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How Much Does It Cost To Elope?

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May 4, 2022

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Valerie Savercool

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HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO ELOPE

Maybe you know for sure that you want to elope. Or maybe you are still deciding whether an elopement or a traditional wedding is the right choice for you and your partner. Either way, you likely have one burning question — just how much does it cost to elope? Making a *realistic* budget for your elopement is a crucial first step in the planning process, but talking about money is hard. Trust us, we get it. So we’re going to break down exactly how much it costs to elope and go over some ideas on how to keep your elopement within your budget based on what your priorities are. Additionally, as an added bonus we’re going to break down what we spent on our own adventurous elopement in Alaska so you can see what this looks like for a real elopement.

Ready? Let’s go.

elopement budget

Nailing down exactly how much it costs to elope, or even what folks spend on average is difficult because there haven’t been as many nation-wide surveys as there have been for traditional wedding costs. But after having worked in the industry for five years, we’ve found a ballpark range that folks tend to spend on their elopement.

Most couples invest somewhere between $5,000-$15,000 on their elopement

This number of course varies wildly depending on a multitude of factors, such as:

  • Whether you are eloping locally or out of state (or abroad!)
  • Whether you are getting brand new, designer wedding attire vs. shopping used or alternative styles
  • If you plan on doing free or low-cost activities like hiking or picnicking, or wanting to splurge more on a big experience like a helicopter tour or sunset sail

WAIT….PEOPLE SPEND THAT MUCH ON ELOPEMENTS? | BUSTING SOME ELOPEMENT MYTHS

Before we break down where your elopement budget goes, we need to dispel some myths surrounding elopements. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know some of these things – elopements have changed drastically in the last five years or so. Not only that, but a lot of the advice around planning is still very much tailored to folks planning a traditional wedding (or written by traditional wedding planners or photographers.) So we’re here as your elopement specialists to clear up a few things 🙂

Myth 1: Elopements are a ‘cheap’ wedding alternative

Truth: Elopements are about re-prioritizing your wedding budget

While elopements certainly can be (and often are) less expensive than a traditional wedding, you might be surprised to hear that cost is not the primary reason that people choose to elope. Eloping is less about cutting costs and more about re-prioritizing the things that are most important to you. When you don’t have to book a huge venue and feed 100+ people, you can find yourself with room in your budget to do something extra special for your day. Things like getting married in a dream destination can be much more feasible when it’s just the two of you.

Myth 2: You have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a picturesque elopement

Truth: You can have a meaningful wedding experience with any budget

As adventure elopements become more popular, it’s easy to scroll through Instagram and think that you need to spend a ton of money and get married in an iconic ‘bucket list’ destination to have an elopement. But in our opinion, that misses the whole point of eloping. Elopements are an opportunity to strip away the ‘fluff’ and focus on what matters most — you and your partner committing yourselves to one another. Focus on what matters most to you and forget about the rest.

average elopement cost

Myth 3: Vendors charge extra just because the word ‘wedding’ is attached

Truth: Most wedding vendors are small business owners charging what they need to cover their cost of doing business and make a living wage

While there is a small kernel of truth to this one, we still disagree with it generally. You can certainly save money by buying some items outside of the wedding industry. (Think: a simple white dress from your favorite clothing store instead of a wedding dress shop, or your favorite treat from your local dessert shop.) However, for your top-priority vendors, it is crucial that you are hiring people who specialize in elopements. We don’t charge more ‘just because it’s a wedding.’ We promise. We charge what we do because there is a greater level of skill, experience, and responsibility required to serve you properly on your wedding day. An elopement hair and makeup artist, for example, needs to be able to ensure that your look will remain flawless the whole day. Your hair and makeup might even need to survive a hike or other adventurous activity. And they might even need to get started at 2am (yes, it happens!) if you’ve opted for a sunrise elopement.

Myth 4: You can haggle with your vendors

Truth: Your budget will not be a good match for every vendor, but you can find a vendor for every budget

We see variations of this myth perpetuated in almost every ‘how to save money on your wedding’ article. And while I suppose it is technically true that you can haggle with vendors, we strongly advise against it. This one goes hand in hand with our point above that wedding vendors are small business owners that also need to make a living wage (and have their rates set accordingly). If you start doing some research and find that most vendors of a particular type of specialty in your area are out of budget, consider looking into folks just getting started instead. Plenty of folks just starting their business can serve you well, but quality may vary so tread with caution. Just remember that if you go this route, it is more important than ever that you are interviewing them and checking reviews so you can be sure that you will get the service you are paying for!

elopement budget

Myth 5: Elopement photography costs less than wedding photography

Truth: Professional photographers who specialize in elopements will charge the same or more than wedding photographers

We know, this one is probably the most surprising. Especially if you previously believed myth #1 (that elopements are just cheap weddings). The reality is that photographing elopements is so much more work than photographing traditional weddings. And we should know — we’ve done both! A wedding photographer will meet with you one or two times before your wedding day, spend 8-12 hours with you at your wedding, then edit your photos. An elopement photographer, however, is so much more than just a photographer who shows up on your day. Here are some of the things we do for our eloping couples that are way above and beyond what we ever provided as wedding photographers:

