Have you heard the ominous clacking of high heels and cackling heading towards you down your local high street. Or seen a pack of drunken blokes in frocks failing to get in to various late-night bars and casinos? Yes, it’s the season of weddings and the traditional pagan rites or stag and hen dos are underway across the land.

Weddings are seriously big business. How much do you think the average wedding in the UK costs? Well according to the latest survey from website Hitched, it’s £18,400! The spread of costs is no less dispiriting, with MoneySavingExpert finding weddings cost from £9,000 to £32,000 in 2022.

Of course, the high cost of getting hitched can hit guests and the supporting cast too. I’m constantly hearing grumbles about expensive accommodation in the middle of nowhere, optimistically high wedding lists and even instructions on what to wear (stay at home is my advice).

Planning ‘the happiest day in your life’ can be amongst the worst of times. A lot can go wrong with a wedding, so here’s my guide to help you through the run up to the big day.

Wedding venue hell

It takes a lot to shock me. But at the beginning of the pandemic, I was helping a number of couples who were struggling to get their cash back from wedding venues and events companies after cancellations – or rebook on a day in the future. To say that the response from many venues was aggressive is something of an understatement. I fully understand that businesses needed to stay in business. But the behaviour of some of the worst offenders was appalling. I was even threatened with legal action by one company for pointing out that they had misrepresented the law.

But don’t take my word for it. The wedding industry was one of a few sectors where the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had to step in and issue both warnings and guidance on the law back in 2020.

Flash forward to 2023 and after a few rounds of serious diplomacy, I’m pleased to say that the industry seems to be making an effort to be much fairer. But the pandemic has demonstrated to me that when you book a wedding venue, you need to plan for any situation that might affect the booking.

Before you put your deposit down, ask to look at the contract and refund rules. A lot can happen in the run up to a wedding. So check to see what the requirements are should you need to change the date of the booking, or even the time. Some venues give reductions if you agree to hit a specific bar take, for example, so if you decide to downsize, it may cost you more than you think.

I’d also ask the venue to confirm that the event is not double booked and get it in writing. That way if a mistake has occurred, you might be able to claim ‘squatters rights’ or even negotiate a better deal if you are able to be flexible.

Oh, and don’t expect another pandemic to be covered when it comes to refunds. Lots of events firms have introduced Covid exclusions – though I suspect the Courts may not look to kindly on these clauses.

Wedding insurance

Taking out a wedding insurance policy is important. But as with most insurance policies, it pays to check exactly what you are covered for.  Wedding insurance often comes in different packages. These often have flowery titles. You’ll see deals graded from ‘silver’ to ‘platinum’ for example (never bronze, obviously).

Buy the best package you can afford. But even the greatest policy won’t cover everything. You can’t insurer against the weather, for example, though if your marque blows away that might result in a successful claim under ‘extreme’ weather!

Have a think about all of the components of the wedding that matter and put them in order. For example:

  • Wedding venue
  • Catering
  • Evening do
  • Photos
  • Flowers
  • Cake
  • Rings
  • Clothes
  • Accommodation
  • …and much, much more!

Go through the policy and see what it covers you for. So there will be a range of options if the wedding can’t go ahead due to cancelation, due to health issues, unexpected events and more. No policy I’ve seen covers a runaway bride though.

Have a think about all of the things that could potentially go wrong in each of these categories and what your policy covers under these circumstances. I actually think this is a positive exercise anyway as it may help you take a more pragmatic approach to things not quite being perfect. Nothing ever is, but if the worst thing that happens is the cake is the wrong colour, it’s not the end of the world.

As with all forms of insurance, look at the maximum levels of payout for various scenarios and the excess fees.

What if a business goes bust?

Times are hard for businesses of all shapes and sizes out there. Weddings are often planned a year or more ahead. During this time your various contractors, from photographers to florists, can go bust or simply wrap up their businesses.

When a business goes bust, you join a very long list of creditors – and often the chances of getting some cash back are minimal. So preparing for the worst can save you a lot of heartache. And the simple solution is this. Pay with a credit card.

I often talk about section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act in this column. The act is both wide-ranging and complicated. But at heart, if you spend over £100 and under £30,000 on a credit card then if something goes wrong and you don’t get what you pay for, you can make a claim to the credit card provider and ask for a full refund.

This is especially vital for brides and grooms when it comes to deposits. If you pay a deposit on a credit, then you can claim the full amount you have paid back overall if something goes wrong, like a venue going in to liquidation. Imagine you’ve paid £100 deposit on a credit card to secure a venue, then paid the remaining £14,900 in cash, you could potentially claim the full £15,000 back from the card provider. In theory, the deposit amount can be minimal – even a pound – though it’s likely that the card provider might protest under these circumstances!

If you’ve already paid then you might be able to ‘charge back’ your cash if you paid on a debit card. This is an industry agreement that allows you to recall money taken when goods or services are not provided. However, you have to move quick and for most claims the original transaction must have happened in the last 120 days – though timescales vary depending on who you bank with.

A few tips to help the day go smoothly

Many a bride and groom has made the fatal error of not factoring ‘the human factor’. Yes, this is your dream day and you’ve spend hours and zillions of pounds on making it special. But if you haven’t thought of the impact on your guests, then you may find that things don’t go to plan.

Picking a lovely old country hall out in the sticks might look great. But people have to get there – including non-drivers. They also need somewhere to stay overnight that is affordable. They also need taxis – so if there’s only one in the village, you’ll be in trouble with angry guests stacking up outside as they try to leave.

Lots of people have dietary restrictions these days. And a surprising number of people with kids assume they can bring them to weddings unless specifically told not to! And never leave too long between after-ceremony drinks and the wedding dinner. Too much bubbly on an empty stomach can lead to all sorts of disasters.

Going to a wedding is costly, so don’t impose unnecessary restrictions on guests. Have affordable gift options – or if you’re asking for cash donations for your honeymoon, don’t make the deposit system ‘trackable’ so you know who has paid what.

People are rubbish about RSVP’ing, so gentle nudges work better than grumpy round robin emails. And stag and hen dos are getting increasingly expensive, so question if you need to spend a week in Prague and if it’s fair to ask people to shell out their holiday time and cash to do so.

Oh and if you have a website for your wedding, you might want to make it password protected. A friend of mine found this out to her cost when her public wedding website led to a range of acquaintances assuming that they were invited (they weren’t). That was awkward.

Don’t borrow yourself in to oblivion

I recently heard that some high interest loan companies were lending up to £100,000 for wedding costs. These loan companies charge rates of interest that can leave you in debt for years. I know it’s tempting to borrow your way to the perfect wedding day. But don’t start out on your new life together facing a future filled with debt.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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