Why your Big Day doesn’t have to cost the earth

After getting engaged in 2011 it quickly became apparent that we wouldn't be having a small wedding; we both wanted friends and family to share the day with us rather than eloping to Gretna Green, so we had to face up to it – it wasn't going to be a small affair. We both care a lot about the environment, about protecting Scottish wildlife and landscapes and using resources carefully, so we wanted to make sure our wedding didn't have a big carbon footprint.

We wanted a simple wedding that would still have a 'wow' factor but would stick to local traditional themes. What we didn't want was to be really strict and prescriptive or to put our environmental aims above our other considerations – it had to be a relaxed, fun affair with no finger-wagging or preaching.

Surprisingly it wasn't that difficult because we didn't have the money to put on a big flashy wedding. We thought carefully about what mattered to us and decided to spend our money on those elements while keeping everything else very simple. We splashed out on the ceremony, food and music we wanted. Where possible we did some savvy 'swaps' of things that usually come with a big carbon footprint and price tag for things that were 'DIY' or favours from friends and family. Using reclaimed or re-used materials for décor was a really great green way to create a lovely 'back in time' feel. Going for local, second hand, hired or reusable materials was a key factor too.

Swapping a vintage bus for a wedding car saved approx 920 miles of unnecessary car journeys!

The result was magical. By spending time rather than money and getting our friends and family involved we created a really down-to-earth, friendly and artistic wedding. It looked beautiful and all the home-made elements were really special to us. The overall effect was described as 'going back in time' by many of our guests. What we found was that a really old-school, traditional wedding goes hand in hand with an eco-friendly approach to hosting a big knees-up.

Of course, it helped that the sun came out and gave us a spectacular clear day with sunshine and blue skies.

Another key benefit was the tidy-up afterwards – we only took four bin liners of waste away from the hall after a three course meal, evening buffet and a huge Ceilidh for 130 people!

There were challenges too. People want to get involved and have their own ideas about what you'll want on your big day. It was difficult to explain to people that we couldn't accept their offer of plastic cutlery, and in the end we couldn't really refuse some of the wonderfully well-meant contributions, like the hairspray and body spray that was placed in the ladies toilets for guests (who appreciated it a lot I must say). We knew what was important to us but nothing was worth causing any friction between friends or family – that would have confounded our whole effort to make the day fun and relaxed.

It was also difficult to pull everything together without the help of a big venue or wedding planner. We had an outdoor ceremony on the coast and our reception was in a community hall, so sourcing chairs for the ceremony and finding an extra oven for the caterers to use at the hall were some of the more tricky jobs we had. Planning and preparation was key and we managed to borrow chairs and an oven at no cost at all – it just required some 'blue sky' thinking. It was really satisfying tackling these hurdles ourselves though – in the end we felt we could do anything at all!

What did it cost? With the average UK wedding costing around £20,000* we were terrified at first that we'd have to go into debt in order to get married. In the end, we had our perfect wedding – we wouldn't have changed a thing – and an amazing honeymoon for just 25% of that. Our attitudes to reusing, going local and keeping things home made definitely helped us stay within budget and we had an unforgettable experience without breaking the bank. The sun shone too!

My tips and advice for a low-carbon wedding (some with the benefit of hindsight):

  1. Think about what's most important to you and stay true to it, no matter what
  2. Get people involved; everyone will want to help and contribute, keeping it fun and personal as well as low-cost (Help from friends and family made the little details really special, like a sign made by my friend Emma)
  3. Borrow stuff or buy second hand (use the Changeworks Charity Shop Map!) – Ebay, Freecycle and Gumtree are also great
  4. Use local, seasonal food, flowers and suppliers (e.g. hairdresser and makeup artist)
  5. Planning is everything if you're on a budget. Bite the bullet and make a spreadsheet
  6. Get creative! There are loads of things you can make yourselves that will add an extra special touch to your Big Day. Check out weddinggawker.com for some inspiration
  7. Pick your battles. Know when to bite your tongue – people just want to help, so let them


Remember, it's your day – you'll enjoy it no matter what!

- Ruth

Home-made makes magical
*Source: UK Wedding belles