The word “budget” can mean different things to different people, especially regarding weddings. And this can be a point of stress for many couples, which is why many choose to elope. So, it’s essential to remember what is important to you and your partner while creating a budget for your elopement. It all comes down to: Spend money on things that matter to you.
In my experience couples who choose to elope are spending an average of $30,000. To put it in perspective, for a traditional wedding $30k will get you a photographer, an okay venue, your dress/suit, and your food. Whereas for an elopement, $30k will get you an experience, and your ;). This includes travel to and from, a 3-4 night stay at some epic location, a high-end photographer who will help you plan, an adventure of your lifetime (i.e., ATV rides, helicopter or horseback rides, etc.), and much more.
According to the 2020 Brides American Wedding Study, couples save a lot of money when they choose to elope compared to a traditional wedding. The biggest savings is the venue; on average couples can spend between $5,000 and $10,000 on the venue alone. Never mind all the decorations, food, and drinks. Instead of choosing a grand ballroom to get married in, you can opt for a lake or mountain top instead, which is typically free!
Whatever the reason you plan on eloping, whether for the grand views or the adventure, you still need to make a budget for your elopement. But, don’t worry! I have all the tips and tricks for you to plan the perfect adventure for you and your partner.
Steps in Planning an Elopement on a Budget
Many people decide to elope because of the astronomical cost of a traditional wedding. But if you are not careful an elopement can easily become more expensive. So, it is important to remember what you need to plan in your budget for an elopement.
Step 1: Write down EVERYTHING you could possibly want in your perfect/ideal elopement, regardless of the cost. Sit down as a couple and begin brainstorming. This is your chance to dream big and allow your inner child to be free. Don’t limit yourself!
Step 2: Highlight everything on this non-negotiable list for you both. What are your must haves? What you’ve always pictured as being a part of your wedding day? From the list you just made, begin cutting things that are not really important to you both, and start working your way to a smaller list. When you are working on your list consider your five senses. What do you want your day to feel, smell, look, taste, and even sound like? Think about the memories you want to create once your adventure ends. Once you figure this out, ask yourself, “How do I achieve this?” and go from there. If there is nothing on your list you can imagine cutting and you feel like you nailed it on round one, then BAM! You’ve got your budget.
Step 3: Pick your location. This will play a huge role in your budget, not only because of travel and possible permits, but also because depending on the location, you might not need any decorations or a venue. If you are stuck at this step, move on to step four and ask for help. For inspiration, here is an article on the cheapest locations (US and International) to elope.
Step 4: Choose your photographer. Typically, the largest expense for elopements is your photographer. But choosing the right one will be like choosing your best friend, elopement planner, travel agent, and photographer all in one. A good photographer can help you choose your ideal location, help with your budget, and aid in your travel plans. Don’t know what a good elopement photographer looks like, check out this resource!
Before I became a photographer, I worked for the National Park Service in 9 different parks and 6 states, so when I say I am an expert in National Parks, you know I’m telling the truth. After that, I became a photographer and have shot dozens of elopements nationwide. All of this to say, I am here to help! So, reach out, because this is what I do.
Step 5: Begin Planning your elopement on your new budget.
A Quick Look at Your Expenses
Below is a rough estimate of various services and vendors and on average how much they will cost for an elopement. Remember that many of these can be cut or reduced; see below for easy budget hacks.
Décor: $100 +
Meal for two: $100-$300
Nine Easy Ways to Save Money on Your Elopement
- Lodging. Do you plan on incorporating your Airbnb into your wedding day or pictures? Or do you plan on spending much time here between events? Then, you might want to skip to number 2. But if you said no to any of the above, you can save money by choosing a smaller Airbnb, a less cute one without a view, or simply a hotel room.
- Location. Do you picture a small ceremony overlooking a beautiful lake or mountain (or both!)? Do you care if you have a few extra bystanders to celebrate with you? Do you picture saying your vows in a National Park or State Park? Or do you want something a little more private? All of these are questions to ask yourself when choosing your location. It will be cheaper to elope in a National Park or a State Park, but you are almost guaranteed a few extra witnesses.
- Attire. Wedding dresses and suits can be costly whether you have a traditional wedding or an elopement. But it does not have to be. Here is a list of vendors that offer a budget-friendly wedding attire option: JJ’s House, Azazi.com, Lulus, Davids Bridal, Asos, and Indochino. In addition to the garment, you can save some money using hiking boots or outerwear you already own. And if you are looking for a bit more of an adventure wedding, here is a list of recommended gear.
- Limit your guest count. This might seem obvious… I mean you are eloping after all! But the fewer people who attend your wedding and the festivities the fewer meals and drinks you will have to budget for. But there are other ways to get around this, like a potluck-style or buffet-style wedding reception. If you still want to incorporate your friends and family into your elopement, check out this article on how to do just that while still having your elopement.
- Travel Deals. There are many sites to help you find affordable flights, like Scotts Cheap Flights or FairDrop. Both websites offer free and paid versions to help you find affordable plane tickets. Other options are to set up alerts on Google Flights or Hooper. You can also look for early bird airfare and hotel deals by looking early and often. Other sites like Skyscanner will help you figure out when the cheapest time to fly is. Pro tip #1: when searching for flights, use an incognito browser so the prices don’t increase the more you look at them. Pro tip #2: buying tickets directly through the airline is always easier and better than through a third-party site like Hooper.
- Consider a weekday elopement. Saturdays are the most popular day to get married, therefore they will be the most expensive. A plus, there will be fewer crowds to watch you! Many vendors will offer a weekday discount so don’t forget to ask about this when inquiring.
- Officiant. If you plan on an international elopement, consider getting legally married in your hometown/state before (or after). This will save you time and money when looking for an officiant. An added benefit is having a more intimate ceremony with your loved ones and photographer. Or you can ask one of your friends/family members to officiate for you. If this does not sound like something you want, check out my elopement packages, I offer affordable and customizable officiant services with my photography packages (my partner is ordained, and I will pimp him out to benefit my couples).
- Or consider getting married in Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Mane, Nevada, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, where you do not need an officiant to get married. Check out this article by Adventure Instead on how to self-solemnize your marriage in these states.
- Take Something Borrowed to the next level. Consider borrowing items from friends and family that mean something to you. Borrow your friend’s faux bouquet, alter your mom’s dress, try on your father’s suit, borrow your grandma’s jewelry, etc. This might not be for everyone, but thinking outside the box of everything new can help you save some money.
The Most Budget-Friendly Places for an Elopement
Sometimes, you can do everything right to have a budget, but you break the bank because of your location. Below are some of the cheapest places to travel to and from in the US and internationally, in no particular order, without compromising on the views or the experience.
- Lake Tahoe
- British Virgin Islands
- Oregon Forest
- Montana Mountains
- California Coast
- Washington State
- Niagara Falls
- South Africa
- Dominican Republic
- The Greek Islands
- Eastern Sierras
- Most National Parks
To name a few.
The best thing about elopements is they are fully customizable. You can make them as elaborate or simple as you wish without breaking the budget. However, before you begin planning you must sit down to figure out what both of you want for your elopement. Simple right? If you still have questions on how to plan an elopement on a budget or feeling stuck, reach out to me here and I can help you.