My Thrifty Wedding: What I’d Do Differently

Miss Thrifty10 June 28, 2013

thrifty bride You know, I can only write a post like this because I loved – and I mean LOVED – my wedding day. It was eight years ago this year. We organised it ourselves, in five months and on a strict budget. 

The day itself was a daze from the moment I stepped into the church, and the moments that stand out in my memory are all the classic ones: walking up and down the aisle, concentrating hard and trying not to stumble over vows, signing the register, the first dance, cutting the cake, tossing the bouquet and so on. I don’t think I’ve given a thought over the years to what we could or should have done differently – until this week.

The nice people at John Lewis asked if they could partner with Miss Thrifty for a post about insurance, and I wasn’t going to, because right now I don’t have anything to say about insurance that I haven’t said already. Then I began clicking through the John Lewis site, came across a heap of stuff on wedding insurance – and had an extreme attack of there but by the grace of God…

Wedding insurance covers you if the bride, groom, close relatives or wedding party members fall ill and you have to postpone your wedding day. It ensures that you get your deposits back if any of your suppliers, from the reception venue to the florist and photographer, go bust. Even damage to the wedding cake is covered. Wedding insurance starts at £58 so relative to other wedding costs, it isn’t hugely expensive.

I didn’t know about wedding insurance when we organised our wedding. I don’t know if this was because wedding insurance wasn’t in vogue then, or because we were in such a rush, it passed us by. Probably a bit of both. But reading through the lengthy list of potential wedding day disasters, I recalled our own wedding day roll of suppliers and verbal agreements and handshakes and smiles, and realised for the first time how fragile our set-up had been. When it came to our wedding reception, we had nothing in writing. We “borrowed” a pub in Shoreditch for the day (pubs in that part of town are often closed at weekends) and arranged for the chefs there to conjure a giant barbecue, after an informal meeting with the landlord, who was our best man’s boss. We roped in friends to DJ, and another talented friend kindly took on the role of photographer. I could go on…

I am as risk-adverse as they come; looking back makes me shudder, when I think how fragile our arrangements were, how easily they could have fallen through and what a fix we could have been in had something gone wrong. I think we were lucky but, in retrospect, a safety net would have been a good idea.

Thinking about insurance got me thinking about what else I would do differently, if I could turn back time…

thrifty wedding cake Making my own wedding cake.
After I decided to make the cake myself, to save money, I went overboard. There were four tiers: fruit cake, chocolate cake, banana cake and a diabetic fruit cake on top, for my dad. I decided to decorate the cake with ornate sprays of sugar roses, despite having zilch sugarcraft experience.

I ended up buying a sugarcraft flower book off Amazon, and spending a fortune in the local cake shop on everything from little plastic rose leaf cutters to tiny pots of sugarcraft paints and powders. I practiced and practiced, for months. The roses were difficult to make, and terribly time-consuming, but by the week of the wedding I had killed it. My sprays of roses were awesome! I had the roses and the four cakes all ready to go; all I needed to do was ice and assemble.

From here it went downhill, mostly I think because with just a couple of days to go before the Big Day, I was sleep-deprived and borderline bonkers. I decided to follow the recipe in my book and make my own fondant icing, instead of just buying some of the roll-out stuff. A terrible move: when it went on the cake tiers, it turned lumpy! I cried, because it was a cakewreck and I thought it was too late to do anything about it. Then the day before the wedding my mum turned up, wielding a icing nozzle, pipe bag and decorative tape like an amazing cakey superheroine. She set to work and covered the worst of my awful handiwork.

The night before the wedding, tired and stressed, I went to fix on the sprays of roses… and dropped the biggest one. It fell through the air in slo-mo, and then the sugar flowers, buds and leaves smashed into tiny pieces on the kitchen floor.

I couldn’t even look at a sugar flower for a long time afterwards. Suffice to say: if, like me, you are prone to perfectionism and grand designs and you do not have experience in this field, DO NOT MAKE YOUR OWN WEDDING CAKE. All this was eight years ago, but typing it out here is making me relive the horror all over again. I’m gritting my teeth in the photo above.


Booking a minicab to take me to the church. Don’t get me wrong: it was a posh minicab, rather than a battered Ford Escort smelling of dog and fag ash. We were on a tight budget, and I couldn’t see the point of splashing out on a super-duper vintage car to take me from my flat to the church. I paid in advance for a car for me and my dad, and a car for my mum and the bridesmaids.

So far, so good – until both cars turned up at my flat at the same time. Off went the bridesmaids. We asked the driver of the other car to hang on outside for 15 minutes, but his English was poor and something went badly wrong with the communication. When my dad and I emerged, ready to go to the church, the car was nowhere to be seen. We waited. And waited. And eventually we realised that wherever the driver had gone, he wasn’t coming back.

With five minutes to go until we were due at the church, I was standing on the pavement in all my wedding finery, mobile phone clamped to my ear, trying to arrange a replacement car. In the end it was fine: a hastily-dispatched car came whizzing round the corner and got us to church bang on time. Those were a hairy few minutes though.

