It is “engagement season”. Marked by stories and pictures of proposals by the tree, or under the New Year’s fireworks, this is the time of the year where there is a flurry of excitement for nuptials to come.
For me, it is a reminder of what excitement I had and reliving it through others. It is incredible to be asked to spend the rest of your life with someone, and even more thrilling to say YES! (I got to do so overlooking the Scottish Highlands at the highest point of the UK during an engagement trip that my now husband planned… * gush *)
After the initial excitement is over, then comes the bit that can cause some stress for people: planning. I had a fairly good time with planning, I have always been good at sticking to a budget, and events/managing several moving cogs is kind of my thing. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t any stress (especially with the 3-month planning time I gave myself) but I think I did pretty well for doing it solo!
Here are some of my tips for planning the wedding of your dreams, in a budget, on a short time scale (it can be done!):
1) Figure out the Finances
Before you go nuts and book your private, champagne dress shopping experience, have a sit down with your fiancé(e) and work out the numbers. Seems like a no-brainer when you say it now, but it is really easy to get caught up in the excitement and book viewings for venues you have no chance in affording.
When we got engaged, we had just bought a house (that we were doing some work on) and were transitioning careers, we had to prioritize.
This figuring out the finances could also include other friends/family if they are lending/gifting towards the wedding. If this is true, establish then and there if they want the money to go to something specific (ie. Flowers, drink package upgrades, etc.) Remember that it is YOUR wedding. The figuring out the finances may need to include setting some boundaries and ground rules.
You may have to put your foot down for some things and you may feel like you aren’t being grateful, but if you don’t want a big wedding and suddenly they want to invite their boss’s sister’s cousin who your Mom thinks would be a great match for your brother… things can get out of hand pretty quickly.
2) Manage your Expectations
If you are on a shoestring or on a tighter timeframe, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have an incredible wedding (points to self for emphasis). It just means that you have to prioritize and make cuts/do some more work yourself. Don’t give up on your dream wedding just yet! Just understand you may not be able to do achieve a William and Kate extravaganza.
Managing others expectations is also important. If you know your Mom is about to call up everyone she knows and give a verbal invitation while talking about the details she’s executively decided, have a chat. Talk numbers and work something out. She may not get all of her book club in, but one or two friends may not break the bank (it very well might, and that is important to say too! It is YOUR day! Or you may want to invite all the book club, just talk about it!)
Do you NEED a cathedral veil? Or a cascading bouquet? Must you have an alpaca there or you’re calling the whole thing off?
(Seems dramatic but you get the point.)
Set your priorities. You have your budget, you’ve managed your expectations and have stopped Mom from inviting the whole town, now figure out what is most important to you/your family (mostly you, but I cannot negate the importance of tradition/religion/culture that may dictate some choices and that’s prioritizing!).
Do you want to get married in the same place as your reception? Do you want flowers? You know you need someone to marry you and legally getting married has a cost in itself so that’s gotta be on the list…
Work out a list of needs, musts, wants, would-be-nices. Book and work things out in that order.
I didn’t want flowers, to me it is a huge waste of money. So, I bought silk flowers off Etsy for the wedding party (which you can keep!) and rented silk flowers for centerpieces and our arbor. No waste, cost effective, and was perfect for what I wanted. My husband really wanted a piper, and since there weren’t many asks from him, it was a top priority and was booked asap.
Figure out what is actually important before getting sucked into what everyone else will tell/sell you to be the most important.
This one gets its own category because to me, it is what drives the wedding. The date/availability, the package, the budget, it all hinges on the venue. If you are on a strict timeline, it would be worth calling ahead of any showings and seeing what their availability is. It would be a pain to go all the way somewhere, potentially fall in love, and they wouldn’t be available for another 2 years.
Our venue was Cornhill Castle.
They had a 30-person package available mid-week that included a ceremony space, reception space, honeymoon suite, breakfast for us the next morning, DJ, canapes, drinks package, 4-course seated meal of our choice, evening buffet, onsite planners and staff, cake cutting, personalized menus, seating plan, table numbers, and decorations to choose from/decorating and tear-down service all for a flat rate. (and some extra surprises along the way!) That was the only venue we saw because I was sold.
The venue took care of most of the planning for me just because of what they offered in that package which saved both time and money. And I could get married in a ~freaking castle~. That same day the deposit was paid and in 3 months we were getting married.
Lists are your best friend. They have all these notebooks specifically for planning weddings but I wasn’t a fan. Your wedding is so personal to you and your priorities that I can’t see one notebook/planner working for everyone. I digress.
Your wedding is one day (a big day…in some cultures multiple days.) Break it down.
In each of these I would make sub lists. For instance, we did hand fasting and oathing stone ceremonies meaning I need to get some ribbon and remember to bring the stone.
Once I started ordering/accumulating things for the big day I went out to Aldi and got big paper shopping bags and labelled them with location for the day and a check list of contents. Each table even had its own bag with the correct number of party favours and correct place cards etc.
