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Meet two Northern Ireland couples who married on a shoestring

 

Happy couple: Hollie and Matthew Jones with their son Ethan
Happy couple: Hollie and Matthew Jones with their son Ethan
Loved up: Geraldine and Matthew Leslie on their wedding day
Loved up: Geraldine and Matthew and cutting the cake
Hollie and Matthew cutting the cake
How to make your big day a success without going overboard on the costs

By Linda Stewart

With the average wedding costing an eye-watering £30,000, two brides tell Linda Stewart how they managed to pull together their big day on a budget.

'A lot of people look forward to their big day, but we were looking forward to the marriage'

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Loved up: Geraldine and Matthew and cutting the cake
 

Carer Geraldine Leslie (38), from west Belfast, married Edinburgh-born journalist Matthew (44) in Newcastle, Co Down, in July 2017 and they now live in Wick, Scotland. She estimates the cost came to around £3,000.

Geraldine laughs that she first met Matthew on social media after her friend Aine Carson wrote about her in a blog post.

"I had been single a long time and she wrote a blog about our friendship and said I was single and looking," she says.

"I'd been to Match.com and it didn't really work out for me. Because I'm a practising Catholic as well, I needed someone who was respectful of those values that I have. So I thought 'you know what, I've got nothing to lose'. I thought I might as well give it a go."

Matthew, who followed Aine on Twitter, spotted the post and made contact with Aine, saying 'I'll take her off your hands'. There were a few long-distance phone calls that lasted 'hours and hours' - and then Matthew and Geraldine finally met up.

"He came over to meet me and we just hit it off and fell for each other. We started going out in February and he proposed in mid-April, but we didn't tell anyone until the middle of May. It was the obvious next step," Geraldine says.

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She says the couple just wanted to get married without any fuss or hullabaloo.

"We wanted to do it as cheaply as possible because we didn't want to start our married life in debt, so we started looking out for wee bargains and offers and things like that," she says.

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Loved up: Geraldine and Matthew Leslie on their wedding day

The pair wed in Our Lady of the Assumption in Newcastle, followed by a reception at Hugh McCann's pub.

"My brother is a priest so he did the wedding for us, and my sister and her husband own a coach company so as a wedding present they provided the coach for all our guests and the bridesmaids came in a people carrier with me," Geraldine says.

"I was an hour and a half late - it was desperate. I broke the record in the family for being late!

"The thing we splashed out on was the wedding reception. Somebody recommended Hugh McCann's so we had our reception there and they were amazing. We went for the cheapest package, but we went for the room upstairs, The Loft, because of the beautiful view.

"We didn't want any fuss or speeches or anything like that. We just wanted people to get something to eat, something to drink and have a laugh. We weren't even going to have a cake, but various family members offered to make one. My niece's boyfriend is a chef and he and my sister made it. It was gorgeous - it had three or four tiers."

Geraldine had been looking out for second-hand dresses, because she was worried about the finances - but her sisters had other plans and bought her an £800 dress.

"They all clubbed together and got me the dress for a wedding present. They said 'you're not getting a cheap wedding dress'. They took me to the shop and said 'don't look at the prices - you just pick the dress of your dreams'.

"I'm the second youngest of eight and they made my day because I got the dress of my dreams," she says.

"I wore my mother's veil with a lovely long train and I wore my sister's tiara that she wore to her wedding. I think I spent about £80 on the bridesmaids' dresses from Gumtree, although they were actually a present as well - they were a kind of lilac off-the-shoulder Greek style.

"My friend Michaela did my hair for me and my bridesmaids, my friend Rebecca did the make-up and my friend Aine did the flowers for me and they were absolutely gorgeous.

"She just bought them from the wholesalers and put them together. We invited people through an events page on Facebook, although we did buy cheap invites from Eason for people who didn't have the internet.

"I didn't have an engagement ring as I think engagement rings are a waste of money.

"But his aunt generously gave me a wedding ring that's been in the family - it's a bit of an heirloom and belonged to his great-grandmother.

"And I wore my mother-in-law's necklace and earrings - that was our 'something borrowed'. I had a lot of borrowed things, to be honest!"

According to Hugh McCann's, it was the most laid-back wedding they had seen.

"We got our photographs taken on the beach. The photographer was Jim Corr and the photographs are absolutely magnificent," Geraldine says.

