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Budget- and Eco-Friendly Wedding Tips

By Kim Robson:

“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and a Lucky Sixpence In Her Shoe.” 

So goes the Old English rhyme for the nuptial good luck charms every bride should carry or wear on her big day. But these days, with the cost of a wedding in the U.S. averaging a whopping $30,000 to $50,000, young or financially strapped couples, many of whom are already saddled with crushing student loan debt, find themselves putting off marriage. But money should never stand in the way of love. My husband and I put on our lovely outdoor wedding for about $1,700. The marriage license and permit fees are really the only costs that are non-negotiable. Here are some tips for pulling off a memorable wedding on a budget.

The Dress

The average cost of a wedding dress, including alterations, was $1,631 in 2018 (for comparison, the average groom spends $283 on his formalwear). That does not include accessories like the veil, shoes, garter belt and lingerie. Alternate options to consider include the following:

  • Re-purpose a vintage dress — May need some altering. Be VERY careful when choosing your seamstress. You don’t want to end up scrambling for a new dress at the last second if it doesn’t work out.
  • Borrow a dress from a friend — After all, it’s been worn only once. Ask a friend who’s about your size and offer to have it cleaned and preserved afterwards.
  • Clearance racks in wedding stores — I found my lovely dress on a clearance rack for only $179, and it fit perfectly. My shoes came from Payless, believe it or not!
  • Brides Against Breast Cancer — Their sales of clean, donated gowns from all around the country benefit breast cancer patients. After 15 years of hanging on to my dress, which was only taking up space in my closet, I donated it (along with the veil and shoes) to this fine organization.

The Rings

The diamond industry recommends a groom spend five percent of his annual salary (or two month’s pay) just on the engagement ring alone, going heavily into debt before the “I dos” are even said. In 2019, the average cost of an engagement ring is between $4,770 and $5,580. Here are alternate options to contemplate:

  • Vintage family heirloom — Many jewelry stores offer vintage pieces at modern-day prices. Instead, find out if your grandmother has something she’d like to see enjoying a new life outside her jewelry box. My wedding band is an heirloom from my husband’s mother.
  • Non-diamond alternatives — Ruby and tanzanite are very popular, as is sapphire (think Princess Di), emerald, topaz and black diamonds. My hubby fell in love with the first engagement ring he looked at, a cushion-cut garnet with two side diamonds.
  • Non-gold or platinum alternatives — Jewelers can craft wedding bands from an array of unusual materials, including titanium, tungsten carbide, palladium, stainless steel, cobalt chrome, hardwood, or silicone (for safety or comfort reasons). Some couples even get matching tattooed rings!
  • Eco-friendly lab-created gemstones — Today’s synthetic stones are chemically identical to mined stones, and have a higher refractive index, giving them unparalleled sparkle and flash. The bonus is no mining (raping the earth) to get them, and not having to worry about “blood diamonds.”

The Venue

Churches, resorts, vineyards and other fancy-pants venues charge an arm and a leg. Wherever you choose, apply for it as soon as you have a date set, as the best sites can book up months in advance. Save money by finding a venue where you can have the ceremony and reception in the same place. Options to think about are these:

  • Public park or beach — Most will require an inexpensive permit. Check with your city hall for availability. Our wedding was at Scripps Park in La Jolla, overlooking the ocean. Beach weddings can be terribly romantic but also fun and casual.
  • Private home — Have a friend or relative with a spacious home or gorgeous backyard? Hit them up. Offer to have the home professionally cleaned afterwards, and you can agree it’ll be their present to you. Easy peasy.
  • City hall, then reception elsewhere — Have the ceremony performed at the courthouse, then decamp to your favorite restaurant or bar to continue the festivities. You could arrange to have a few cases of champagne or beer/wine on hand (purchased wholesale from BevMo, of course). The bonus is they will have food, tables, chairs, tablecloths, napkins, dishes and utensils already in-house.
  • AirBnB rental — Search for listings that are “suitable for events.” You might find a castle-style home in San Luis Obispo for $350 per night or a lighthouse on the Massachusetts coast for $500 per night.
  • Museum or theater — Say your vows in a historic old theater or surrounded by priceless art! The Detroit Historical Museum begins at $400; at the Michigan Theatre in Jackson, Michigan, ceremonies go for $600, receptions for $1,600.

The Officiant

Don’t like the idea of hiring ($200-$300 on average) a total stranger to marry you? In many cities, anyone can become a Marriage Commissioner For a Day. It costs only $80, and the person has to fulfill minimal criteria, mainly making sure the marriage certificate is properly signed, witnessed, and mailed back to the clerk. 

The Honeymoon

Sometimes the honeymoon can cost as much as or more than the wedding itself. One option some couples choose is forgoing the honeymoon, and using the money they would have spent as a down payment on their first house. Alternatives to consider include the following:

  • Borrow a vacation home — My new husband and I took several small “micro-honeymoons” at a friend’s log cabin in the charming mountain town of Idyllwild, California. 
  • Go camping — It doesn’t have to be in a cramped tent, either. There are tons of “glamping” options that feature sturdy canvas yurts with oriental rugs, plush beds, hot baths, guided nature walks and chef-curated meals.
  • Staycation — Visit all the touristy spots in your own town that you’ve never found time to get to. Eat at the fancy restaurant you promised to treat yourselves to. Take that harbor cruise. Visit museums. Disconnect from devices, sleep in extra late, get a couples massage.
  • Road trip — Pick a few destinations you both want to explore, rent a luxury car, and go on an adventure. Save money by packing your own snacks, but be sure to sample the local delicacies, too!
  • Festival or special event — Pair your nuptials with an event you’re both into and geek out together. Think Burning Man, ComicCon, SXSW, Bonnaroo, a Renaissance fair, regional harvest festivals, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, New Year’s Eve in Times Square, or Christmas at Disneyland.

Extra Tips

  • Drape rented tables with vintage tablecloths.
  • Have a friend dress your hair, and do your own makeup.
  • Instead of costly flowers, wrap an assortment of potted live ferns in white ribbon. Tap an artistic friend/guest to make a simple bridal bouquet of flowers wrapped in ribbon.
  • Instead of expensive catering, order party trays.
  • Instead of a $500 tiered cake, order a half-sheet buried under mounds of white flowers, as we did. It was surprisingly elegant and everyone got a huge piece.
  • Tap a photographer friend/guest to take pictures. It can be their wedding gift to you.
  • Order invitations from an affordable online printer like VistaPrint.com. 
  • Inexpensive wedding favors: heart-shaped boxes with a tulle-wrapped package of Jordan Almonds inside.
  • Instead of a string quartet, hire a pair of student violinists from a music conservatory. 

So if you crazy kids are truly in love and want to get married, just do it! Don’t let finances stand in the way. With some planning and creativity, and a little help from your friends, you too can pull off a beautiful and memorable wedding day without going into crazy debt.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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