Getting married on a shoestring: The Venue

Wedding season is here once more. I seem to be surrounded by people who are, if not getting married themselves, preparing to be guests at other people’s weddings. I read something recently (I can’t remember where) that said that the average cost of attending a wedding these days is £300 per guest by the time a new outfit, travel, accomodation and a gift has been factored in. In many cases I wouldn’t be surprised if this was more – particularly if you’ve been invited to a stag or hen party that involves an overnight stay. I’ve also read a lot of articles about the average cost of a wedding with estimates ranging from £10,000 – £18,000. Is it just me or is this complete madness?

How many couples start out their married life in debt because of the wedding? Or save for years to have a dream wedding when they could have used the money to put a deposit on their own home or go travelling for a year or something that lasts, frankly, longer than a single day? I know it could be argued that the memory of the day is something that lasts but shouldn’t the memory of marrying the person you supposedly want to spend the rest of your life with be good enough? 

I felt really sad when someone else told me about a couple they know who are really unhappy because they desperately want to get married but can’t afford it. It made me feel sad because society seems to have set the standards so high that, clearly, some people feel like they can’t measure up. It doesn’t actually cost that much, from a legal point of view, to tie the knot. It is all the other stuff – the dress, the venue, the caterers and so on that make the whole affair so expensive.

I’m certainly no expert on this but I’ve had a wedding of my own and have also been involved with many of my friends weddings. I’m pretty sure that a lot of people out there have got some good ideas too. So I thought I might do a mini-series about getting married on a shoestring with a few things I’ve noticed and get everyone else to chip in (whether they have been married themselves or been a guest). So, please, if you’ve got some ideas to share, add them to the comments section. If I can manage it, I’ll try to update the posts to include people’s suggestions! 

I’m going to kick the series off with…


Getting this organised really dictates everything else. If you are going to have a religious ceremony then you’ll obviously need to get your local church (or similar) booked. If not, there are a huge amount of options now, since licences are available for all kinds of places. Also consider the time of year you want to get married. It is tempting, I know, to get married in summer but sometimes (not always) you might find that certain venues charge less outside of this conventional wedding season. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve attended summer weddings here in the UK and ended up with bare legs turning blue and chattering teeth while sporting a summer dress and sandals. I mean, it’s not like the weather here is exactly predicatable is it?!

Husband and I got married one winter’s evening in front of a roaring open fire . We had a freakishly sunny day during which we had a wander in town where we bought and ate croissants before I headed off to the hairdressers and got ready in a slow and leisurely fashion. I admit, this might be a bit too unconventional for some. We went in the same car together, got there far too early and ended up greeting most of the guests at the door (who seemed quite surprised that I wasn’t tucked away somewhere, waiting to make a grand entrance). Horses for courses I say. My own wedding is still the only one I have ever been to that was in the (early) evening. Why don’t people do this more? It was brilliant – all dark starry skies and long shadows thrown from candles and the fireplace. At Christmas we saw the mother of one of Husband’s friends who came to our wedding (which took place 10 years ago) and she was nice enough to say that it was still the most enjoyable wedding she had ever been to. I digress. My point is, you don’t necessarily have to go down the most conventional route (which often ends up being the most expensive one).

My family decorated the venue for us (a country house/manor type place – we got married in the library which was heaven for a book-worm like me). The mantlepieces were decorated with candles and also holly and ivy from my parents garden. Mum also spent weeks making table centrepieces from foam, white candles, holly, ivy and pinecones (I might see if I can get her to do a ‘how-to’ post on this!).

On a completely different note, I have worked with two different people who have gone on holiday and come back married without telling anyone what they were up to before they went! They both said that it worked out cheaper to have a combined wedding and honeymoon in a far flung exotic place than have a traditional wedding at home. I must point out though – neither did it this way because it was cheaper, it just turned out that way upon reflection!

Here are a few venue ideas I’ve picked up from my own wedding and other weddings I have attended:

  • If you have a family member with a large house and garden (or you have one yourself) consider having your reception at home (though, personally, I wouldn’t want to deal with the clean-up operation the next day!).
  • Decorate the venue yourself. You can either buy flowers and arrange them yourself or raid the garden of a willing friend or family member. Plain white candles always look elegant and are easy to decorate (look online for ideas). Fairy lights, IMHO, always look a bit magical. Scatter them around the room or in trees outside. You can probably borrow them rather than going out and buying a load. A friend of mine decorated another friends wedding venue with jaunty bunting. You know what you like – get creative!
  • Carefully consider both the time of year and time of day you want to get married. Spend a bit of time thinking outside the box (even if you don’t end up acting upon any of your ideas).
  • Get married on holiday. I think two people just going away together and getting married without the big fuss is actually wildly romantic. Others, of course, will not.
  • Have a rough idea of the number of guests you will want to invite before you make any bookings. A few people rattling around in a giant country house will feel ridiculous. Similarly, 300 people crammed into somewhere tiny won’t thank you for it.
  • Only go for something very formal if you really like being very formal. Or if the person paying likes things really formal and you don’t actually care either way.
  • Check out the registery offices in and around the area that you are considering. There are some amazingly beautiful ones out there.
  • Receptions don’t have to be held in hotels – don’t forget to check out local halls and so on. There are some very pretty and functional village halls surrounded by stunning countryside where I live. Each area will be able to offer something different.
  • Ask for help. My experience has been that friends and family love being involved in the planning of the big day. You could ask people to help you out as their wedding present to you.
  • My favourite celebrity wedding venue: When Kate Winslet got married the first time, she tied the knot in her local church and then everyone went down to the local pub and had bangers and mash. I’ve always liked Kate for this… 