  • Recommending locations: Unlike traditional wedding couples who usually start the planning process by booking a venue, most couples who hire us don’t have an exact location in mind. A lot of folks come to us with a general idea of what scenery they love. Once booked, we spend anywhere from 5-20 hours doing location research and building our couples a bespoke list of location recommendations just for them
  • Navigating permits: Did you know that some locations require a permit to get married there? We make this process easy for our couples by staying up to date with the various requirements and walk you step by step through the permitting process
  • Suggesting vendors: We help connect our couples with other elopement-specific vendors to bring their day to life. Think: florists who don’t charge a minimum amount (since you likely just want bouquets/boutonnieres and not 20 centerpieces). Hair and makeup artists who can provide a look that will last through a hike and whatever weather we come across.
  • Building a timeline: When you elope you don’t need to plan your day out minute by minute, but you do still want to make sure you have plenty of time for everything you want to experience, without feeling rushed. This is especially true for hiking elopements — no one wants to have to sprint up a mountain because you’re about to miss the sunset. A photographer who specializes in elopements will know just how much time to set aside to give you plenty of time to enjoy your day, and each other.
  • Preparing guests: Adventurous elopements with guests take more planning and care than a simple paper invitation and RSVP. We help our couples make sure their guests are prepared for their day by recommending good footwear, reminding guests to pack water and snacks, providing exact GPS coordinates for your ceremony, and educating guests about how to be safe and practice Leave No Trace during your elopement.
  • Making backup plans: If you’ve thought about having a traditional wedding you have probably considered what to do at your venue if it rains. Outdoor elopements require multiple backup plans, just in case. We make sure our couples are fully prepared just in case we need to pivot to a backup location or change our timeline due to storms, trail closures, forest fires, snowpack, etc.

Additionally, we would argue that elopement photography is even more valuable than wedding photography. Yes, both capture lifelong memories, but when you choose to elope, especially if it is just the two of you, you don’t have 100+ guests taking photos on their cell phones all day long. Your photos and/or video are the only way you’ll have to share the experience you had with your loved ones after your elopement.

TRADITIONAL WEDDING VS. ELOPEMENT COST

According to The Knot, on average couples nationwide spent $28,000 on their wedding in 2021. Looking at the PNW specifically (where we’re based) Oregon couples spent around $19,500 and Washington couples spent $23,000 for their wedding. Let’s take a look at where that money typically goes:

Traditional Wedding Cost

Venue: $10,700

Photographer: $2,500 (this is what The Knot lists as the national average from 2021, but this is on the lower end, especially for the PNW)

Attire: $1800 (this is the average spend just on one wedding dress)

Hair and Makeup: $250

DJ: $1,400

Florist: $2,300

Catering: $7,500 ($75 per person for 100 guests)

Invitations: $500

Dessert: $500

Total: $27,450

Adventure Elopement Cost

Wedding permit: $150 (not every location requires one)

Photographer: $5000 (a photographer who specializes in elopement photography will also serve as a planner)

Attire: $1800

Hair and Makeup: $250

Florist: $300 (florals just for you and your partner…and maybe a flower crown for your dog)

Food: $400 (this can of course vary, but let’s say you’ve hired a chef to make you a private dinner)

Lodging: $800 (for two nights at a nice AirBNB at your elopement location)

Total: $8,700

And this is just a brief overview. This traditional wedding list doesn’t include things like transportation and lodging, a wedding planner or videographer, an officiant, wedding favors, wedding party hair and makeup, bachelor/ette parties, rehearsal dinner, or tips. Just at a glance you can spot a huge difference between the cost of weddings vs. elopements. If you decide to elope, all else being equal, you’ll save an average of $18,200 just on a venue and catering alone.

“Hidden costs” of traditional weddings

I know we’re a bit biased, but damn $28,000 seems like a whole lot of money to spend on a day where:

  • You are experiencing high levels of stress
  • You are surrounded by family drama
  • You hardly get any time to see your partner
  • The day zooms by in a blur

ELOPEMENT IDEAS FOR ANY BUDGET

Elopement budget of $2,500 or less

  • Browse Poshmark and local used wedding attire shops (we love Brides for a Cause in Portland!) or select attire that is not a traditional wedding dress (you can find some gorgeous dresses on sites like Lulus and Baltic Born for less than $200)
  • Elope in a location that does not require a permit (the Oregon Coast is a great place to start here in the PNW!)
  • Hire an elopement photographer for fewer hours, or look into folks in your area just getting started
  • Put together a picnic to enjoy
  • Consider picking up flowers from your local farmers market

Elopement budget of $5,000-$10,000

  • Elope in your home state or somewhere a short road-trip away
  • You deserve to have the full story of your wedding day told – if your budget allows, hire your photographer for a full day (for reference our mini elopements are $3,000 and our full day elopements are $5,000)
  • Hire a florist and hair and makeup artist
  • Go out to dinner in the evening to celebrate
  • Do an adventurous activity together that you love, like hiking or kayaking

