Category Archives: Budget


We got our wedding insurance from They are a pretty good insurance policy and are pretty cheap for that matter, starting at £18.99 for £5k wedding and rising to £139.99 for £40k weddings.

I highly recommend getting hold of wedding insurance the moment you start booking things. I have heard enough horror stories about cancelled/rearranged weddings, weddings put off or moved by powerful weather, burnt/closed down venues or other tragic circumstances. Just get some insurance. Even if you have a registry office wedding, on the scale of things, it’s minor.

Our wedding policy was pretty good in that it covers 75% of costs of rearranging the wedding and is valid if you move or cancel because of illness of the bride, groom, or close family (though our policy has a very broad interpretation of ‘close’). Note that not all policies cover for these things – and what, really, is the most likely major hiccup? Illness, methinks, or change in financial circumstances. manage to cover pretty much everything, except changing your mind, of course. Cake, transport, flowers and so on are listed under separate value headers, and you are covered for redundancy from 8 weeks after the policy is taken out. But it’s definitely worth reading several insurance policies and comparing their cover, brainstorming catastrophic circumstances and checking to see whether you’re covered or not. If you took out insurance and it ended up not covering your personal disaster, it would be a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Just thought it was worth mentioning.


Hard Times

In the summer of 2011, everything changed.

Guy was working for Royal Mail in Oxford, but he saw this as a filler job whilst he was staying with me and was keen to start looking for programming work in a bigger city. I looked at several universities for an applied, environmental solid state chemistry PhD, and eventually found what we were looking for at Birmingham.

We had already visited the city the previous winter, for two of Guy’s friends had moved there. Here we (Brian, Kay and the Cherubs) are at the German Christmas market – it snowed very heavily that winter.

I applied to Birmingham, was accepted, and we began looking for housing. This turned out to be a terrible faff, but after one abortive visit where all our estate agents let us down and we didn’t see any houses, we managed to get in touch with some of the more upmarket ones and chose between five properties. We stayed with Caz (Guy’s best woman) and Kay, a Somerville friend, whilst we were there.

This is Damogran. Damogran the hot; Damogran the remote; Damogran the almost totally unheard of. Damogran, secret home of the Heart of Gold.

But before we moved, we had one more important thing to do. Holiday. We went to Split and Zagreb in Croatia

Ljubiana in Slovenia

And Budapest in Hungary

This was our first trip abroad together, and also very important because it set the tone for the rest of our holidays together. We like travelling (despite the fact that I am car, bus and coachsick) – and constantly moving from place to place, being busy. Relaxing on a beach dayvafter day is not our idea of fun!

We travelled between cities by train – including two sleeper trains: one of them we paid for a cabin and the other we made do with seats, just to see how much difference it made! It turned out quite a lot because we went through two passport controls, and if you’re in seating you have to wake up to show your passport (whilst the nice Deutchebahn man takes your ID and sorts this for you if you’re in a cabin). The seats weren’t bad – it was only the passport control that was a problem!

We returned in early September, in time for my birthday (Guy took me to Mrs Tiggywinkles’!) and then a massively busy period:

On the 23rd September I graduated from my degree.

On the 24th/25th we were in Bristol to celebrate Guy’s mother’s birthday. And from there I went straight to Birmingham, where I began my course on the 26th. Luckily we had moved most of our stuff a week before! But I still had a house full of boxes!

Guy joined me a little later. With no Royal Mail centre to transfer to in Birmingham, he quit his job, finished up the contract, and moved.He had been able to walk into a job in Oxford. We expected him to do the same in Birmingham. But no such luck. As the depression worsened, the job market plummeted, and the Birmingham scene was much worse than the Oxford one. He couldn’t get anything – not in a shop, not on the phones, nothing. Twenty-four years old, with working experience and a science degree from Oxford, and he couldn’t get work. It is the same for people all round the country.

Not for everyone though, and during the months that followed I would occasionally get very depressed reading about women on the forum who got sick or bored of their job, saw an advert for their dream job, applied idly, got it, and moved seamlessly from job to job. I was unable to be enthusiastic on their behalves. It all seemed horribly unfair.

