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I'm sure anyone who has planned a wedding agrees it is the best day of your life. The fact that you know you'll share the rest of your life with the man (or woman) is one of the most comforting feelings you'll ever experience. And I suppose the big wedding with all the trimmings isn't needed but most brides will agree it is important things run smoothly on the day.
This review is really intended for all the brides-to-be, but to any grooms-to-be that are curious as to what actually goes on behind the scenes, you're more than welcome to have a sneaky peak!
____ THE BEGINNING ____
Well, it all starts with the proposal. This is the beginning of the whole planning process. I know some people that are very romantic when it comes to this (on top of the Eiffel tower, the ring hidden in a Kinder Egg, on the London Eye in a private capsule) and others that really could have put a bit more effort in it (at a West Ham footie match). But when it happens, you know that you'll have a lot of planning to do.
Remember to get notice of marriage. You'll need to go to the registry office and fill in a form. It includes full name, occupation, where you intend to get married etc. Once this is filled in you have to wait 16 days before the wedding can take place. When I got married in 2004 I think it was £35 to register. Remember to bring 2 forms of ID too.
____ MONEY ____
First, you need to decide on a budget and who will pay. We were lucky as my parents and parents in law decided on the budget between them, and all I had to do as buy the dress and the bridesmaids dresses. Obviously this won't apply to everyone but it is so important to set a realistic budget and, more than anything else, stick to it! When you have this you'll know exactly what to spend on the Big Day.
Apparently, it seems that the average wedding can cost about £14,000. This includes around £1,200 for the rings, £1,400 for the wedding outfits and essential pampering in the run-up to the big day and £1,300 for the wedding itself. The reception adds a further £3,500 and then, of course, there's the honeymoon and various other expenses.
I opened a special 'Wedding account' at Barclays and added a regular sum of money out of my salary. This way, all the expenses were accounted for and I knew what money was going where.
BUDGET SAVING TIPS: Most people will get married on a Saturday out of sheer convenience and so that as many guests can attend as possible. However, you may not realize that getting married on a weekday is cheaper by a long shot. It may not be traditional, and some guests may not be able to attend, but when you think that guests usually have half a year once the invites are sent out to the actual wedding, it shouldn't be too hard for them to arrange a day off!
Also, instead of getting married during peak seasons (like July, December etc) why not go for a more unusual month? The weather is NEVER guaranteed even in the summer months (It rained all day July 10th!) and it will be a lot cheaper. Not only because of the venue but also the honeymoon won't be during peak times either!
____ VENUE ____
Ok, so you have the budget, now its time to look for a venue. The traditional option is a religious location. You'll need to check with the minister as to when the wedding can take place, any guidelines you'll need to follow etc. Another option more people are choosing is a civil wedding. They are weddings that have no religious themes and are performed by a Registrar. They can be anywhere, as long as the location has been registered and is legally allowed to perform marriage ceremonies. Some locations are museums or stately homes, others can be performed the place where you are having the reception.
Some locations include (they will actually have weddings in these places):
London Zoo Bateaux London (cruise ships on the Thames) Café Royale Rowton Castle
BUDGET SAVING TIP: The venues above may be expensive! However, if the wedding ceremony is at the place where you will be having the reception (civil wedding) you shouldn't need to hire a car and it will work out a lot more convenient too!
Now, once you have the ceremony location, its time to look for a reception hall. There are a few options here. You can either go for a hall with caterers included, which can be very pricey for what you'll actually get, or rent a hall and get your own caterers in. If you want to go for the first option start looking in the Yellow Pages and get prices and sample menus. Find out exactly what is included in the price and ask any questions you feel are necessary.
Some factors you will need to keep in mind are:
What is the maximum seating capacity? What is the maximum buffet capacity? Does the venue hold an alcohol licence? Does it have a late licence (will you have to leave the premises by a certain time?) Is there the facility for entertainment and dancing? Is there wheelchair access? Is there an opportunity for (nice) outdoor/indoor photos?
Particularly for a hall with caterers you'll need to know how much the meal is going to cost per head. Most meals are quite basic compared to what you'll pay!
If you want to go for the second option, it can be a lot cheaper. School halls are a good option; town halls can look beautiful if they look period. Use your imagination. Again, look through the yellow pages and see who would be wiling. Remember, the venue may not look much, but make wise use of decoration and you'll have a full blown princess wedding if you want!
Once you have decided on the venues, provisionally book them. This will allow you to be flexible in case you cant get caterers, the minister wont be available etc.
So, you have the ceremony and receptions booked and ready to go. What next?
