Thursday 14 November 2019

Return of the big fat Irish wedding: Is the big day really worth €25K?

Christmas engagements and wedding fares. . . it's that time of year again. But is the big day worth the €25k - the deposit on a first home - that many of you plan to spend?

Marriage is still in fashion in Ireland
Marriage is still in fashion in Ireland
White wedding: Caroline Ryan and Peter Dower
Dream venue: Mount Juliet, Co. KIlkenny, was out of the couple's reach

Deirdre Reynolds

Here comes the bank manager: the big fat Irish wedding is back.

After years of cutting back on cake and forsaking wedding favours, 36pc of couples here now spend more than €20,000 on their big day, Weekend Review can exclusively reveal.

In a survey of over 2,000 Irish brides by Weddingsonline.ie, due to be released on Monday, 6pc even stretched to more than €30,000, with over a third of all newlyweds ultimately going over budget.

"Prices tend to be sneaking up a little bit, there's no doubt about that," says Jonathan Bryans, sales manager of Weddingsonline, "especially on the hotel side.

"To be honest, price really isn't so much of a factor for weddings. I've never met anybody who said, 'I had a cheap wedding' - it's just not what people do.

"People will spend on it irrespective of whether they're unemployed or buying a house, or whatever."

Indeed, in the same week that property website Daft.ie released its annual House Price Report, statistics show that the average couple living in Mayo - where an average house is estimated to cost €121,253 - would blow the entire 20pc deposit which could soon be needed to secure a mortgage on their wedding day.

Read more: Irish Mum on her 7 stone weight-loss: 'Fitting into my wedding dress was better than I ever could have expected'

A separate study by Mrs2Be.ie last month unveiled how the average cost of getting hitched has risen by 2.6pc in the past year to €19,625 - or €24,580 when the honeymoon was taken into account.

"I wasn't hugely surprised by the results of our survey," says Mrs2Be managing director, Keith Malone. "Anecdotally, from talking to venues and suppliers, the majority have been saying that things are looking up.

Marriage is still in fashion in Ireland
Marriage is still in fashion in Ireland

"Three or four years ago, when the recession was at its height, couples were planning their wedding in the minimum time - five or six months on average. The wedding industry was certainly hit.

"But that trend has definitely reversed. People who got engaged in 2014 are now actively looking for 2016 weddings, so there's a much longer lead time."

"People have more confidence, I think," he adds. "It wasn't that they were completely skint [before], it was more that they were just afraid to put all this money into [a wedding].

"There were too many unknowns [like] 'I mightn't have a job' or 'The vendors I book deposits with mightn't be in business'. There were hardly any disasters in terms of vendors going bust and leaving couples high and dry, but the fear was always there."

With December proving the most popular month for popping the question, according to the website, hotels, florists and photographers from across the country will be hoping to find out how to get an even bigger slice of the cake at the Irish Wedding Summit 2015 at The K Club next month.

"Weddings themselves tend to be fairly bulletproof," says Jonathan Bryans of Weddingsonline, which hosts the trade event on Monday, February 2. "You don't have to do an awful lot of weddings to make good money. From a supplier point of view, it's about doing a good job for people and building trust."

Read more: Photographer captures Irish bride’s ‘utter shock’ as her brother flies home from Australia to surprise her

Contrary to popular belief, he insists that mentioning the 'w' word doesn't automatically hike up the price: "I wouldn't think that they're inflating the prices unnecessarily. It's about value more than price, if that makes sense.

"There's a huge amount of value add that would be given for a wedding as opposed to a 60th birthday, for example. They're also blocking off the whole hotel, and you are the focus for that day.

"It is a premium industry, I suppose, so people spend a lot on it. Pricing finds its natural level. You can get a [function] room at a cheaper price on a Sunday as you would on a Saturday - but that's supply and demand."

And the demand for big white weddings is sure to go through the roof here should a historic referendum to legalise same-sex marriage be carried later this year.

"Next year will be a big year for same-sex weddings," predicts Marian Purcell of Equalityweddings.ie, an online directory of gay-friendly wedding suppliers in Ireland. "A lot of couples are holding back on entering a civil partnership to get married instead.

"All the [same-sex] weddings that I've been to have been big weddings - 100-150 people. One hotel told me they had 400 people at a same-sex wedding.

"A lot of these couples have been together so long they're really splashing out because, I suppose, they thought that day would never come. You're talking about older people who've been saving for a long time, and mightn't have had children, so they'd have a lot more disposable income than a 28 or 29-year-old."

Despite the fact that lesbian brides-to-be reportedly earn 8pc more than their heterosexual counterparts, ahead of its third Dublin Equality Wedding Show at The Morgan Hotel next month, the Limerick-based company revealed that not all Irish wedding businesses are saying 'I Do' to the pink euro.

"Before we set up the website three years ago, nearly every person that we spoke to had a story of [a supplier] that wasn't gay-friendly," tells Marian, who's also a civil celebrant.

