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Paying for a Wedding - Who, How and Cutting the Bill

18/06/2014 13:20 BST | Updated 18/08/2014 10:59 BST

The average cost of a wedding in the UK is £22,000. Coming out of a recession, by way of a cost-of-living crisis, it's hard to see how anyone can afford to pay that much - but they do. And with so many couples splashing out this much, the peer pressure to do the same is snowballing.

If you've decided to tie the knot, cost be damned, how the hell do you pay for it?

Who pays for what?

Traditionally, the majority of wedding costs were paid by the father of the bride. This is rooted in the dowry tradition, where the groom's family were compensated for taking on the financial burden of the bride. It goes without saying that things have changed somewhat, and accordingly, the tradition hasn't exactly gone out the window, but is certainly shuffling off quietly.

A 2012 study by John Lewis Insurance found 52% of Britons expecting to pay for their own wedding while 37% said they would like parents from both sides to contribute. Only 9% expected to follow tradition and have the father of the bride foot the bill.

This is most easily explained by the rising age of couples when they get married - at last count the average age for brides was 30, meaning the couple are far more able to pay their own way than historically, particularly as bride and groom are probably both working.

What the statistics really tell us is that it all depends on personal circumstance; each family is different. If the groom's parents are wealthy, but no one else is, they may wish to pay the majority, while the bride's parents may wish to take the smaller bill for the honeymoon (for example).

Stumping up your share

Unless you're independently wealthy, how do you stump up your share of the bill? Even a relatively small contribution could be thousands of pounds.

Many couples turn to loans, with 41% of 25-34 year olds taking out credit to pay for their big day. Of those, 69% borrowed less than £5,000 with 10% borrowing over £10,000. Getting into debt is rarely a good idea, and accordingly, 28% wished they'd borrowed less, and a full 18% regretted borrowing at all.

Saving up-front is clearly the better option, and may partially explain the trend for longer engagements - alongside the prevalence of pre-wedding co-habitation; both cutting day-to-day costs for the couple and implying some level of shared finances.

So what's the best way to save for the wedding? First, cut spending and put what you save aside. Living together splits bills, delay buying your first home (your share of the wedding and a house deposit probably add up to the same thing), forego newspapers for the BBC News site - every little counts.

Then make that money work harder. You're more likely to lose money than grow it with the almost laughable rates traditional savings accounts currently offer. Whatever you do, consider taking advantage of the tax-free returns from ISAs. Stocks & Shares ISAs may involve more risk, but they also offer the potential for greater growth. And investing in something like a passive FTSE tracker fund - like the majority of young investors with less than £10,000 to invest do - offers a relatively low-risk way to beat savings rates.

Downsizing the bill

Of course, cutting that £20,000 cost to something much more manageable will make the whole thing easier on everybody. The few salami slices, chesse and pinnapple sticks and volovants you can make will help with your budget, and remember; when you look after the pennies the pounds look after themselves.

The biggest savings are made on the guest list. Most venues charge per head, so you immediately save by inviting fewer people. But you also cut down on the cost of feeding them, which can run anywhere from £10 per head to £100 or more. To avoid hurting people's feelings, you could always go for a venue with a limited capacity.

Believe it or not, you can actually save a bundle by getting married abroad. It automatically cuts down the guest list - taking the sting out of not being invited or just putting off everyone but your very nearest and dearest by cost and holiday allowances alone. Couples can save up to 70% by marrying overseas.

Short of going abroad, it's fairly common these days to limit the number of people present for the ceremony and wedding breakfast, with more guests invited to the evening reception - combine that with a closed bar and your costs per head are dramatically reduced.

Save thousands of pounds by buying a vintage wedding dress, a high street dress that happens to be white or even a budget dress - H&M have just launched one for £59.99. Cut down on flowers by getting married outside. Reduce invitation costs by sending e-vites and having your graphic designer friend create them. Get your musician friends to form a wedding band, and a photographer friend to take the pictures. Most people are pleased as punch to help out on the day.

With a little compromise, creative thinking and the goodwill of talented companions, you can shave thousands off your wedding bill - without eloping to Las Vegas for a melancholy memory.