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Our Beautiful DIY Wedding on a Shoestring
Planning Our Wedding
When Jose and I decided to get married, we wanted different things for our wedding day.
I was most looking forward to wearing a beautiful wedding dress at a church ceremony, and Jose wanted an occasion to enjoy with family and friends.
Money considerations. Big, traditional weddings cost money. We did not want to burden our parents, plus as a little last minute surprise, we had our baby Felix on the way! So it was really important for us to balance the things we wanted for our wedding day with the reality of our financial situation.
DIY spirit. In the end we just got creative and did a lot of the wedding planning, organising and materials ourselves. Our actual wedding costs came to just over 5,000 euros (that’s 6,500 US dollars or 4,300 pounds sterling) so our work paid off. This is how we did it.
NOTE on currency and location: These prices are applicable to Spain 2012. It should be noted that food and drink are cheaper in Spain than other EU countries, but clothing, clergy, church costs, transport and florists charge the same rates as in the rest of the EU.
The first thing was to work out costs. There are some great wedding planning templates on the web. Or simply sit down with a pencil, paper and a calculator.
Agree on the big items:
- Figure out your absolute maximum spend first.
- Count the number of guests.
- Decide on the things that you cannot do without.
- Agree on the things you are not so bothered about.
For example, maybe you want to spend a lot of your budget on the reception venue and food and less on the ceremony. How about opting for an iPod playlist instead of a DJ? Or perhaps you want spend a lot of money on a good wedding photographer, but forgo the limousine.
Make a plan, but be flexible. Be open to alternative ideas as you go along. These will present themselves as you begin the exciting task of shopping around for your DIY wedding!
Don't mention the W-word. I found out that prices go up when the word “wedding” is mentioned. Some businesses automatically assume that you want the most expensive things for your wedding - and that you're prepared to pay anything. They will often guide you to the most expensive products or services they have. When you inquire about items or services for your big day - like renting a limo or buying shoes - unless the thing you want is very obviously for a wedding, don’t tell the supplier.
Ask and you will get. Ask friends and family for help. If one of your friends is a singer, ask him to sing your favourite song for you at the church or the civil registry. Do you know any good photographers in your circle of friends? If so, now is the time to chat them up. Do you know anybody with a fancy car? Does your uncle or aunt own a florists or a hair salon? Sometimes asking for free items is not appropriate, but you can always politely inquire about a discount. Most friends and family will be happy to oblige for your special day.
Wedding Gifts - Asking for Cash
Wedding gift etiquette. Gone are the days when wedding gift etiquette dictated that the bride and groom must not ask for anything. Wedding gifts first evolved to wedding lists and more recently came the wedding "accounts" in big department stores where guests simply deposited money.
Hard cash. These days, you don’t need to be part of the Soprano family to ask for cash wedding presents. Mediterranean, Hispanic and Asian cultures have long understood the wisdom of giving money as a present to newly weds. Now, increasing number of Northern European, UK and American families are beginning to take to this sensible trend.
How much is polite? In Spain, the ideal amount can be anywhere between 30-150€ ($40-200 or £25-130), depending on what you can afford. As most people would probably spend in that region on a gift anyway, this is a sensible option. The money is usually presented in an envelope.
Tell guests what you'll do with the money. These days many couples already live together. This means that might use the money towards a deposit for a place of their own, a much needed home refurbishment, a honeymoon or simply to pay for some of the wedding costs. I our case, we were able to put some of the gift money towards paying for the reception, the honeymoon and things for our new baby, which was wonderful.
Invitations & Website
Invitations. If you have a good home laser printer, do these yourself. We searched the web for ideas, got paper and card samples from the stationery shops and tested the ideas out first. Between ink cartridges, fine paper, ribbon and tiny decorative roses from a haberdashery - plus envelopes and postage stamps - we paid out a very reasonable 121€.
Website. We made a free website on MyWedding.com and included the web address on the invitation. On the website, we posted useful information for the guests:
- Google maps for getting to the church and the reception
- Suggested hotel accommodation options for those wishing to stay overnight.
See our wedding website here.
Bridal Dress. We thought that my dress was going to be the biggest cost, apart from the reception. To complicate things I wanted a light pink colour instead of cream, ivory or white. After looking at hiring a dress or ordering an imitation over the internet, I went to a big department store’s evening gown section. There I found a stunning, full summer gala dress in light pink. To all intents and purposes it looked like a wedding dress, except for the price. Because it was out of season, I got it for a ridiculous 138€ (£118 or $180). The alterations cost me 70€ (£60 or $90).
