20 must-read tips if you’re planning a wedding

Your essential guide to organising your big day

Whether you’re planning a wedding for twenty or two hundred guests, each comes with its own hurdles, challenges and of course, stresses.

At some point you’ll be faced with a headache-inducing dilemma, there’s a decent chance you’ll be tempted to elope and with tensions frayed you might even lunge for your elderly aunty if she asks on more time about the seating arrangements.

We’ve broken down the biggest day of your life into 20-must read tips that’ll not only give you a thrifty edge, but also crown you the undeniable champions, winners, and revered Khaleesi and Khal of all weddings, ever.

It might get emotional, you may get tingly palms and your to-do list will certainly be a lot longer by the end of this, but it will ensure your perfect day, so let’s dive in!


  • Section One: Guest list
  • Section Two: Venue
  • Section Three: Wedding Cakes
  • Section Four: Food And Drink
  • Section Five: Photographer
  • Section Six: Florist
  • Section Seven: Entertainment
  • Section Eight: Wedding Dress

Section One: Guest list

1. The 10-month trick

Although it’s hugely tempting, pick a venue before writing a guest list.

The capacity of the hall, barn, church, field or boat will give you parameters and restrictions to work with.

Social media editor Luchia Bennett, is determined to control the numbers so she won’t need to feed the 5,000.

“Oh, the guestlist is so hard! I’ve tried to be reasonable, but if I haven’t spoken to or seen a person for 10 months, then they shouldn’t really attend the wedding. It’s a good trick to try and cut back, and largely people are understanding.”

Section Two: Venue

2. Rent-a-theme, live the dream

Your wedding is boho-whimsy themed, and the props are out-and-out magical; a wooden ceremony arch, deer antlers, Persian rugs, feathery dreamcatchers, and ’husband’ and ‘wife’ highback wicker chairs.

What the guests don’t know is that you hired the lot! The Little Lending Company loans that whole look for £150. Plus, there are hundreds of trinkets and props such as bicycles, typewriters, polaroid cameras, welcome and grazing stations and much more to give your day some bank balance friendly, personality.

3. Invest in pre-existing beauty

Bridget Clemence from Amaryllis Flower Boutique, says: “If you pick an alternative venue – such as a themed hotel, a boat or farm – they usually don’t need much decoration because the charm is plain to see. If it’s already adorned with curiosities, your guests will be enraptured and hardly notice if your bows are matching, or not there at all. Allowing the venue to speak for itself will reduce your stress levels and save some money in the long run.”

4.Use second-hand sleight of hand

A keen-eyed journalist noted (wryly) there are 10 types of wedding. Wedding automatons unite.

While your wedding will undoubtedly stand out from the crowd (thanks to the tribute Elvis celebrant!), do take the opportunity to relish the similarities. When lavish newly-weds sell the spoils of their big day, a little second-hand sleight of hand means your guests will be none the wiser.

Search ‘wedding’ on independent seller sites in affluent areas (try Clifton in Bristol, and Richmond in London as starter for ten), to snap-up the prettiest decor bundles.

Section Three: Wedding cakes

5. Get naked

Claire Davies, wedding cake connoisseur and master baker at Cake Carousel, tells couples to strip off: “The best value cake design, and the most trendy, is ‘The Naked Cake’. Icing is expensive because it’s time intensive to make pretty. The naked cake has none of these hang-ups. What’s more, layers of freshly baked sponge filled with your favourite jams and super whipped buttercream is always a crowd pleaser.”

6. Dress it up

“Your cake decorator will be up late the night before the wedding baking to ensure the naked cake is fresh when it comes to eating it,” says Claire.

“Sit it on a wood slice for rustic charm, a dusting of icing sugar, a few fresh flowers, fruit, or a sprig of herbs and it’s complete.”

7. Be wary of unopened boxes

Many decorators will – in hushed tones – regale stories of well-prepared couples discovering wedding cake disasters within unopened, and pristine boxes. “Fixing unexpected problems at the last minute is problematic!” says Claire. “If you’ve bought a store-made cake, inspect it when you collect to avoid any nasty surprises.”

8. Help is not at hand

Bride-to-be Polly Hill is tying the knot in September 2016, but soon after the engagement she discovered that her family were ‘bakers’, despite having no experience.

This isn’t uncommon, says Claire: “I have been called on just days before the wedding to make the cake as the family cake baker can’t take the pressure, or they’ve broken a wrist. If you are having a free family cake, think about a plan B… just in case!”

Section Four: Food & drink

9. Rate the wine

Fiona Beckett, wine journalist for The Guardian and sommelier at Matching Food and Wine, advises couples to negotiate. “£9 corkage (and up) is pretty steep and if there’s heavy mark-up on the recommended wine, I would go back to them and see if you can negotiate a better deal.”

But what about the best wines for a wedding brunch, or even the cake? Fiona says: “If you’re having sandwiches, the best match is probably Prosecco which has a touch of sweetness that will go well with the cake, so do consider that too.”