____ THEMES ____
Here's the chance to really be creative. Most people choose a colour theme (reds and purples were quite popular last year). The theme will be reflected in the decoration, the bridesmaid's dresses, the cake, the grooms outfit and invitations. Remember to think 'why' you're choosing the theme. If one of you is Italian, would you want this theme tied in somehow, maybe not with the decoration, but food or entertainment? Choose something that is personal to both of you.
Some example themes are:
Red and Silver Purple and Gold Barbie Pink and White (or brown!) Black and White Fairytale (a big puffy dress, lots of whites and silvers, candle lights and fairy lights etc) Scottish Oriental
The choices are endless. Remember if you want the guests to tie in with the theme, provide them with enough notice. Not everyone may have a ball gown or morning suit. Also, consider who will be going. You grandmother may not feel comfortable wearing a gorilla costume!
where you are having the wedding too. If it's a stately home, a fairytale wedding would fit in quite well. Also, it doesn't have to tie in with everything; just choosing the decorations and flowers would be effective enough.
BUDGET SAVING TIP: Always remember that less is more. Ask friends to do the flowers. Find a florist that will be willing to give discounts and arrange them as necessary! A cheaper option would be balloons. You can get a helium balloon kit with choice of colours for about £30 on eBay. Candles look very effective and are quite cheap.
You can decide specific decorations nearer the time, but have a look around to find the cheapest prices in the meantime!
____ SPECIAL PEOPLE ____
Now's the time to look for bridesmaids, page boys and the groom should look for ushers. Traditionally, bridesmaids aren't supposed to be married, but this isn't always the case. Family or friends can fill this role. Remember, they are there to help you on the day, so make sure that in particular the chief bridesmaid knows her roles. Ushers have the same responsibility. They are there to ensure the smooth running of the day and to assist the groom with various duties. Some duties include:
Helping with decorations Assisting out-of-town guests Starting the dancing in the evening Hosting the hen/stag parties
Always remember they are your assistants for the day. Don't be afraid to ask them to help out on the day; being a bridesmaid is a privilege but also has responsibilities too.
When it comes to ushers and the best men, this is the grooms department. The best man should be someone close to the groom, a friend, brother or even father. The best man assists the groom with all aspects of the wedding and is traditionally asked to give a speech. His duties usually include collecting and giving out buttonholes, collecting the rings, making sure the bride and groom are all set for their holidays etc. Ushers follow similarly to the bridesmaid duties.
BUDGET SAVING TIP: If you are having lots of bridesmaids the cost of the dresses can mount up quickly. You don't need those puffy princess dresses to make your bridesmaids feel special. Maybe ask a dressmaker friend to make some dresses with inexpensive material, or try sale shopping for dresses. You can even have the bridesmaids choose what style of dress or skirt they want and just match up colours as my sister in law did. It looked really classy on the day and all she did was get some nice dresses and skirts from TopShop!
Traditionally, the bridesmaids will pay for the accessories and shoes and the bride will pay for the dresses, although I know a few brides that have requested their bridesmaids to pay for their own dresses. This was the case when the dresses were a lot simpler and are more than likely to be worn again and also when the bridesmaids were asked to choose their own dresses. Mention whether you will be paying for the dresses or asking your bridesmaids to pay early on. This will stop any confusion arising (and any arguments too!).
When it comes to the ushers and best men, they are attired in the same fashion as the groom. If the groom is wearing morning dress then it is traditional for the ushers to follow suit! At our wedding, my husband bought a designer suit in the sales and asked his ushers to wear suits in the same colour. They bought their own suits if they didn't already have one and we paid for the ties, all matching from Tie Rack.
BUDGET SAVING TIP: Like mentioned above, feel free to ask ushers to wear a simple suit and buy a tie to match, usually in the same colour as the bridesmaids.
____ THE MOST IMPORTANT THING(S) OF ALL ____
It can be white, ivory, gold or silver. It can be tailor made or bought off the shelf. It can be as complicated or simple as you like, and the cost can be anything from £50 upwards. Yes, it's 'The Dress'.
Budget will decide on exactly what you can get. Most brides will agree that although The Dress is very important on the day, after the wedding it usually gets wrapped up and left to hang in the wardrobe for years and years after. This is something to consider when deciding on what to buy (or hire in some cases). It doesn't hurt to start dress hunting up to 12 months before the ceremony, especially if you've set a date during the busy summer months.
If you're having a dress made or altered in any way, the final fitting should be two weeks before the wedding so as to avoid any mis-fittings on the day!
