UAE residents getting married: Budget wisely for the big day

For couples tying the knot it’s all too easy to go all out on lavish celebrations for all and sundry. But newlyweds must plan carefully and remember this is just the start of a long and often expensive journey.

Dubai residents Krysia and Stuart McKechnie on their wedding day in November 2013 at Glasgow's University Chapel. The couple paid for the majority of the event themselves using their savings. Courtesy Krysia and Stuart McKechnie
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When Krysia and Stuart McKechnie tied the knot last November, they paid for almost everything themselves. To ensure they had enough money for their special day, they saved a set amount each month and used their annual bonuses to top up their wedding pot. “We saved the amount in our usual savings account,” says Mrs Mc- Kechnie, 34, who lives with her husband, 41, in Jumeirah Park, Dubai. “We’re always saving; last year we just spent it on the wedding instead of investing it.”

Weddings are an expensive business. According to Rhiannon Downie, founder of and a UAE wedding industry blogger, the average wedding between western expats can cost from Dh100,000 to Dh150,000, while Indian and Arab couples fork out anything from Dh150,000 to Dh1 million. “Spend on weddings varies dramatically according to nationality,” says Ms Downie. “Indian and Arab brides tend to have larger, grander weddings of anything between 150 to more than 1,000 guests, whereas western expat brides often have smaller weddings of 50 to 150 guests. Westerners pay for the majority themselves, while Indian and Arab couples often have help from their families.”

Daphne Cota, the exhibition director at Informa Exhibitions, who oversees the UAE’s annual The Bride Show, says Emiratis spend the majority of their wedding budget on the venue, wedding dress and jewellery. “Few of them now go for the option of renting a wedding dress rather than buying it, which is much more expensive,” she explains.

Ms Cota adds that Emiratis receive financial assistance from the Government, as well as loans with very low interest rates, which are considered a better option than spending on credit cards.

Mrs McKechnie, who works as an executive assistant, says the only financial help she and her husband received was from her mother, who bought the bridesmaid dresses and paid for some of the entertainment. The wedding took place in Glasgow, Scotland, at the city’s University Chapel, while the reception was held at Cameron House Hotel. The British couple hosted a total of 85 guests, but while Mrs Mc- Kechnie admits the day was expensive, the couple didn’t feel under pressure to keep costs low. “We decided on what we wanted and then worked out how much we needed to save to pay for it,” she says. “Living in the UAE probably means you have a little bit more disposable income, though we wouldn’t have had anything that we couldn’t afford.”

The most expensive spending of the McKechnie wedding was on the food and drink at about Dh70,000. “If you can do things yourself I think it’s a big cost saver but it just didn’t seem to be an option for us. We didn’t have any save the date cards as I thought they were an unnecessary expense and we also didn’t have a wedding cake, but that was because neither of us like cake rather than to save money,” she adds.

Planning a wedding within your means is something that Jessica Cook, a private client adviser at AES International, advocates. Ms Cook says that many couples get swept away with the excitement of planning the big day and buy what they can’t really afford.

“There are so many different parts to a wedding and if you go over budget on just a few your debt can easily start to rack up,” she warns. “Be specific about a budget for each item. If you really feel you need to pay extra for something try and justify how you will cover this extra cost. So, will you put the wedding date back three months or will you sacrifice your yearly holiday?”

For Alex and Lisa Andreou, a 35-year-old Greek and 32-year-old Brit living on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, saving for their big day started 18 months ahead of the wedding date advance. The couple, who married in Greece last September, funded the majority of the wedding themselves. “We didn’t want to get into debt,” explains Mrs Andreou. “So we were very organised from the minute we set the date. Ideally, we would have liked to have been married within a year of getting engaged, but financially we knew this wouldn’t have been wise, so we put the date back six months.”

The couple worked out what they could each save every month and deposited the money into a joint savings account with Emirates NBD. “We didn’t have a debit card for the account, so we were never tempted to spend that cash. In the end we had actually saved more than we needed, which went towards our honeymoon. The biggest expense was the wedding venue and food, ” adds Mrs Andreou.

For Tanisha Gupta and her husband Anoop Vaswani, an Indian couple living in Sports City, Dubai, their February nuptials were a lavish affair spread across two cities. The main wedding, two Dholkis (an Indian-style bachelorette), a cocktail party, and a Mehndi ceremony took place in Delhi, while the wedding reception was held in Dubai at Atlantis, The Palm. Approximately 275 guests attended the reception.

The couple started planning their big day almost a year in advance. As a bride of Indian parents, 28-year-old Mrs Gupta explains that other than choose her outfits and have a great time, all her wedding expenses were taken care of by her parents.

For Mr Vaswani, however, the majority of his share of the wedding expenses were funded by pre-existing savings as well as planned savings he put together in the months running up to the event and a loan. “Twenty-five per cent of the total wedding expenditure was accumulated through a bank loan from my side,” says the 29-year-old.

According to Ms Cook, any couple that is looking to save for their big day should first ask themselves “what can we afford to spend on our wedding?” She advises that it’s only once that this figure has been realistically worked out that you will be able to have a better idea as to what you can both achieve, and then aim to do the best possible with the budget.

“Start by creating a list of every expense you can think of, such as number of guests, venue of ceremony and reception, food and drinks, music, cars, photographers. The list goes on. Do your research and ask friends how much they spent on their weddings. Then work out exactly what your household income and expenditure is. What do you have left over? Be careful not to sacrifice any other saving commitments and work out a realistic sum that you can afford to save every month between you,” says Ms Cook, adding that couples must remember that once the wedding is over there will be more milestones to save for such as children, property and retirement.

“Of course a wedding is a wonderful celebration but don’t jeopardise your future by burdening yourself with unnecessary debt for the sake of one day when you have a whole lifetime of other financial commitments to get though.”

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