Your wedding day might be the best day of your life, but it is also likely to be the most expensive.
The average wedding in the UK costs £18,000, according to Hamish Shephard, founder of wedding planning app, Bridebook. He estimates that couples spend one third of this on the venue, one third on food and drink and the rest on everything else (entertainment, dress, decorations, etc).
Wedding costs saw a steep decline in the past year; on average it cost £10,898 to get married in the UK in 2020, compared to £16,005 the year before, according to Bridebook’s annual wedding report. This is due to the smaller guest numbers and limited celebrations.
However, even as we adjust to life after lockdown, we don’t have to return to uber-expensive weddings. In fact, it is perfectly possible to have a luxury wedding on a budget. So we have spoken to the experts to find out ways to cut costs, and compiled a guide to how to find an affordable venue, dress, flowers and any decorations you can make yourself.
How to save money on a luxury wedding
Go out of season
“The number one way to save money on a wedding is to get married mid-week rather than on the weekend,” Shephard says. You could save more than half of your venue costs. If you’re happy to move your date out of the summer season, you’ll save even more. “A Thursday in March can quite often be 70 per cent less than a Saturday in June,” he says.
Invite fewer guests
If you invite hundreds of guests then, naturally, the wedding costs are going to pile up as you will need a larger venue and more food and drink. One solution could be to have a very small reception of, say, 15 guests. Shephard recommends “an incredible tasting menu at a top restaurant” for luxury that you can afford. If you do want a large number of guests, he again recommends an off-peak season wedding.
Sometimes risk pays off – quite literally. “Some venues have cancellation lists – so if you are willing to plan your wedding in a shorter time frame, you could save thousands on your celebration,” explains Charlotte O’Shea, founder of UK wedding planning resource, Rock My Wedding.
Hire your own caterers
“Venues that provide a blank canvas - called 'dry hire' - and enable you to hire your own caterers can often be more inexpensive than those that offer the full package with in-house minimum spend,” explains O’Shea. “That way couples can negotiate on their food and drink costs.”
Save on food
If you want to save money on catering, scrap the three-course sit-down meal. You could have two courses and then have the wedding cake as dessert, as O’Shea suggests. Alternatively, Shephard recommends sharing plates or street food trucks as a way of cutting costs.
He also recommends high tea, for a luxurious feel. “You could get married at one of the best venues in the UK and do a high tea as your wedding reception - we’ve seen this quite often, a gorgeous afternoon tea at a stunning venue mid-week, you’ll be able to do that for often well under £10,000 and potentially considerably less than that,” Shephard says.
If you are able to bring your own alcohol to a venue, you will save a lot of money (although you’ll still often have to pay some corkage towards the glassware and serving). Shephard recommends buying your alcohol in the Christmas and Bank Holiday offers. “If you buy all your champagne then you can often save over £1,000,” he says.
Don’t get married in London
Perhaps unsurprisingly, London is the most expensive in the UK for getting married - the average wedding in 2019 in London cost £19,086, but Shephard says London weddings can cost up to £38,000.
Instead, swap the big city for a manor in the countryside. The cheapest place to get married is in the North West England, where the average wedding in 2019 cost just £12,419 (and £8,965 in 2020). Other more affordable spots in the UK include the East Midlands, East of England and Scotland.
Keep it in the family
Where possible, “seek out family members and friends and utilise their skills,” O’Shea recommends. Perhaps you have a graphic designer in the family who could design invitations, or one of your bridesmaids is incredibly talented when it comes to hair and makeup. Maybe someone in the family even has a vintage car that could get you to the church.
“Luxury doesn’t have to be the antithesis of DIY,” Shephard adds. “Having a family friend make you a beautiful summer fruit wedding cake with strawberries and everything falling off it can be absolutely amazing.”
Best venues for a luxury wedding on a budget
The average cost of a wedding venue is around the £6,000 mark. With that in mind, the following are some of the best luxury venues that you can hire on a budget.
Ruthin Castle House
Have your wedding reception in a castle fit for royalty. Ruthin Castle was built by King Edward I and, more recently, HRH Prince Charles was a guest.
The beautiful venue is set in acres of parkland beside the Clwydian Rangein North Wales and is ideal for a grand reception. Packages start at just £2,250 (which still includes a sparkling drinks reception, six finger buffet, DJ and disco and complimentary stay in a guest suite).
Forty Hall and Estate
Forty Hall Estate is a Grade I listed manor house in an idyllic setting. It’s a great venue for couples who want to get married in the countryside, but near enough to London to accommodate their guests. The venue has capacity for 80 guests for a ceremony and 100 for an evening reception, and prices start at just £2,900 for a weekend (and £2,400 for a week day). Alternatively, you can book for just the ceremony or just the reception for a discounted price.