Bridal Shoes. I went to a designer outlet for the shoes. Again because they were out of season (white and cream are summer shoe colours and our wedding was in the winter) I found a pair of Italian shoes for… wait for it… 9€! (£8 or $12) As far as bargains go, I don’t think I’ll ever top this.
Groom’s suit. Believe it or not, his was more complicated to find than my dress. My husband must have tried on twenty designer suits, until we were in Zara one day. There he saw a perfect suit. It cost only 120€ (£103 or $155) and we hesitated simply because it cost so little. “Can I really wear a high street suit for my wedding?” My husband asked. In the end it was the one he most liked, so he bought it and splashed out on a made-to-measure shirt to go with it at 100€ (£86 or $130). He had a pair of beautiful leather shoes already, so he wore those and a silk tie he got as a present from his parents.
Bridesmaids’ dresses. My girl friends and I chose silvery grey bridesmaids’ dresses for the church ceremony, to go with my pink wedding dress - and to flatter my three bridesmaids who each had totally different skin and hair tones! The girls did spend several days shopping, but eventually they found silvery-grey Donna Karan knee-length dresses on sale at 90€ each (£78 or $118).
Flower girl & page boy. Our page boy fell ill at the last minute, bless him, so he could not come. We had previously agreed with the flower girl's and page boys parents that they would dress their children in white and grey, which was not to difficult for them, as these are ordinary colours.
Mothers, Fathers, Siblings, Ushers. For our wedding, we simply asked everybody to turn up elegantly dressed (thus each person paying for the clothing themselves). We specified suit and tie for the gents and left it up to the ladies to wear what they pleased.
For detailed images, see our wedding slideshow by clicking on the link at the top of the page.
Makeup & Hair
Make Up. I decided to go for a professional make up that was waterproof - I knew I was going to be tearful with happiness most of my way through my wedding! It was worth every cent at 200€ (£171 or $260).
Hair. I did my own hair, but in hindsight I so wish I'd got a professional do. The up-do I had practiced did not work out and in the end my hair was pinned up with hairpins at home, just before rushing to church. If you are not great with hair, my advice would be to get a professional involved.
We ordered our white gold wedding bands online. Rings ordered online are generally about 15-30% cheaper than in retail stores and usually they are returnable/changeable within 15 days if they do not fit. Do check the terms and conditions carefully if you do this. We chose to have the rings engraved separately in a local jewellery store.
We were initially just going to take taxies or get friends or family to drive us, but a friend offered to lend us his fabulous sports coupe Mercedes. My brother drove me to church, and like William and Kate, my husband drove us from church to reception! We decorated the car with white ribbon from the haberdashery.
Ceremony. Some churches/locations are cheaper than others. We found out that our church charged far less for a 20-minute blessing, than a full hour’s wedding ceremony.
So we got married first in a civil registry in Gibraltar a week earlier with a handful of good friiends as witnesses and treated everybody to lunch afterwards. Registry office 140€ (£119 or $182) and lunch 180€ (£154 or $234). I got a new dress to wear for the day which cost 180€ (£128 or $195), but my husband opted for his good day suit. My dress was on the expensive side considering our all-over expenses, but we agreed on a dress that would get more wear (in fact it has been used for NYE, my son's Christening and several parties already). And we we still came under the cost of a full wedding ceremony with paperwork done on the same day.
Our subsequent church blessing at a small local church, which perfectly fit our 100 guests, cost us 300€. The clergy did not ask for a fee so we donated an additional 100€ to the church.
Reception venue without hire costs. We decided on a favourite restaurant & lounge bar as our venue. We approached the owner and negotiated for him to simply charge us for the food and drink and no venue hire. We were able to do this because we were filling his restaurant with one-hundred paying guests for a whole evening, during quiet season.
Food & drink. The restaurant offered us a free taster event, where we chose two options for starter and main course, plus a vegetarian choice. The guests could choose these on the day. We also got to sample the wines.
Cocktails & canapes, but no desert. As we were bringing in a wedding cake from a separate supplier (see below), we did not need desert, so the restaurant spent this part of the three-course meal budget on pink champagne and canapés as the guests were arriving and coffee to be served with the cake.
Final costs. Our hundred-guest food and drink bill came to 3,150€ (£2,700 or $4,110). We though the drinks would bring the cost up much more, but people did not drink nearly as much as we thought they would - just as the restaurant manager had told us. (Well, some did, but the vast majority was happy with the wine served as part of the meal and a drink or two afterwards.)