I know I’ve forgotten loads of things so please feel free to chip in with any venue ideas, great wedding memories or horror stories!

Categories: Shoestring Weddings | Tags: | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Getting married on a shoestring: The Venue

  1. apieceofwood

    Good topic, but from someone who’s been there twice, first time totally OTT price wise and the second, much reduced.. I’d do it even cheaper the third time (if there is one!!) But I think you’re right, society and most individuals ‘expect’ a certain something from a wedding. Plus there’s the daydream concept that all girls grow up with about how a wedding should be. I think you’re considered slightly ‘strange’ if you deviate from the norm… but for cost, registry offices would be the way to go.. I think…

    • shoestringalley

      Yes, other people’s expectations play too heavy a part in the planning sometimes. I know a lot of people who felt they had to have a large wedding to accomodate all of the people whose weddings that they had been to themselves.

      I know what you mean about the daydream thing. The funny thing is, my only wedding daydream had to do with the flowers and the florist got it wrong anyway!

      The weddings that stand out most in my mind are the ones that were either quite small or quirky or unconventional in some way…

  2. We ran away to Italy and didn’t tell anyone apart from the 2 friends we were on holiday with – they were our witnesses. We had an absolutely gorgeous day (see website for photos), the only downside was my mum was so annoyed – not that we’d done it that way, but that we hadn’t let her in on the secret!

    Utterly stress free, the whole thing was about getting married to each other, rather than “a wedding”, if you know what I mean. Didn’t cost a lot, certainly in comparison with what friends have spent back in the UK.

    If we hadn’t been able to get the paperwork done in time (the only niggle about the whole thing was the mild concern was Italian bureaucracy is what it is), we were looking at hiring a barn for an early evening, autumn affair, much as you’ve described above!

    • shoestringalley

      Sounds amazing! I’ll have to stop by and check out those photos. It’s a shame your Mum felt left out. That’s the trouble with weddings – you can never seem to please everyone!

  3. whatshappeningatmyhouse

    Brilliant idea for a series of posts, Shoestring, and some very valid points and good ideas in there, too.

    I think a lot of providers (florists, caterers etc) seem to hear the word wedding, and put their prices way up, these days. A bit of savvy shopping around and some haggling can usually net you a better deal than the one originally offered.

    One of the most enjoyable weddings we’ve been to in recent years was in a registry office, followed by a reception in a village hall, with a hog roast and ceilidh – all done on the proverbial ‘shoestring’.

    Look forward to reading more of your posts on weddings.

    • shoestringalley

      You are so right about prices shooting up – a lot of people refer to it as wedding tax.

      It sounds like the wedding you enjoyed the most is very like the ones I have enjoyed the most too!

  4. It’s funny you should bring this up as my friend is just planning her wedding at the moment! She always said she wanted something small but it’s getting bigger and bigger and she’s turning into Bridezilla already(still a year to go)!

    We always knew we wanted a small wedding and we stuck to our guns – we had a registry office ceremony with 20 guests (immediate family only and one best friend and partner on each side) and then went to a hotel for a buffet which ended up lasting until midnight! We had a fab time and I wouldn’t change it for anything!

    My dress was £350 and tiara £15.00, both from Debenhams, and I loved them and recieved lots of compliments (from the other hotel guests too!).

    For us to have had a massive do would have been totally out of character and I would have hated organising it. I know some people love it though!

  5. shoestringalley

    Good for you for sticking to your guns. I’d much rather have that kind of wedding than one with 200 guests, formal dining and all of the trimmings but I know that some people fantasize about that very thing!

  6. I am so excited to see what else is coming up in this series! Your wedding sounds absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been in and to so many weddings and it’s funny to me how the little things the bride stresses over before the wedding aren’t even noticed during the ceremony and reception. I am hoping whenever/if-ever I get married I can keep it small and under control!

  7. Lizzie

    Hey – my friend is getting married and would love to do it in a library. May I ask where a bouts you tied the knot?

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