Table of Contents
The Cost of Eloping
One of the most daunting things about planning a wedding is figuring out your budget – what the total cost to wed is going to be, and how that sum gets broken up to cover the myriad of expenses that will keep popping up. According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in 2021 was nearly $34,000 – half the median income of the average family in the United States! No matter how well-planned your budget is, most weddings end up going 32% over budget. Watching the costs rise higher than expected (and spending half a year’s salary on one day) can lead couples to question what they really want out of their marriage celebration. Whether it’s the finances or another factor, at some point you began thinking, “what if I elope instead? How much does it cost to elope?”
We’ll cut straight to the point – the cost of an elopement can vary as widely as the cost of a wedding. There is no set cost to elope. Technically you can spend whatever your local courthouse charges for a marriage license (around $30-60), have a licensed officiant sign the paper, and that’s it – you’ve eloped for less than the cost of dinner and a movie. Of course, going that route means you won’t have photos to celebrate the day, and the experience is over in as many moments as it takes you both to sign on the dotted line.
For the sake of this breakdown, we’re going to be discussing the costs of an elopement celebration, where you take the time to appreciate and document this special moment in your life where you commit to marrying your partner. We don’t believe an elopement is the “cheap” version of a wedding – eloping couples deserve just as much love, care, and joyous celebration as those who have a traditional wedding! It just so happens that crafting an authentic personalized elopement is often cheaper than a wedding, and your budget goes farther toward the kind of celebration you want.
eloping on a budget
The average elopement celebration costs $7,200-$16,500.
How did we get that number?
Why is there such a huge range in the average cost? We’ve got to be honest with you – there are very few comprehensive studies done to discover the average cost of an elopement….One reason for that lack of data might be there is still no set-in-stone comprehensive understanding of what a modern elopement is! Some people still believe you eloped only if you ran off to the courthouse in secret, and others think there must not have been guests present. Still others believe a small wedding ceremony counts as an elopement. So, to discover the average cost of an elopement we looked to the vendors. We scoured the internet to see what vendors were included in hundreds of elopement blogs, and we determined what amenities the average couple included in their elopement. Then, we searched for as many vendors as we could and crafted a list of average costs for those amenities. If couples spend the average cost for the average amenities for their elopement celebration, that number comes to around $7,200-$16,500. Of course, what matters the most to you as you craft your elopement experience will determine how aligned with your budget and goals this list is.
One of the biggest limitations to determining the budget of the average elopement is travel costs. It’s impossible for us to guess whether you’re hoping to elope in a different state, a different country, or a different continent. A couple eloping near their hometown might only spend a few dollars on fuel to get to their elopement destination, and then return to their own home that evening. Couples who travel to a destination for their elopement can spend thousands of dollars just on flights and accommodation. Based upon our experience traveling to hundreds of elopements all over the world, we have a decent grasp on the cost of flights and hotels – we’ve included the average cost of travel to accommodate 0-2 plane tickets and 1-2 nights in a rental. Keep reading to see the breakdown for an average elopement –
What is the Average Elopement Budget?
Travel: $500 – $2,000
Attire: $500 – $3,400
Officiant: $450 – $800
Bouquet: $150 – $300
Photographer: $4,600 – $10,000
*most elopement photographers also serve as planners
Wedding Planner (optional): $1000-$4000
We didn’t include food & drink and videography as additional costs for two reasons. First, many examples we discovered when searching hundreds of elopement blogs did not obviously include a videographer or a specified meal. Often there would be photos of popped champagne or a picnic, but a large percentage of elopements we came across didn’t list or designate a meal as part of their celebration. While looking for an “average” amongst elopement celebrations, we also had to acknowledge there are a lot of vendors offering timelines that only last a few hours, which negates the need for a meal. Most elopements we photograph at Adventure Instead are all-day celebrations, and we believe couples deserve as much time to celebrate as they want! There is no need to rush through your vows and photos in a couple hours just because you’re eloping just the two of you. If you’re curious what a full-day elopement looks like, read about all-day timelines HERE.
As elopements have become more common forms of marriage celebrations, there are more and more vendors offering elopement-specific services, as well as new minimums. Right now, there are a lot more elopement photographers on the internet than videographers, or vendors are offering both services as a package deal. We aren’t saying videography isn’t a valuable addition to your elopement, but when going through blogs for this cost analysis – undoubtedly the most common vendor at an elopement is a photographer, which is why photography was included in the above budget.
Let’s break down those elopement costs
starting with the cost of the attire.