It may sound a bit obsessive… and I’m sure it is. But I wanted to make it as easy on myself as possible to keep track of what was needed and make it as fool proof as possible 1) to ensure I packed it all and had no last-minute panics 2) when I handed it over to the venue to manage, that there were no questions needed. And it worked beautifully.
Break the wedding down physically like I did or even in your head/on a list. If you are planning it solo it is easy to get lost in it all and there are so many things that you can miss until the budget is already gone or things you’ve run out of time for. Organization is key.
6) Start with Big-Ticket Items
When you pack your car, you always do big things first right? Same thing goes here. Book the bigger-costing things, then do what you can with the rest. Don’t do a bunch of the little stuff and then realize you can’t have a photographer because it can’t fit in anymore. This is key to actually sticking to the budget. As I said before, do your tasks in from needs to would-be-nices to save yourself from stretching.
If you are on a shorter timeline, it may take longer than you think to secure vendors. I called and emailed many vendors that weren’t available on my date (even though it was a Wednesday which I thought would help!).
Get on it, get them booked and out of the way. It may be worth asking if they do a mid-week discount or deal if that applies to you- we saved 80 quid on our piper who volunteered that information for us! Other vendors may not be so forthcoming, worst they can say is no!
7) Get More Bang for your Buck!
You don’t have to spend a lot to get a good impact!
If you are able to do mid-week or even a Sunday, you can get the exact same wedding for literal thousands less than on Friday/Saturday. This is especially true for “off season”. Easiest way to shave money off the total is to be flexible with the date.
The little things also add up quickly, so saving here and there can really help in the long run!
I was working at a restaurant while I was planning, so instead of having them throw away the beautiful vanilla vodka bottles, I had them save them for my decoration! I got lights for 10 quid for them, and I had ceremony décor that then went on the tables at the reception, and is now in my house! 10 quid, 3 uses!
The rented arbor I also had them bring into the reception space to be around the cake, and then after the cake cutting they put it at the end of the dance floor to frame the DJ, again 3 uses!
Our “welcome sign” was just our surname as a sign I got off Etsy that now is up in our house!
Luckily, I had a venue that really didn’t require a lot of decoration, the castle was stunning. But little touches that are personal can go a long way. Our tables represented places we had been so we had a picture of ourselves there framed on each table and then a laminated letter from us about our favourite memories and those don’t cost much to do and is a great way for you and your husband to be to bond!
Little cost saving things like the above or buying an on-sale, off-the-rack dress, using vista print for invites and thank you cards, using a registrar to marry you, and keeping things local by using small businesses really helped us get more bang for the buck without compromising on the overall day.
8) Have FUN
It goes without saying, you should enjoy your wedding day. BUT if you’re having fun, laughing, partying, enjoying yourself, your guests will too! If you don’t miss anything that isn’t there, neither will they. Laughs and smiles are the most cost-effective way to improve your wedding- they are free after all!
Your guests are there to celebrate YOU and your love for your partner. The night before I decided that if something was missed, it was missed. I may as well enjoy all of the work that I put in and watch it unfold in the most perfect day of my life.
Surround yourself with love and good support. That includes your vendors! It makes all the difference.
Let’s break it down:
According to the Google, the average Canadian wedding is $29,450 and the average wedding cost in Scotland is (a tear-inducing) £31,167. You DO NOT have to shell out that much to have a lovely wedding.
If you want to, feel free! It is your day, have it as lush as you want. All the bells and whistles and extras your mood board desires! Go above this average for all I care! Just know you don’t have to and nobody should expect you to.
All in, (hotels for wedding party before and on the night, food, drink, venue, vendors, dress, hair, makeup, wedding party garb, kilts, décor, legals, rings…the whole kit and caboodle, rounded up) Chris and I spend less than half the Canadian Average and about a quarter of the Scottish average.
Now that is still a lot of money, I won’t pretend it isn’t especially on a single day.
But it was perfect and goes to prove that it doesn’t have to have an extortionate price tag for it to be everything you want and need it to be.
What makes me feel even better about the cost is that some of the things I still use (like the bottles, bouquet, and the surname sign), and some things that I will be able to potentially use again in the future Canadian nuptials.
Is it worth taking a loan? Using all your savings? Maybe it is to you! There is no judgement, but if you can find ways to save money, why wouldn’t you? You could even put that saved money elsewhere in the wedding.
I had my dream wedding and had it at a financial level I felt comfortable in. We need to stop pressuring ourselves and others into thinking that in order to have it all, we need to bankrupt ourselves and our wedding party because “that’s just how it is”.
Let’s make it what we want it to be: an elopement in Vegas or a 300-person show stopper in Westminster Abbey, so long as you and yours are happy and comfortable, that’s all that matters.
Your fairytale can come on a budget. I know it can, because mine did.
“My goal is that every couple, even those on a limited budget, have an elegant wedding day to remember.”