Three changes to the Big Thrifty Day: that’s not bad, I suppose. The biggest investment of the day certainly seems to have paid off nicely…

thrifty wedding

…And no, I am not talking about my eBay wedding dress!

If you got married on a budget, how did you do it – and looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

john lewis


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10 Responses to “My Thrifty Wedding: What I’d Do Differently

Fi Phillips says:

Your wedding looked and sounded wonderful. Lots of gorgeous memories.

We had very little money to spend on our wedding and as we couldn’t see that situation improving in anything like the near future (or further future), we decided to go ahead with it anyway. We had a civil ceremony at the local registry office which was within 5 minutes walking distance of the hotel we booked for our reception (no evening do) so there was no need for cars. The hotel kindly gave us an excellent deal and provided things like the cake knife and stand for free. Our cake was 3 iced tiers from a supermarket, decorated with silk roses from a friend’s wedding. Wedding clothes for me and our children were bought on eBay or in the sales. A friend gave me the left over balloons from her sister’s wedding for our child guests favours (plus some little cuddly toys that were left over from another friend’s wedding). My boss let me print out our wedding invitations at work and I then made them up myself. All in all, we couldn’t have afforded the wedding without the kindness of friends.

June 28, 2013 at 10:34 am

Karla Grant says:


My husband and I had the ultimate in modest weddings. We met online in our 30s, and once we decided that we wanted to get married, we didn’t want to waste any time. My husband lived in Dumfriesshire, and I lived in Suffolk. When my mother and aunt started talking about hiring the village hall, and cream brocade for me a dress, I rebelled, very uncharacteristic for me!

My husband and I decided to get married at Gretna Green, at the Old Blacksmith’s Shop. We didn’t have much money at all. When we booked our wedding, we were given a list of ministers, we chose this fantastic Baptist minister, the Reverend Laurie Logan Dennison. My mother made my dress, in indian cotton with gold embroidery, purchased from Wisbech Market. I had simple cotton ankle wrap sandals, a silk flower bouquest, as I have allergies. My husband wore black trousers and a very nice jacket he already owned. I moved up to Scotland two weeks before the wedding. We had a very simple, but lovely wedding, then went to the restaurant at the wedding venue. My father-in-law gave us £50 to help pay for the wedding breakfast. We had just a few family members from each side. After the wedding breakfast, I changed into my Doc Martins and indian cotton skirt, Matthew changed into his jeans, and then we were off for our one night honeymoon at Balloch, on Loch Lomond. We couldn’t afford anything more, but we made the most of it. We both have relatively shy, retiring natures, and we are still happily married after nearly 14 years, and two children.

I have never regretted a minute of it, and when I see what young people are spending on their weddings these day, and their marriages not lasting, I despair. It is a lot to live up to after a day like that, and it can be an anti-climax, not to mention the debt they start out with, or that their parents have to deal with. When I was growing up, a friend of my parents took out a huge loan to pay for his only daughter’s wedding. She wasn’t even married for a year, and he paid that loan for about five years, I think. Shudder!

I am not saying that everyone has to have a little quiet wedding as we did, but they forget that getting married is only the beginning of the relationship, not the climax.

Keep up the good work!

Kind regards


PS How is Thrifty Baby doing?

June 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm

P says:

We haven’t tied the knot yet, we’d like to do it at home but are not sure how we’re supposed to fit it in with living in Germany, but these were some very good tips to keep in mind for when we actually do get around to it. Hopefully sooner rather than later! LOL!

June 29, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

@Fi – sounds brilliant! (And you were FAR more sensible than me, when it came to the blimmin’ cake…) My 1920s wedding dress came from eBay and my bridesmaids dresses came from there too. The bridesmaid dresses were quite tough to find though: I found a loose, 1920s-style floaty dress from Monsoon that was perfect. But then I had to stalk eBay for a fair few weeks, collecting dresses in the right sizes. Then one dress turned up with a rip, and one of the bridesmaids called to say that her dress size had changed. ARGH! All turned out ok in the end though. 🙂

@Karla – I like the Gretna Green idea, and it sounds like a terrific day. Thrifty Baby is doing brilliantly, thank you. Right now he is fast asleep in his cot in the next room! He is growing up fast though: he’s going to have to be Thrifty Boy ere long…

@P – Oooh, that’s a difficult position. Truly, I rather liked having a short space of time in which to organise our wedding, because at least the shebang got sorted and DONE without years being spent whipping myself up into some Bridezilla frenzy about the whole thing. (My wedding-crazy got channeled into the cake, but at least there wasn’t the time for it to blossom and grow elsewhere!) So if you come back from Germany and/or end up organising your wedding day at relatively short notice as a result, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good luck!