Elopement budget of $28,000 (the cost of a traditional wedding)

  • Think about where you’ve always dreamed of exploring together and plan to get married there! Bonus – make your elopement a part of a bigger honeymoon trip.
  • Hire your photographer for a full day or even multiple days to document your whole adventure
  • Splurge on an adventurous activity like a flight tour, hot air balloon ride, private sailing charter, etc.
  • Stay somewhere more luxurious than you typically would to make your trip feel extra special

REAL ELOPEMENT EXAMPLE:

A complete cost breakdown of our own elopement in Alaska

If you’ve been following along on our journey at all, you may already know that Michael and I eloped in Alaska last summer (June 2021) and that it was the most incredible day of our lives. We set up our home base in Girdwood, Alaska which is about 50 minutes southeast of Anchorage. Throughout most of our planning, we intended to elope just the two of us. But about 5 months before our day we ended up inviting our fire best friends to come adventure with us. We spent the morning or our elopement just the two of us. We got ready and had a first look at our cabin before going on a helicopter tour to Spencer Glacier. Then in the afternoon we met up with our friends for a 6 mile hike in Chugach National Forest, where we had our ceremony. We ended the night back at our cabin with a homemade meal and a hot tub soak. It was everything we ever dreamed of.

Here’s the breakdown:

how much does it cost to elope

Vendors

Photography – $7800

Definitely our biggest investment, but photography was our top priority. We booked Cedar and Pines for a full day (12 hours) and they came in from out of state.

Hair and Makeup – $850

This is one cost that is likely not reflective of your typical elopement. We had the hardest time finding someone local that we liked, trusted, and was in line with our values, so we ended up bringing someone from home that we had worked with several times before (and ultimately ended up getting a discount on what would have been her full fee plus travel)

Florals – $215

We wanted something simple but durable enough for the adventure we had planned (our florals needed to survive rain, a helicopter, and a six mile hike, AND we brought them with us from Oregon). We opted for a dried bouquet and boutonniere and brought them with us from home.

how much does it cost to elope

Attire

Dress (and alterations) – $950

I’ll be honest, I spent more on my dress than I thought I would. I fell in LOVE with a Rue de Seine dress that I stumbled upon when looking through blogs on eloping in Alaska. The original price tag of the dress was in the $3000 range (and it was no longer being made) but I managed to find a “used” one (it still had tags and was never worn) in my size on Poshmark for $800. I just had to have it hemmed because I’m short AF.

Suit – $429

Michael got his suit custom made from Indochino. The one lesson we learned here is to get professionally measured before you order, because we somehow got his arm length measurements wrong and they had to re-make his suit (though thankfully they didn’t charge us extra!)

Jewelry

My ring – $400

Michael’s ring – $170

how much does it cost to elope

Miscellaneous

Food – $100

We ran to the grocery the day before our elopement to pick up supplies, then cooked vegan burgers and fries for everyone. We also picked up frozen lava cakes from our favorite place in Seattle on our way to Alaska for dessert (our checked baggage was basically just a cooler bag with dessert and our favorite sauce from home for the burgers lol).

Vow books – $25

We wanted something nicer than having our vows on printer paper (or worse, on our phones!) so we got these cute personalized vow books on Etsy (though they now appear to be a bit more expensive.)

Gifts – $50

As a ‘thank you’ to our friends who flew all the way to Alaska to join us, we got everyone these mugs from Etsy and filled them with hand warmers. Everyone brought their mugs with them on our hike for hot cider and tequila shots, and now they all have a memento from the day.

Heli tour – $1620

From the beginning we wanted to do something different and epic for our elopement day, and we knew that one of the best ways to experience Alaska was by helicopter. So we made this our second budget priority after photography.

Travel

Flights – $590

Round trip flights from Seattle to Anchorage

Lodging – $1189

We splurged a bit on our lodging for the day before and day of our elopement. Having a nice home base was perfect, and we were able to soak in the hot tub with our friends at the end of the night. 

Rental car – $1410

This was our biggest ‘hidden expense’ that is not indicative of a typical elopement cost. The summer we got married was in the middle of the pandemic and at a point in time when rental cars were in short supply. We didn’t book a car until a month or so before our trip and ended up paying an absurd amount due to the shortage.

how much does it cost to elope

Total spent on our Alaska elopement with 5 guests: $15,798

After everything was said and done, we ended up going a little over budget (we had originally estimated 15k) but with the epic day we had and the unexpected high cost of our rental car, we were so stoked at the end of the day (plus, we got married of course!)

I hope this breakdown was helpful to see what a real elopement cost breakdown looks like, and that you feel confident in how to plan and prioritize your budget for the adventure wedding of your dreams. Happy adventuring!

Looking for more elopement planning advice and inspiration? Make sure to check out our free resources page here!

  1. […] If you’re just getting started thinking about planning your elopement, we recommend that you check it out here. But in the meantime, the first step of hiring your photographer is knowing how much you are able […]

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