Here comes the budget bride

Marrying an Observer columnist needn’t break the bank, writes Vicky Edwards.

I had been desperate for Duncan to propose. We hadn’t been together all that long – just under two years – but I knew absolutely that he was The One.

Although many Observer readers will think of him as argumentative, grumpy and pedantic (after almost ten years of marriage I would agree, adding an annoying penchant for sporting embarrassing hats!), he is also funny, smart, romantic and a brilliant cook. All the things I love in a man. Anyway, I was itching to get married and, at 37, to be up the duff as soon as possible.

So when he did finally get the hints (yes, plural, and I admit lacking in any kind of subtlety – ‘Are you EVER going to ask me to marry you?’) I decided that while we had no cash to splash on a big wedding, neither did we have time to waste.

Easter Saturday was just three months away, which seemed as good a date as any. Edes House, a beautiful Grade 1 listed building in the centre of Chichester, had just been licensed for marriage ceremonies.

Because our enquiry was one of the first (ours turned out to be their debut wedding), the date was available. But it meant that we had to get a wriggle on to organise the rest of the wedding, which upon closer inspection of our joint finances started with an application for a modest loan.

Marriage booked and money borrowed, we set about arranging our day, agreeing from the outset to be sensible about ditching anything that we really didn’t need. Out went a swanky hotel for our reception. In came the renting of the cider house at the fabulously-named Pump Bottom Farm at Appuldram, along with our friend Jess who agreed to do the catering at cost as a wedding present.

The menu was deliberately simple: doorstep sandwiches, quiches, salads and a massive cheese board for the wedding breakfast and pizzas for the evening. No wedding cake. Instead Jess made a huge and completely fabulous raspberry pavlova, surrounded by mini pavlovas.

A READY-MADE THEME

Being Easter, we had a ready-made theme. A trip to the cash and carry netted us 1,000 decorative Easter chicks, catering-sized boxes of mini chocolate eggs, a job lot of little cellophane bags and two huge packets of balloons in spring colours of daffodil yellow and forest green. Table and room decorations and favours sorted.

Having been married before in a traditional gown, I’d got the big frock thing out of my system. This time, taking advice from a friend, I checked out the section devoted to prom dresses in a Brighton department store and found the perfect dress. It just needed my friend Jacqueline to take it up on the shoulders and hem so it fitted my not-quite-five-foot frame – £65, including a matching wrap! Bargain!

Interestingly, an almost identical dress in the store’s bridal section retailed at ten times the cost. Put the word ‘wedding’ in front of anything and the price rockets.

In a nearby shoe shop I spotted a pretty pair of red kitten-heeled sandals, complete with sequins, going for a fiver. Eat your heart out, Dorothy.

Accepting the offers of friends and family, we soon had a photographer booked (a mate for whom photography was a passion rather than his main job), invites designed by another friend who happened to be a whizz at caricatures (also a diplomat, he omitted double chins and pimples) and which we printed out on a domestic printer, and unarranged roses ordered for bouquets (created for me and my bridesmaid niece by my clever stepmother).

Other savings included not having any wedding cars and instead roping friends in to provide lifts for the wedding party, a pile of borrowed board games and puzzles for children to play with during the speeches and the amazing George’s Regis Jazz Band who gave us a discount because Duncan had done some work on their latest CD.

A deal that meant we could serve our own wine directly after the ceremony without having to pay corkage was struck, and instead of offering canapés, being Easter we served a choice of Montezuma’s white, milk or plain chocolate oversized buttons.

A £21,000 WEDDING?

The average wedding is estimated to cost £21,000. We spent less than a quarter of this. We had 70 guests at the wedding itself and for the meal afterwards, rising to 120 for the evening party. Nobody went hungry or thirsty and the feedback was entirely positive, with guests saying that it was the most relaxed and joyous wedding they had ever attended.

Fast forward almost ten years and the current economic climate means most couples have to be prudent in planning their wedding.

But you CAN still have the day of your dreams on a tight budget. You just need to say ‘I do’ to the challenge and embrace it wholeheartedly. Be willing to compromise, accept offers of help and be prepared to negotiate. I assure you that if Duncan and I can do it (and we are about as financially savvy as Martine McCutcheon) then anyone can.

Inspired partly by my own budget wedding, as well as by friends who have also married on a shoestring rather than a Jimmy Choo buckle, I wrote Fifty Thrifty Wedding Tips for Your Dream Wedding. From early stage planning right through to thank-you letters for wedding gifts, it’s crammed with wisdom and ideas from people who have been there and worn the tiara. And yes, I may be biased, but I reckon my book is as essential to a bride-to-be as waterproof mascara is to her mum.

Fifty Thrifty Tips for your Dream Wedding by Vicky Edwards is published by Summersdale priced at £8.99.

Today (Friday, April 12) Vicky will be signing copies of her book at Russells Garden Centre in Birdham from 10.30am–12.30pm, to launch the store’s new wedding list service. Proposals of Chichester will be there with wedding dresses, and there will be wedding cake!