As anyone who has gotten married or attended a wedding in the last decade can attest, most weddings these days are hardly a quick ceremony followed by a cake-and-punch reception in the parish hall. The standard wedding has turned into a bigger, more elaborate affair, with dinner, drinks, dancing, and more. This trend, while fun and inclusive for family and friends, has also seriously driven up the price of matrimony for most couples.
According to The Knot’s Real Weddings Study, couples spent an average of $33,000 on their wedding day in 2017. If reading that sentence gave you a knot in your stomach, you’re not alone. As I know from personal experience, figuring out how you’ll pay for a wedding can be even more stressful than trying to plan one. Research has even shown that a less expensive wedding can lead to a happier marriage.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce the final price tag for your wedding and save your sanity and the environment at the same time. These tips will help you save some green while going green on your big day.
1. Send Electronic Invitations
Although estimates vary widely depending on many people you’re inviting and how elaborate you want to go, even basic wedding invitations can cost several hundred dollars. The price tag can quickly edge into the thousands when you add specialty paper, pictures, and fancy card linings.
In addition to being pricey pieces of paper, these invitations have the potential to be quite wasteful. Even if you make your own invitations, you’ll still use paper, ink, and postage. There’s also the environmental impact of shipping invites to guests and having them send RSVPs back to you from all over the country — or the world.
Instead of mailing expensive paper invitations, think about sending electronic invitations using a website like Paperless Post, Joy, or Evite. Electronic invites are becoming more and more common because they’re free to use, they make it easy to track RSVPs, and they’re better for the environment.
The decision to go paperless doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You could send out electronic save-the-dates and paper invitations if you prefer, or choose to mail invitations only to guests who aren’t as computer savvy, and then rely on technology to deliver the invitation to everyone else. If you want to send a paper invitation, consider asking guests to RSVP online and rely on your wedding website for most of the information traditionally sent via paper.
2. Buy or Rent a Secondhand Dress
If you’ve ever watched an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress,” you probably know that wedding dresses can easily cost thousands of dollars. If a dress costs $3,000 and you wear it for 8 hours, that’s a rate of $375 an hour —for something you’ll only wear once.
Instead of opting for a brand-new dress, shop for secondhand or vintage wedding dresses and save the environment and your budget. Sites such as Once Wed, Nearly Newlywed, and Stillwhite offer a wide variety of sizes and styles, with discounts ranging anywhere from 15% to 75% off the original sticker price.
If you’re not interested in owning a wedding dress, regardless of whether it’s new or secondhand, some clothes-rental websites also rent wedding dresses. The popular site Rent the Runway now offers wedding dresses in addition to other high-end clothing. You can rent most dresses for less than $100. Once you’re happily wed, just return the dress in the prepaid shipping envelope provided by the company; they’ll take care of cleaning the dress and then re-list it for the next person to wear.
By choosing to rent a dress instead of buying one, you’re not only saving yourself money, but you’re also doing something good for the environment. The textile industry is an enormous producer of greenhouse gasses, which contribute to the rise in global temperatures, and it’s also notorious for polluting water by using toxic chemicals to dye and process clothing. Renting a wedding dress saves you money and keeps a perfectly good wedding dress in rotation, ready for the next bride’s special day rather than sitting in a closet degrading and collecting dust for 30 years.
3. Let the Wedding Party Wear Something They Already Own
In addition to shopping the secondhand marketplace for your wedding dress, consider letting your wedding party wear something they already own. This way, you’re not forcing your friends and loved ones to purchase an outfit they’ll probably only wear once, and everyone will save money and help the environment.
For my wedding, we simply asked the groomsmen if they all had black suits, a fairly common wardrobe staple. They did, and they all wore those suits for the wedding; no one had to buy anything new.
For the bridal party, you can poll them to see if everyone has a dress or outfit in one color or a color family — such as shades of pink or grey — and then coordinate from there. If you’re open to letting bridesmaids wear any color they like, even easier!
Finally, if the wedding look you want is for everyone to match, consider asking your attendants if they’d be willing to rent bridesmaids dresses rather than buy them. Some websites specialize in renting bridesmaids dresses, including Union Station and Rent the Runway. This will save your wedding party money and hopefully alleviate any guilt or obligation you may feel to pay for part or all of their wardrobe to mitigate the expense.
