Average wedding cost: An expert guide on what to expect to pay for your big day

Discover the average UK wedding cost, how to budget and more in this handy guide

Updated on 07 June 2022 • Written By Lawrence Calman-Grimsdale

Average wedding cost: An expert guide on what to expect to pay for your big day

First of all, congratulations on your engagement! While there are plenty of things to do once you’re engaged, planning the wedding itself is definitely number one. And when it comes to planning, budget reigns supreme. Sure, we’ve all thought about a lavish feast with hundreds of guests or a blow-out beach wedding in Hawaii, but they're probably not super realistic. On the other hand, with some nifty budgeting, you'll be able to have the wedding of your dreams without breaking the bank.

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We spoke to  Aztec Hotel and Spa's wedding and events manager, Emma Sharp, for some budgeting tips: "Firstly, you need to have an honest conversation with your partner about what you can afford and how much you want to save to put towards your wedding. A good idea is to write down your guest list, this is a good starting point so you know how many people you are looking to cater for and how you can make it work within your budget. Once you have this, you can then prioritise what aspects of your day are the most important to you. For example, if you want a designer dress, that may take up a large part of your budget!"

But how much does a wedding actually cost? According to the National Wedding Survey, the average UK wedding in 2021 cost £17,300. While this should give you a rough idea of ballpark figures, in reality, every wedding is different. Wedding venues in London, for example, often cost much more than those in other cities. Similarly, choosing a barn wedding venue will likely cost less than a castle. Other cost factors include the number of guests, type of venue, time of year and even day of the week. That’s why, although the average cost is good to know, it’s important to go a little bit deeper.

AVERAGE COST BREAKDOWN

  • Venue hire: £7,600
  • Catering: £4,680
  • Dress: £1,300
  • Photography: £1,200
  • Suit: £500
  • Total: £17,300

Wedding budget breakdown

The minimum you could spend to get married sits at around £120. This covers a notice of marriage for each partner and a registry office fee for a weekday and is as bare-bones as it gets. Of course, most couples want at least a little fanfare. Here is a breakdown of the main components of the budget, with tips for how to save on each.

Venue hire

Pictured: Weddings at The Goodwood Estate

As one might expect, the number one cost is almost always venue hire (in 2021, the average venue spend was around £7,600). This makes choosing the right venue one of the most important steps of the planning process.

Hire fees vary hugely from venue to venue. There are blank canvas venues that charge a low, flat rate but leave the decorating to you, while dry hire venues put you in charge of the catering and booze. Larger venues will typically offer a choice of packages, ranging from simple to ones that pull out all the stops.

Jennifer Crabb, communications and events manager at Huntsham Court, says "We see such a huge variation in couples budgets at the venue, especially as we are dry hire. How much couples set aside for their wedding day now seems much more personal, rather than a set figure. At Huntsham Court couples have the freedom and flexibility to create their wedding day (and extended stay) which means every single wedding tends to be different, but always reflects their personality."

Knowing where to look is key to finding the right venue for your budget. Luckily we have a huge selection of wedding venues for you to browse. Once you have some venues in mind, narrow down your shortlist by asking this list of great questions to ask your wedding venue. Asking the right questions will help you avoid hidden costs. Emma Sharp, wedding and events manager at Aztec Hotel and Spa, advises: "Some venues will advertise their cost as venue hire ‘from’ price, this suggests that everything else is on top of this fee."

Aly Claydon-Mills, enquiries and communities executive at Country House Weddings, had this to say about saving money on your venue: "One of the biggest concerns that our couples have is ‘how will the day run?’ – rest assured each couple is allocated a personal wedding manager around six months before their wedding. They are invited to the venue again to discuss how they would like their day to run. This saves a great expense in as much as couples don’t have to hire a Toast Master or Wedding Planner – we do all of that! Our personal wedding managers are really at the top of their game and coordinate the whole day to ensure our couple's day really does run as they wish!"