Style and fit should be right for your figure. Consider your skin tone when choosing the colour and fabric of your Dress. Try on a few different styles and take a trusted friend for honest advice, usually the chief bridesmaid will accompany you on this. One point of advice I will give is this: the sales people are trained to sell. They will use any methods available to get you to buy that dress. Any means whatsoever. They may cry and set your hair up with a tiara, they may give you flowers and tell you that 'that Dress' has been tried on so many different women and it suits you so much better. But DON'T feel pressured in any way to buy anything your not sure about.
BUDGET SAVING TIP: Try looking for dresses in sales, department stores and even on eBay (make sure you measure yourself beforehand as sizes vary). If you're skilled, why not make your own? Look in magazines for ideas. Or find a simple dress and liven it up with your own personal touch. The pink dress below (see photos) was dyed and altered by the bride for her own personal touch. Also, you may be able to find a dress in other sections of department stores. You might find a nice cocktail dress or ball gown that you can wear. Why not rent a dress? Well, its never going to be worn again really, is it?
If your going to buy a dress make sure you know exactly what you're paying for. Some stores may have an insurance policy as standard, not helpful if you've already taken out insurance. Some dresses may be plus VAT, others may include fitting and alteration charges. Just be smart and try not to be too impulsive!
Maybe not as important as the bride's gown is the groom's attire. You'll need to decide what he wants and what will fit in with the style of the wedding. As mentioned earlier, instead of opting for the morning suit and cravat option, why not buy a suit that can be worn again?
This is the time to also sort what shoes and other accessories you'll need. Once the dress is all in order, find your veil, hairpiece or tiara and get your shoes too. I personally don't see why some brides pay over the moon for a pair of shoes they'll never wear again so…
BUDGET SAVING TIP: Shoes don't have to be posh and expensive. Why not buy a pair of shoes you'll wear again? After all, if your opting for the full ball gown, they're not really going to bee seen much, if at all. As regards hairpieces, why not borrow your mothers or grandmothers if they still have them. Another one of my friends' grandmother had such an exquisite tiara and it fit in so well with her gown she just had to borrow it. It was really special to her grandmother too, she really felt part of the day.
As for your hair and makeup, you don't have to go all out on this for you to look beautiful. Maybe ask a talented friend to try out some styles. Get a basic trim so your hair looks fabulous and perhaps buy a semi permanent colour to make your hair shiny and bright. Colleges will offer these services very cheaply and as the semi colour will be identical to your colour there wont be any mis-haps!
Makeup follows the same rules. Go to a Clinique or Clarins counter and get them to demonstrate some evening styles for you. You don't have to actually buy their products as they can be expensive but not how and what they apply to your skin. Ask for a list so you can 'come back later when you have some money'! I did end up buying some Clinique foundation and eye shadow and although it was expensive, the bottle lasted me a year and a half with everyday use and the eye shadow is just starting to run out after almost 2 years.
Oh, and as for the rings, sometimes simple is the best. Cheap yet stylish rings can be bought for as little as £50. We know a guy that makes bespoke rings and while it wasn't that cheap, he is great as he resizes as necessary, re-dips (if you're going for white gold) and changes as and when you need him at no extra cost!
____ PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE ____
Deciding on who to invite to the wedding can be a tough challenge, especially if you have a large family. The best thing to do is to figure out how many people you can comfortably fit in the ceremony hall and in the reception hall. Once you have a rough figure start to decide on who will come to what.
If your parents are paying for the wedding it's polite to ask them if they want any people in particular to the ceremony or reception. Let them know that you're thankful for their generosity and you'll be happy to invite any guests they wish (within reason!). The most sensible way seems to split the guests into one third for the bride's family, one third for the grooms and the last third for any friends and others you want to invite.
BUDGET SAVING TIP: A good idea is to only invite close family and friends to the meal. My cousin, when he got married, hired a pub and had a small, intimate meal with his close relatives and friends, while the other guests had a BBQ in the main pub and gardens. This way they didn't have to spend hundreds on caterers and you'll be able to invite any and all the people you want!
As for invitations, it can be quite costly to buy them ready made from suppliers. How about making your own? Or asking a creative friend to help out? Why not take and copy a photo of you and your groom (4' x 6' would work the best), print out the invitation on quality paper and stick the invite on the back of the photo? It would be so unique and different and something that people can keep, almost like a wedding favour.
Many online developers print a picture from a file and will print the first 30 or so for free! Take advantage of that offer on a few websites and you'll have 100 prints easy peasy!