4. Choose Vintage or Antique Rings
If you can opt out of buying a new diamond and instead choose a vintage option or forgo the stone altogether, you’ll save a ton of money on your wedding jewelry.
Although it varies widely from state to state, the average cost of a new engagement ring in the United States is currently a hefty $6,324. By comparison, antique rings (jewelry over 50 years old) and vintage rings (jewelry made less than 50 years ago that isn’t brand-new or contemporary) are often less expensive and more unique than the ubiquitous six-prong solitaire or halo-set stones that seem to be on everyone’s fourth fingers these days.
In addition to the human rights horrors associated with diamond mining in developing countries, serious environmental degradation also comes with the practice. The most common type of mining is open-pit mining, where the top layer of the earth is removed to get to the diamonds underneath. Removing acres upon acres of land can irreparably damage the surrounding the ecosystem; open-pit mining is often associated with acid mine drainage, which happens when rainwater and other runoff flows over the toxic metals exposed during mining and pollutes streams and drinking water sources. In the developing nations where these diamonds are mined, including Sierra Leone, Botswana, and Guinea, there is often little oversight and few, if any, environmental regulations.
Instead of visiting a chain jewelry store for your engagement ring or wedding bands, think creatively about ring options. Does your family have any heirloom jewelry you could repurpose? Even if no one has a diamond engagement ring, you could have any precious metals or stones remade into a set of rings.
Furthermore, there’s no law saying rings must match. When my parents got married as poor graduate students in the 1970s, they bought two inexpensive, non-matching gold bands secondhand and have been wearing them happily for over 45 years. You could also consider going with a reputable vintage ring supplier, such as Brilliant Earth or Blue Nile. Thinking outside the box could save you money and reduce your environmental impact all in one fell swoop.
5. Skip the Flowers
When I first started planning my wedding, one of the things I knew I didn’t want was any cut flowers. I’d recently learned that most cut flowers aren’t grown in the United States; they’re imported from far-away developing nations in places like Central America or Africa. By some estimates, almost 70% of cut flowers are grown elsewhere and then flown to the United States for American consumers.
Moreover, in the countries of origin for most of these flowers, there isn’t as much oversight when it comes to the fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals used to grow these beautiful blooms — a risk to both the environment there and the health and welfare of floral industry workers.
Finally, these flowers are water-intensive crops, and they’re often grown near or in sources of drinking water that become contaminated by the chemicals used to ensure their growth.
Even if you manage to find locally grown, organic flowers, you’ll have to dispose of these flowers after the wedding, at which point they’ll release methane back into the environment as they decay. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that has been linked to a rise in global temperatures and a number of extreme weather events.
So if you don’t have any cut flowers, what can you carry down the aisle or pin to your lapel? When I was tackling this question, I perused handmade marketplaces like Etsy and found many fun options, including bouquets made of cloth flowers and vintage buttons. Because I have a serious crafty streak, I decided to make my own bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages out of paper flowers.
Following a tutorial I found online, and armed with a glue gun and some vintage books I’d picked up at Goodwill, my bridesmaids and I spent a few hours one Saturday afternoon putting together paper flower bouquets that people still rave about to this day. At the end of the wedding, I gave away all the bouquets since I didn’t need them any longer and was happy to have them go to guests who wanted to display them in their homes.
6. Forego Traditional Wedding Favors
Favors are another one of those sneaky wedding expenses you might not think about when you’re first building your budget. However, traditional favors such as candy-coated almonds or boxes of chocolates can cost you as much as $3 to $5 per favor. If you have a wedding of 150 people, you’re looking at upwards of $750 for favors, not to mention all the wasteful packaging that comes with them.
Instead of picking traditional wedding favors, consider putting your own spin on the practice. One of my favorite ideas is from a couple who bought various kinds of candy in bulk and then provided little paper bags for guests to put together a sampling to take home. It was far more cost-effective and cut down on waste, both by avoiding the complicated individual packaging for bonbons or truffles and because only the folks who wanted to take candy did — which turned out to be only about 75% of the guests.
When I got married, I wanted the table centerpieces to reflect our values and interests. We’re both outdoorsy and love plants, so my fiance and I put together little potted plants grown from succulents we already had. We then encouraged guests to take home a plant at the end of the night as a wedding favor if they wanted, and many did. We still get updates, five years later, on the aloe vera and jade plant centerpieces that originated from our home indoor container garden.