The cost of a wedding dress and suit (the average combo in many vendor lists, though of course not the only wedding attire options) had quite the range of prices. Wedding dresses alone can cost tens of thousands of dollars, though the average cost of a new dress was between $3,000 – $6,000. However, many dresses worn for elopements are less structured and easier to move in than full ballgown-style wedding attire. As a result, eloping couples who wore dresses paid for designs that are listed around $3,000 new, from brands that are known for crafting comfortable attire. Of course, there are rental options and secondhand stores selling perfectly lovely dresses for as low as a couple hundred dollars. Suit rentals often come in at noticeably lower prices – $150 and up. Purchasing a new suit averaged closer to $500-$700. Something we noticed while researching this was the distinct marketing difference between traditionally male and female attire. Dresses are heavily marketed for purchase, whereas suits are marketed for rent. The cost difference between these two market strategies is telling, and shows a significant push toward leading dress-wearers to expect to spend more on their wedding clothes than suit-wearers. Obviously, you can choose to rent or buy and neither option is better than the other.
Whether or not you budget for an officiant or celebrant depends on the type of elopement you want! Whether you’re getting legally married during your elopement will determine whether you need a licensed official to perform your ceremony. If you’ve already signed the papers, or plan to later, you can have an elopement without needing an officiant – this is often referred to as a commitment ceremony. But if you’re eloping in a destination or going for a hiking adventure to reach your ceremony spot, you’ll also need to bring along an officiant ready to adventure with you! There are a handful of elopement officiants who we’ve worked with before that are ready and willing to reach that summit with you, or any of us photographers can sign in states that acknowledge our online officiant registration ourselves.
If you want to get legally married during your elopement, it’s totally possible – we’ll just talk about the logistics to make sure we do it right!
The cost of flowers and decor for your elopement will be significantly less than the cost of decor for a traditional wedding. Instead of centerpieces for a dozen tables, you’ll only need a single bouquet! Actually, you don’t need any flowers, but we’re big fans of couples who hike with bouquets in their backpacks – it’s an adventure elopement aesthetic that makes us smile every time! Make sure you choose a florist who either crafts sustainable bouquets from reusable materials, or is willing to work with you to build a collection of flowers from native and non-invasive species.
Photography is often the most expensive thing on a couple’s elopement budget. Why? Well, we’re definitely biased – but photographs are one of the most important parts of your experience! Especially if you’re not inviting many guests, the collection of images documenting your day will be the sole record of your epic adventure. As much as we want to remember everything, time fades our memories. Years from now you’ll be able to look back at your photos and relive one of the best days of your life and share the experience visually with your loved ones. No other vendor on this list is as involved as your photographer, which is why it’s so important to find one you connect with and trust to help craft this important day.
Elopement photographers are also often planners and guides—like us! We added in planners as an optional cost although many photographers also serve as planners throughout the elopement process. We here at Adventure Instead wanted to make planning your day a priority and as fun as possible! Our in-house planner is there from the very beginning to help you choose a location, acquire permits, and guide you through every step of your wedding day planning to ensure to the best of our abilities that you have a fantastic time!
Essentially, an elopement can cost as little or as much as you want it to. A full-day celebration is likely going to be over $10,000 with all the vendors listed above, but that’s still $24,000 less than the average traditional wedding! Just imagine what you can do with those funds – go on an epic honeymoon, get a downpayment on a house, or elope in Antarctica (yes, it’s possible)! If you’re curious how over $20,000 gets spent on a traditional wedding, while usually not being as epic a celebration, we’ll break it down below!
Cost of a Traditional Wedding vs. An Elopement
Many couples we’ve worked with said they chose to elope because they value experiences over things. A traditional wedding didn’t align with their vision or goals – financial beliefs often being one of those reasons! Thousands of dollars is a lot of money to spend, and how we spend our money is a direct reflection of what means the most to us.
If providing a catered meal to your extended family and friends is your dream wedding, then that’s what you should do! But if that’s not your ideal wedding day, and if you’re appalled by the average 400 pounds of trash produced at a wedding (most of it food waste & single-use plastics) – elope instead! You’ll be investing in a low-waste experience that has been crafted to align with your goals, rather than literally throwing money away at the end of a long and stressful traditional wedding.
If you’re currently budgeting for your wedding and wondering how you can stretch each dollar the farthest, remember that quality is more important than quantity. Your goal shouldn’t be to fit as many people at your wedding tables as possible, it should be how to provide the best possible experience for those you do want to celebrate with! Whether you elope just you and your partner, or you bring along a small group of close friends and family, the time you get to spend with those specially-chosen individuals is worth so much more than trying to make the rounds and say hello to distant relatives you barely know. While the idea of getting everyone you wish you could see in one room for your wedding sounds great in theory, the value of the time you can spend with that many people is low. Instead, invest in your wedding day as a moment to spend quality time with your partner. After all, a wedding should be ultimately about the two people getting married – and your budget will be best spent if it’s an investment in honoring and celebrating your relationship above all else.
