The average cost of a wedding in the US now totals well over $20,000, representing serious big business for wedding service providers and a serious financial drain for the bride and groom. In fact, a significant proportion of newlyweds find they spend so much on their wedding day that they have little left to spend on their future together and unfortunately start married life with considerable debt. But everyone knows that getting married is not just about champagne toasts, voluminous silk organza gowns, a thousand smiley glossy photographs, emotional speeches or even the hotly-anticipated tropical honeymoon at the end. Any couple can spend a heap of cash on an extravagant ceremony, an exuberant reception and a frisky fortnight in Barbados. A wedding is all about the vows of course, and honouring them for the entire marriage. It’s about growing old together, and staying happily in love with each other, even when you’re shuffling off side by side down to the bingo hall many decades after the last lily in the bridal bouquet has wilted.
Clearly, for every starry-eyed bride and groom with big dreams, deep love and even deeper pockets, there is a lot to be said for drawing up a wedding budget – and sticking to it. Nevertheless, the average cost of a wedding has doubled in little over a decade. Couples in the US spend an astonishing $72 billion a year on their nuptials. In these economically shaky times, and with climate change at the forefront of many conscientious people’s minds, there is a greener low-cost alternative to the popular lavish, blow-the-budget weddings. And it doesn’t have to mean compromising on quality or sacrificing any of the things that traditionally make a wedding day so special. You can always make a positive impact on your guests without making a negative impact on the environment!
For an eco-wedding that won’t break your bank or your hearts, the following factors should be considered in the planning stages:
May to August tend to be the priciest ‘peak’ months so if you get married off-season (typically November to March) you are more likely to get competitive rates. Of course you are also much more likely to get cold, grey, wet weather, but there’s no guarantee of glorious sunshine even in the middle of summer anyway. Some people are actually more tempted by the idea of a winter wedding – white furs, flowing velvet capes, open fires, the scent of pine cones, a starlit sky, candlelight and the purity of fresh snow can set the perfect scene for all those cosy wedding photos. Also, getting married in the morning and holding the reception at lunchtime will mean less alcohol is consumed compared to an evening reception. This alone could take as much as 10% off the final wedding bill. Choose flowers that are in season and available locally.
Look at your guest list and remember that for every person invited to the wedding, an extra $25 to $150 can be added to your overall spend (depending on venue and catering choices). On average, 50-75% of the overall wedding budget is spent on the reception – food, drinks, entertainment and venue hire. Most venues will stipulate minimum and maximum numbers, so it might be wise to try to steer more towards the ‘minimum’ – unless of course you have an extended family, in which case pruning the guest list can often become a rather stressful task. Stand firm – it’s your wedding, and if you are footing the bill, you should have the final say about who gets invited. Avoid food waste by meticulously planning the menu and checking dietary requirements well in advance, and use locally-grown produce where possible.
What is really necessary to make your wedding day just how you want it? It is, after all, just one day, and it will pass remarkably quickly. Do you really need a wedding planner? Do you really need an expensive professional photographer? Do you really need hundreds of elaborate hand-tied bouquets? Or individually crafted invitations with pressed rose petals and professional calligraphy? Or a flock of white doves and a pair of peacocks? Or a huge, tiered cake? Or an hour of spectacular fireworks before the vintage champagne is uncorked? Prioritise your list of wedding day requirements – you certainly don’t need to spend a fortune to have a wedding that both of you will remember with great joy and affection for the rest of your lives, and one that your guests will also never forget. As delightful and impressive as some of these ‘finishing touches’ or luxurious extras are, they often make the difference between keeping within your budget and over-stretching it.
How will you get to the venue? Some couples like to splash out on flashy limousines or even the fairytale pumpkin-shaped horse-drawn glass carriage. But there are huge savings to be made by choosing a wedding venue close to home (within a few miles) and selecting a mode of transport that offers comfort, prestige and good value. If a Daimler, Bentley, Cadillac or Rolls Royce is a little too traditional, why not go for the more quirky option of a VW Beetle, a campervan or even a wedding bus? If the venue is close enough, you and your attendants could even walk there. It will certainly get people talking, and a little light exercise before the ceremony might help calm your nerves. Also try to arrange car shares between guests, which will not only cut down their collective carbon footprint but will also avoid parking problems at the venue. And how will you get to your honeymoon? A long-haul flight to a far-flung destination will obviously increase your own carbon footprint, so consider a local honeymoon destination, or at least avoid flying if you can. Couples spend, on average, three times more on a honeymoon than on a ‘regular’ holiday so it’s worth looking at ‘last minute’ deals to popular honeymoon destinations such as the Caribbean or the Maldives rather than booking a specialist honeymoon package (usually with hidden extras) in advance. You might also consider eco-tourism for your honeymoon.
Does the bride have to wear a bespoke, pure silk, floor-length designer wedding gown? As dazzlingly beautiful as the designer wedding dresses are, they are invariably costly. These are made to measure from the finest fabrics and so will fit you perfectly and look sensational, but the price tag will be as breathtaking as the dress itself. It is not impossible to find a stunning dress that suits you and fits you for just a fraction of the price – there are thousands of ‘off the peg’ dresses available at department stores and bridal boutiques, and if your budget is tight you can check charity shops or eBay for an unexpected bridal bargain. It might even be possible to pick a dress up for free or borrow one from a friend and get it professionally altered or embellished to suit your own style.
Why shell out hard-earned cash for specialised wedding services if you have friends with useful talents who are prepared to offer their services in lieu of a wedding gift? Perhaps you know someone with artistic flair who can design and create your wedding invitations, or a budding photographer who can provide you with a special wedding album? By calling on favours from talented acquaintances, you could save thousands and it will also help make your wedding feel more like a team effort with involvement and cooperation from people who care about you and want to do whatever they can to make it extra special.