Let’s face it: Big weddings aren’t for everyone! If the hassles of planning a ceremony and reception are too overwhelming for you — and you don’t want to hire someone to help — you may consider eloping. Not only is it an intimate way to start your marriage, but you could also end up saving a significant amount of money.
That said, there are certainly a few downsides to eloping. Even though eloping is often thought of as a spontaneous, last-minute decision, there are still several things that you’ll have to map out ahead of time.
But don’t stress! (Otherwise, what’s the point?). We’re here to help, with tips and advice to help you figure out everything you need to know about eloping.
Why You Should Elope
Point-blank, weddings are expensive. In 2017, the average U.S. wedding cost a whopping $33,391, and that doesn’t even include the honeymoon! The amount of money couples spend eloping varies — especially when the options range from a local courthouse wedding (which only run $25-$75) to an adventurous getaway to the Bahamas — but you’re more than likely going to spend less than you would on a wedding.
Take it from these real couples who eloped, according to LearnVest:
Bernadette & Anthony:
“Since the only money we spent was $10 on the marriage certificate, we had the financial freedom to take off on a dream honeymoon to the Caribbean two days later,” Bernadette said. “We spent a week lounging on a private terrace, enjoying butler service, eating five-star food and soaking up an utterly blissful honeymoon. The trip cost us way less than a traditional wedding — $3,000, which we paid for in cash.”
SEE MORE: Your Guide to Traditional Wedding Vows
Anna & Étienne:
“Étienne and I agreed that the financial burden, plus the all-around stress of a traditional wedding, wasn’t something we wanted,” Anna said. “I called my parents in Minnesota last summer and told them we were getting married two weeks later at City Hall — and, aside from two of our friends-slash-witnesses, weren’t inviting any guests.
The original plan was to go out to lunch afterward and call it a day, but after talking to my mom, we decided to do one get-together with our New York friends and another at home in Minneapolis. Étienne is a wine director at a local restaurant, so we did the first party there and had about 65 guests. Between food, wine, labor and supplies, the whole thing cost us just over $2,200, which we covered in cash. It was honestly the most amazing and laid-back night — exactly what we wanted!
Our Minneapolis celebration is going to be a small backyard party that my parents are largely gifting us. (They’re supplying the food and drinks; we’re paying for the cocktail tables, linens and invites, which is setting us back about $200.) Forgoing a traditional wedding has saved us at least $7,000 — money we eventually plan to use on a down payment on an apartment.”
Beth & Jake:
“Eloping in 2014 easily saved us at least $10,000. Jake and I have big families, so hosting a traditional ceremony and reception would have been way out of our budget. (We would have either had to borrow money from family or go into debt to make it happen.) So we made plans to elope on our four-year anniversary,” Beth said. “After my brother got ordained online, we met up at our home with two close friends to witness us signing our marriage certificate. And just like that, we were husband and wife!
Jake and I celebrated with a weeklong camping trip at a local park. From start to finish, the whole thing cost us about $150. We funneled our massive savings into our travel fund and honeymooned on a little beach in Nicaragua shortly after. Instead of stressing over planning and paying for a wedding, we spent a week surfing and backpacking in paradise. In total, the trip set us back roughly $1,500, which we saved bit by bit beforehand to avoid going into debt.”
You can exchange your vows anywhere. Unlike location weddings, which are costly even before you consider that your friends and family will have to pay for flights and hotels, elopements are typically just you and your S.O. As a result, the options are limitless.
Since elopements tend to just be between the two people getting married, couples can focus on themselves rather than their wedding guests.
“As the waves crashed behind us, we faced each other and began to say the vows we wrote. Even though they were for our ears only, I felt the literal weight of our words as we said them,” wrote Sasha Vasilyuk, who eloped in Barbados. “Solemnly vowing to be there for each other carried a tremendous significance, and doing so without the distraction of the performance of a ceremony made it that much more real.
In the end, our intimate little ceremony was the sole focus of our big day. With no guests to entertain and no cake to cut, our vows didn’t get lost in the myriad of wedding planning decisions that a couple typically has to make. During our private dinner under the stars, I realized that feeling like you’re the only two people in the room is infinitely more special when you actually are.”
This one’s a given — no choosing table arrangements, no wrangling bridesmaids, and most importantly, no meltdowns from trying to please everyone. Plus, studies show that couples who spend less on their wedding are more likely to have longer-lasting marriages than those who splurge. By no means does eloping guarantee a happy marriage, but think about it this way: you’ll be entering a marriage with less debt, which is pretty significant since money is one of the things couples fight about the most.
How You Can Elope
1. Who you want to attend (if anyone)
Whether it’s your parents, a few friends, or no one at all, decide who you want to invite. This also applies to people like photographers and officiants.
2. Who you want to tell
…and when you want to tell them. A lot of couples send marriage announcements after their elopement to people they’re not as close with. But even if you don’t invite your family and close friends, you should probably tell them beforehand.
“Know that not everyone is going to support your decision, and be prepared for their reactions. I recommend telling your parents before you elope to minimize hurt feelings and surprises after the fact,” Lindsey Nickel told BRIDES. “And try to find a way to involve your closest friends and family somehow — whether that’s sharing photos with them first or maybe hosting a post-marriage reception.
But, shocking your closest friends and family with a social media announcement is a huge no-no: Make sure to tell them in person and if anyone feels hurt or left out, a handwritten note can go a long way.”
3. What type of elopement you want
Again, the options for eloping are limitless. You and your S.O. can go to city hall; pick a location and bring an officiant; head to Colorado or Pennsylvania since couples can self-solemnize their marriages in these states; and more. Regardless of what you choose to do, it’s important that you take care of all the legal requirements. USMarriagelaws.com breaks all of these down state-by-state. If you’re heading abroad, check out this site for critical information.
Make sure you have everything on this list that’s applicable to your elopement:
- Legal documentation (get more info on Marriage Licenses here)
- Bride’s dress/outfit with shoes
- Groom’s suit/outfit with shoes
- Hair and makeup tools
- Flower bouquet/Boutonnière
- Plans for afterward (dinner reservations, party, etc.)
Whether you decide to elope or throw the intimate wedding of your dreams, make sure you have the best day ever!