Cake. This was a triumph. A good friend put us in contact with a local hospitality student who was studying to be a pastry chef. We learned from her that a medium sized cake for cutting, plus enough cupcakes for the rest of the guests, would be much cheaper than a full wedding cake, but still look great on a tiered cake stand. How right she was!
The pastry chef student was interested in growing her portfolio and getting a favourable review from us, plus she was working from home and not a professional bakery, so we were only charged for the cost of ingredients and her time. The stunning cake and cupcake display you see in the photograph only cost us 150€, including delivery (£128 or $195). It was also incredibly tasty!
Music at church and reception. My husband is a musician and several of his friends were in bands. He asked them if they'd be happy to contribute something for a small cost, but our friends rallied around and gave us a beautiful wedding present: an a capella gospel for the church and a band for our reception. My husband even sang me our song! However, we also had everything backed up on an iPod, in case anything went wrong, so at least someone could hit 'play' and we could get on with things if any of the musicians had a sore throat on the day.
Dancing. For the rest, we simply recorded all of our favourite party tunes onto an iPod and hooked it up into the restaurant's sound system.
Photo booth. This was a present from our photographer friend. I thoroughly recommend it! Our guests loved it and we had such a laugh afterwards, looking at all the crazy photographs.
Speeches, cutting the cake & bride's bouquet. We had three very moving speeches by the groom, the groom's brother and a family friend from my side, which had us all laughing and crying. The cutting of the cake, plus the traditional throwing of the bridal bouquet also took up some of the evening. Really, there wasn't time for any more and it all worked out perfectly.
Photography & Wedding Album
Photography. We were gifted our wedding photography by our parents. We were very lucky in this respect, because he is a well known, award-winning wedding photographer and my husband and I could not have afforded him otherwise.
Hardcover Wedding Album. We designed our wedding albums on iPhoto (Apple application for Mac) and ordered one for ourselves and one for each of our parents.
Online Wedding Album. We opted for an online album that other guests and distant family could see. This included a private viewing page where guests could order prints for a small cost.
Find the link to our beautiful online wedding album at the top of the page.
Flowers, Decoration, Menus, Favours
Decoration. It is a good idea to pick a restaurant or venue that is already attractive and does not need a lot of decoration. In our case, we wanted a few simple pink lilies for our table centre pieces and something to mark our guest tables. We provided a table map for guests to find their tables only, and did not use place cards, letting each guest choose their chair.
Flowers. Our church was so beautiful in its Scandinavian simplicity that we decided not to decorate it further. The most money was spent on the bouquets for the bride and the bridesmaids and the reception centre pieces. My bouquet was simple, consisting of white roses and cost 90€ (£78 or $118). My bridesmaids gave the bouquets and table centerpieces to us as wedding presents.
Table decorations, table map, menus. We wanted a music-themed reception and so we named each guest table after a band. We printed table numbers and corresponding band names onto cream-coloured card, glued the cards into a tube shape and placed a candle into each tube to light it up. The restaurant did this when they set the tables up. The table maps and menus we also printed at home and the restaurant also set these up.
Wedding favours. We chose to give each guest a lottery ticket. These cost 1€ (£0.86 or $1.30) each, plus a small amount for the thank you card and envelope they went into.
Honeymoon in Rome! We picked an out-of-season destination, so the flights were cheaper than normal and instead of staying in a hotel, we hired a one-bedroom apartment through Tripadvisor. It was great, very near the Vatican and public transport so we walked and took busses everywhere. It was also accessible by train so we saved a ton of money in airport transfer costs.
We combined eating out with delicious breakfasts and a couple of dinners in our apartment, so we got the pleasure of shopping in an Italian supermarket and preparing tasty treats in the apartment's kitchen. We'll never forget our beautiful honeymoon to Rome, it was probably the most enjoable trip we've ever taken!
The entire trip, including flights, accommodation, food, transport and our dog's kenneling back home, cost us 1,085€ (£928 or $1415). Much of this was also covered by the cash wedding presents we had received.
So there. That was our DIY wedding.
The best day of my life was when our baby Felix was born, of course. But our wedding day ranked a very close second. Even now, I cannot see my own wedding photographs without crying and smiling!
I'll leave you with some useful online wedding resources. Good luck to all you DIY brides out there - I just know you'll have the best day ever.