How to keep costs down at a wedding

With most couples overspending by thousands, Laura Harding sees how to keep costs down

Oversized hats are selling faster than festival wellies and men every- where are off on 4x4 driving stag weekends. It must be the wedding season and "for richer or for poorer" has never seemed so apt.

Amit Bhatia and Vanisha Mittal, the daughter of steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, managed to rack up bills totalling £30m during their three-day celebrations four years ago – the most expensive wedding of all time. But while not everyone has a billionaire budget, most couples still manage to blow their nuptials savings by almost 25 per cent, amounting to an extra £3,500, according to research by Alliance & Leicester.

A glamorous venue costs an average of £2,200, and that doesn't come close to the bill for those Irish castles favoured by pop stars and glamour girls. Flowers will set you back over £500 and a storybook album of your big day, snapped by a professional photographer, will cost nearly £900.

Then there's the dress – the stuff of fantasies ... and financial nightmares. Even if you aren't Coleen McLoughlin and don't need a £200,000 Marchesa frock to make you feel like a princess, a designer dress will cost at least £1,300. Shoes and jewellery will bump up the clothes bill even more.

But it's on the reception that most couples overspend. People tend to believe it will cost less than £5,000, when £8,000 is a much more common figure.

Richard Al-Dabbagh, head of personal loans at Alliance & Leicester, says: "The expense is greatly underestimated, and it is essential to assess your finances when budgeting for the special day. It may be sensible to opt for a low-rate personal loan."

However, there are other ways to keep costs under control if you don't want to start married life in debt, and planning ahead is important. For example, most venues offer a three-course meal for the wedding breakfast, but if you opt for a buffet you could halve the expense. And consider supplying your own alcohol, as buying in bulk from an off-licence or wholesaler could also reduce the bill – though check if the venue will demand a fee for corkage.

Isabel Eyre, 22, a ministry assistant from Surrey, married Toby Eyre, 25, a doctor from Bristol, last weekend. The couple had a small ceremony at a church in Clifton, followed by a large reception at a country house just outside town. As a young couple, says Isabel, they had to find ways to keep costs down. "We wrote a list of things that were really important to us and we were prepared to spend on, so we could save on the rest.

"We saved loads of money on the cake. Most of the ones we looked at were at least £300. But in the end, Toby's mother made it for nothing.

"We got married at 2pm," she continues, "and we found that having the ceremony later in the day meant we saved lots on food as everyone had already eaten lunch. We just provided tea and cake, which was made by friends, and then a meal in the evening. The best thing to do is rope in friends and make the most of their free services."

The couple also saved a further £500 on making their own wedding favours, with the bride baking heart-shaped biscuits and wrapping them in ribbon and cellophane.

"We also decided not to spend lots on the car since it was such a short drive," adds Isabel. "Lots of people are more than prepared to blow loads of money on an old vintage car, but we just got a nice Mercedes, which was much cheaper."

Even if you manage to arrange your ceremony inside the budget,the fear something could go wrong remains. So some couples take out special insurance to cover them against the cancellation or rearrangement of the wedding and/or reception. Also included as options in these policies will be cover for clothes, gifts, rings, cars, flowers, photos and legal expenses. Prices start at £49, but the higher premium you pay, the more you can claim for.

Carol Richardson from the wedding-planning site confetti.co.uk says it's important to include insurance in your budget. "While we don't want to scare people, there are so many things that can go wrong unexpectedly.

"Last summer, we had someone who got caught up in the floods and her venue ended up under water. The couple had to rearrange everything, but luckily they had insurance," she adds.

"Weather is so unpredictable, but suppliers and photographers can also let you down at the last minute, so the policy gives you peace of mind."

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