So you’ve patiently waited for four (insert hyperbole) years, and when you had almost given up, your significant other has blown you away with a romantic proposal – hurrah! But once the magic of your engagement has started to fade and you have flaunted your ring to friends, family and the stranger on the bus, the reality is that you have a mammoth event to organise… but how to plan a wedding?
You may have dreamed about your big day since you were a child and have a very fixed idea of how it should look; you may have a very precise image of The Dress(es!). Or not. Whether you have an exact plan of your perfect ceremony already written out and laminated, or you have no idea where to even begin, fear not! Either way, this guide will walk you through the most important aspects of planning your wedding.
How to Plan a Wedding
It is, of course, tradition for the bride’s father to cover the cost of his daughter’s wedding. Sadly, unless you are exceptionally lucky or come from a wealthy family, this just isn’t a reality.
Before you do anything else, you should discuss and set a budget with your partner – one that is realistic and that you can agree you will not deviate from. Planning a wedding may be stressful and marriage may be challenging, but starting married life with debt can be a precursor to (whisper) divorce. Yes, everything is beautiful, and having white doves and a harpist and personalised favours for all the guests could make your wedding the event of the year (in your friends calendars at least). But it is just the beginning of your new lives together – not the destination. Once the day fades to a memory and the bills start rolling in, any debt you are left saddled with will be all too real.
Many magazines have an arbitrary budget plan included with them, and these can be very useful for guidance. Don’t be intimidated – a lot of them cover unnecessary extras, many of which you can discount altogether.
Home or Away
When thinking about how to plan a wedding, you’ll need to set a budget, and it makes sense to prioritise this decision before looking at any other details.
If you have the quintessential nuclear family, the choice is likely to be entirely based on the weather and your finances. According to the BBC, the average UK price of a wedding in 2014 was £21,000 – this can be slashed by half or more simply by tying the knot abroad. Check out this website for destination and package ideas. It is also important to be aware of how local laws and customs could impact your day. See here for information before you book.
Of course, if either of your parents have separated or there are any other family rifts, the deliberation becomes a strategic one. Eloping can remove the stresses associated with planning the top table of a broken family.
This will be one of the biggest expenses of the day. It is worth bearing in mind that if you can be flexible with what season and/or day of the week you get married, there are fantastic bargains available. There are also some incredible late deals on offer, particularly if you can be ruthless enough to set your conscience aside and take advantage of somebody else’s broken plans (not recommended for superstitious folk. Speaking of which, Friday the 13th is a great date to consider for a reduction).
You also need to consider whether you wish to have a religious or civil ceremony. Either way, you will be married in the eyes of the law, the only real difference is whether you want a church wedding or for your day to take place in one location only. There are costs attached to both and this decision is likely to be more personal than financial-based.
The Wedding Party
It’s obvious, but important not to lose sight of the fact that the more people you include in your wedding party, the higher the expense. From outfits to transport to gifts, there will be extra purchases to be made for every additional person involved in your wedding.
Keep this is mind when setting your budget and allocating portions to each area. For more advice on this topic, read this post I’ve written specifically about the wedding party.
The Theme and/or Colour Scheme
Ideally, you will have a theme for your wedding to pull everything together on the day. There’s nothing worse than your guests whispering that they don’t understand who is in the bridal party because the bridesmaids don’t stand out, or having a chaotic mishmash of themes because you and your betrothed were unable to agree on a cohesive idea. Once you have pinned your theme down, it will give you a focus for all of the details.
Details and Gifts
According to tradition, favours will be at each place setting for your guests. This small gesture can soon mount up to be a significant expense and is one of the first elements of a wedding to consider disregarding.
One outlay that should perhaps not be passed over is gifts for the wedding party, particularly if parents, groomsmen and bridesmaids have given a lot of time and assistance to making the day happen. Jewellery for the bridal party and cufflinks for the groomsmen is acceptable, or you could try thinking outside the box and purchase gifts that match your theme.
They say the devil is in the detail; if you take the phrase literally and ignore the understood meaning, you won’t go far wrong as far as your wedding is concerned. The details are what many brides get hung up on and what contribute to possibly going over budget. However, so long as the big items on your plan are ticked off and consistent, nobody will remember the tiny details that you could otherwise agonise over and spend a small fortune on perfecting. Your guests will get an overall impression and be half-cut by the time the main course is served, they will not notice whether the ribbon tying the flowers is the exact same shade as the cravats.
Most brides have some notion of their perfect dress, even before the proposal. In all likelihood, you will try on your dream dress and realise that it is every shade of wrong for your figure. Make the process fun: go with your mum, your sister, your bridesmaids and try on lots of variations – even those you don’t like on the hanger.(I tried vintage designer dress which I had fallen in love with, only to eventually find The Dress online in a high end department store. It cost less than my mother-in-law’s outfit and I received fabulous compliments. Here’s why it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.) Download Wedding LookBook by The Knot for inspiration.
Find somebody you get on with and do not skimp here – these are the images that will capture one of the best days of your life, they should be as close to perfect as your can afford. Ideally, you want to avoid the type of situation I describe in this post from occurring!
There are some simply stunning designs on offer. However, these come at a price and can cost as much as your dress! It is becoming more common to think outside the box: cupcakes, cheesecakes, or even a wheel of cheese are some of the more contemporary options available.
If you decide to stick with a traditional tiered cake, you will still need to choose the centre. Popular selections include carrot, vanilla or chocolate sponge instead of fruitcake. A nice way to keep both yourself and your hubby happy is to have different flavoured tiers.
It may be that your venue has in-house caterers who you are contractually obliged to use. If not, you may be in a position to source your own to suit your budget. Even with caterers that are in partnership with the venue, there are usually different packages to choose from, including how much table wine and toasting champagne (or Prosecco) you wish to have.
Depending on what time of day your ceremony takes place, canapés can be a nice touch for your guests while they are waiting for you and your new spouse to have your memories captured on film (or memory card). However, this is another ‘extra’ that you may wish to forgo if your budget is tight.
If you have an afternoon ceremony, a wedding breakfast is the norm. However, if you don’t mind cutting short the time with your guests, you could consider taking your vows in the early evening and having a more informal buffet only. It is more or less obligatory to provide food for the reception, but there are lots of options and this can be as pricey or as inexpensive as you choose to make it.
It’s not just about the ceremony – you’ll also want to make sure you know how to plan a wedding party! The big question is: should you have a free bar? Will your entire wedding be judged on this? Well, it is becoming more common not to fork out for your husband’s ‘special’ Uncle Kenny and your Great Aunt Jean to get inebriated at your expense. Having said that, it is probably less costly than you imagine, and you always have the option of putting a fixed amount behind the bar or purchasing one drink for each guest.
If you don’t know any musicians and wouldn’t describe your cousin’s drum ‘n’ bass crew as melodic, then you may want to consider hiring a professional band or DJ. Bear in mind the different generations in attendance and try to cater for all tastes – the last thing you need is your granny sustaining a broken hip whilst twerking with your new brother-in-law.
Ah – arguably the best bit of the planning. While you should certainly not count on it, it’s worth remembering that many guests will contribute to a wedding fund (unless you have gone with the traditional wedding list) to help enable you to relax after your stressful year of preparation.
There are some great apps available to help keep track of your plans and budget. Try Wedding Planning by beDroid (free) or Wedding Planner by PlanBook (£1.75). For beauty advice as your wedding draws near, you may be interested in this guest post I wrote: Should You Hire a Make-Up Artist for Your Big Day? And for more tips, read my post about the things I wish I’d known whilst planning my wedding.
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