two. I see couples with a 5k budget spending £1,500 on their dress and then moaning about how expensive the DJ is, who is charging £250 for the whole night.
Place importance on what is important to you, but appreciate why things cost what they do, and prioritise on what will be appreciated by you and your guests the most.
Good luck to YOU and try have fun with YOUR plans!