Although he didn’t have a job, Guy still had to pay council tax. We had a 25% discount because I am a student, but if you’re unemployed you have to prove that you are signed on in order to receive exemption. You cannot sign on if your joint income exceeds a certain value – which my tax-free student stipend exceeds. So we paid council tax on a stipend that was exempt. And every month we were losing money. And we had just been on holiday and moved house. And the wedding was approaching…

We also had a cat. Whilst we were away on holiday, Rupert, my childhood cat and now my mum’s, was put down. We had been meaning to get a cat ourselves when we moved to Birmingham (and that factor had been instrumental in our choice of house).


We got on to Cats’ Protection, bought a basket, food bowls, 15kg of Science Plan and had Cats’ Protection visit and check out our house. We took the (£15) return bus journey to the centre and told them we wanted a young adult cat whom we could take that day.

When I chose Rupert, years ago when I was seven, he was the third cat we saw. Once again, the cat we took home was the third we saw (have you ever heard ‘third time luckiest’?). Iris chose us. She made it quite clear that she would be coming home with us, and after we’d left to sort out the paperwork, silent miaowed and scrabbled against the door upon seeing me again! Guy was immediately struck by her beautiful eyes.

Iris when we first got her (just one year old and very little):

Iris moves in:

(actually that was her ‘helping’ me with the wedding packing)

In February 2012, Guy did get some work. He did part-time counting people on trains for the company Peeping which, though erratic and not full time, paid okay and kept us going. I got a student (I do a bit of private tutoring on the side) and some demonstrating with the university.

On top of this, our families decided to be very generous. We had meant to pay for the wedding all on our own, but with their eagerness to contribute, high expectations and our financial situation, it endedup very much a joint project. My grandparents decided on an amount they wished to contribute to the wedding, and when we only took half of it (such that they paid for half of the catering), they gave us the other half as a wedding gift! My mum also contributed, and Guy’s parents paid for all our drinks on the day.

Getting started on my PhD wasn’t easy. The year before, I’d found the project hard to be enthusiastic about early on and unfulfilling for a long time. Once again, I experienced this, and the slow initial progress of the project, retarded by vast quantities of unnecessary paperwork and the gradual acquisition of materials and equipment I needed in order to start my lab work left me feeling frustrated and useless. Friends and family unintentionally made me feel more depressed about it by continually asking eagerly how it was going, as though they expected exciting discoveries monthly, whilst the truth was that pretty much nothing was different from the last month, and my greatest triumph was fixing the photocopier.

I was determined to battle through to the time when the project would pick up – as I knew it must. But it was the harder for knowing that I didn’t have a choice. With Guy’s situation, I couldn’t not continue with my PhD – we needed the money for our house, our cat and our wedding. The wedding. And so, in this mood, I distracted myself by plunging into wedding planning.

The Venue – The Planning Proper

It seems strange to start on food and makeup, but they were only the beginning of a slide into wedding planning – a tumble down the slippery slope to suddenly finding ourselves online, searching for licensed venues in Oxford, Birmingham, Sheffield and Bristol – but mostly in Oxford.

It was like my wedding brain – our wedding brain – had perked up, or activated.

Our parents had already asked about where we would be getting married. When we told them of our engagement, my mum had said, “So, hotel or registry office?”

And we had said, “Neither!”

…I could practically hear the dread in her silence on the other end of the phone as the thought entered her head that we might be considering getting married in church…

Guy’s parents had asked, “So, church or registry office?”

And we had said, “There are other options, you know!”

We were not considering a church, of course – both of us are atheists, and I can’t imagine anything worse than being made to lie through the most important promise you will ever make. But equally we were determined not to marry in a hotel. Guy felt they were impersonal and souless: a place for comings and goings, but not to marry in. And we had another reason: if I wanted a personalised menu, we were going to need an external caterer. A package was never going to work.

This wedding forum has shown me that people look for venues, and view places they have never been before, but I had always assumed that you got married somewhere you had a connection with: because that is what is done with churches. I think this is lovely, and wanted to embrace the same sentiments.

What’s more, we wanted the whole wedding in one location: since we weren’t using a church, it seemed unnecessary to shuffle everyone around! And the first place we tried – the first place we thought of – was Somerville College.