____ FLOWERS ____
Flowers can really make a wedding look that much more sophisticated, but can really bump up the price of a wedding, which isn't too good if you have a small budget. The good thing is, simple is often better. As said before, balloons are such an up and coming thing now, and can be arranged for about £30 or less if you can find the right deal.
BUDGET SAVING TIP: The best thing to do if you really want flowers is to ask a florist to supply you with flowers at a discount price. Then all you need is an artistic friend or neighbour that can help arrange them and hey presto! You have yourself a cheap and cheerful flower display. A really sweet idea for the bouquet is to get some simple flowers (maybe roses and gerberas which can easily be bought from market stalls or shopping centres) and tie some ribbon around them. It looks effective and very chic. Or if you want to keep the bouquet after, look in craft shops for silk flowers.
Flowers that are in season will always be cheaper!
____ HOW TO GET THERE ____
Some go by limo, others by Beetle, it's up to you. Hiring a car is probably the most traditional, but see what other options are available to you. How about a horse and cart? It's hopelessly romantic. Why not see if you can hire a Ferrari or Lamborghini? It's stylish and sexy. How about a motorbike? Or if you can, a quad bike? These can be expensive though so how about…
BUDGET SAVING TIP: Why not ask a family friend with a nice car to drop you to and from the venue? I'm sure most people wont mind and their car will be in photos too, an added bonus. Get some car ribbon in the colours of the wedding and tie it around the car in a tasteful fashion. Remind them that as he will be transporting the brined and groom, he'll more than likely get the best parking space! (see photos below for our car!)
____ PHOTOS AND VIDEOS ____
No doubt you'll want some kind of memory of the day either on paper or video. The thing is, photographers are so expensive for what they do and videographers can be even worse and usually expect food and sometimes even accommodation to be paid for. Instead…
BUDGET SAVING TIP: Get a friend with a good camera (35mm is a lot better than digital as larger copies look realistic and better quality. See if you can hire one.) Ask them to be with you for the day. They really will love to explore their artistic side and really be a part of your special day. Maybe go through some shots you'll definitely want then leave the rest to them. Alternatively, ask at a local college if a student wouldn't mind helping out. They'll have the equipment needed and would love the chance to explore their innovative side. Have disposable table cameras so that the guests can really capture the day for you! Also you'll see your wedding day from a completely different perspective, some of my best wedding day photos were taken by the other guests!
Videographers are relatively over-hyped. All you really need is a friend with a camera. Ask them to be with you while your dressing, with the bridesmaids, then the groom at the ceremony etc. and you'll end up with a beautiful video of your day. Editing software can be bought very cheaply or even downloaded for free (try download.com) if you want to cut and splice.
____ FOOD AND DRINK ____
If you're hiring a hall with caterers already supplied, all you'll have to do is choose from a variety of set menus and agree a price. It's quite simple. Remember to ask if they charge for corkage as that can be anything up to £20 a bottle!
However if you have a hall with no caterers, it will be up to you to get some in. Have a look in the Yellow Pages for caterers that specialise
Pictures of Member Advice on Wedding Planning
What a Car!
in weddings and large functions and sample some of their menus if possible. BUDGET SAVING TIP: At my wedding, we wanted something different. We had been going to a very posh Chinese restaurant (this was before we started learning Mandarin!) and loved the food and courses they had on offer. So, after much deliberation, we asked the manager if he would be prepared to serve us a selection of starters and main courses (no desserts, you'll see why later!) at our wedding with 200 guests present. He agreed to and we sorted out exactly what we wanted from the menu and settled on a price.
We also asked him to prepare some 'English' meals too, as we knew some weren't too partial to that kind of food and he gladly obliged. It worked out cheaper than some caterers and everyone was amazed and delighted at the deliciousness and amount of food we had! It's still mentioned by our friends and relatives as the best wedding they'd been to.
So if you have a restaurant that you love and are fond of, why not see if they'll cater for you on the day? If you're having a sit down meal, approach a restaurant. If it's a buffet, why not see if a café will provide small, elegant finger foods (like sandwiches, small canapés etc.). If you have talented friends, why not ask if they will cook some meals for you? Snacks and good quality meats and meal can be purchased from places like Bookers or Costco at a fraction of the supermarkets price. One of our friends hired a fish cart for after the main meal. That filled all the guests and was a novel and different idea too.