7. Serve Local Food & Drinks
One of the tenets of the modern environmental movement is to eat local, and this can extends to wedding food. When you’re putting together your list of wedding vendors, choosing a local company to provide food and drinks can really lessen your event’s environmental impact.
Take it a step further and make sure that whatever you’re serving your guests is in season, which will make it more affordable in addition to environmentally friendly. Check out the USDA’s guide to what produce is in season where you live, and talk to your catering company or the restaurant that’s supplying your food to see what they recommend for local, in-season eats. As a bonus, anything that’s in season in your neck of the woods will taste much better than semi-ripe fruit and veggies flown in from halfway around the world.
Going local can also save you money when you’re picking drinks to serve to your guests. Whether you order a keg from a local brewery, serve wine from an area vineyard, make your own hard cider, or enlist crafty friends to help you infuse vodka for cocktails, anything you can do to keep it local will help you save. And serving locally sourced food and drinks cuts down on transit and the emissions associated with getting something from one place to another.
8. Go Vegetarian
There’s nothing you can do at an individual level to lessen your environmental impact more than reducing your meat consumption or giving up eating meat altogether. Studies have shown that meat eaters are responsible for almost 50% more carbon emissions than those who eat a plant-based diet. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is the huge amount of resources it takes to grow and process meat. For example, raising one pound of beef is estimated to require almost 1,800 gallons of water. By contrast, growing a pound of soybeans uses about 250 gallons of water.
As they grow, these animals also emit an enormous amount of methane — by some estimates, two-thirds of the greenhouse gases produced by the agricultural industry in this country come from animals. If everyone in the United States stopped eating meat, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 66% overnight. Of course, the entire nation won’t become vegetarian any time soon, but eating less meat is still a socially responsible choice. It’s better for the environment, your health, and your pocketbook.
A recent study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition compared plant-based diets to those that include lean protein and found that vegetarians saved, on average, $750 a year by forgoing meat. With this in mind, consider only serving vegetarian fare at your wedding. There are a ton of options to satisfy meat eaters and herbivores alike, from delicious pasta dishes to stir-fries to veggie-based pizzas and flatbreads.
The average couple spends $71 per person on wedding catering. Even if you only cut $10 off the per-person catering price, if you’re feeding 150, that’s a savings of $1,500. So talk to your caterer about some creative vegetarian options.
9. Reuse & Recycle
When it comes to wedding decor, which includes everything from candle votives to table numbers to twinkle lights, the more you can buy secondhand instead of new, the more money you’ll save on these one-time-use items. Think about it: When else in your life will you need 150 place card holders?
Luckily, there are some great online marketplaces for secondhand wedding decor, so you’re likely to find almost everything you need without ever having to step foot in a craft store. Check out sites such as Craigslist or Wedding Recycle to peruse what’s out there.
It also helps to ask around. The coordinator at my wedding venue was able to connect me with another couple who had just held their wedding in the same hall we were renting. I bought 10 strands of twinkle lights from them that they had used to decorate for their wedding. It saved me money on something I would only use once, and it also assuaged my worries over how many strands of lights I was going to need and where we would place them. I simply talked to the other couple, looked at their beautiful pictures, and hung the lights exactly as they had.
It worked out great and was one less thing I had to worry about. When I was done with the lights, I listed them on Craigslist and sold them to another couple for their upcoming wedding. I also sold our table runners, table number holders, and votives. Most of the items I sold for about as much as I’d paid for them, which made me very happy.
After I got married, I also sold all of my wedding accessories. I’d made my own veil, which I then sold on eBay, and I listed my shoes on Poshmark, where they were quickly snatched up by another bride-to-be. The vintage-inspired pearl necklace I’d bought from Etsy that went perfectly with my dress wasn’t really my style, so that also went to a new owner via eBay. I recouped the cost and then some on all the accessories I had only worn once, and I was happy to see them off to their next owners to be used again.
Getting married is supposed to be a fun, love-filled event, so why not show some love for the environment when planning your wedding? Even if you only do one or two of the things on this list, every little bit helps. Take advantage of some or all of these tips, and you may be surprised by how much money you can save with an eco-friendly wedding.
Would you ever wear a secondhand wedding dress? How do you feel about buying a vintage ring?