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Congratulations - you're engaged!


Enjoy your new status, as bride-to-be but, as you've probably already discovered, there's more to it than showing off your glittering new ring! You are about to start planning the biggest and probably most expensive party of your life. So if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed, don't worry! It's perfectly normal. A recent analysis of cost sets it as a staggering £16,000!!

Talk to both sets of parents if they're keen to contribute, work out a realistic budget and stick to it! Set up a separate wedding bank account and put all contributions into one fund so you can easily monitor your costs. Bear in mind that the most memorable weddings are not always the most extravagant. It’s often the little touches that guests remember, such as a great dance, or a moving speech, so try and be imaginative rather than just flashing your cash. What wedding guests really want to see is a happy couple who look just that - happy, relaxed, madly in love - and that doesn't cost a penny.

Planning your wedding will be challenging but do try and have some fun along the way. And don't be scared to delegate some of the seemingly endless chores. Modern weddings are about teamwork so ser some tasks for our parents, your best friend and, of course, your fiancé. Draw up a schedule and mark in dates when key decisions are due. That way, everything should come together in time, allowing you to relax and really enjoy your big day.

The First Big Decision...

You will have to make is the type of marriage ceremony you want. If you live in England or Wales, currently you have two main choices: a religious ceremony in a church/ synagogue/ chapel or a civil wedding in a licensed building or register office (under a new White Paper changes are planned that will allow you to marry almost anywhere, so it's worth checking before you go too far). In Scotland, however, you can have a religious or civil wedding just about anywhere since it is the celebrant who holds the licence. If you're not sure which ceremony is right for you, make appointments with your church minister and local registrar to discuss all your options. Alternatively, you might want to get married abroad. If so, the weddings department of one of the big tour operators should be able to tell you exactly what the legal requirements are for your chosen destination.

The Church Wedding

As long as you are both free to marry and one of you lives in the parish, or you're on the electoral roll, you should be able to marry in your local church. Regular church attendance isn't always necessary but some ministers insist on it so do check. The banns, or public announcement of your intention to marry, will be read out in church on three consecutive Sundays. The marriage must then take place within three months.

The Civil Wedding


Since 1944, a change in the law has meant that couples in England and Wales (but not Scotland, Northern Ireland or Eire) can marry in any building with a wedding licence. At present there are more than 3000 licensed properties (your local authority can give you a full list). The White Paper mentioned above will free things up even more, so you should be able to marry wherever you want to within the next two years. A civil ceremony is conducted by the local registrar, who travels to your chosen venue to perform the marriage. This ceremony can have no religious connotations - and that includes words and music - but you can incorporate any readings of your choice provided they are approved by the registrar. The other type of civil wedding is held in a registrar office and involves a quick and simple service. Both types of civil ceremony can be booked up to 12 months in advance.

The Overseas Wedding


About 3000 couples now marry overseas every year. The idea of escaping to an exotic part of the world is incredibly romantic and couples can tie the knot in any number of destinations, from Mauritius to Australia. In most places it is possible to arrange a civil or religious ceremony and all of this can be organised by an experienced tour operator. A change to European marriage law means that weddings in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Germany are now easier to organise and an appealing option if you want family and friends to join you for the celebrations.

Your Ceremony.

There is no set formula to the perfect wedding ceremony because every couple commits to marriage for different reasons. They also like different songs, readings, poems and music and want to express their feelings about one another in different ways. How much or how little you decide to influence your marriage ceremony is up to you and, to a certain extent, the type of ceremony you choose. It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to go along with the service as outlined by your official.

But if you want something more individual think about adding a couple of lines to the service itself or a special reading or a piece of music that means something to you both. Of you are planning a civil ceremony you have much more freedom than a religious one and you can stamp your mark on almost the whole service. The main thing to bear in mind is that the act of marriage is a legal procedure and as such you have to work within the strict guidelines laid down by the law. Work closely with your minister or registrar, getting their approval of anything you want to add to the service at each stage of the process. That way you won't be disappointed on the day.