As for drinks, it is traditional to serve Bucks Fizz, champagne (or sparkling wine) and orange juice for guests on arrival. People often like wine and beer with their meal too. If you do want alcohol but can't afford some of the prices on offer at various stores why not try…
BUDGET SAVING TIP: …going to France! We asked a good friend of ours to drive with us in his van so we could stock up on booze. If you do go, you'll need proof that it is all for consumption on the wedding day at the venue or you could be faced with large fines and confiscation of the goods. Phil took our notice of marriage papers and a few invitations so he could show the officials if they asked. We saved about £400 by getting all our alcohol from France, and as all the good supermarkets are literally outside the Tunnel you won't have to travel far! (Try Tesco Wine and Carrefour, or even Costco) We had sensible friends serve the alcohol.
Failing that, you can always hire a bar to come in and serve drinks. They will charge, but it may be a lot easier and hassle free.
Always remember to serve non-alcoholic drinks, especially for the children and designated drivers. Buy a crate of Cola and juices from Bookers or Costco.
As for the wedding cake, it can be as lavish or as simple as need be. Plain iced fruit cakes can be bought from Costco or are cheap and easy to make by hand, ask if one of your talented guest can make it for you as their wedding gift to you. One company I know of makes two personalised icing figures of the bride and groom for £25, which would look lovely on a simple cake. If you have an idea in mind, sketch it out and see if any cake makers will be able to make it. Sponge will be cheaper than fruit cakes, and often tastes nicer!
Find ideas off the internet and see what works with your theme. A wedding cake can also double up as a dessert, which is what we did. This reduced the price of the caterers. We had a 3 tier chocolate cake with different liqueurs on each tier. The top tier was for me and Phil to take home. We had ice cream for the children, the cake for the adults and espresso to finish it off. As the cake was so rich only a small piece was needed for each person.
____ ENTERTAINMENT ____
No doubt you'll want some kind of entertainment, whether it's a DJ, a singer, a band or a full circus. How can you entertain your guests while saving money at the same time?
BUDGET SAVING TIP: If you have any talent friends, why not ask them to play? Phil's friends had a band and they played a selection of songs, Phil's brother played some soothing melodies while we were eating and my friend was a DJ! So all in all, with equipment hire we spent about £100 on the night's entertainment. How about asking some students at a college/school to play ceremonial music? I'm sure they wouldn't mind being able to show off their talents, maybe ask the tutor to grade them on their performance! Ask friends/family if they know of anyone that wouldn't mind helping out.
Or failing that, hire a band/DJ for a few hours and play CDs or a mixed tape for the rest of the night. Bear in mind though that people will want to socialize as well as dance. At our venue we had an indoor and outdoor balcony that people could relax and talk on without having to shout to be heard. At my cousins wedding in March, the music was so loud you couldn't hear that person next to you even when you were shouting! It was raining so we couldn't go outside so we were stuck listening to New Orleans jazz all night.
If you're having kids at the wedding, it is easy for them to get bored. Why not take them aside and ask a bridesmaid/usher to initiate some party games? We had pass the parcel, musical chairs and various other games to keep them amused and out of their parents way!
Remember, as I've said before simple is often the best. You don't need a full swinging jazz band or circus performers to make guests happy, most will be content chatting, dancing and having a good time!
____ LAST MINUTE THINGS ____
Well, you have all the main things sorted. By now you'll probably be about 1 or 2 months away from the actual date, so here are some things to remember…
Make sure your dress fits, go for all the fittings and try the whole outfit on together, including hair and makeup
Book your accommodation for the wedding night and honeymoon, including all/any vaccinations. Check your passports will be in date!
Get the gifts for the ushers and bridesmaids, as well as parents
Run through the plan of the day with the attendants so everyone knows what they're doing
Make sure all speeches are being prepared
Arrange hen and stag nights, preferably not the night before the wedding, we all want to groom to have eyebrows in those photos!
Hold a wedding rehearsal so all are sure of their duties and timing when walking down the aisle
Have an early night before the wedding so you're relaxed and calm for tomorrow's events.
Make sure there is somewhere safe to keep all the gifts and cards.
After the wedding, remember to send out thank you notes (again, can be in the same style as the invitations with a photo of you and your hubby on honeymoon or at the wedding, with a handwritten thank you note on the back)
I hope this has helped you or informed you about the type of preparation that goes into this special event. It is possible to have a fantastic wedding without handing out all the moolah! The most important thing is to enjoy the day, remember and cherish it because it really does fly by, and all you're left with are memories and photos. One piece of advice that was given to me was this: throughout the day, just stop and take mental pictures of what's going on around you, smell the smells, taste the food, see the smiles on people's faces, see what people are doing, what they're saying. If you really look around, those memories are better than any video or photos. Remember though, a wedding is just one day, a marriage is forever.