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Thinking about skipping a big wedding and eloping with your loved one? Maybe 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... You’re not alone. Many modern couples are turning to elopements.
Some are doing it the old-fashioned way: going to City Hall and getting a marriage certificate from a judge. That process is simple, straight-forward, and relatively cheap. Others are getting creative, eloping in their favorite park or traveling to a destination to say their vows in a dream setting (why not say 'I Do' under a waterfall or at the peak of a mountain?) Some are choosing to do an activity while they elope, declaring their love on a kayak or while sky diving. These options still allow couples to incorporate amenities from a traditional wedding such a photographer to capture the big moment or a bakery to make a cake just for them. Just because you are eloping doesn't mean you have to miss out on the wedding cake slicing!
There are many options for couples looking to elope, and they range in price. To help us figure out how much it costs to elope we reached out to Amber Sovorsky, Tori Ware, and Maddie Mae, consultants with Adventure Instead, a company that plans elopements. They told us how much it costs to elope, how to shed dollars off that price, and how the budget compares to other types of weddings.
Meet the Expert
Amber Sovorsky, Tori Ware, and Maddie Mae are engagement consultants with the company Adventure Instead.
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 (in San Francisco it costs $112 for the license and $93 for the ceremony), the whole process costs a little over $200.
Adventure Instead, which plans more exotic and elaborate elopements, said their clients 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 wrote. “That person also helps the couple find a location, suggest vendors, and other functions similar to a wedding planner.” Many of these people are taking big trips for their elopements, so their budget more resembles that of a bucket list trip rather than a traditional wedding.
Your elopement will cost more if you want to hire suppliers from photographers to makeup artists to 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,” said the consultants from 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
There are ways to have an exciting, beautiful elopement without breaking the bank. Here are a few suggestions from Adventure Instead.
Elope on public land.
If you want to elope in a private venue, you often have to pay similar rental fees to a couple having a full, blown-out wedding. Adventure Instead recommends choosing a beautiful spot in a park or government-owned land: instead of renting a venue. Eloping in a private backyard is also free.
The bride's wedding dress is usually one of the biggest costs for an elopement. It's not like the dress is discounted if you aren't having a traditional ceremony and reception. So the Adventure Instead consultants have a trick: 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 said.
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,” said 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 is relatively cheap activities when you consider the amount you would otherwise spend on feeding and entertaining guests at a big wedding.”
Elopement Cost vs. Other Weddings
According to the 2020 Brides American Wedding Study, couples can save a lot of money if they decide to elope. Even the most expensive elopements are often cheaper than other types of weddings. One of the biggest costs saved is on the reception. Couples spend on average a whopping $3034.30 for the venue alone! On top of that, they pay (again, on average) $3072.00 for food at the reception, $1795.60 on drinks, $2408.20 on decorations, and $2947.40 on welcome bags and party favors.
Of course, many costs are fixed, regardless of whether a couple elopes, has a micro-wedding, or a blow-out party. Wedding rings, for example, are exchanged at wedding ceremonies regardless of whether any guests are present. They cost $3682.70 on average. Many brides still choose to wear their dream wedding dress, which costs $2439.00 on average. It’s also important to capture the big day, even if it’s just the couple experiencing it. Photography services, on average, hover around $1673.90.