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"And still to this day. We met couples who were refused by hotels and videographers. We've also had [exhibitors] cancel at the last minute or refuse to do [goody] bags for our wedding shows.

"Planning a wedding is stressful enough without having to come up against that. We just wanted to take that away so when couples come to our shows they know that everyone is there to be a gay wedding vendor."

Champagne sorbet, a victim of the recession, is just one of the luxurious "little touches" Keith Malone expects to make a comeback at weddings in 2015: "We're seeing little touches, the kind of things you'd say aren't 100pc necessary to get married, starting to come back.

'While in recent years people went for cheaper options, such as two options on the menu instead of three or having a DJ for the whole night instead of a band and a DJ, now they're upgrading their packages again."

Fathers of brides-to-be, then, will be relieved to discover that 60pc of couples pay for their own wedding with savings, with just 21pc relying on the financial help of their parents.

With 17pc blowing the budget by over five grand, according to Weddingonline's latest figures, the remaining couples were forced to get a loan in order to mark making things official.

Spiralling costs for some engaged couples can provide a golden opportunity for others, however.

Since launching here in 2013, Irish brides and grooms have become the fourth biggest users worldwide of Cancelled Weddings, a website for buying and selling cancelled wedding packages.

Read more: VIDEO: Irishman’s romantic proposal has his friends up the walls in Derry

"When you hear about a cancelled wedding, you always assume there must be a heartbroken bride or groom behind it," says Peter K Ulrich, founder and CEO of Cancelledweddings.ie. "And while disengagement is one of the biggest reasons for a couple to try and recoup the cost of their wedding by selling it online, it's not the only one.

"Spiralling costs and a shift in priorities are among the other reasons couples give for selling their wedding online. One couple said that they decided to elope, despite having paid the photographer in full and two instalments on the venue, because planning it had become too stressful.

"We operate our cancelled wedding brokerage in 10 countries worldwide including the USA, Canada and Australia," he adds. "Already Ireland is our fourth biggest market, and we're expecting it to grow even more this season.

"Basically, selling couples get the chance to avoid losing their deposit and cancellation fees, and buying couples get the chance to snap up a dream wedding at a fraction of the cost. In the States, a $40,000 (€34,000) wedding once sold for $2,500 at the last minute."

For those who rang in the New Year with a ring, it's still possible to have a traditional Irish wedding on an austerity budget, reckons Mrs2Be's Keith Malone.

"The figures that we're talking about are where the average falls. In the four years we've been doing the survey, there were still couples managing to do it all on five grand, and there were still couples managing to spend over a hundred grand.

"Our next survey is due to be launched soon, and I do expect to see a slight increase in spending," he adds. "It's in our culture to have big weddings and to spend money [on them].

"My advice to couples is to make sure you're happy with the quality before you make your decision based on price. They say 'buy cheap, buy twice', but when it comes to your big day, there are no second chances."

Case study

'We're having everything I ever dreamed of as a little girl. We're just not wasting any money simply because it's the done thing'

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White wedding: Caroline Ryan and Peter Dower
 

Bride-to-be Caroline Ryan (34) from Wexford, an operations manager for a transport company, weds fiancé Peter Dower (44) next March: 

"My fiancé Peter and I got engaged on Brighton beach last September. Pretty quickly, we set the date for March 18 next year. In the initial excitement, we thought about going abroad and telling no-one. As soon as the ring went on the finger though, all that changed! Apart from anything else, it was going to work out just as expensive to take 20 people to Thailand as it is to have a big Irish wedding.

In the end, we decided on a traditional white wedding at home - just without the church bit. Now we're planning to have a civil ceremony at Hotel Curracloe in Wexford, followed by a sit-down dinner and dancing with 160 guests. We're also inviting 50 more people to the afters. When you actually sit down to plan a wedding, it's not hard to see how some couples spend more than €20,000 on their big day.

And if I were still in my 20s, with no financial responsibilities, I've no doubt that I'd be planning the fairytale wedding at Mount Juliet or Lyrath Estate right now.

At 34, I'm a bit more realistic. Peter and I both have mortgages, so we understand the value of money. Given that I have to pay out half my wages to the bank each week, I've absolutely no intention of spending €2,000 on a dress that's only going to be worn once.

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Dream venue: Mount Juliet, Co. KIlkenny, was out of the couple's reach

Dream venue: Mount Juliet, Co. KIlkenny, was out of the couple's reach

As soon as you mention the word 'wedding', the price of everything immediately goes up. If you go to book a band for a 30th, it's €200; if you go to book one for a wedding, suddenly it's €2,000. At €10,000, our budget is around half the national average. To save money, we're not getting a booklet for the ceremony because it's only going to be 15 minutes long.

And we're only getting half the number of wedding favours since none of the guys want them anyway! Meanwhile, I found a fabulous dress online for €500, my future sister-in-law, who's a hairdresser, is doing my hair and a friend is doing the photos. Big weddings are part of the psyche in Ireland. We're still having everything I ever dreamed of as a little girl. We're just not wasting any money simply because it's 'the done thing'."

- DR

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