However, it was not to be. Somerville charged us far more than we could afford, including a £2000 fee just to have the wedding on the premises, additional to the admin fee and hire charges for the buildings; more crucial, however, was their date restriction: we had our hearts set on May (exam season… uh oh), but Somerville would only do a wedding on 3 dates in August!

We had a rethink. We approached Somerville and asked whether we could have the ceremony only in May, and then proceed elsewhere. The answer was yes! …if we got married at 3pm.

We were unhappy again. We wanted to leave for honeymoon that night, and were considering a late morning ceremony. Getting married at 3pm would mean we spent more than half of the day just waiting (I am notoriously poor at waiting), and the wedding would be cut short by a whole 4 hours. Somerville couldn’t offer us an alternative, and so, very sadly, we had to start looking elsewhere…

My mum was keen to move the wedding to Sheffield, where I grew up, but Oxford was where we both lived now, the city where we had met and fallen in love. Guy felt that this would be making the wedding “mine” rather than ours, and preferred the neutrality of Oxford, or Birmingham, where we would soon be moving for my PhD.

There was only really one licensed venue in central Oxford that was in budget, handsome, and we had a connection with: Oxford Town Hall.

We had been to a ball there only a few months ago, eaten delicious food, and occupied two of the three rooms available for civil weddings and big enough for our party: the great hall and the Assembly room. My mum saw pictures online and loved the Assembly Room for it’s light and wood panelled walls.

St Anthony’s Ball at the Town Hall:

The Great Hall:

The Assembly Room:

The third, smallest room, is the Old Library, and Guy immediately adored the idea of getting married in a library. The Great Hall was too big, seating 500 theatre style of 300 for dinner! – so the decision would be between the Old Library and Assembly Room.

Old Library

And then the Town Hall gave us some good news: the Old Library and Assembly Room are connected, the Old Library being accessed via the Assembly Room, so they would not book separate events in both of the rooms. We could put a deposit on one room, and changed our mind later.

We booked.

Initially this was just for the ceremony, but we toyed with the idea of hiring both rooms and having the ceremony in the Old Library (which, with South and West facing windows has more natural light in the morning) and reception in the Assembly Room (with big West facing windows for lots of light in the afternoon – I have heard too many horror stories about wedding photography in the dark!). But there was one major drawback. There was no outside area, no grass or garden for taking pictures in: and I did want our formal pictures outside!

So we started looking at village halls – low hire rates, and a space we could make our own and have external caterers in. After a lot of searching we found two possible venues: South Oxford Community Centre, which backed onto a beautiful park and was just down the road from the Town Hall, or Summertown Church Hall – a prettier building, but substantially further away and with a restricted outdoor space.

South Oxford Community Centre

Summertown Church Hall

At this juncture in the narrative, my mum threw a massive wobbly. She felt the Community Centre, our first choice, looked like a Victorian Workhouse and insisted we book the whole wedding at the Town Hall: she and my grandparents would be contributing. This caused a lot of stress between my mum and me for a while, and was especially hard because she has always valued outdoor spaces and is very fond of her garden.

It seemed for a while that we were at a stalemate – then we had another idea.

We went back to Somerville.

Yes, we had given up the idea of having our wedding reception there (August only), or ceremony (3pm only), but now we had a new plan, and this time we were able to carry it through… We asked if Somerville could host a drinks reception between the ceremony and dinner reception, allowing us time to take photos and enjoy the outdoors, before going back to the hotel. The booking fee was reasonable, and we bagged the Margaret Thatcher Conference Centre as our indoor space, and selected Cava, Buck’s Fizz, orange juice, Pimms and white and rose wine to offer. We would have our wedding in Somerville afterall!

All that was to be done now was return to return to the Town Hall and extend our booking to the wedding reception. Our wedding would be happening on the 19th May 2012, and we finally booked our venue for the event on the 19th May 2011 – exactly a year to the day. To celebrate, we bought a bottle of wine and headed out for a meal at a sleazy Italian BYO – it was a fantastic feeling.


