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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April 2005, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Here comes the bride ... and an overdraft
Clare Matheson
BBC News business reporter

Charles and Camilla
Charles and Camilla have opted for a "low key" wedding
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles probably won't be quaking in their wedding shoes about the cost of their big day, but many couples start married life in the red.

The 260,000 couples who plan to marry in the UK this year will spend an estimated 4.2bn on their wedding, a study by Brewin Dolphin has found.

That brings the average cost of a wedding to 16,000, the broker says, with You & Your Wedding Magazine putting the cost at 17,000. Both are outbid by Cahoot, which reckons a dream white wedding with all the trimmings costs 25,500.

But how do couples pay for the big day, which can cost as much as half the annual income of an average household?

"The average engagement lasts more than 11 months, but most people don't seem to be saving up beforehand," says Debbie Codd, associate editor at You & Your Wedding.

Counting the cost

Moreover, about 117,000 couples, or 45% of those getting married, do not make any financial plans, according to Brewin Dolphin.

"We found seven out of 10 couples will be borrowing or have made no financial plans for the day," says Brewin Dolphin's head of financial services, Sandy Bryson.

Prince Edward and Sophie's 1999 wedding
Total - 17,200
Engagement ring - 1,289
Wedding rings - 665
Groom outfit - 242
Bridal outfit - 1,500, including 100 on lingerie
Reception - 6,076
Honeymoon - 2,857
*Source: You & Your Wedding

"But three out of 10 have taken measures, including no holidays, saving, extra jobs, selling heirlooms or even gambling."

About 23,500 couples take on an extra job. But 2,600 go for the more risky option of betting, while others prefer to rely on loans or credit cards.

"We're encouraging people to use their heads as well as their hearts in planning," Mr Bryson says, suggesting that Britain has become too much of a debt culture.

More importantly the British attitude of borrowing or doing nothing should be tackled.

"People should seek professional independent financial advice - don't ignore the costs involved in the day."

Shop around

Ms Codd agrees. She says that with people getting married later in life they now have set ideas of what they want, and it all costs money.

"Set yourself a budget and stick to it," she says.

"People do seem to go a bit mad. It does leave a bad taste in the mouth when it's all over and the money worries leave a cloud over married life."

If you are going to pay by card, Ms Codd suggests you get an interest free credit card to avoid "exorbitant" interest payments.

Also, shop around. Do you really need those designer bridal shoes or could you get a cheaper pair? Anything you do buy, consider whether its practical enough to use another time.

Wedding reception in BBC series Blackpool
Set a budget and stick to it
If you must pay by credit card, get an interest free one
Hire the bride and groom's outfits, or buy them off-the-peg
Call in favours. Get a friend to make the cake or the invites, do the flowers, take the photos, provide the transport
Cut back on guests for the formal reception and invite more to the informal evening event
Use a venue that doesn't charge a hiring fee
Ask for "honeymoon vouchers" on your wedding list - some travel firms now offer these
Haggle. When buying anything marked "wedding" its always has a premium attached
Have a "sponsored" wedding, popular in the US. In return for providing the dress, flowers, reception, firms leave their cards on the tables and get a mention in the speeches

"People can go overboard on bridesmaid dresses, but shops like Next and Monsoon do beautiful dresses that you can wear again," Ms Codd says.

"Bear in mind it's your day, but you don't want to be paying for it for the next 20 years."

Tax bill

And remember, even the very rich are prudent at times.

Charles and Camilla seem to have been a bit thrifty, like many others who go through with a second wedding, which according to the Prudential usually costs 4,500 less than the first one.

Originally they had opted for this Friday, however those plans changed following the Pope's death, and the wedding will now take place on Saturday.

However, Saturday costs more because it's the most popular day for nuptials.

Charles has also proved he is a canny shopper by ordering 20 3.99 cakes from Welsh grandmother Etta Richardson for the big day instead of a huge multi-tiered wedding cake.

He even managed to save on the engagement ring: It belonged to the Queen Mother.

However, if reports are to be believed, Charles faces a 20,000 tax bill for passing on the platinum and diamond sparkler, thought to be worth 500,000, as a gift to his future bride.

Cut price

Anyone wishing to follow in the Royal couple's footsteps could pop down to Asda, which is offering copies of the ring for a much more reasonable 19 - minus the diamond.

As for the dress, Camilla could be splurging a fortune. She's enlisted the help of Robinson Valentine, where dresses start at 3,500, considerably more than the average 1,500 bridal wear bill.

As for the all important wedding rings, designed by privately-owned jewellers Wartski, you can be sure they will have cost more than the average 665 price tag You & Your Wedding puts on them.

But they have managed to cut costs once again with their ceremony. It costs just 250 to hire the Guildhall in Windsor.

Hidden costs

Then its a few yards over to Windsor Castle for a blessing and reception, saving on the cost of hiring a venue.

Etta Richardson and her cakes
Did Charles haggle for a discount on his cakes from Etta Richardson?

Using the Queen Mother's 1962 Rolls Royce to ferry them around cuts out limo fees.

However, with a guest list thought to stretch to 750 the food could be pricey.

Weddingguide.co.uk reckons an average reception costs at least 4,750, while You & Your Wedding puts it at a more costly 6,076.

And beware, some venues carry hidden costs. You may pay to hire a room only to find that it does not include the cost of chair hire.

Charles and Camilla will be saving even more cash on their honeymoon. No long breaks in Barbados or other sun drenched paradises, instead they are off to Balmoral, saving on hotel bills.

Expensive invitation

However, it is not just the bride and groom who face big bills on the day.

Guests are now forking out 300, according to Morgan Stanley Credit Cards.

Gifts, outfits, travel and accommodation all mount up, even for the great and the good.

Mind you, Charles and Camilla's guests could be counting their blessings. After all, what do you buy for a future monarch?

According to newspaper reports, they have asked that no-one gives gifts, possibly to save on worrying about what to do with three toasters.

Welsh cakes for Charles' wedding
28 Mar 05 |  South West Wales
Gift firm leaves couples in lurch
13 Oct 04 |  Business
Cost of hen and stag events soar
12 Aug 04 |  Business
4.6bn bill for UK wedded bliss
26 Feb 04 |  Business


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