Average Cost of a Wedding: $34,000
What You Get:
A venue to host 150-300 guests
Catering for 150-300 guests
Photography and/or videography
Wedding attire and adornments
Decor for ceremony & reception locations
Officiant or celebrant
Music from a band or DJ
A planner to keep track of everything
A rushed timeline with little or no time with your partner
An experience steeped in tradition, whether you identify with it or not
Average Cost of an Elopement: $10,000
What You Get:
A bouquet & other personal details
An epic experience & adventure with your partner
A personally crafted authentic celebration that aligns with your values
They say time flies when you’re having fun, but we think a more accurate phrase to apply to weddings would be that time flies when you’re too busy.
We’ve seen too many traditional weddings where the couple at the end of the day realized they were too busy hosting to spend time together, relax, or eat! Your wedding day is one of those days you don’t want to fly by – you want to stop and enjoy each moment together and feel the excitement of this commitment you’re making. You don’t want to invest thousands of dollars into a day that passes in the blink of an eye before you can truly enjoy yourself!
Choosing to elope instead of host a traditional wedding will give you and your partner the opportunity to intentionally plan time to celebrate together. You can say your vows to each other without feeling the pressure of a production for your guests. You can toast champagne to the future without a microphone in front of your face. You can enjoy a dinner together without being interrupted by friends from high school who want to say hello. You can be together without the distractions of hosting the biggest party you’ve ever thrown.
Ultimately, the value of your wedding day is what you make of it. What matters the most to you isn’t going to be the same for other couples who are getting married. What you value won’t even be the same thing for those who would be guests at your traditional wedding. We can’t speak for what a wedding is worth to you, but we will always advocate that you invest in what you want. We are firm believers in couples celebrating their marriage however is most authentic and true to them, and that’s something only you can decide for yourself.
Why You Should Invest in Your Elopement
This is your one day! The one day to have the wedding experience of your dreams and craft a moment you’ll be able to look back on with happiness for the rest of your life. That’s why you deserve to invest in your elopement. Remember, you can invest in your elopement without spending more money.
Invest in your elopement by:
- Substituting things you don’t want for experiences you’ve been dreaming of.
- Saying “no, thank you” to distractions that will take away from your time together as a couple.
- Spending the time to ask the hard questions, to dig deep and discover your true desires.
- Giving yourself the freedom to plan an authentic experience without feeling guilty for breaking tradition.
Investing in your elopement is choosing to be honest with yourself! There is no “correct” amount of money to spend on your wedding celebration, and we firmly believe you should never spend more than you’re comfortable with. Elopements can cost as much or as little as you want. Ultimately, elopements often cost less money than traditional weddings. However, the value of an authentic elopement will be greater than a traditional wedding that doesn’t feel true-to-you, no matter how much money you spend.
“If I wasn’t trying to meet anyone else’s expectations, what kind of wedding would I plan?”
The Cost of Your Wedding Has No Effect on the Value of Your Wedding
A wedding day where you can feel free to be yourself, without the performative pressure of hosting a celebration with hundreds of guests, is worth so much more than we can put in any budget! How can we put a financial number on happiness? Don’t undervalue the importance of authenticity when you start planning your wedding, because a true-to-you celebration will ultimately be more satisfying than a day where you’re prioritizing other’s expectations.
The fact is, someone is always going to be disappointed in the way you choose to plan your wedding. Try as you might, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. Make sure at the end of the night that you aren’t the person disappointed in your own celebration! Weddings have this way of bringing out everyone’s opinions, and you can find yourself listening to a lot of noise if you don’t block out those other voices at some point during your planning process. Ask yourself this – “If I wasn’t trying to meet anyone else’s expectations, what kind of wedding would I plan?” Your answer to that question is more important than venues, catering, dresses, suits, or anything else.
The cost of eloping isn’t just about where you spend that hard earned cash. The value of an elopement is in crafting a true-to-you wedding experience that you’re proud of – a marriage celebration that aligns with your values and fulfills you! The financial cost can run the gammut depending on where you want to elope, what activities you choose to partake in, and a number of other factors that are personalized to your unique vision. Ultimately, it’s 100% up to you what you spend, but the dollar amount has no effect on the value of your wedding day. Choosing an elopement where you’re free to be yourself and spend time with your partner while committing you lives to each other – that is a priceless experience.
So, are you ready to throw out the stressful plans in exchange for a true-to-you elopement?
We want to help! Contact us and let’s start planning your dream marriage celebration!