I went up to see my mum, and whilst I was there popped into our local hair salon where she was having hers cut; we asked them to squeeze me in, and I have been totally de-split-ended, at a bargain price. I chatted to her about my “wedding hair” and she decided to have a play with straighteners. My mum had a look at what she was doing and we had a go at replicating it ourselves the next day. Here are the results!

Paying for the Wedding

As of today – the last hour or so, we have now paid for more than half of our wedding (the biggest expense, caterers, isn’t due until May 1st). I’m very excited about it! Never been so excited before about paying money – the Fiance and I danced around the living room!

Earlier on, we wanted to pay for things in full as they came up, but suppliers don’t like you doing this. I can see their point when small changes incur huge faffs rearranging what is essentially small change on the scale of the total cost – and I have changed our flowers a few times, although they didn’t even want a deposit from us!

So we paid deposits, like good children. But then today we received a call from the registrars saying that they wanted payment 12 weeks before the wedding day, and we were overdue! It is now 29 days… We’d never known the payment date (or had an invoice for the amount!) so we looked up the fee on their website and paid it electronically, presuming we’d got the right amounts.

Everything in the garden was lovely. The Fiance updated our budget spreadsheet and made a list of everything else we’d paid in parts – flowers, transport, food and drink… And thus began the furious invoice hunting.

I located two – the cars and the flowers. Christopher cars were out at a wedding when I called them, but are going to ring me back to let me pay. Their payment was due on the 18th – two days ago (oops – but at least we realised and I contacted him!).

The flowers, as I mentioned, didn’t even have a deposit on them. I trawled through the email conversation I’d had with Jemma from Austin Flowers hoping to find out when they wanted our money. When I eventually found it, it wasn’t very specific either – payment was due before the week of the wedding – around the same time as the catering.

Well, I decided I didn’t want to do this again in two weeks time, and it’s a Friday afternoon, so they should be open. I called up Austin Flowers and explained my business to be greeted with a very cheerful, “Oh! I’ll just look up your invoice!” In fact she sounded delighted that she wouldn’t have to chase me at some later date; I suppose if you’re as relaxed about payment as they seemed initially, it does fall to them to do all the chasing.

Payment over the phone was quick and painless. Another expense sorted: hurrah!

Meanwhile, the Fiance was investigating other suppliers. The Town Hall didn’t pick up the phone, so he left a message with them, and they replied by email shortly afterwards telling us that we didn’t need to pay them anything until the 5th of May – two weeks prior to the ceremony.

He also emailed Oxon Carts – the rickshaw company. They hadn’t given a date for remaining payment either. A few minutes later he got a response: the balance was due tomorrow: they were going to email him then, but he’d beaten them to it. Excellent. So I transferred the rest across online, and the Fiance gave them our payee reference code and explained what we’d done.


The only thing left is the Somerville drinks reception, which the Fiance’s parents are in charge of. The Fiance is emailing them everything they need.

Balloon Trees

I have been making balloon trees.

The idea started because of a leaflet tucked into our brochure from the Town Hall, for ‘The Balloon Lady’. I got excited, went on her site, and looked at various things. This inspired me:

It then transpired that the Town Hall won’t allow helium balloons, because if some prat releases them, they float up to the ceiling and set the fire alarms off. So my idea was caput. Balloon arches and such forth were too expensive, but it did occur to me to try making little decorated balloons on sticks to line the aisle of the ceremony room with, and later dot about the reception.

My first attempts at balloon trees were very basic. I first tried to secure the balloons to wooden sticks, but these expeditously popped the balloons, prompting me to go out and spend £7 on balloon sticks.

Iris was also very involved:

We didn’t know how big a pot we’d need, so tried a plastic cup and plant pot filled with the soil. Plastic cups weren’t too small to hold the trees down, we found, and there is obviously the usual problem with the plant pots – holes in the bottom.

Which brings me to the next dilemma: the soil. This was kinda heavy for transporting the balloon trees, kinda messy (they would have to be packed and carried upright), and seemed to need to be of a certain moisture level, which was a new kind of palava I wasn’t happy to deal with. So we tried to think of something new. After a bit of faffage with coloured sand (prohibitively expensive, and didn’t solve the moisture and weight problems) I was browsing Christmas decorations and realised that salt dough might be our way out.

