Sustainable Living

7 Wedding-Planning Tips for Saving Money *and* the Planet

Photo: Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions
This year, the number of weddings in the U.S. is expected to clock a near 40-year record. While this spike in nuptials following years of pandemic-fueled cancelations and reschedules certainly puts love on grand display, it also highlights the major financial and environmental cost of hosting such events. Add in the factors of inflation and the raging climate crisis, and there’s perhaps never been a more apt time to pick up a few money-saving and sustainable wedding tips, if you’re planning on tying the knot amid the wedding boom.

In fact, choosing to shift your wedding plans in a more budget- and eco-conscious direction falls right in line with the larger cultural change that’s happening right now in wedding planning. For starters, the pandemic has made it more normal than ever to shrink the size or scope of your wedding and even to disinvite guests from whom you’ve drifted apart. (And, of course, fewer guests is both a money-saving and eco-friendly move.)

More broadly, though, the pandemic has also “made it much more socially acceptable to do things your own way,” clinical psychologist Jocelyn Charnas, PhD, previously told Well+Good. That vibe shift could grant you more freedom to simply cut out certain costly and eco-damaging reception elements that you never really loved, anyway. (So long, oyster-shell escort cards.)

Wedding vendors have raised their prices in light of inflation, high demand, and supply-chain issues.

With regard to finances, in particular, there’s also a pressing reason to embrace a few money-saving and sustainable wedding tips right now: Weddings are currently super expensive, as vendors raise their prices in light of inflation, high demand, and supply-chain issues. In fact, according to a survey conducted by registry site Zola of 3,309 couples getting married in 2022, 69 percent reported spending more on their wedding than they originally budgeted.

To save yourself from the same fate and minimize your environmental impact, too, read on for savvy money-saving and sustainable wedding tips straight from expert planners.

Here are the top 7 money-saving and sustainable wedding tips for a dreamy, low-impact reception

1. Design with intention

It’s always easier to set out with an eco- and money-conscious mindset than to adopt one once you’ve already poured effort into (more wasteful) planning endeavors. So, if it’s not too late, press pause before diving into planning, and craft what the co-owners of Greater Good Events Justine Broughal and Maryam Shariat Mudrick call a wedding vision statement outlining the vibe you picture for your big day.

“Throughout the planning process, you can then revisit this statement and ask yourself, ‘Does this particular element align with our vision for the event?’” says Broughal. “Then, you can confidently say, ‘Yes, renting a disco ball will bring joy and whimsy to our space!’ or ‘No, we really don’t need custom hand-calligraphed signage; it’s not contributing to our vision for our event.’” This is a simple strategy for keeping things focused, which will not only save you money on unnecessary material excess, but will also help you maintain your sanity.

“The goal is to do your best to make thoughtful choices and remember that the magic of gathering with your loved ones is valuable in and of itself.” —Justine Broughal, co-owner of Greater Good Events

That said, it’s important not to feel guilty about the things that do make it onto your priority list for the design of your event. "The goal is to do your best to make thoughtful choices and remember that the magic of gathering with your loved ones is valuable in and of itself,” says Broughal.

2. Minimize paper usage

At first blush, you might not think that cutting down on wedding paper would have the biggest impact on the environment or your bottom line. And to that, planners say, think again: Skipping just the paper invitations could spare you, on average, $5,000 to $8,000 if you’re inviting 100 people. And the sticker shock doesn’t stop there; of course, that price only goes up once you add in ceremony programs, escort cards, place cards, menus, and the like.

With regard to invitations, you can reduce your usage by simply opting for digital invitations from a site like Minted or Joy, both of which “offer wedding-website hosting, too, so you can easily collect RSVPs through one integrated system,” says Mudrick.

And for the event itself? Get strategic with signage. You might create a single sign listing guests’ table assignments, and allow them to sit wherever at their respective tables (rather than putting name cards at each setting). Similarly, you could also place one large menu at the center of each table instead of printing a small one for every person. “Some of my clients have opted out of printed paper programs for their ceremony in lieu of one giant sign, which can also be purchased secondhand, along with an easel to place it on,” says wedding planner Lindsey Nickel, founder of Lovely Day Events.

3. Choose secondhand items first

Weddings are such a particular kind of event that they often come along with similarly specific items—things like “reserved” signs, anything with “Mr.” or “Mrs.” on it, and other marriage-related paraphernalia. These items tend to show up on resale sites like Facebook Marketplace (as well as wedding-recycle.com and wedzee.com) in near-perfect condition because, well, they were likely only used once at a prior wedding. As a result, shopping secondhand for decor and signage is one of the best money-saving and sustainable wedding tips in the book.

In fact, once you think outside the wedding-specific box, you’ll find even more opportunities to shop secondhand for your event. “You can also look for things like picture frames, votives, candles, a card box, or a basket to put your cards in,” says Nickel. The same goes for large mirrors and window frames that can be “reworked into a tasteful and photo-worthy ceremony sign,” she adds.

4. Rent (instead of buying new) where you can

Again, so many elements of wedding decor are specific to the event rather than something you could easily use again or incorporate into your home after the fact. So, it may be an eco- and budget-friendly move to simply rent these pieces when possible.

For example, you can usually rent vessels and candles from your floral designer, says Broughal. That way, you’re not stuck with rounding up candles at the end of the night or throwing them out, and you can guarantee that the ones you use will get reused again and again. “You could also rent decor and signage from boutique event rental companies or hand-lettering artists, who often keep a stock of pieces like mirrors to use for welcome signs and seating-chart displays,” she says.

5. Use items that are seasonally available

Food and flowers that are in peak season at the time of your event and grown within driving range of your venue can be sourced more economically and sustainably, says wedding planner Elise Handler, founder of Keen Events, “So, think locally and seasonally when deciding on your menu and florals.” In other words, you might go for carnations and tulips in the spring but not necessarily in the fall; and you could choose to serve squash and Brussels sprouts in the fall but probably not in the spring.

Of course, spring, summer, and early fall will all offer more options in the florals department than winter. (Though, Mudrick and Broughal love the look of holly and green garlands for an eco-friendly winter wedding.) In any case, your florist will be able to point you toward the flowers that are most readily available whenever and wherever you choose to wed and can also guide you toward a color palette that complements those blooms.

6. Ditch the favors

Your guests will remember the event—not the trinkets you sent them away with at the end of the night, according to Handler. And for how small these favors typically are, they tend to create an outsize eco and budgetary burden: Each item in a physical favor for every guest comes along with its own per-piece price tag and often excess packaging, too, says Handler, adding that many guests end up leaving favors behind or forgetting them altogether, anyway.

7. Sell good-condition items after the wedding

Remember those items you bought secondhand on resale sites like Facebook Marketplace? Well, you can put your own new or used wedding items onto (or back onto) one of those sites, assuming they’re in good condition after your event.

“That’s a great way to participate in the planet-saving circular economy and make some money back, too,” says Nickel. Good candidates for this include any signage or decor that isn’t personalized and wedding-specific props like, say, white parasols used at an outdoor summer wedding, she adds. Another option? Consider simply donating these unwanted items to your local nonprofit resell store, says Mudrick.

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