June 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm

P says:

Lol! Thank you Miss Thrifty ! I guess you just have to take the plunge at some point, hehe! I’m hoping that a fabulous baker on my boyfriend’s side would make the cake… but the thoughts of organising the whole thing at home from here is more than a little bit daunting to say the least. Well, I haven’t been asked yet… so… there’s still some time – hehe!

June 30, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Louisa says:

We had a modest wedding – we only spent 5 months organising it but we had everything we wanted there!
The only thing I would have done differently would have been to get someone organised to film bits of it. At the time we didn’t want to lump one of our family members with holding the camera all day and we thought we wouldn’t have watched it ever again. But with hindsight, it’s a shame we don’t have any footage of it all, especially now that some of our relatives have passed away.

On the day however, we loved it! We even had people saying to us in the evening, “you could spend three, four times more but you wouldn’t have been able to have a wedding better than this” x

July 2, 2013 at 12:28 am

Miss Thrifty says:

@Louisa – I know what you mean re. video. We had something really weird happen at our wedding, actually. When I turned up at the church (after taxi panic) there was a guy in a suit outside with a video camera. He also came in and filmed part of the ceremony. I thought perhaps my husband, friends or in-laws had arranged for a surprise video… Awesome! The truth, as it turned out, was somewhat different: he had indeed been booked by a friend to make a video of the happy couple… but a different happy couple! The plonker had turned up on the right day and at the right time, but at the wrong church. Apparently he discovered his mistake halfway through the wedding ceremony and made a swift exit.

My clever mum nabbed his email before he left, and I got in touch with him afterwards and arranged to buy the raw footage for £100. But he NEVER sent it (or got paid). I was living in America by then and there were only so many chasing emails I could send, so after a few months I gave up. Not the most reliable of men, clearly!

He still pops up on my LinkedIn “People You May Know” from time to time though (eight years on!) and I am tempted to get back in touch, just in case. DOMINIC I’M WATCHING YOU…

July 2, 2013 at 1:10 am

Something is always bound to go awry at weddings! That’s how it goes and I’m glad you took it good spirits. I love how you made your own wedding cake – even if you felt it was a disaster!

We also saved money in interesting / less traditional ways. Firstly, I bought my dress during a trip to Hoi An, Vietnam ($150 USD), we made our own wedding invitations, and took a cab to our event 🙂 I wrote about parts of it here:

August 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm

A-M says:

I got married on an extremely tight budget 4 years ago. It was partly down to necessity – both our jobs were in serious jeopardy (one of us was made redundant a few weeks later) and partly down to just not bearing to spend the equivalent of a house deposit on one day. It’s the marriage that’s important after all!

So we spent ca. £100 on the legal necessities – giving notice, certificate, ceremony at the town hall (luckily our city has a gorgeous town hall, nicer than anything I could have afforded!).

We re-used our engagement rings as wedding rings. I would have liked a new wedding ring, but we plan on getting them for a very important anniversary. I’m not much of a jewellery wearer anyway.

I didn’t have a ‘wedding’ dress. I did buy a nice, new off the rack dress, but at £35 it was a bargain and it fit REALLY well! The main downside to this was being mistaken for a guest on my wedding day by the folk who worked at the town hall. If I had all the money in the world, I would have loved some bespoke, vintage lacey thing, but as it was just not an option I was happy to have something that reflected me and was dressier than what I usually wear. It was still special. Plus it has the advantage that I might actually wear it again.

We only invited about 20 close friends and family. So we were able to fit into about 3 taxis, plus one car with my nan’s disabled badge (yay free city-centre parking!).

We had the ‘reception’ at a pub/restaurant except we didn’t tell them it was a wedding, we just booked a big table and paid normal menu prices. Everyone was able to order whatever they wanted – no set menus. No balloons and confetti of course, but we all piled home to my nan’s afterwards and she had made that wedding-tastic in her own special way (lovely surprise for me). My only request was that there be chocolate cake, which she happily obliged! We did the cutting of the cake, speeches etc at home once everyone had already eaten and it was a great laugh.

The meal out was about £250 all in, but my father and in-laws insisted on paying for that. All in I think we spent about £200 and a couple of our guests spent £10 on taxis. It was the lowest key wedding I’ve ever been to, but honestly one of the happiest days of my life.

And the whole redundancy story has a happy ending too. We survived on a shoe string for 6 months while that sorted itself out. When we finally got some redundancy pay, plus a gifts from family who had anticipated the wedding costing more so just gave us the wedding ‘fund’ as a present, we had assembled enough for a deposit on a house. No amount of lacey of dresses and pretty flowers could be worth more than buying our first home within a year of marriage!

September 9, 2013 at 9:42 am

Miss Thrifty says:

That sounds brilliant! I love a good thrifty wedding. Did you see the couple in the Mail and other papers the other week, who married for their registrar costs + £1? All the guests brought dishes of food for the reception, as their wedding gifts. People were being snooty in the comments, but I thought it was a great idea.

September 9, 2013 at 9:31 pm

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