It is lighter than soil, and solidifies such that, moulded into the cups, it will not drop bits everywhere, fall out if tilted, or mucky people’s fingers.

On the other hand, I hadn’t made any salt dough since I was in Woodcraft Folk.

So never mind: it could only go wrong.

We decided to use the plastic cups we had. I’d’ve bought some paper ones which might have looked nicer, but the Fiance was keen on these cheap semi-see-through plastic ones (why???), they were free, and we could always change our minds later and only have wasted a bit of time. He also suggested we could dye some of the salt dough blue so that, in lieu with the inspiration picture, we could have blue and white balloons in white and blue pots. It would be pretty.

I was a little dubious about the dying process, as blue food dye is not the most reliable of things, and as I expected, they actually came out a little green. But nevermind.

For this, I spent £1.58 on salt (two 750g packets of salt) and used flour and food colouring we already had (I did use up all the food colouring, but there was plenty of salt left over, so I’m sure it equilibrates somehow or other).

So I shoved 24 plastic cups full of salt dough into the airing cupboard (thus demoting the cat’s sleeping place to a lower shelf) and left them to dry. This took a few weeks. You can cook salt dough in an oven or microwave to set it quickly if you’re making Christmas decorations, but because we wanted them moulded into the shapes of these plastic cups, and I thought they would deform if taken out of the cups, and there was no way I was putting plastic in the microwave, we left them to dry in their own good time.

Looking at the finished the base, they still looked a little… naff. I wasn’t completely happy with the free plastic cups (can’t you get blue ones sometimes? Why didn’t we have those?), but they were full of salt dough now… so how could I improve them?

I decided to have a go covering them in paper to see if it looked any better. I painstakingly cut out a template by attaching, pencilling, clipping and reattaching until it was the optimum shape to wrap around the plastic cup (not easy when the base is narrower than the neck), stuck it together and decided it was good, I would do 24 of them.

12 of these little buggers were done in ordinary white paper, and the other twelve were done in blue, from spare backing paper my mum got from work. Such was the size of the template, I could get 3 per sheet of A4, though they didn’t exactly tesselate well.

To glue them to the pots I used ordinary PVA glue (spent £2.99 on a nice big pot, as we were using it for lots of things), which I applied with a paint brush to the upper and lower rims (the major and minor circumferences) of the plastic cups, with a “seam” down the side in one place where the edge would rest.

I allowed myself just the smallest amount of overlap (about half a centimetre), where I glued once again. If the fit at the top and bottom wasn’t perfect, I erred on the side of leaving a gap at the top. The chances of anybody noticing in any direction were slim, but with the cup rim at the top, upper perspective view into the cup and putting ribbon round the white ones, I felt pretty secure in concealing any mistakes.

Some of the edges needed holding in place whilst the glue set, so I found that even though I was using a paintbrush, I had to wash my hands a lot during the synthetic process, in order to avoid gunking up one balloon tree with the residue of its successor.

When finished, they looked pretty good. I covered teh white dough ones in white paper and blue dough ones in blue paper, just for symmetry. As mentioned, I also used a piece of our blue ribbon round the top edge of the white ones to add a touch of decoration. We didn’t have enough ivory ribbon to do this to the blue ones and my attempts with satin were not too successful, so I let it go. In any case, because the ribbon was edged and the cups narrow from top to bottom, trhe fit was less than perfect, so that those balloon trees sporting ribbons were left with a kind of wobbly “skirting”.

I had a think for a few other ideas, but in the end tissue paper, pom poms or finer ribbon were lacking in either effectiveness, resource, or both.

I think they’re good enough as it is like this.

So, the next step was to construct a new version of the balloon trees (since the pink soil ones). We haven’t bought our balloons yet, because we tried to ask the boy in Card Factory how long they would last before they perished, and he was too thick to understand what we meant, and seemed to believe we wanted to blow them up now and then use them for a wedding in June (no matter how many times we reiterated, he didn’t seem to get it, and we were never sure when he said yes or no, whether he was just trying to resolve the discussion)?! So we decided to wait until closer to the time to buy balloons @ £6 for all the ones we needed, just in case, had we spoken to somebody with a brain, they’d’ve advised us the balloons may not last.