We were also impressed with Hedsor House, a stunning Georgian mansion with over 100 acres of private parkland, a short distance from the city. It is slightly more expensive (dry hire is £5,950) but could be worth exploring as an option.
Hodstock Priory is a country manor house set in 800 acres of countryside, on the outskirts of Nottinghamshire. Aside from the gorgeous grounds, we were particularly impressed by The Pavillion, the main room for the reception, which is flooded with natural light from the Georgian windows. It can hold up to 130 people for a wedding breakfast and 240 for an evening reception. Prices depend on when you book - a winter wedding on a weekday, for instance, would cost just £1,500, whereas a weekend in July or August would cost up to £3,950.
On a separate note, it can be cost-effective to hold your wedding reception in a village hall or National Trust site. It can also be worth looking into holding it at a gorgeous country pub, which is more affordable as you will not need to pay to hire the venue. The Ryde Castle Hotel in the Isle of Wight, for instance, has three set wedding menus to choose from, and prices start at just £55 per guest for food and drinks.
Best wedding dresses
On average, a bride will spend around £1,000 on their wedding dress, according to the Bridebook wedding report.
If you’re looking for a bargain, O’Shea recommends keeping up to date with your favourite boutiques. “Sign up for the newsletters of dress designers and boutiques you love,” she says. “Couples will be made aware of sample sales, with gowns often at 50 per cent off the RRP.”
While you are free to take O’Shea’s advice and do your own research, the following are our favourite dresses for an affordable luxury wedding.
1. Bridal Reloved
Bridal Reloved sells pre-owned wedding dresses for a fraction of their original price. The Millie May wedding dress, for instance, is now £500 - down from £1,000. This is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of buying wedding dresses - and is becoming more and more popular, according to Shephard.
Likewise, renting a dress is growing in popularity; Carrie Symonds married Boris Johnson in a rented wedding dress, which cost just £45. Like Symonds, you can browse the dresses of My Wardrobe HQ if you just want a dress for the day.
2. ASOS Edition Angelina Lace Cami Wedding Dress
ASOS Edition is a great place to start looking for dresses and you can find plenty of designer-looking offerings for under £200. We particularly like the lace train of the Angelina dress pictured above. Elsewhere on the site, the Ottilie halter dress is just £180.
3. Multiway Bridal Maxi Dress
The flowing material and backless design lends this Grecian-looking dress an effortlessly elegant vibe. It’s also great value for money at under £100.
Best ways to save on flowers and decoration
Typically, wedding decorations cost about £620 (or at least they did in 2019 - in 2020 they were considerably cheaper, at £328).
If you’re looking to cut prices on decorations, O’Shea recommends “purchasing pre-loved decor”. Second-hand vases, furniture, lighting and other decorations are available at Rock My Wedding, or you can browse charity shops for unique pieces of china and crystal to use as centrepieces. O’Shea also recommends signing up for newsletters from online stores that sell decorative pieces, so you can keep up-to-date with sales.
Shephard believes you won’t need to do much decorating, depending on your venue. “Bear in mind that if you’re getting married at a beautiful venue, often you don’t need to bring in any decoration or production, you might only need a small amount of flowers,” he says.
To save money on floral decorations, O’Shea recommends you ask your florist for seasonal blooms, as these are considerably cheaper than those that are out of season. It’s also worth minimising the amount you use. “One statement floral installation and minimal table flowers may be significantly cheaper than multiple centre pieces and just as visually effective,” O’Shea says. Greenery and branches can also look “incredibly elegant,” she says, and are often considerably cheaper than flower stems.
Best DIY touches: What you can do yourself
There are some simple ways to minimise expenditure. Instead of having individual stationery pieces for each guest, for instance, O’Shea recommends having one statement ‘order of the day’ or menu on the entrance of your wedding ceremony or breakfast. You could even make your table plan or menu by hand, using calligraphy on acrylic or glass, with seasonal blooms as decoration. This is “very popular and extremely effective as a focal point,” she says.
You could also make the invitations by hand, as well as the place cards, wedding cake, confetti and table favours.
Shephard tells me that tiny bottles of sloe gin are popular for wedding favours. He has been to a wedding where each guest had a postcard on their table, from a place of significance to the couple, with a personalised message. Likewise, Shephard remembers a wedding where the couple went to a charity shop and bought a book for each person; on the cover, they wrote why they had chosen that book for each guest. Such small touches are affordable and will also make your day memorable for your guests.