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Cents & sensibility: Weddings

There was a time when the excitement of an imminent wedding was dulled by the anxiety of the impending credit-card statement. Marriage rates soared during the Celtic Tiger/Easy Credit years and the cost of the average wedding budget inflated accordingly, peaking at €29,500 (not including the honeymoon).

Budgets have since been slashed as the recession has taken hold. Straitened circumstances have given rise to a new type of bride. She is savvy, prudent and not afraid to ask for a discount.

When WeddingDates.ie, a wedding planning website, asked its customers if the recession was eating into their budget, 69pc of them answered yes.

Necessity is the mother of invention though, and couples are finding innovative ways to cut corners without compromising on their wedding wish list. Of those interviewed, 22pc said they are DIYing more elements of their weddings; 14pc are cutting guest lists to make savings; 17pc said they are dispensing with optional extras such as wedding favours and a further 17pc are going online to find better value.

Aisling Mackey of BudgetWedding.ie, a website she runs with Sarah Traynor, author of How to Have a Champagne Wedding on a Buck's Fizz Budget, agrees.

"Brides are finding bargains by internet shopping on the likes of eBay and sourcing items they've spotted in shops in more economical places.

"Second-hand and sample wedding-dress shops are doing really well and brides will source table decorations from IKEA or make their own wedding favours on a budget."

Brides are also far more likely to ask for a discount, according to Mackey, who also runs a DIY wedding stationery service, wedding.ie. "Two years ago we were rarely asked for a discount -- now it's every day!"

Budget brides might be cutting their overall spend, but the only place it is reflected is on their credit card statement.


VENUE When Ciara Crossan of WeddingDates.ie conducted a recent survey on couples-to-be, she discovered that engagement durations are becoming shorter, with 40pc of couples tying the knot within 12 months or less of getting engaged. "Because of this, hotels are getting a lot more last-minute enquiries and, thus, are willing to offer great deals on weddings booked with shorter lead times," she explains. "All hotels are anxious for the business, particularly if you choose to get married on a weekday or in off-peak months such as November, January or February. Corkage has dropped considerably too, with some hotels even eradicating it altogether."

Consider a venue that offers low or no corkage and buy your own alcohol for the event. Don't be afraid to approach venues that don't advertise for weddings and keep your eyes peeled for soon-to-open hotels -- they often offer reduced rates in their first months of business.

FLOWERS Think outside the box when deciding on flower arrangements. A scattering of rose petals and tea lights can look just as effective as a single floral display on each table. You don't always have to go to a designated florist: high street shops such as Marks & Spencer offer competitively priced table and vase arrangements. Likewise, many florists are now offering deals for those watching their budget.

Flowers Made Easy is currently offering a pocket-friendly 'Recession Buster' package: one bride's bouquet, two bridesmaid's bouquets, five buttonholes and two corsages for €340, see www.flowersmadeeasy.ie

CAKE How many wedding cakes have made such an impression on you that you can remember what they looked like? Exactly. When the wedding cake comes around, most people are more interested in the next bar run rather than the difference between rolled fondant and buttercream. Cut costs and delegate cake making to a family member or consider an alternative, such as a tower of cupcakes, a croquembouche of profiteroles or a Sheridan's cheesecake (units of your favorite cheesecakes stacked one on top of the next to look like a wedding cake). Cake toppers are often needlessly expensive too. Instead, ask a child in the wedding party to make one using Plasticine or Fimo -- at the very least, it will make the cake a talking point!

RINGS Jewellers will tell you that a wedding ring should cost two to three months' salary. Savvy couples know that they can plan an entire wedding on that budget. Seek out alternative options. Sentiment and style will often score higher than carat and cut. Bespoke wedding ring designers can create a signature piece and often at a better price. Consider craft designer, Maureen Lynch, whose contemporary jewellery has earned her a loyal fan base, www.maureenlynch.ie. Or log onto the Crafts Council of Ireland website to find up-and-coming Irish jewellery designers, www.ccoi.ie. Antique wedding rings are also becoming popular amongst cost-conscious couples. Source them at estate sales, antique jewellers or online.

PHOTOGRAPHY Photos often eat up a good chunk of the wedding budget. It's not an area that couples like to scrimp on, lest they are left with photographs that are anything less than picture perfect.

To cut costs, go for the "disc only" option. This, according to top reportage wedding photographer Niall Fennessy (www.niallfennessyphotography.com), is "what a lot of clients are asking for. You'll receive a disc of your images and you can stagger the printing of them according to your bank balance after the event."

If you're getting married abroad, take the time to source a local photographer rather than flying one over. Some couples only hire a photographer for the formal photos. For the reception, they might leave disposable cameras on each table, leaving the photography in the hands of the guests. Otherwise, consider eschewing the favours, and instead hire a passport-style photo booth which allows guests to get their photo taken in a fun, relaxed environment. Four-hour rental costs €950 and includes a memento picture for each guest, duplicates for the bride and groom and an online gallery -- most guests would prefer a memorable photograph than a bag of sugared almonds. www.photobooth.ie

DRESS FOR LESS Abandon all your preconceptions about charity shops and organise an appointment with Oxfam Bridal; 95pc of their dresses are brand new, having been donated by retailers and designers. The rest are donated by recent brides. Prices range from €200 to €400, with a discount range starting from €70. To make an appointment, call Samantha or Kayoko on 01 478 0777, or email oxfamgeorgesstreet@eircom.net.

For designer gowns with 50-60pc off the RRP, log on to Discount Designer for sample and nearly-new high-end dresses by the likes of Vera Wang, Pronovias and Jenny Packham, www.discountdesigner.ie. Fellow Irish website, Dress Trader, is the place to buy or sell a wedding dress. Choose the dress online and liaise directly with the seller. There are hundreds of dresses on offer to suit every taste and pocket. Don't forget to haggle, www.dresstrader.com.

Most Irish bridal boutiques run occasional sample sales where savvy brides-to-be can pick up designer dresses at a fraction of the price. The Vera Wang sample sale generally takes place in October and March in Brown Thomas. Myrtle Ivory (3 Anne's Lane, Dublin) and Annabel Rose (10 Wicklow Street) also run at least two sample sales a year. Be warned, though, samples are generally size 10 to 12.

One-of-a-kind vintage wedding dresses are often a quarter of the price of a modern gown. For high-end options, log on to www.thevintageweddingdresscom pany.com. Closer to home, try Enchanted Vintage Clothing for dresses from the 1920s to the 1970s, www.vintageclothing.ie


“Last July 25, the love of my life, Kieran, and I got married. When we started organising the wedding we realised that our budget was made pretty simple by the fact that we were both college students.

“We managed to spend less than €5,000 because our guests and especially our close friends and family contributed to various different aspects of our day instead of buying traditional gifts. Instead of having the reception in a hotel, we rented out a community hall. We decorated it ourselves and designed a barbecue and buffet with a good friend of ours who is an experienced chef.

“Other friends then rallied the troops, handed out the ingredients and had all the food made for the day. The meat was barbecued in the sun and our amazing cupcake tower was made by another friend of ours as a wedding gift to us. We topped it off with a traditional fruitcake made by Kieran’s mum, Liz. “We made all of our own invitations, decorations and even collected 200 glass yoghurt jars coming up to the wedding. We then put tea light candles into them, arranged them in a semi-circle and had our first dance amidst the flickering lights. It was the simple ideas that really stood out on the day.

“I found my dress in Pronuptia in Cork city. As it was closing down, they first offered to give it to me off the rails for €500 — the original price was €2,500! It was dry-cleaned for free and the final price was just €300. Most bridal shops also do massive reductions for dresses bought off the rails.”