In the meantime, we had no balloons for constructing our trees with… what were we to do?

The answer was – go to a balloon.

The chemistry ball was decorated with blue, white and black balloons (nice convenient colours), and at the end of the evening many of them were cut loose and thrown about the room, since they were filled with helium. Some of them stuck to the ceiling and others rose a bit and then sank down to land on people’s heads. We “borrowed” two and brought them home for balloon tree making.

So here is the apparatus:

The small plastic bit in the middle, the bit which joins the balloon and stick together, was decorated using balloon curling ribbon (£1.88), which I curled with a pair of scissor and attached with the aid of sellotape. I have masses of the stuff remaining.

All that needs to be done now is put these bits together (although obviously for thwe wedding this construction processes needs to take place on the morning of the wedding, but hey, this was a trial with free balloon).

And voila! For a total price of £19.46 (hm, sounds like a lot, but we do have leftover glue and balloon ribbon), we have 24 fab little balloon trees to decorate our wedding with, clean, not perished and of transportable size and weight. I’m sure the ushers will love putting these together…

A Selfish Venue

Every couple, when choosing their venue, have to take into account their guests. How they’re going to get there, how much it will cost them, and all that jazz.

But don’t worry yourself to death over it. Yes, it’s handy if your venue’s in the place where most people live, but what with universities and people moving for jobs, the chances are your loves ones, like ours, are spread out across the country – or the world. And people do expect to travel for weddings, take trains, drive long distances and stay overnight. The effort people will go to for a wedding is quite touching. I suppose it all comes down to – they just love you that much.

So don’t upset yourself worrying about them, but don’t go out of your way to make things difficult for them either so that you can have your fairytale dream. Common sense.

But here’s something which may not be common sense to everyone. Making things easy for the guests is not about proximity, but access.

What do I mean by that?

Well, we’re getting married in the centre of Oxford. It’s within 10 minutes walk of the train station, 5 minutes walk of the coach station and 5 minutes walk to a main car park. There are park and ride facilities and we even have a few parking permits for slightly more central locations, which we have mentioned (quietly). I think this means pretty good access. We have friends and family coming from Sheffield, Bristol, London, Wales, Germany, Malta and Australia. These are not proximate.

We’re also having a daytime wedding, so guests from the UK can come that morning, leave that night and are not obliged to stay over. Some of our friends are “crashing” at another’s place (as we have at least a couple of friends from Oxford). So they might have to spend a bit on travel, but they don’t have to pay for a bed that night – the cost isn’t prohibitive.

As someone who doesn’t have a car, I’m always noting that most wedding venues are crap for access. Not just inconvenient, but totally and utterly crap. They tend to be very out of the way, with no nearby train station, poor or not too close by bus services and expect all their visitors to drive.

I don’t have a car, and I think it’s a disgusting reflection upon society that I’m expected to. If we came in a car, someone would have to not drink, or we’d have to stay in the venue, or we’d have to park at a hotel and taxi in and out – all things which spoil enjoyment or significantly compound the cost.

I’m talking about manor houses, the bigger, more expensive and more picturesque hotels and other countryside resorts. They’re lovely, but they’re mostly very inconvenient for most people, and personally that’s a big deal to me. When I RSVP to a wedding I check that I can get to it.

Worse are the church weddings where you have a reception venue miles away and needs to be driven to – not a great idea if there’s alcohol after the ceremony, and again puts people under pressure to order taxis (yeah, because weddings never run over time, do they…) to ensure they make it on time. When everybody else is fighting for them too, of course.

The basis function of all this is, if your venue is out of the way, you are going to have to check your guests are okay with that too – yes, ask them for permission. If you don’t have enough people able to get there, it is your responsibility to help them. One popular solution is hiring a vintage bus to transport guests to the reception venue and to off-site better value hotels at the end of the night.

The other suggestion is carpooling. Your guests won’t all know each other, so it’s best to include something in the invitations. I’d recommend hosting a spreadsheet on google docs, asking drivers to fill in how many spare seats they have on offer, and those not driving to fill in requests for seats. Share and share alike. It would take you minutes to set up such a document and be hugely appreciated by all your guests.