10. Use a sense of smell to infuse an affordable atmosphere

Perfumery and natural beauty expert, Karen Gilbert, says: “There are a lot of hotels and boutiques that use fragrance to help you feel more relaxed and entice you in. You may not be able to consciously detect the scent, but it really does affect the way you feel.”

A waft of rosemary is thought to rouse memory, so a few well-placed herb sprigs may give the congregation a nostalgic resonance with the best man’s speech they’ll never forget. Better yet, eight stems are around 70p.

11. China, crockery and paper

Claire Davies knows how venues like to play when it comes to pudding. “If your venue wants to charge you to serve and plate the cake – and you think your pennies are best saved for Prosecco – then how about buying some cute napkins and make dessert a buffet style affair. Ask a few mates to be in charge of cake cutting and serving and let everyone pile in for pud!”

Section Five: Photographer

12. Your photographer might be on your doorstep

International wedding photographer, Tony Wilson from Photography34, recommends looking further afield for the right visual partnership: “I wouldn’t let the location of the photographer or their experience of shooting a particular location or venue influence your decision. The most important thing is to find someone with the right style and the look and feel of their processing that suits your taste”

He adds: “In my experience, photographers will travel far and wide for weddings and actually find it creatively more inspiring to visit somewhere new for the first time, and see it through a fresh pair of eyes.”

13. Chandler Bing

You may fret that your general presence in formal photos is stiff and uncomfortable. Yes, hilarious in sitcom engagement shoots, but less so in real life. “We met our photographer at a wedding fair,” says Richard Shorebank, who married Hettie Lewis in January 2016.

“I knew beforehand what style of photo I was after. I didn’t want hundreds of snaps where people sit grimly in a line putting on false smiles. The one we went with was so chilled, and could make you smile like a normal person! I’m like Chandler from Friends, I look tense in photos, and yet he made me feel at ease and the photos were light and casual. Phew!”

Section Six: Florist

14. Flowers with an artistic nature

Bridget Clemence says: “Think about seasonal flowers and colours and be open to accessories, such as ribbon, to make your bouquet look fuller. Beware if your heart is set on specific out-of-season blossoms, it can get very expensive.”

Katie, who married her long-time love Mike Kent in 2015, discovered just that: “We booked consultations with two florists and let them ‘sell it’ to us. For the first, I told her about a dusky pink rose I loved and the price was eyebrow raising. For the second, I held back. She got all of her magazines out and said ‘It’s like an art, have whatever you want!’ I showed her the colour I liked and her knowledge was impressive. She suggested another pink rose – in season! – plus other complementary stems.”

15. Fake it till you make it

With the cost of weddings mounting up and up QVC suggest investing the floral budget in hand-crafted faux bouquets. There are also hand-crafted, biodegradable origami paper bouquets which look like the real-deal too.

Section Seven: Entertainment

17. Live music isn’t just for the evening

Pat McIntyre, an acoustic wedding guitarist, says: “Every wedding schedule is different, but most commonly I’m booked to play at the wedding ceremony and following drinks reception. This always works well in my experience. As guests arrive, I’ll play relaxing music to set the atmosphere and build excitement”

He adds: “I also play during the ceremony, perhaps as the couple sign the register, or even as a replacement for readings. Then I entertain the congregation for an hour or so afterwards – sometimes there’s an unofficial first dance – before guests head in for the wedding breakfast (a meal at the reception, served at any time of day). It’s even more impressive when the music fills outdoor space, something about acoustic guitar and sunshine just works!”

18. The non-traditional ceremony

According to a recent survey, the number of people with no religion (48.5%)  outnumbers Christians in England and Wales. More couples are pulling away from traditional church services and on the hunt for alternative wedding ceremonies.

Helen Williams, celebrant at Treasured Ceremonies, says: “If you choose not to have a religion, a celebrant ceremony is more meaningful than a registrar ceremony, because it’s completely unique and personal. If you really want your day to be memorable for all concerned, employ a celebrant early on in the planning stage. If you don’t have your venue, the local celebrant will know what’s around, and you won’t have to stick to licenced venues since you’re not using a registrar.”

Section Eight: Wedding dress

19. Is the Wedding dress right or Wang?

You could wear Vera Wang on your wedding day even if your budget is small. Well-loved designer gowns frequent preloved sites, such as Sell My Wedding Dress, and most have been worn only once, or not at all. But, there are ways to fake it too.

Bride-to-be Kirsty Kelly, says: “For me it was about thinking outside the box for wedding dress shopping. Approaching vintage shops have been amazing, for me. They have the couture lace from the 50s at low prices, plus the dress is made-to-measure from the off-set, so you could pick a pattern from the contemporary catwalk but ooze with sophistication thanks to the fabric.”

20. Samples sales

“Picking the opportune moment to buy your dress could save you thousands of pounds” says Charlotte White, a bride to be from Yorkshire. “I spent time, as everyone does, finding the gown I liked but rather than buying it there and then, I waited until the boutique shop clearance (there’s usually one every season). I rang up first thing in the morning and paid over the phone, saving around 30%.”

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