February 2, 2021
This isn’t a blog meant to convince you to elope – no, this an unbiased breakdown of the financial costs of eloping versus having a traditional wedding. Personally, I don’t think one is better than the other. However, if you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to decide which kind of celebration best suits your goals, your budget, and your preferences. Well, I hope you’ll find some answers to these questions below!
Hi! I’m Marissa – a wedding industry disruptor who wants to see to it that all couples feel welcome, all body shapes are celebrated, and that couples know they can plan their special day however they want! I believe wholeheartedly that each love story is unique, so the day you marry your love should reflect that. Whether you feel most yourself in the forest, in a beachfront cabin, or in the comfort of your own home, I’ll be there to capture your love story in its truest form.
Keep reading and you’ll see a complete breakdown of both the average cost of an elopement, and the average cost of a wedding. Of course, depending on the celebration, every single couple is going to plan their day a little differently. But no matter what you do, there are a few things that stay the same – food, location, attire, decor, and photography. By explaining why “average” budgets sit within a certain range, you’ll be better prepared to realistically view your own budget and make plans accordingly.
Let’s get started!
What your elopement might cost is totally dependent upon what you want to do and where to want to go. For the sake of trying to compare and contrast the price differences between weddings and elopements, the following budget is going to assume you’ll elope in your home country. Many couples who elope choose to go on an adventure, but plenty also stay close to home! If you personally don’t want to travel, simply subtract “travel costs” from the list below. I’ll explain later how a destination elopement can actually still be cheaper than a traditional wedding, but includes more variables that could alter the price.
Let’s set the scene – You’re from Portland, Oregon and planning to fly into Denver, Colorado to spend a weekend in a cabin and elope in Rocky Mountain National Park. How much will you spend on this elopement?
Elopement Budget (Price Estimates)
Round-Trip Flights (2): $600
Rental Car (3 Days): $550
Cabin Rental (2 Nights): $350
Event Permit: $250
Marriage License: $30
Extras (Fuel, Snacks, Etc.): $250
Total Elopement Cost: $7480 ($5980 w/out travel)
Yes, there are ways to shift this budget in different directions. You could do your own hair and makeup, saving $300. You could rent your attire, saving hundreds of dollars. You could choose to stay an extra week and honeymoon at your cabin, adding probably $1000 to the cost of your rental. You could even elope in Colorado, which allows self-solemnization and then you don’t need an officiant! This is simply a guideline for planning your budget – the most important thing is that your budget is something you’re comfortable with and prioritizes what is most important to you & your partner.
How to Plan Your Wedding Budget
There are plenty of “average wedding cost” blogs on the internet if you look hard enough. There aren’t many breakdowns of the cost of eloping, which is what makes this blog so unique. The Knot is one of the biggest wedding planning websites, and every year they publish what is considered to be one of the most accurate studies of the cost of a wedding in the U.S. According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. in 2019 was $33,900. Nearly $34k is VERY different from the nearly $8k for a U.S. elopement. But, let’s look at what you get with that $34k…
Let’s set the scene: You’re from Portland, Oregon and planning a wedding at a venue just outside the city. You are inviting around 200 guests, and you’re also going to have a small wedding party. A lot of family is driving in from close by, but a few family members are flying in and you’ve decided to put them up in a hotel by your wedding venue. How much will it cost you to have this wedding?
Wedding Budget (Price Estimates)
Venue (Ceremony & Reception): $5000
Catering ($30/person): $6000
Beverage Services: $1000
Hotel Rooms (10): $1000
Marriage License: $60
Total Wedding Cost: $27,310
Not to mention every single wedding budget “planner” I found while doing research for this blog suggesting an additional 5% cushion for miscellaneous expenses. That’s an additional $1400 just for the things you haven’t even thought of yet! The cost estimates here are actually lower than the average wedding cost in the U.S but closer to the average cost of weddings in Oregon ($22,400 in 2019). So, which should you choose? An elopement, or a wedding? Well, if the finances are one of the most important deciding factors, it’s a pretty obvious choice. However, what you and your partner value is a priceless part of deciding what style of wedding is better for YOU!
If what you value is time to celebrate with family and friends, and you have the financial capital to bring in vendors who will help you do so many of the logistical things, plan a wedding! If you’d prefer to put your budget toward your location, and you want more control over the details of your day, an elopement might be more aligned with your goals. There’s no wrong choice if you feel confident in your decision.
So many blogs out there are trying to sway couples toward one style of wedding – that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to document YOUR day, whatever that looks like for you and your love! I believe there is so much power in being informed, so I want you to have all the tools and support you need when planning the day you say “I Do”. The wedding industry is made up of a lot of businesses who want to sell you something, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s important to me that you know this space is one where you can shut out the noise, be honest with yourself about what you want, and feel supported in planning a day that feels true to your unique love story.
