Our Frugal, Zero-Waste Wedding
We promised you all the nitty, gritty details to our frugal, very nearly zero-waste wedding, so here they are. Included a detailed rundown of all our expenses!
I will begin with a caveat that weddings in Norway are nothing like some of the weddings I have seen in the US or UK. Like baby showers and other customs that are not common here, they are slowly making their way here, but are still somewhat isolated to middle class and above.
In Norway, “barselgrøt” or “maternity porridge” used to be a thing instead of baby showers. Friends, family and neighbors literally came over with porridge (full of cream and butter to get your energy back up), and would help the new mother with looking after the child and various house chores after she gave birth.
Costs less, helps more.
This was also the theme with our wedding. We wanted it low-key, low barrier of entry, simple and fun event with our closest family and friends. Big bonus if we managed to keep it less than 10 000 NOK, or $1 250 as well.
None of our family members had a large enough house or space available to host such a large event. Plus, we wanted it to feel special, so we communicated extensively with Gamlehorten Gjestegård. They were really helpful and accommodating to clueless newbies who had never pulled off anything like this before (thank you!), and we happily rented their “Beer Hall” (Ølhallen), a really cozy venue refurbished from an old stable, and with all the warmth and personality we wanted.
Our venue had an alcohol license for everything under their roof. That meant a bar and bartender was included in the price, and that we were not allowed to bring or share any alcoholic drink privately.
Instead we purchased to drink “tickets” for each person to spend at the bar, and we picked up the tab afterwards. Anything outside the two tickets per person was paid for by the guests themselves.
To be honest, this worked marvelously for us. I am very uncomfortable around drunk people and did not want this to turn into an out of control thing. This meant people did not go nuts, and all in all, the event was a great success!
We didn’t want to go nuts for decorations. This was all about guests and being together after all. Any plastic that would be used only once was vetoed. The only decorations we wanted were place cards, some flowers and after it was clear that Mr. E’s hyper-allergic great-grandmother would not be able to come, the room was filled with candles.
All our closest family live several hours away from where we currently live. In consideration of them and two elderly family members who would not be able to make such a trip, it was no doubt that we wanted to travel to them for the wedding. A good friend of mine would be travelling to the same area for a viking reenactment event, and all the close friends Mr. E. wanted to attend lives in the same region.
All in all, it was only ourselves, my maid of honor and her partner who had to travel for the wedding. All in accordance to our values of not making other people pay for our frugality.
In lieu of gifts (though we still got generous donations to our mortgage downpayment fund), we asked everyone who wanted to contribute something for the potluck, either cake or food. We were very clear with specifying that this was something we considered a great gift and help, and that no gift was wanted or needed in addition to contributing to the potluck. Most of our guests gave generously for our house down payment fund anyway, for which we are very grateful.
Asking our friends and family to contribute with the food had several reasons. One is of course the frugal aspect, but another is the sharing and helping aspect. We all like to help and feel pride when recollecting the story about that wedding where everyone complimented your fantastic cake or gorgeous salad.
We really wanted our guests to share in our experience, so we wanted to include them.
The last aspect is the waste part. We rented cutlery and diningware from the venue, and everyone brought food on their own plates or bowls. There were no single use plastic trays, Styrofoam boxes or plastic wrapping so commonly associated with the catering industry.
Plus, I’ll be honest, it tasted nicer and was far more exciting.
Even though our pot luck was not plant based by a mile (none of us wanted to impose that on our families), I was adamant that I wanted the wedding cake at least to be vegan, just to show everyone that it can be done and done well.
No one wanted to take on the challenge of baking such a cake, so of course, we did it ourselves!
The food was also the one place where some waste in the form of cling film and aluminium foil was created from the covering of food dishes for transportation. However, this I consider only a minor thing, as all plates, serving bowls, glasses and cutlery was still of the sturdy, multiple use variety.
Clothes And Hair
I had a bunad, but Mr. E. did not. We browsed the local charity shops and found an old, quality set of black wool coat tails that fit him like a glove. In another shop we found a pair of black wool trousers. Slightly too small in the waist, but nothing we couldn’t fix with a bit of time and some basic sewing skills.
He ended up not using either because it was scorching hot back south and even I had to get out of the (wool) bunad after the ceremony and photo session. But he did get brand new Doc Martens dress shoes, which looked smashing and will see several years of good use.
The most expensive item was actually following Mr. E’s wish for me to buy new underwear. But at least I bought a style I am comfortable wearing after the wedding too!
