Elopement vs Wedding - How much can you save? ·

Elopement vs Wedding – How much can you save?

There are lots of aspects about eloping to get excited about, but one of the most motivating reasons couples might choose to elope over hosting a traditional wedding is the cost. Overall, it is a lot less expensive to elope than to have a wedding.

In this post I’m going to share some of the actual prices I was quoted for my own 80 person wedding, and then compare them to a real, full day, destination elopement.

Obviously, you can expect price variation depending on your market, number of guests in attendance, and how you’d like to celebrate your marriage but hopefully this will give you a good baseline idea of what to expect when budgeting for an elopement or wedding, and for choosing whether saving money and eloping is right for you.

Eloping is a way to treat yourself, and still make practical financial choices.

The days when “eloping” meant “cheap wedding” are over. There’s a wide margin between the extravagant expense of a traditional wedding and how much a luxury elopement costs.

And I’m going to use real numbers to prove it to you!

Let’s say you are thinking about hosing a traditional wedding and hosting a reception during which a meal will be served. 

For this comparison I’m going to use the actual costs from my own backyard wedding with 80 guests and a sit down dinner. 80 was the absolute smallest we were able to manage between local friends, long term partners of guests, immediate family, one cousin, and a few aunts and uncles.

My Actual Wedding:Cost:
Food for 80 people (salad, rolls, two main dishes, and a side)$1,619.12 (~$20/person)

Reallocate Your Budget and Treat Yourself

If you take what you might spend just feeding your guests and allocate it to your elopement , you can completely cover not only your own travel expenses, but also a stay in a luxury hotel or extravagant airbnb, AND cover a private chef at your elopement.

Here are the numbers: 

Private Chef:~ $200 for two
Round Trip Flights:$602 ($301/person)
Fancy Airbnb for two nights:$475
Total =$1477 (saving $142.12)

The possibilities here are endless. Skip the private chef and make an epic grocery store run to stock up for the week on all of your fanciest favorites, or dine out at the nicest restaurant in town and STILL have money leftover.

And that’s just your food budget!

Let’s talk event space. I was surprised to find out that even though we hosted our wedding on our own land, we spent almost as much renting a tent (to provide shade and as a back up in case of rain) as we would have to rent a venue for the day. 

We also learned that the rental company wouldn’t rent us just tables and chairs without having a rain plan.

My Actual Wedding:
Tent and Rental Items (flatware, glassware, napkins, tables and chairs) $3,380.48

If you’re eloping this entire amount can be saved altogether, or you can put some of it towards having a bad ass experience on your wedding day. 

That could be:

Can you imagine having such a luxury elopement experience like that and still saving money!? It’s so possible!

Here’s the full cost breakdown between my actual wedding and a real, full day destination elopement:

My Actual Wedding
(80 guests)
A Real, Full Day Destination Elopement
Invitations & Thank you cards
$342Round Trip
Plane Tickets (2)
Tent and Rental Items$3,380.48Rental Car and Gas
(5 days)
Cupcakes$280Airbnb (5 nights)$998
Porta Potties$280Wedding Dress$329
Photographer$3,500Make up for Bride$200
Hair & Makeup
for Bride
$300Groom clothing$300
Flowers (bouquet &
table arrangements)
Groom Clothing$300
Wedding Dress$2,153
Dress Alterations$329
Misc (ice,
extension cords, buckets, etc)
Custom Party Favors (Etsy.com)$131.80
Total =$14,609.80Total = $7,527

So, how much does it cost to elope? That’s really up to you! Most elopements that I photograph have an overall budget of between $5,000 and $8,000. This includes photography, attire, and flowers. If you’re staying local, you can often find photography packages that begin at just $1000.

That’s a huge savings compared to the average wedding price in the United States (which is a whopping $33,900 according to a study by TheKnot)

And don’t forget, the real elopement budget we shared above covers expenses for a full 5 days- your entire destination elopement! That’s a huge difference in experience when you compare it to the cost incurred for just a single day.

Other ways to save money when planning an elopement

Wedding Dresses for Elopements

If you’re planning on adventuring (hiking, climbing, etc) on your wedding day, I would reconsider against spending $2,000-$3000 on a wedding dress and another $329 on alterations.

Check out this beautiful white dress from Lulus– pictured on two adventurous brides above- only $329 total! I’ve photographed this dress twice, for Emily’s elopement at Mt Rainier National Park, and Shelby’s winter elopement in Colorado, and it is just as stunning in person as it looks. You can’t beat the price and the best part about it is you don’t have to stress about getting your dress dirty!!

I loved my pricey Rue de Seine handmade lace wedding gown, but that price tag -and keeping the dress clean- was definitely on my mind when I wore it, even though I got also got a deal by buying a sample dress.

If I could do it over, I would definitely skip the worry and the expense and have something much more lightweight, flexible, and breathable. And if it gets dirty- who cares!?

Now, if you are comfortable with buying a Rue, I won’t talk you out of it- the makers are masters of design and every one of their dresses is a work of art. In the spirit of this entire exercise, you could comfortably have the budget for your dream designer wedding gown with all of the money you are saving by eloping! Treat yourself!

DIY Elopement Bouquet

A DIY elopement bouquet handmade by the bride.

Bouquets and floral arrangement are another area where it’s easy to make room. I’ve photographed plenty of DIY bouquets made by brides and grooms that didn’t have any prior experience in the craft!

You can spend $100 on a nice, professionally made bouquet that will last all day, and still be out ahead of the cost of outfitting an entire venue and table settings with floral arrangements.

Have a friend or family member officiate, or self-solemnize.

A friend officiates an elopement ceremony.

These days, becoming ordained is super easy and takes less than 2 minutes to do online. I’ve even done this myself through the Universal Life Church. It’s 100% free and is an accepted way to officiate weddings in most states, including Oregon.

Other states, such as Colorado, have provisions that allow you to self-officiate (“self-solemnize”) your own wedding. I’ve written more this topic here: Should You Have An Officiant for your Elopement?

So, what will you do with all the money you saved on your wedding?

Most couples I’ve surveyed are excited about these ways they are using their savings to:

  • Put a downpayment on a house
  • Renovate their current house
  • Go on an international honeymoon
  • Start a family
  • Invest in their business or continue their education
  • Or just feel good about the amount they spent on their wedding!

December 3, 2020

Wild Earth Weddings

You know, the one that always reminds you to bring extra socks on the overnight hike, and who definitely has the best podcasts queued up for the road trip.

From dreaming to planning, to the big day and after, I lend you my experience, my best ideas and inspiration, my favorite and most breathtaking locations, and the all cheering-on you need.

I create the space for you to feel easy, relaxed, and EXCITED as you treat yourselves to one heck of an adventure together.

More than epic photography

I believe that big weddings aren’t the right fit for everyone, and that your wedding day is an opportunity to do something different, something wild, and something completely unique.

I also believe that connecting with the earth connects you to your partner, and that wedding vows (and photos) are extra magical in the majestic landscapes of the American West.

Adventure Elopement Photographer + Wedding Wing-Woman

New Mexico













Oh Hey, It's Your New Best Friend, Cara!

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