Just a few generations ago, elopements had a whiff of scandal. They were associated more with Romeo and Juliet types and shotgun weddings than with prudent couples trying to save money.
Even the definition of “elope” has changed. It traditionally meant that the only people in attendance were the couple, officiant and required witnesses, and the wedding was carried out in secret, maybe on the courthouse steps. Today, it is generally agreed that a wedding with a guest list under 10 can be called an elopement. It is even smaller than what is often called a “micro” or tiny wedding where the guest list can run to a whopping 30 people.
A recent survey by Helzberg Diamonds found that 91 percent of unmarried millennials would consider eloping. It also found that three out of five young married couples would choose to elope instead of having a traditional wedding again.
One of the most appealing aspects of eloping is the money-saving factor. People who elope spend far less than half of what a traditional ceremony would cost. The average American wedding cost $19,000 in 2020 (that relatively low figure was due in part to severe downsizing and social distancing regulations due to the pandemic; in 2019 it was $28,000). Brides magazine reports that elopements usually cost between $50 and $5,000.
But what if there was a way to even split the cost of your elopement? This gives you a chance to be creative, choose what elements you feel are most important, and be able to splurge even more for your honeymoon.
15 Ways to Save Money by Eloping
Two wedding planners who specialize in dream elopements offered their ideas on how to watch pennies without sacrificing a memorial experience.
Erika Hernandez, owner of The Greatest Adventure Weddings and Elopements serving the Pacific Northwest, began planning weddings in 2012 after noticing the growing popularity of adventure weddings and elopements. Laura Coleman, is the production manager for Simply Eloped, which plans ceremonies all over the country.
One of the best things about elopements is that you don’t need to adhere to the expectations of a traditional wedding.
Coleman remembers some of the ways her clients put their own spin on their elopements.
“Want your dad to walk you down the aisle? Sure! Want to skip the traditional vows and do them in Klingon? Heck yeah! Do it! And guess what? You don’t have to wear white. There have been some amazing elopements in which the dress is green, purple, or the best — black,” she says.
Before getting into more of the fun stuff, Hernandez let me in on the reality check she gives clients when planning elopements: Like everything else, you get what you pay for. In other words, you can’t expect a Kardashian-level celebration on a standard budget, much less a cost-saving one. Still, there are many ways to save money without sacrificing quality.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West reportedly spent $2.8 million on their 2014 wedding ceremony with a whopping $30 million including the pre-event festivities. She filed for divorce in 2021.
Without further ado, here are Coleman’s and Hernandez’s top 15 ways for saving money by eloping:
1. The Clothes
You can rent attire, purchase ready-to-wear items vs made-to-order, or buy slightly used. (There are some amazing second-hand shops that even have new designer dresses and gowns from previous seasons. Some good online stores selling gently used gowns and accessories are Still White, Pre Owned Wedding Dresses, Nearly Newlywed, and even Facebook Marketplace is worth a look.
2. The Heirlooms
Take advantage of family heirlooms or vintage clothes. “Chances are your mother or future mother-in-law have a dress in a box in their closet that is probably back in style,” says Coleman.
3. The Flowers
Get thrifty with your bouquet. DIY your own bundle of beautiful blooms or purchase a premade bouquet from a local market.
4. The Sound System
Use your own technology. Instead of renting an expensive professional speaker, a bluetooth speaker connected to your phone, is light to pack and works well for the ceremony and first dance.
5. The Adult Beverages
Save money on booze. Instead of having a full bar, consider creating a signature cocktail named after an inside joke you share with your friends, or nickname you have as a couple.
6. The Styling
Do your own hair and makeup. “An in-between option we love is to do a lesson with a hair and makeup artist so even if you’re going simple. You have a couple of options day-of, have some practice, and they can recommend what products you should use to make sure your hair doesn’t get frizzy in the rain or your mascara isn’t running down your face after the ceremony,” says Hernandez.
7. The Food
Choose quality over quantity of food. Do a beautiful picnic with a charcuterie board or simply, drinks and dessert. This is more intimate than going out to dinner, and less expensive than hiring a caterer/personal chef.
8. The Venue
Use public land. If you were to have the ceremony and reception at a private venue, the cost would still be similar to that of a much larger wedding party because of the rental fee. Instead, use a picturesque spot in a park or government-owned land. There are 423 beautiful national park sites in America, so you can be rest assured there is one within driving distance to you. Permits are usually only around $100. For decorations, see the next tip.
9. The Decor
There is a way to obtain your decor for free; go outside! “The beautiful thing about outdoor elopements is nature is your decor. Let Mother Nature do all the work for you. The trees are your decor,” says Coleman.
10. The Location
Elope where you are. Travel can often be the biggest cost. An elopement doesn’t have to be in the most epic location, it can be just as beautiful if you elope somewhere closer to home that is meaningful for you both.
11. The Cake
You don’t need a traditional cake. “Especially if you’re not cake people — Go with pie, doughnuts, cookies! All much less expensive options,” says Hernandez.
12. The Date
Elope on a weekday. Vendors have more availability and more flexibility in the number of hours they are willing to book. For instance, if they can book a 10-hour package on a Saturday, during peak season, they may choose to book that wedding over a four-hour elopement.
13. The Officiant
Don’t pay extra for an officiant you don’t know. “If you’re having a small group of guests at your elopement, have a friend or family member officiate. In some locations, like Colorado, you can actually self-officiate, which means you don’t need an officiant at all,” says Hernandez.
14. The Accommodations
Don’t feel you need to stay at a 5-star hotel to make memories. “Hotels can be expensive, so opt for a cute Airbnb near your venue. I’ve even seen some couples rent a sweet conversion van and camp,” says Coleman.
15. The Transportation
If you want to choose a spot farther away, keep your eye out for flight deals. There are tons of websites that will notify you if a flight is discounted for any reason.
Don’t Skimp on Memories
One thing you shouldn’t go halfway on?
“We don’t recommend skimping on vendors, especially photographers and videographers. Not only will you keep your photos/videos to look back on for the rest of your lives, they’re the best way to share your day with those that couldn’t be there with you,” says Hernandez.
At the end of the day, weddings are about celebrating your love with your partner, and the family and friends who are thrilled that you have found your special someone. You could spend $1 million on a wedding but still have a miserable marriage. Just look at the recent influxes of celebrity divorces. Elopements are a perfect way to save money that you and your growing family can use in the long term. House down payment, anyone?
Olivia Smith is a writer based in Washington, D.C., who has experience in public and political advocacy work. She is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.