Country House Weddings has beautiful venues all over the country, including St Audries Park in Somerset, Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire and Gosfield Hall in Essex.

Catering

Depending on the size of your wedding, the next largest cost will likely be catering. Last year, the average spend hit the £65 per head mark. The average number of guests, 72, puts the total at £4,680, so bear that in mind if you’re planning a huge guest list.

While catering isn't cheap, some creative wedding menu ideas could help you save on food. For example, many couples are abandoning the traditional three-course meal and extravagant cake for a more relaxed dining setup.

Speaking of cake, the average cost in 2021 was £300, although many professional cake companies charge over £500 for weddings. This could be something to avoid if you are on a tight budget. Couples that do opt for a cake often use a friend, so it’s worth asking around for any Bake-Off hopefuls.

Another great way to save on catering is to find a no-corkage venue and then buy your own booze. The mark-up on alcohol is often quite high so it's a great area to cut costs.

Jennifer Crabb, communications and events manager at Huntsham Court again: "Being a dry hire venue, couples can be thrifty with their wedding planning ideas, such as asking their guests to bring a bottle for the first night, cutting out the bar costs for one evening, while making the venue feel like a welcoming home from home, rather than a hotel."

Dress

In 2021, the average wedding dress cost £1,300. If you or your partner needs one, this is one part of the budget that can be hard to save on, unless you go for something vintage or upcycled. That being said, there are some sneaky ways to trim down the cost.

Buying a lace-up, corset-style dress will likely save you money as it will be less likely to need alterations. Stay away from boutique and specialist shops as they are always far more expensive. Finally, it's never too early to start looking; the earlier you find a dress the better, as this will avoid any last-minute alteration fees. 

Bridal hair and makeup cost an average of £150 in 2021, making it another great place to cut costs. Someone you know could be the stylist of your dreams but at a fraction of the cost.

Photography

Cutting corners with photography isn't easy. In 2021, couples spent an average of £1,200 - and with good reason. It’s an investment that lasts longer than any other part of the wedding, immortalising the magic of your big day.

There are ways to avoid breaking the bank, however. Most photographers charge by the full day, which can be as much as 14 hours so it's good to check their hourly rate. Opting for a half-day package can also save money, depending on how much coverage you want. Photo albums can cost a surprising amount, so it might be worth doing it yourself. Then, you just have to pay for the USB of photos upfront. 

Word of mouth is a key part of the wedding photography industry, so it's common to see referral discounts. These can help you to save, as can advance booking discounts. 

If you're based in the capital, don't miss our guide to the best wedding photographers in London.

Suit

While they rarely costs as much as a dress, suits - if you needed for your union - are still worth a mention. The 2021 average spend was £500, but as anyone who’s bought a suit knows, the sky's the limit. There’s a lot of range in dress code, from a cocktail-style smart jacket with no tie right up to white tie and tails. Most weddings fall somewhere in between, with a suit and tie fitting the colour scheme.

It goes without saying, but if you are looking to save while suiting up, rent don't buy. Those who choose to rent should carefully read the policy, as it may include hidden charges like late fees. 

If you are buying, it's a good idea to avoid tuxedos as these are much less likely to be worn again. Couples who are dressing groomsmen and ushers should keep an eye out for package deals, or consider matching with ties and accessories rather than full suits.

Hopefully, you're feeling a little better informed on how much everything costs now. These are just some of the ways to save on your wedding, but of course, there are always more ways to save. Using local flowers is a great way to reduce costs on that front, while going simple for your stationery is a no-brainer. A final thought from Emma on saving money: "Don’t worry about favours! They are a lovely idea and gift for your guests but they all get left at the end of the night!"

If you're planning a ceremony in the capital, it might be worth looking at one of London's charming smaller venues. Northern cities are also more affordable, but still offer a huge range of beautiful settings. Sheffield's lovely wedding venues are some of our favourites.

In the meantime, however, we recommend you relax with some pre-wedding pampering at one of these lovely spas. Planning can be stressful, so it's important to find some time to chill if you ask us!