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.
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.
This number of course varies wildly depending on a multitude of factors, such as:
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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:
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
Catering: $7,500 ($75 per person for 100 guests)
Wedding permit: $150 (not every location requires one)
Photographer: $5000 (a photographer who specializes in elopement photography will also serve as a planner)
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)
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.
I know we’re a bit biased, but damn $28,000 seems like a whole lot of money to spend on a day where:
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:
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!)
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).
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.)
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.
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.
Round trip flights from Seattle to Anchorage
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.
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.
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!