If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you’re engaged, planning your wedding and wondering what the cost of elopements are compared to the 100+ person wedding you might have started planning. Or maybe you always knew you wanted to elope or keep your wedding small but you’re wondering why it feels so expensive. This post is packed with helpful insight on determining a budget with some real case studies of elopement budgets from my actual couples.
Lots of couples decide that they want to go with an elopement because they want to save money on their wedding. Generally, larger weddings do have larger budgets, but it’s important to remember that the amount you spend on your elopement isn’t determined as much by the guest size of your day as it is by the experience you want to have.
The Cost of an Elopement vs a Big Wedding Budget
They way you allocate your elopement budget is going to vary somewhat drastically from how a typical wedding budget get’s divvied up.
With a traditional big wedding budget, you tend to set aside about 50% of your budget for venue & catering, 10% of your budget for the planner, 5% each for your other big vendors (photographer, DJ, florist, attire), and the remaining 20% is divided up among the incidentals like invitations, favors, gifts, etc.
With an elopement budget, you might easily spend 30% or more of your budget on your elopement photographer or planner and only 5% on your food.
The best advice I have for any couple planning an elopement is to design the day around the budget, not the other way around. If you only have $10,000 for your wedding, prioritize what your must have vendors and costs are, then figure out what additions you could bring to your day with the remainder.
Creating an elopement budget
Elopement budgets have different expense categories than conventionally larger weddings. Instead of paying for a venue with catering you might be hiking a mountain and having a DIY picnic. This section will identify some of the common vendor expense types eloping couples spend their budget on.
This is going to be one of the biggest expenses of your elopement budget. Most elopement photographers do more than take photos. Unless you hire a specific elopement planner, your photographer is going to be your point person. They make recommendations about locations, timelines, other vendors… they’re literally your go-to person for your elopement.
Which is why they don’t come cheap. In general, elopement photographers view your elopement day as hugely significant and just as deserving of the same kind of coverage as a big wedding, which is why so many offer full day elopement coverage.
Full-on elopement planners are a rare spend for eloping couples, but depending on the type of elopement you want to have they can be lifesavers! If you’re eloping across the country or across the world, having a planner specifically dedicated to your elopement can save you so much time and stress. A planner’s service includes a lot of the tasks that your elopement photographer might take on, but they also include more hands on and in-depth planning services. Things like helping keep you on budget and on time are among the top!
This one is also pretty straightforward. You’re going to need to wear SOMETHING, right? 😉 You can go two ways with this. The first is a traditional wedding dress boutique and suit rental/purchase. Or you can hit up some of the online stores like Lulu’s or Azazie for more affordable wedding dresses and buy inexpensive suit pieces from the department store. Whatever you do, make sure it’s comfortable.
Don’t forget there’s also accessories, mainly the rings!
Hair & Make-up
This is a category that’s optional. Maybe you’re super awesome at doing your hair and make-up… or maybe you’re super low maintenance… or maybe you’re just feeling like you want to be totally pampered, the choice is yours.
I would definitely say flowers are optional for your elopement. If you do decide you want them, you can go ultra-thrifty from the grocery store, mid-range with a silk flower arrangement, or more luxe with a decadent live-flower bouquet. One thing you need to consider is if there are restrictions on florals at your chosen location. Some popular elopement spots don’t allow any live flowers or they must be native species.
Lodging & Travel
If you’re not eloping locally, you are likely going to spend a decent amount on the trip. It could be gas for a cross country road trip or airfare. Maybe you’re staying at a posh hotel or funky AirBnB.
Another aspect of this expense is an travel fees your vendors may have. If you’re eloping in a very remote area, it may cost you more to get vendors to get out there.
Yes, you DO need to eat on your elopement day. You may not be contracting a caterer to feed a bunch of guests, but you do need to think about what you want to do for eating on your elopement day. If you’re going to be in the wilderness, pack a fun picnic! Maybe you and your spouse want to go out to eat in your wedding clothes or you could have a romantic night in with a private chef. There are lots of ways to go hear, and the price points run the gambit.
Location Rental Fees & Permits
If you’re eloping at a city hall or anywhere else that isn’t your private property, there may be a rental fee to use the space even if it’s only for a short period of time. If you’re eloping on public land (e.g. municipal, state or national parks) then there’s a good chance that there’s some kind of permit fee.
Helicopter tours, chartered boats, Jeep excursions, hot air balloon rides, sky-diving, etc. Having these kinds of activities on your elopement day can really help make the day feel special and stand out. But all of them are going to have some kind of cost associated with them, and you need to remember that you’ll have to cover the cost of bringing any of your on-site vendors with you (mainly your photographer).
Marriage License & Celebrant
This one’s pretty straight forward. If you want to be legally married, there’s some things you gotta do. You need to obtain your marriage license, generally in the town where your elopement will take place. So if you’re eloping in a place that isn’t local to you, build in some extra travel days to acquire your marriage license. Most, but not all, places don’t have a waiting period for out-of-state applications, but it’s important to double check this with your celebrant.
Oh yeah, you will also need to have a celebrant who is legally able to perform your marriage and sign the license, making the marriage valid. Sometimes your photographer can be your celebrant, but there may be extra steps involved for them to officiate in your chosen elopement location.
So how much does an elopement cost?
The budgets listed below are taken from real client elopements I’ve worked on.
- AirBnB Lodging 2 nights: $180
- Photographer: $5000
- Dress: $2900
- Suit: owned by the groom
- Vow Books: $30
- Location Ticket Fees: $150
- Rings: $1000+
- Marriage License: $35
- Picnic supplies: $125
- Mansion Rental: $500
- Photographer + Planner: $9000
- Thrifted Dress + Custom Alterations: $160
- Suit: $125
- Handfasting Cords: $50
- Florals: $150
- Charcuterie: $175
- Tableware: $100
- Vow Books: $30
- Stationery: $125
- Afterparty Venue Rental: $1000
The big thing about the cost of elopements is that yes, they are more affordable than big weddings, but they can still be expensive for the quality of the experience you want to have. Eloping couples tend to spend more in line with their values for the day, meaning that some things are DIY or scrapped altogether but they’ll splurge in other areas, like activities and the documentation of the day. Even in the examples above you can see huge discrepancies in similar categories.
The cost of elopements tend to be between $5000 and $15,000 and depends entirely on what the couple wants to incorporate into their day.