Your wedding is one of the biggest days of your life. It’s a celebration of the relationship you have with your partner and your commitment to one another. Of course you want it to be fabulous!
But the average wedding comes with a lot of waste — both in single-use items and their associated costs. From decor and invitations to flowers and favors, most nuptial staples aren’t made with the environment or your wallet in mind.
But all hope is not lost. There are numerous ways you can save money on your wedding and help the environment at the same time.
Ways to Save Money and the Environment With a Green Wedding
From sending digital wedding mail to exploring your options for vintage and secondhand items, reducing your wedding’s environmental footprint doesn’t have to be expensive.
1. Send Digital Wedding Mail
Most weddings require three mailers: invitations, RSVPs, and thank-you notes. Some even send save-the-date cards, especially if it’s for a destination wedding or takes place during the summer.
Three to four mailed communications per guest is a lot of unnecessary paper waste. Plus, the envelopes, stamps, and decorative trim like liners and inserts represent a sizable chunk of your budget.
Digital mail can reduce the toll your wedding takes on the environment and save you a ton of money.
According to the 2020 Knot Real Weddings Survey, the average cost for paper invitations was $590 that year (note that pandemic-related factors could have affected the costs for some respondents).
But digital versions through platforms like Paperless Post can cost as little as $30 for 200 invitations.
Or you can compromise by sending paper wedding invitations but requesting guests RSVP via email or on your wedding website.
2. Buy or Rent a Secondhand Dress
If you’ve looked for a wedding gown before, you know they can easily cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
According to WeddingWire, the average cost of a wedding gown in the United States is $1,000, while the Knot survey put it at $1,600.
And if you pay $1,000 to $1,600 or more for a dress and only wear it for eight hours, that’s a rate of at least $125 to $200 per hour for something you’ll likely only wear once.
And if you don’t need to own your wedding dress, you can save even more. Renting a dress from a bridal shop or website can cost you as little as $50. Plus, most rental costs include shipping and cleaning, meaning all you have to do is drop it off after you’re done with it.
But the benefits of secondhand dresses don’t end there. The textile industry is notoriously bad for the environment.
According to a 2018 article published in the journal Nature Climate Change, making fabric and garments produces greenhouse gases, causes water pollution, and uses a lot of resources.
Buying or renting a secondhand dress increases its lifespan, reduces its environmental impact, and helps you stick to your budget.
3. Reuse Wedding Party Attire
If you plan to include bridesmaids and groomsmen, they’re going to need something to wear.
And groomsmen must buy or rent a suit or tuxedo, which Men’s Health notes cost between $300 and $599 for just a basic suit.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Instead of having your wedding party purchase or rent new outfits for your wedding, see whether they already own something similar to what you have in mind.
For example, many men already own a basic black suit they can easily style to suit your wedding colors with a tie, boutonniere, or pocket square. And if they don’t, they can easily rent one from a menswear store for an average of $150, according to wedding and entertainment vendor matching service Fash.
Also check with your bridesmaids to see if they already own a dress that matches your wedding colors. If they do, compare colors and styles within the group to see if you can make it work. One trend that pops up from time to time is having bridesmaids wear similar colors but different styles.
If they can’t find anything similar in all their closets, your bridesmaids can rent a dress from places like Rent the Runway, Poshare, StyleLend, or Lending Luxury. It’s an easy way to save money on an outfit they only plan to wear once, adds to the lifespan of the dress, and reduces the environmental costs of producing another.
4. Choose Vintage or Antique Wedding Rings
Vintage and antique jewelry is all the rage. Why not bring the trend to your wedding rings as well?
According to the Knot survey, the average cost of a new engagement ring is $5,900, and that’s before you buy wedding bands. Compare that to Etsy, where you can find vintage rings for as little as $100, and you can see why secondhand jewelry is worth considering.
Engagement rings and wedding bands come with hefty price tags, but their environmental costs are just as substantial.
According to a Time expose on blood diamonds, many diamonds are unethically sourced and are the product of human rights violations and environmental issues in developing countries. That makes your six-prong solitaire seem a little less romantic.
But if you’re looking for something more sentimental, you can use a piece of family jewelry or have it remade into a new piece.
For example, you could have the stones from your great grandmother’s necklace made into an engagement ring or reuse other family jewelry to make your bands.
Vintage and heirloom rings can add a personal and unique touch to your wedding jewelry and save you a lot of money compared to brand-new rings. Plus, you avoid contributing to the detrimental human rights and environmental issues related to diamond mining.
5. Use Nontraditional Flowers
The majority of cut flowers in the U.S. don’t come from within the country. Instead, floriculturists (flower farmers) in developing countries grow them and export them to florists and flower shops in the U.S.
According to a 2021 TED article, these greenhouses use a significant amount of water and harmful pesticides to produce the best blooms. There are also considerable carbon emissions associated with flying them around the world.
The environmental impact caused by bouquets, boutonnieres, garlands, and centerpieces during your wedding ceremony and reception is likely more serious than you thought, let alone the cost associated with buying fresh flowers for your wedding.
Some of the most popular options for nontraditional wedding flowers are:
- Skipping flowers altogether
- Making or buying paper or fabric flowers
- Using statement planters and potted plants
These options are usually significantly less expensive than fresh-cut flowers, and since none are single-use, they can cut down on your wedding’s environmental impact as well.
6. Opt for Eco-Friendly Favors
Traditional wedding favors like Jordan almonds and bubbles aren’t exactly good for the environment or your bank account.
They come with a lot of disposable packaging and generally cost between $1 and $3 per guest, according to The Knot, though they can cost as much as double digits.
Plus, unless they’re useful or sentimental, guests probably won’t take them home or use them after that night.
