Thinking about skipping a big wedding and eloping with your loved one? If you can’t justify spending money on an elaborate wedding, or you want the day to be solely about you and your partner without family and friends, planning an elopement is likely the best decision for you.
Today, many couples are doing it the old-fashioned way, like going to City Hall and getting a marriage certificate from a judge. That process is simple, straightforward, and relatively cheap. On the other hand, others are getting creative, eloping in their favorite park or traveling to a destination to say their vows in a dream setting (because why not say '"I do" under a waterfall or at the peak of a mountain?) Some couples are even choosing to do an activity while they elope, declaring their love on a kayak or while sky diving. The best part? No matter your elopement style, you still have the option to incorporate amenities from a traditional wedding, such as a photographer to capture the big moment or a bakery to make a cake just for you.
However, given the array of elopement options to choose from, you may be curious about the price tag associated with this type of wedding celebration. Luckily, you've come to the right place! To help us figure out exactly how much it costs to elope, we reached out to Amber Sovorsky, Tori Ware, and Maddie Mae, consultants with Adventure Instead, to help break down the average costs of an elopement—plus tips on how to shed dollars off that price, and an explanation of how this budget compares to other types of weddings.
Meet the Expert
Amber Sovorsky, Tori Ware, and Maddie Mae are consultants with Adventure Instead, a company that plans elopements.
Average Cost of Eloping
If you want to go to City Hall and forgo all wedding frills, eloping is extremely affordable. You simply have to pay a small fee for a marriage certificate and a government employee to legally conduct your ceremony. In New York City, for example, it costs $60 total: $35 for the license and $25 for the ceremony. Even in places that are more expensive (like San Francisco where it costs $116 for the license and $98 for the ceremony), the whole process might cost you a little over $200.
According to Adventure Instead, which plans more exotic and elaborate elopements, clients typically spend anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 on their big day. “More than fifty percent of the budget usually goes to a photographer,” they share. “That person also helps the couple find a location, suggests vendors, and other functions similar to a wedding planner.” What's more, the cost to elope will likely be more money if you want to hire additional suppliers like makeup artists and caterers. Add a new tuxedo and a wedding dress on top of that, and you’re getting into a more expensive category. But the great part of eloping is you can pick and choose what is important to you—splurge on the items you care about and ignore the rest.
“Prioritize the things that matter most to you and your partner and experience,” says Adventure Instead. “And the traditions and elements that don’t matter to you or you don’t want to include for budget reasons—don't! This day is for the two of you. No one else.”
How to Save Money on an Elopement
While elopements are inherently a cost-effective approach to getting married, there are numerous ways to save even more money on these small nuptials. Ahead, here are a few suggestions from Adventure Instead.
Elope on public land.
If you want to elope in a private venue, you will likely have to pay rental fees similar to a couple having a full, blown-out wedding. Therefore, Adventure Instead recommends choosing a beautiful spot in a park or government-owned land, instead of renting a venue. Another pro tip to consider? Eloping in a private backyard—it's a small, intimate, and free locale.
The bride's wedding dress is usually one of the biggest costs for an elopement, and paying for a full-on gown may not be necessary if you don't plan on having a traditional ceremony and reception. That's why Adventure Instead recommends that brides search for white maxi dresses when shopping online instead of wedding dresses. “So many of our couples have found amazing, very affordable dresses on Etsy, Amazon, Lulus, ASOS, and more,” they share.
To shed costs even more, they also recommend doing your own hair and makeup and making a bouquet from local flowers.
Do something exciting but inexpensive.
Many couples want to incorporate a memorable activity into their elopement, but it doesn’t have to be as expensive as skydiving. “Hammocking, picnicking, stargazing, hiking, and popping champagne are all inexpensive activities you can include in your day,” advises the elopement consultants. “Even renting bikes to pedal on the beach, renting kayaks to paddle on a lake, heading up a 4x4 trail in a jeep, hiring a private chef, and taking a scenic helicopter flight are relatively cheap activities when you consider the amount you would otherwise spend on feeding and entertaining guests at a big wedding.”
Elopement Versus Formal Wedding Costs
Even the most expensive elopements are often cheaper than most types of weddings. More specifically, one of the biggest costs saved is on the reception. According to a report published by The Wedding Report, in 2022, couples spent, on average, $5,767.00 for their venues alone. On top of that, they paid (again, on average) $5,195.00 for food at the reception, $2,673.00 for bar service, $1,932.00 for venue decorations, and $474.00 for gifts and party favors. Of course, these costs will vary from wedding to wedding, but it's safe to say that elopements have the ability to save couples a significant amount, depending on your specific preferences.