I’ll never forget this quote from a past couple who summarized exactly my feelings about getting married, “Don’t feel pressured to do what is expected of you on your wedding day. Stay true to your vision and incorporate whatever feels right to your relationship. For us it was climbing down a small cliff to get married by a secluded rushing river then celebrating with take out Thai food and s’mores.” Take that last sentence and insert YOUR ideal day. Everyone’s priorities will be a little different, so at some point it might be good to step back, block out all the ideas and comparisons out there, and think about your perfect wedding day – what does it look like? Nothing is more valuable to your wedding plan than that vision!
Now that you have a good idea what an elopement budget and a wedding budget look like, it’s time to think seriously about what you value. What you get with a wedding budget is different from what you get with an elopement budget. I mentioned before that a destination elopement can shift your budget significantly, and you might decide to plan a day that costs as much as a wedding, but it’s the experiences you’ve invested in that give that day so much value.
When I first got engaged a few years back, my best friend gave me some of the best advice I still tell couples today: sit down with your partner and make a list of the 2 or 3 most important elements of the day you two marry – things you can’t imagine getting married without. Then, take a look at your budget and prioritize your spending on those 2 or 3 “can’t live without” things. For everything else, figure out how you can DIY, outsource, or find alternative options that fit within your budget. For me, photography was #1 on my list, so I had a strong say in our photographer pick. For my partner – his #1 was amazing food we could enjoy without any prep on our end, so he chose our caterer. We followed our hearts, and I’m so glad we did. Once we had both our top priorities, fitting the rest of our “wants” into our budget was easier! To figure out what is most important, consider the kind of day you want to experience. An example of things you might want to consider are stress, whether you want to stand in front of hundreds of people to say your vows, your financial situation, the location of your dream wedding ceremony, and the people you love dearly.
Just for the fun of it, let’s imagine you have the exact same budget for an elopement, or a wedding, and it’s equal to what we already determined you could plan that Portland wedding for ~ $27,000. What could you do with the additional money? Well, if you’re not paying for a venue & catering, you could invest in a travel experience halfway across the world! Or, you could plan a helicopter tour to take you to a remote location. Or, you could extend your elopement into an epic honeymoon and house yourself at a beautiful beach resort on an island! Perhaps save that money for a down payment on a house. The possibilities are endless, and the only limit is your imagination! Creating a budget for your wedding or elopement is such an incredibly personal decision. I can’t tell you what to value – no one can, except yourself.
Something many eloping couples (myself included) do to have the best of both worlds is plan an elopement and a reception. They exchange vows in an intimate setting, and then return home to a reception with friends and family at a time that is convenient for them. This is a great solution for those who want to include their loved ones in the celebration of their marriage, but they don’t want to sacrifice having an intimate ceremony somewhere beautiful. Maybe the idea of saying vows in front of a crowd stokes your social anxiety too much, but a dinner with a few dozen friends is perfectly fine. The cost of a reception can range wildly depending on the number of people you invite, the amount of time you’ll be there, and what you want to include. A reception could be just a couple dozen of your closest friends renting a room in a restaurant for the evening, or you could rent a reception hall and plan a wedding-size celebration minus the vow exchange.
To budget for an elopement and reception, first decide what kind of reception you want and think about when you might be available. For instance, an evening dinner, even at a reception hall, might be more accessible than an all-day wedding for those you want to include. You might not have to plan your reception on a weekend in the summer. Event centers often offer significant discounts for evenings-only, weekday, and off-season bookings. If your schedule is that flexible, consider taking advantage of those deals. Or, if you still want to have a big all-day reception on a Saturday in June, do it! No one says you have to be getting married that day! If you still want to celebrate BIG but elope just the two of you, you can 100% do that.
Planning a wedding day you’ll look back on happily is PRICELESS. Too many couples compromise or plan a wedding that ends up being different from their dream celebration, and that breaks my heart. I know there are a lot of expectations, traditions, and opinions out there. Couples are being constantly marketed this big, traditional wedding as the “ideal” they need to budget for. I’m going to go against the grain and tell you a truth about marriage – whatever wedding you plan, as long as it’s a day you enjoy, is LEGIT. Don’t let expectations push you into arguments, or turn an otherwise joyful moment into a stressful experience. You shouldn’t be more worried about decor than you are excited about saying, “I do.”
Flowers, appetizers, and lavish cakes do not a wedding make – your love, your commitment, and your dreams are what will make your wedding perfect. Yes, you will need to spend money to get married. But whether it’s $500 for a license and officiant, or $50,000 for an all-day party surrounded by your friends and family – neither is better than the other. As you craft your budget, consider the value of experiences over the cost of things. It’s definitely possible to have an epic budget elopement, or an affordable wedding. I’m here to help you plan, each step of the way, no matter what celebration is perfect for YOU.
Yes, elopements are cheaper than weddings. No, that does not mean an elopement is less valuable than a wedding. It is possible to plan a lavish elopement that costs more money than a wedding, and it is possible to plan a wedding that fits within any budget. Average costs don’t have to be representative of your budget, but they do make for a great place to start as you begin determining what makes the most sense for your relationship.
If you leave here with one lesson let it be this – the best marriage celebration is one that feels the most true-to-you and your love story.