x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

How to plan your UAE wedding on a budget

Weddings can be taxing on finances, but by saying 'I do' to these useful tips the bride and groom can make smart savings.

Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National
Illustration by Lee McGorie / The National

Excitement is noticeable in Souad Al Sabek's voice, and so is anxiety. It is just 12 days before her wedding in Dubai, and Ms Al Sabek does not want to go beyond Dh25,000 (US$6,806) for the entire event.

She has made many of the accessories herself, such as favour bags for about 55 people, scouring Dragon Mart for the particular kind of bag to fit in with the rustic-themed wedding.

"I had the budget and then I decided on the number of people, items, decorations and adjusted them according to the budget," says Ms Al Sabek, a 23-year-old Syrian who works at a Dubai bank. She is chronicling her wedding preparations at www.mybridaldiary.net.

Weddings, no matter the budget, are a major business throughout the region. Upcoming events such as the Perfect Wedding Show in Sharjah next month and Bride Dubai in April only attest to this fact. There is great pressure for each couple and their families to put on overly-lavish celebrations, and many have run into debt arranging a fairytale wedding that is beyond what they can afford.

The expectations of what makes the perfect wedding ceremony vary with nationality. Emirati weddings have anywhere between 600 and 1,500 guests, whereas western expat couples have on average five to 100, with Indian weddings typically around the 400 to 700 guest mark, says Sarah Feyling, the managing director of Dubai-based Couture Events, which started in 2004.

Event organiser tips

While the basic minimum that Ms Feyling's clients spend on their weddings is Dh100,000, the most expensive she has handled has been Dh8 million. Here are some of her tips on where to cut costs:

- "I always ask our couples what their priority is, as generally this is where the money will go," Ms Feyling says. "For some it is the dress and others the entertainment; money can be saved in any area if the bride and groom are willing to compromise."

- Substitute artificial flowers for real flowers but only for those that are high up or out of reach of the guests

- Send email invitations instead of cards. Set up a wedding website to communicate the information online to your guests.

- Hire the wedding dress instead of buying one.

- Your guest's favours can also double up as your centrepiece, for example, potted plants.

- Instead of hiring a DJ, use your iPod and ask a trusted friend to manage it for the evening.

Wedding planner tips

Clare Ebbs, who is the wedding planner for Ms Al Sabek, was married three years ago in the United Kingdom while living in Dubai. Having been in the events management industry for 15 years, she says she noticed the difficulty of finding suppliers and the need for a wedding planner. She started The Perfect Moment two years ago in Dubai and now arranges two weddings a month on average. Here are some of her tips:

- Marry outside the high seasons of Easter, Christmas and Eid, when hotel and flight rates are at their highest.

- Be thrifty with your favours. Make your own gift bags and add a few personal items or create a CD of your favourite tunes to give to the guests.

- Ask the venue to provide as much as possible. If you ask for a wedding cake, they are likely to include it in your package, if you ask.

- Instead of putting guests in cars from the religious service to the reception venue, hire one bus to take them all together. This is also a great way of making sure guests arrive at the same time.

- Take a package for beverages rather than on total consumption.

- If you have family or friends who are musical, then ask them to perform at the reception. This means you can save on the entertainment costs, and it also makes the evening fun and personable.

- Make a wedding budget.  Think of all the elements that you want to include and rate them on a level of importance to you, Ms Ebbs says.

- Visit places such as Dragon Mart and markets in Satwa to create your own table centres and favours. Personalise your wedding in a cost-effective way.

Tips from a bride

Joelle Vosper, 27, became engaged last year and planned for a wedding last month. To cut costs and to give a personal touch, she saved glass sauce containers and jam jars and tied white lace around each to turn them into vases. Individual flowers went into jars and became decorations around the venue.

For her Dubai wedding, which 68 people attended from across the globe, the Briton spent a total of Dh110,000. And now she runs a website www.mylovelywedding.com where she gives tips on how to save costs on a wedding in Dubai by doing a lot of the work yourself. Here she talks about her own wedding:

- She and her husband used rubber stamps to compose thank-you notes for the guests' tables. Invitations and thank you cards were also handmade.

- Ms Vosper bought her wedding dress from the Elizabeth Avey Vintage shop in London for £800 (Dh4,561).

- The couple arranged for all the events to be held at a single venue, the Montgomerie Dubai golf course in Emirates Hills. That saved on transportation costs. And Ms Vosper says she was arranging everything at the venue on her wedding day before getting dressed up for the occasion.

- For video, she used Love Lucy, but the service was free as the owner is her friend.

- For photography, the couple used Simon Charlton Photography and paid Dh9,000. "All photographers charge almost the same price in Dubai," Ms Vosper says.

- For music, they hired Maplejack. "There are not many wedding bands in Dubai and so the price was on the higher side," Ms Vosper says. The couple paid Dh14,000 for the duration of the event that ran from 3pm until midnight.

- For the Dh2,800 cake, she used Abu Dhabi-based Gourmelicious. Since it is a new company, Ms Vosper felt the price was slightly lower.

- Rather than taking a canapé package, which comes at about Dh100 per person, the couple decided to have the wedding cake later along with small sandwiches. Ms Vosper said they saved at least Dh70 per person as a result. But they splurged on a full dinner for Dh360 per person.

- For their honeymoon, the couple spent 12 days in Switzerland, but mixed up their stay at budget and luxury hotels.

The fine print

The legal implications of divorce are the last thing many people have in mind while arranging a wedding, but signing a pre-nuptial agreement is a sensible way to safeguard against the threat of anyone going into long-term debt.

- "This is particularly important where you may have many assets in different areas of the world - property for example - and where there are children involved," says Sam Ebbs, a financial planner, who is the husband of Clare Ebbs. "More likely than a pre-nuptial is that an expatriate would have to seriously consider having a will in place after marriage in case anything were to happen to either one of them or both."


* with additional reporting by Hadeel Al Sayegh