Second Time Around

If you are divorced and your former spouse is still alive you will find it very difficult to have a full marriage service kin the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, although this is under review. Some denominations, such as Methodists and the United Reformed Church, will make exceptions but this is based n a review of each case.

The Church of Scotland is more likely to agree to marry divorcees, but again, each case has to be reviewed. For couples with strong religious convictions who aren't able to get married in church, a blessing, which involves the confirmation of a couple's vows, is a popular alternative. This can be held after you've had a civil ceremony at either a register office or licensed venue. Widows and widowers are free to remarry in a church or synagogue.

A Question of Faith

If you and your fiancé are from different faiths, organising your ceremony is likely to be a little trickier. Indeed, you may not be allowed to have a religious ceremony are all so you nee d to raise the subject with the ministers involved.

Setting the Budget

Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you all the ingredients for a fabulous wedding day. It nay not sound very romantic, but you must set a realistic budget. Allocate about 50% for everything at the reception, 10% each for clothes, flowers photography and any entertainment. The last 10% is used for invitations, thank you gifts and any unexpected bills. Finally, the average honeymoon now costs about £2800, which needs to be added to the wedding day budget.

Weddings are expensive but you don't have to spend a fortune. With imagination you can create a wonderful day - whatever your budget. Putting a little extra thought into the details will help create a day that is memorable for all the right reasons and not just the bottom line. When it comes to footing the bill for the day, nowadays both sets of parents and the happy couple themselves often pay for the wedding jointly.

As soon as possible, decide how much you can afford. Now imagine your ideal day and rein in your ideas, if necessary, to make them financially viable. All but the most lavish of weddings involve a little compromise at some point. Start a wedding file and open a designated bank account to keep an accurate running total of how much you've spent so that there are no nasty financial surprises to spoil your happy day.

Where do I Start?

Time is money when it comes to planning a wedding and the sooner you start looking for your outfits. Venues and suppliers the more choice you'll have. This is especially true if you are planning a wedding during the traditionally more popular months form May to September when your first choices may not be available of you leave it too late. Once you have set the date, shop around and ask for quotes from all the major suppliers. Ask friends for recommendations and pick the brains of the experts at your venues to see whom they have worked with in the past. Expect to do a fair bit of legwork before making your final decisions.

The Dream Team (No not Kath & Jacs!)

Weddings can be expensive and you will want to get value for money as well as the day of your dreams. Which is why finding the right wedding suppliers is so important. Everyone you book will play their part in ensuring that the day runs like clockwork and every detail is perfect. Once you have drawn up a shortlist, visit each on one person to see how you get along. You want to choose suppliers with the same vision as yours. If they start trying to talk you into having something that's completely different from what you wanted or into spending a lot more money, they are probably not the right ones for you.

Ask florists, photographers and videographers if you can see their portfolios and call several of their previous brides for a reference. Outline your budget right at the start and see what they suggest. They should be able to give you a written quote detailing exactly what is included in the price for you and your fiancé to consider at home together without feeling pressured.

When it comes to the food and drink for your reception, ask to sample everything - several times if necessary - before deciding on the final menu. If you are just hiring a venue rather than having your reception at a hotel, it's worth asking about any reputable catering companies the manager may have worked with in the past.

The same principle applies you buying your wedding outfit. Make several appointments and try on a range of styles before committing yourself to one dress. With all your suppliers, try to avoid popping in on a Saturday afternoon when the shops are likely to be busy as you probably won't see anyone at their very best or get their undivided attention. Always ring and make an appointment first.

The Write Words

Your invitations set the style and tone for the whole day so you want to choose them carefully. Printed or engraved cards are the simplest option but with so many creative stationers around you can choose just about anything.