If you’re looking to save money, reduce your wedding’s environmental impact, and offer your guests memorable wedding favors, there are plenty of options, including:
- Having a bulk candy table with paper bags for guests to fill
- Using mini potted plants and succulents as centerpieces guests can take home
- Making a charitable donation in lieu of favors
- Planting a tree for each table or guest through a site like One Tree Planted
7. Reconsider Your Food and Drinks
When searching for a caterer or meal options for your wedding reception, you can save money and reduce your environmental impact by going with nontraditional options.
For example, instead of having a formal dinner, opt for brunch instead. Or if that doesn’t fit your schedule, have appetizers and hors d’oeuvres during an evening cocktail hour.
According to the Knot survey, the average couple spent $70 per person on catering their wedding in 2020.
That’s a national average, so it could account for everything from full-service sit-down dinners to lighter fare for casual daytime affairs. It also includes alcohol, linens and cutlery, and service fees.
Compare that to a wedding brunch, which The Knot notes typically starts at around $20 per guest. That kind of savings can make a big difference in your wedding budget.
Serving low-cost appetizers and hors d’oeuvres instead of a formal meal is another way to cut costs.
For example, in an article for FreshBooks, Memphis, Tennessee-based Draper’s Catering estimates that serving hors d’oeuvres costs $26 to $36 per person, while a sit-down dinner costs between $31 and $42 per person.
You still have to be careful to choose less expensive hors d’oeuvres to see savings. But $5 per person adds up to $750 in savings if you’re serving 150 guests.
With hors d’oeuvres and appetizers, you may also need less cutlery since all the options are finger foods. That cuts down on costs, but it also sends less disposable cutlery to the landfill.
Plus, opting for recipes that use more produce, like veggie and tofu scrambles or mushroom polenta bites, can save money and reduce your environmental impact.
According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes an average of 15,415 liters of water to produce a kilogram of beef but only 322 liters to produce a kilogram of vegetables.
When it comes to alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, the simplest way to save money and the environment is to cut down on the number of individually packaged drinks. Instead of cans of soda, opt for 2-liter bottles. Or skip those altogether and provide water and tea in pitchers or dispensers.
For alcohol, kegs are usually cheaper per drink than buying cans and bottles. And according to the Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality, kegs have the smallest carbon footprint of any beer delivery system.
Wine and spirits are trickier since you can’t buy them in kegs. But opting for the biggest bottles available usually saves cash and reduces the environmental impact, according to Sierra Club’s environmental sleuth Mr. Green (aka Bob Schildgen).
He also notes that the scientific jury is still out on whether plastic or glass has a smaller carbon footprint but advises that if you’re not able to recycle glass, plastic is probably better.
To lower costs even more, check out our article on ways to save on wedding food and drink costs.
8. Reuse and Recycle Wedding Decor
As with your wedding attire and rings, secondhand decor can save you a lot of money on your big day while benefiting the environment.
While you’re wedding planning, consider the types of decorations you want to use, from candles and vases to chair covers and fairy lights. You might also want to use:
- Wedding cake toppers
- Table numbers
- Artificial flowers and greenery
You can find most of these in digital marketplaces being sold by newlyweds who no longer need them. The more times people pass them on for reuse, the longer they stay out of a landfill.
After your own wedding, pass them on to another couple looking for decor to recoup your costs. If you have a wedding planner, they may even be able to facilitate a sale since they likely know other couples who are getting married soon.
9. Cut Your Guest List
How many guests you have at your wedding directly affects the financial and environmental resources it takes for them to attend your wedding. At the very least, each wedding guest needs:
- An invitation
- An outfit
- A meal
- A favor
All these expenses affect your wedding budget and add to the environmental cost of your nuptials.
So instead of having a huge guest list made up of everyone you’ve ever met, stick to the people who are most important to you and limit plus-ones to official partners and spouses.
10. Have Your Dream Wedding in a Natural Venue
Parks, gardens, beaches, backyards, and even greenhouses can make beautiful and unique wedding venues. And the ready-to-use natural beauty often means you don’t have to spend as much on flowers and decor, making them a cost-effective option.
Plus, natural wedding venues often come with lower pricing than resorts and hotels.
And the environment will thank you for using fewer decorations and resources to make your special day a success.
11. Swap Your Gift Registry for Honeymoon Funds
Whether you’re taking a local honeymoon or traveling after your wedding, it’s going to cost money. That’s where you can enlist guests to help.
Instead of asking for gifts using a typical gift registry, ask your wedding guests to contribute to your honeymoon fund. This can be set set up through websites like Honeyfund.
It’s a budget-friendly way to fund your post-wedding vacation and easier on the environment than typical wedding gifts, which come with wrapping paper and packaging and use natural resources to produce.
12. DIY What You Can
When you choose the DIY route for your wedding, you have more control over the materials and suppliers you use. That means you can find options that suit both your budget and the environment while still having the wedding day you’ve been dreaming about.
For example, making your own table decorations and centerpieces allows you to choose eco-friendly supplies, and by making them yourself, you won’t have to cover any production costs.
Or if you’re a talented home baker, you can make your own wedding cake from sustainable (or even vegan) ingredients without the pro bakery price tag.
Anything you (or your friends) can make for your wedding can save you money and give you more freedom when choosing which ingredients or materials to use.
You don’t have to choose between having the celebration of your dreams and an environmentally friendly wedding.
DIY and secondhand goods can add personality and sentiment to your nuptials while keeping your budget in check and reducing your environmental impact.
By planning your big day consciously and choosing eco-friendly alternatives to single-use items like decor, a wedding gown, and flowers, you can have your cake and eat it too.