"We got a good deal at the Slieve Donard that night and we actually walked there. A car stopped and asked if we wanted a lift, but we said we were just enjoying the evening walk - I had my train over my shoulder!

"I wore my sister's tiara the next day and we went to the cafe across the way and got a toastie or something.

"I loved Matthew and I wanted to marry him. A lot of people look forward to the wedding, but we weren't looking forward to the wedding - we were looking forward to the marriage," Geraldine adds.

'We didn't want to spend the rest of our lives paying for our wedding day'

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Hollie and Matthew cutting the cake
 

Retail worker Hollie Jones (24), from Newtownabbey, married shift supervisor Matthew (27) last year. They have a son Ethan (4). Hollie estimates that the wedding cost around £3,500.

After Hollie and Matthew met, they got engaged pretty quickly.

"We met about seven years ago in Next," she says. "Matthew was my brother's friend to start off with. I think he didn't really like me to start off with and now we are married and have a child together!

"We got engaged four or five months after we met - it was quite quick and we were living together by that stage. He popped the question in the house.

"It wasn't romantic at all really - I must be easily pleased! When we first got engaged we had in mind that we would get married in 2014 but we never got round to it because I fell pregnant with Ethan.

"The second time, we just wanted close family there. We had about 30 people at the wedding.

"We looked around lots of hotels and we just wanted something that felt right. Then we came across the Templeton and it was just so homely - we fell in love with that place."

Hollie says that she enjoys looking for bargains - and managed to get many amazing items at great value for her big day.

"I know people who have taken out big loans to pay for a wedding, but I didn't want to pay off a wedding for the rest of my life," she says.

"By keeping the numbers down as low as we could, we got the cost a bit lower.

"As for the dress, I went to wedding fairs and saw the dress and I just fell in love with it. It was actually a bridesmaid's dress and when I got it, it had 20% off. It was strapless. I ordered extra fabric and with alterations it came to £300 on the dot. It was basically a custom dress for £300 - that was my big bargain.

"We looked at hiring suits but I'd seen suits in Next that were basically the same price to buy. So we bought the suit from Next and Matthew has been able to wear it more times than if he had just rented it.

"My brother has a friend who was starting off baking cakes and she made ours for £100, which cut the cost down."

The bride put her creativity and artistic skills to good use when it came to making decorations for her wedding.

"For table decorations, we watched out and collected coffee jars and decorated them with ribbon and flowers from Tesco," she reveals. "We got sweetie jars off the Buy and Sell website and got these glass bottoms that were almost mirrors and put the sweetie jars on top to create a sweetie table where people could go and make mix-ups. That was much cheaper than hiring somebody to do it.

"We hired the DJ from one of the wedding fairs and even he was on offer. And as a wedding present we had an old family friend who came and did a bit of a live band for us. We asked for wedding presents in the form of people buying us stuff for the wedding.

"There are so many things - we won a few competitions. That got us money off our cars, which really helped, and with the photographs we got an offer - they were booked so far in advance that we got money off.

"There were some hiccups, but the wedding was all we could have asked for. I could happily go and do it all again - it was brilliant."

How to make your big day a success without going overboard on the costs

Tips from OneFabDay.com for saving money on your big day:

1. Go off-peak with a mid-week or off-season wedding

2. Pick a venue whose decor you love

3. Cut the guest list

4. Use printables to create your stationery and labels

5. Scribe your own stationery

6. Email the invitations

7. Ditch the RSVP cards and just include a phone number instead

8. Choose your DIY projects wisely and don’t get overwhelmed

9. Think of decor as an investment — will be useful afterwards?

10. Dump the wedding favours if you’re not into them

11. Don’t get carried away with the little extras

12. Ask your florist for decor

13. Reuse your ceremony flowers in the reception

14. Stick with one flower type

15. Pick flowers that are in  season

16. Try gypsophila for a budget bouquet

17. Choose a single-tiered wedding cake

18. Fake layers in the cake

19. Get a friend to make the cake

20. Replace the cake with store-bought treats

21. Stick with seasonal food

22. Don’t have a sit-down meal

23. Grab a dress bargain at a sample sale

24. Buy your dress on the high street

25. Rent a gown

26. Go for a second-hand dress

27. Accessorise with family heirlooms

28. Hit the high street for shoes

29. Limit your bridesmaid numbers

30. Find affordable bridesmaid dresses

31. Use a Spotify playlist for music

32. Get a friend to help with the cars

33. Honeymoon locally

34. Have the honeymoon later

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