Invitations are sent out from whoever is hosting the wedding. Traditionally, this is the bride's parents but these days it is just as likely to be the couple themselves. The wording can get complicated if parents are divorced and perhaps have remarried but the overall style remains the same. The most formal invitations 'request the pleasure of your company' and the names of the guests are hand-written in the top left hand corner. Alternatively, a space can be left in the wording for the names to be written in. Invitations should be sent out at least six weeks before the wedding date and you need to allow up to three months in the busy holiday period.

The Seating Plan

Where to sit everyone at the reception can cause a lot of sleepless nights for the bride and groom. But don't let it become a major headache. If certain members of your family don't get on, break with tradition and sit them separately. Your aim is for a stress-free day and if this means having a top table within just the two of you, then so be it. Try to create a balance on each table with an even number of men and women and avoid mixing age groups too much. Sit family’s together and put workmates on the same table, as you know they'll have things in common.

The Key Players

Two main members of the bridal party are the best man and the chief bridesmaid. It is their job to act as supporters, organisers and general shoulders to cry on, as the big day gets closer. Choose them wisely. It is a big responsibility and don't be offended if someone says no. Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight and they may prefer a behind-the-scenes role. And don't forget about your parents. Even if you are paying for the wedding yourselves, this is a special day for them too and you don't want them to feel left out as the preparations begin.

Prevent any hurt feelings and delegate some important but rather time-consuming tasks, such as supervising the gift-list, invitation monitoring and perhaps the flowers to either or both of your mums - they'll probably have the time and the know-how to get the jobs done for you. Keep both sets of parents up to date as all the wedding arrangements take shape and listen to their advice as their experience could prove to be invaluable. Ultimately, however, it is up to the two if you how the day will be organised.

Top Insider Tips

· Get web-friendly and check out a few wedding sites (particularly Paphos Post!)

· Start a special wedding file for everything to do with the day.

· Open a designated bank account to keep all funds in one place.

· Stick to your budget. If you do overspend on one thing, cut back somewhere else.

· Delegate key tasks.

· Be flexible about details and you'll probably save money.

· Give yourself time to think but don't leave major decisions too long or you could miss out.

· Shop around for the best deals and take out wedding insurance, just in case.

· Get all your supplier quotes in writing and read the small print.

· Try not to get too wedding obsessed. Make time for yourself and for each other when you start getting stressed by it all.

Step This Way

For a traditional church wedding or a ceremony at a licensed venue, the groom and best man arrive first and the ushers (usually relatives of the groom) show guests to their seats: friends and family of the bride to the left, groom on the right. The bride's mother arrives with the bridesmaids just ahead of the bride, who arrives with her father or whoever is giving her away.

It is quite usual these days for the bride to be accompanied by both parents up the aisle or even to make her entrance alone. At a register office ceremony there is less formality and the bride and groom usually walk in together. During the actual ceremony the chief bridesmaid holds the bride's bouquet, handing it back to her as the bridal party moves forward to sign the register. The best man is responsible for the safe keeping of the wedding rings.

Wedding Toasts


The 'honour' of making a speech and then proposing a toast is traditionally conferred on the groom, best man and father-of-the-bride, but increasingly the bride is also likely to say a few words. As well as entertaining your guests these speeches have specific functions: the father-of-the-bride, traditionally hosting the wedding, speaks first and toasts the bride and groom; the groom then thanks the guests for coming and toasts the bridesmaids; the best man rounds things off by replying on behalf of the bridesmaids and making the much-anticipated speech.

The Big Day

You've probably imagined your wedding day a hundred times: the sun is shining, there's not a cloud in the sky, everyone is smiling and you feel on top of the world. Chances are this is just how things will be. But if everything go quite as planned, don't let it spoil the whole day. So what if it rains? Does it really matter that your younger sister has got mud on her dress? And let someone else worry about the food running late. Put minor dramas and mishaps into perspective.

As long as your groom turns up and you are surrounded by family and friends who love you, the little things don't matter. What your guests will remember is the bride and groom looking radiantly happy - so keep smiling all day!

'You and Your Wedding' Jul/Aug 04





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