Reading Corner: An Interview With Samantha Birch - The High-StreetBride’s Guide

Biography: Samantha Birch

So far I’m the author of one book: The High-Street Bride’s Guide. I’ve written about dresses, bridesmaids and cake toppers for Brides and You & Your Wedding, and regularly contribute to the likes of GLAMOUR and Love Baking – often while eating cake in my pyjamas. I live with my husband in a chaotically untidy flat in Letchworth, which I pretend is an artfully unkempt writer’s loft in St. Albans.

When did you first become interested in weddings?

I got engaged to my husband on Christmas Eve 2009, and got a job writing for You & Your Wedding a couple of months later — so I’d say around then was when weddings really became a big part of my life!

How did you become involved in writing The High-Street Bride’s Guide?

Shortly after I left You & Your Wedding, a colleague at my new job sent me a photo of her dream wedding dress; she’d found the picture online but there was no indication of the designer. I recognised it straight away and sent her the designer’s website, and that’s when I got the email back: “That’s amazing, thanks! You know so much about weddings; you should write a book!” I suppose you could say I took her a bit literally…

Why did you decide to concentrate on budget weddings?

My husband and I saved for four years to get married, and that was on a budget that was about a third of what a lot of readers of the big monthly wedding mags spend. I realised while we were planning that I had a lot of strategies for saving money that weren’t being talked about in the magazines, and I wanted to spare other couples the four-year wait to finally say ‘I do’.

Where do you come across tips and ideas for cutting wedding costs? Have these ideas come from friends, from reading blogs or from other sources?

Many of my ideas were straight off the top of my head to be honest — a lot of them tried and tested while planning our own big day — but some of them were insider tips that I picked up writing for wedding titles like You & Your Wedding and Brides. Those jobs meant I had to stay on top of all the latest news in wedding world, and I got to know the budget bridal designers and other wedding suppliers, so I could pick out the affordable from the expensive and the quality from the questionable at twenty paces.

Where do you think couples should invest in spending more of their wedding budget?

I think what you choose to spend your money on for your wedding is a really personal choice, based on your priorities as a couple. For us, food was important because we didn’t want anyone to go hungry between the ceremony and the reception, and we know how much it affects your mood if you eat something disappointing. Apart from that our priorities were the rings and the photos, because they last beyond the day itself.

Do you have any hints or tips on how to keep your wedding budget small while still creating a big impact?

The High-Street Bride’s Guide is packed with ways to get the best you can for the money you have, but I’d say some standout ways to specifically make an impact would be:
  • Skip the traditional dress and go for something stunning in your favourite colour. Everyone who’s there knows you’re the bride, so why do you have wear white? My favourite places for a head-turning full-colour gown: for designer to buy and WishWantWear to hire.
  • Keep your flowers in season, and swap big-ticket items like roses or orchids for big, blousy, less-pricey ones such as carnations — that way you can afford more blooms for your buck. Check with your ceremony venue, but most places will also let you take your ceremony flowers on to your reception so you don’t have to pay for double the decs.
  • If you have to have an elaborately embellished statement cake for lots of guests, only have three tiers max. decorated and hide a couple more out back that can be cut up and served with the main cake. Also, stick to squares over circles to get more slices for your sterling, and try to avoid expensive ingredients such as alcohol.

Us Brits are terrible at negotiating! Do you have any advice on how to negotiate and bargain to get the best price possible from suppliers?

I get into this more in The High-Street Bride’s Guide, but for starters I’d say do your research so you know what the top and bottom end of your price range looks like — that way you’ll know if you’re being ripped off. Don’t just accept the first price you’re offered, and be sure to flag up leverage such as ordering in bulk or, where relevant, off-season. Remember, too: nowadays you don’t have to negotiate face-to-face; if you feel pressured in person, go online.

Do any high street retailers immediately spring to mind as great stockists for a budget wedding?

The High-Street Bride’s Guide is crammed to the rafters with these, as well as indie and online brands to be on the lookout for, but some personal favourites include: Coast for wedding dresses that are gorgeous, stylish and great quality (it’s where mine was from and it even had a built-in corset, for £395); River Island for men’s suits (my husband’s came from there and was a great fit, with just that little extra detailing that’s a mark of quality); and Ernest Jones for rings (they offered us a special deal for buying both our wedding rings there, and they were great quality for the price).

Some people really shop around when organising their budget weddings from Preloved to charity shops and car boots to on-line auctions. What are your thoughts on brides ordering their wedding dress from on-line auction sites such as eBay?

While I think second-hand is a great way to get something gorgeous for a lot less, I don’t personally feel comfortable recommending eBay to my readers, because there’s a big variation in quality and legitimacy. If you are going to get your wedding dress from an auction site, at least check their reviews, Google them to be sure there are no obvious issues such as people complaining online or negative articles, and ask around to see if anyone you know has a good or bad experience with your particular seller. But there are other ways to get designer dresses on a budget that are far less risky — like sample sales.

I love the book cover — what was the thought process behind the design?

The current version of the cover was by my very lovely cover designer at HarperCollins, but before I was lucky enough to be picked up by my publisher my husband and I worked on the design for the self-published cover that inspired this one — it was still a row of shops but it didn’t have the girl or the sausage dog on there with it. The idea behind the original cover was to stay away from all the clichéd wedding imagery: the woman’s arm holding the bouquet; the two rings on top of each other on a blank background; the bride and groom standing together in silhouette. We wanted it to be clear that this is a book about buying everything for your wedding, and we wanted the colours to say that this is a girly, friendly, fun experience — that’s also why there are illustrations on each chapter of the book, which are my husband’s original drawings for the self-published cover.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to get creative and write their own book?

Research, research, research. If you’re going to write non-fiction, you have to know your subject matter back to front. You don’t want to find that the ideas you thought were so original have been said a hundred times before, or on the other hand that you’ve missed out really basic, obvious information — and when the day comes that you finally get your book out into the world (hooray!) a lot of people are going to have a lot of questions that you need to be able to answer off the top of your head. It’ll make the whole process of writing your book freer, too, so you can just have a good time with the phrasing, which really comes across to the reader and makes it more fun for them as well.

"The High-Street Bride's Guide" is on sale now! To purchase a copy from Amazon, click here.

"Brides-to-be, this one’s for you! You can say your vows in a catwalk gown so beautiful it reduces your mum to tears (and not because she paid for it). You can style a reception so stunning your guests won’t believe you didn’t hire an A-list planner. And you can sprinkle the day with personal touches that make everyone feel like you gave them special attention before they even got there. Without spending a house deposit on it. Honest. Samantha Birch has written for GLAMOUR, Brides, You & Your Wedding and Cosmopolitan Bride. She knows a thing or two about planning a wedding on a budget, how much you can expect to pay for everything and where to go to get it for less. And she’s put it all down here."

Visit Samantha's page on Facebook to find out more!


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