The bunad is not something you put an elaborate hairdo with. It is a folk outfit and I knew I wanted to simply have my hair braided in a crown around my head and then stick some flowers in it. Mr. E. graciously practiced the weeks before while we watched movies in the evening, but it was my best friend M. who ended up actually doing the honours. I felt great, and deliberately avoided mirrors for the entirety of the evening!
For Mr. E. I did our usual routine. I hope and believe I am starting to get the hang of his preferred hairstyle (long on top, fading to short), so we gave him a fresh one and he roughed it up like he wanted.
In Norway, there is no culture of matching bridesmaid’s dresses, or even multiple bridesmaids, so there was no need to stress about such things.
The best part? All of the clothes we had or used are clothes (and shoes) that will be used and reused time and time again, and not just left to gather sentimental dust in a closet.
I had my best friend M. be my maid of honor and general emotional support. She has attended several weddings in the past and I had not, so her help was invaluable.
Mr. E. had his oldest younger sister perform her duty as his “best man”, and she also threw him the bachelor party with Mr. E’s closest friends.
We bought our rings used from a local used gold and coin shop for a grand total of 1 400 NOK (the going price for gold per gram). Then we took them to the local goldsmith workshop to have them resized, the old engravings removed, new engravings added and a bit of a polish just to finish it all up for a grand total of 1 500 NOK.
All in all that brought our rings to a total just shy of 3 000 NOK ($360).
Could we have gotten new rings for a similar price? Maybe? To be honest I don’t know, it was not the most important piece of sourcing our rings.
We really didn’t want to support new gold mining, which is very damaging to the environment and often have sub-par working conditions. Gold doesn’t loose value anyway, so why not reuse what is already on the market?
When we tell people the story of our rings, most people are surprised, but positively so. For the majority, the reaction has been that they did not know used gold was even an option, which goes to show that spreading awareness and living by example is a good thing!
As anyone who has hired a photographer very well knows, a good photographer would have blown our less than $1 250 wedding budget by a mile.
Luckily for us, one of our friends is a really good hobby photographer. He also has a very coveted skill for someone like me who is very awkward in front of cameras: He is good at taking pictures of people without them noticing!
We were so grateful when he offered the amazing gift of taking photos for us. Mr. E. and I have very few pictures of the two of us together, partially because of my aforementioned awkwardness and general aversion to being in front of a camera. If we had just one photo I would feel comfortable hanging on my wall and sending a framed version of to family for the Holidays, I would be more than thrilled and eternally grateful.
We hadn’t really planned for a honeymoon, but decided it would be nice to try to pull off some sort of vacation/celebration together, just the two of us.
Mr. E’s parents have a cabin/small homestead in Sweden and Mr. E. asked if they were planning on using it the week commencing our wedding.
They weren’t! So we got a nice, quiet honeymoon in a remote, forested area for only the price of gas, toll fees and food.
I had never been to this cabin before, so it was a nice new experience for me. And they had high speed internet installed, so we could work/blog and be merry at the same time.
Now for what us personal finance, frugal monsters have been waiting for. The itty, gritty details of what and how we actually spent money!
Total number of guests: 30 (32 including us)
Postage for invitations: 240 NOK, $30. We already had nice letter paper and envelopes.
Rings: 3 000 NOK, $360
Venue: 5 500 NOK, $680 – This included diningware/cutlery for everyone, a bartender and bar plus cleaning afterwards.
Room at the venue (1 night): 1 095 NOK, $130 – Our cozy venue had no bridal suite, so this was a nice double room in a historical and quiet part of town.
Train tickets: 2 400 NOK, $300
Clothes: About 3 000 NOK, $380
Decorations: 13 NOK, $2. Wild summer flowers in bouquets around the room and candles kindly provided by the venue. Mr. E. spent a few ha pennies on making place cards.
Food: 3 500 NOK, $440. For us, plus all our families chipping in with amazing dishes.
Drinks: 2 700 NOK, $340. We settled on two drinks of choice per person with any more than that paid by the guests themselves.
Our eternal gratitude: Priceless.
Grand total: 21k NOK, or about $2.5k or £1.9k as per July 2018.
So all in all, we spent twice as much as we had “hoped” from the offset.
Could it have been done even cheaper? Yes, it absolutely could have. But we are both very happy with the results. Our guests were happy, we were happy, people enjoyed themselves. And all for less than an average month’s salary.
Best of all? No waste except a little bit of cling film and aluminium foil!
I’d call that a job well done.