Wedding Guide: Decorations/invitations/gifts

Just because you don’t have/don’t want to spend your unborn child’s college education on the nuptials doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful/elegant/funky/memorable (insert your own adjective) wedding.

Of course, the general tone of the event has some effect on what sort of budget will be required: A church wedding complete with balloon release followed by a reception in a tent with an arbor and centerpieces will run you a lot more than, say, a luau on the beach.

But don’t worry — keeping costs down doesn’t mean you need to invite everyone to Aunt Mary’s back yard for a potluck (though potlucks, done right, can be a welcome alternative to bland catering).

For decor tips, read on:

More bang for your buck

It’s simply not true that everything wedding must be white. In fact, a splash of color can take the Barbie-bride ambiance down a notch. Color and elegance can be added in draped fabrics (silk saris, purchased at specialty shops or online, are exotic), while the traditional wispy white can be recreated with mosquito netting and cheese cloth. Candles feature heavily at receptions, but don’t over-spend on luminaries. Hurricane candles (a couple bucks for a package in the grocery store) are simple and appropriately white, while inexpensive tea lights make nice centerpieces when floating in a glass bowl of flower petals. Craft stores and party-supply outlets often offer good deals on items such as ribbon, beads, tulle, silk flowers, etc. With a little hot glue and some knowhow, DIY wedding decorations can be yours. Check out for decoration projects ranging from pinecone place-card holders to twinkle tents.

Shabby chic

Simple elegance is key, so try scattering strands of white lights (salvaged from Christmas past) around a room for an ethereal look. Mismatched candlesticks gathered from thrift shops can be placed on tables. Funky jam jars and exotic food tins work as alternative vases. There’s no shame in utilitarian folding tables and chairs, but hide them under billowing fabrics. Remember: White sheets purchased secondhand offer lots of material for little cash. Trim them with lengths of lace or ribbon, or get funky by edging the cloth with pinking shears. Forego the frou-frou floral arrangements for small, single blossoms. Wild flowers can be picked the day before the reception and kept in the refrigerator overnight, while flower petals — perfect for scattering over table tops — are often available from floral shops for much less than a bouquet.

It’s your party … but don’t take it out on the environment

Enjoy planning your matrimony, but keep in mind that throwing a fete sometimes has bigger ramifications than a drunk uncle attempting to sing along with the band. For example, each guest driving to your wedding creates around 300 pounds of CO2 emissions per 500-mile trip. Then there’s the lighting, the heating or AC for the reception hall, dishwashing or throw-away place settings … even the food you choose to serve and the fabric of your dress or suit makes an impact on Mother Nature. Before you throw your hands up in despair, consider this a wake-up call and use your wedding to make a positive change. Web sites like offer carbon-dioxide-emissions calculators based on air or car travel. The total cost of emissions can be paid off through a donation to projects around the world that reduce greenhouse gasses. Locally, the Clean Air Community Trust (258-1856 or offers a similar service. The non-profit organization can calculate the CO2 your event will release into the atmosphere and then offer options for cutting back emissions in other ways, such as energy-efficient light bulbs. Purchase the compact fluorescent bulbs and give them away to your guests as favors, or have the Clean Air Community Trust donate them to a low-income project.

Skip the RSVP — and other ways to save a tree

Keeping with the tree-hugging theme, why not cut down on paper waste by eliminating the hard-copy reply? If you’re set on the paper invitation (see ideas below), consider asking guests to RSVP by phone or electronically. If it’s a big wedding list, you’ll cut costs by leaving out that return postage (hey, stamps add up!), and you can set up an e-mail address (Yahoo and Hotmail offer free accounts) just for invitation replies. Love paper goods and trees? Consider investing in eco-friendly alternatives like hemp stationery, 100-percent post-consumer recycled note cards, kenaf (a paper product made from a renewable plant), or unbleached letterhead printed with soy-based inks. Thinking about ditching the oh-so-traditional invitation card altogether? E-invites open a whole new world of getting the word out. Some Internet-based companies will design and e-mail (for a fee) an unlimited number of wedding cards, and include an RSVP Web site to collect replies.

Life after Hallmark

Some people might disagree with me here, but if you’re on a budget, invitations are a great place to cut back. After all, the whole point of the silly things is to get people to the event, not to impress the Martha Stewart design team. If you’re not feeling the creative impulse, but still getting pinched by the pocketbook, try one of many software programs that guide you through the design process. Choose from a variety of templates or insert digital images of you and your sweetie. Then drop card stock into your printer and voila! Postcards offer an efficient and whimsical alternative to the multi-enveloped invitation. Your local printer (or home computer) can crank out cards of your design. Keep it simple: date, time, place, and a phone number or e-mail address to RSVP. For those with more time and artistic talent than cash, consider making your own cards. Each card can be as unique as the guests you’re inviting, and can be crafted from such supplies as doilies, bits of ribbon, images clipped from magazines, glitter pen, calligraphy, or water color. Recycled paper bags, colorful magazine pages and used gift wrap can be folded into avant-garde envelopes to complement the one-of-a-kind invites.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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