It’s a question I’ve received a lot lately from inquiring couples, particularly with the surge in COVID-19 and its impact on the wedding industry: how much does it cost to elope? As someone who has been a part of the elopement world well before COVID showed up, I’ve spent much of my time observing the differences in cost between elopements and more traditional weddings. As someone who also eloped (after ditching her traditional wedding), I’ve experienced the cost difference firsthand.
The best way I can describe the difference in cost between an elopement and a wedding is this: an elopement is a monetary investment in you and your partner’s experience and a wedding is an investment in your guests’ experience. And coincidentally, that guest experience tends to be a lot more expensive than yours as a couple. You can elope for the fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding. But what exactly is that cost of eloping? And how do we break it down?
Well with most things in life, that specific price will vary on the complexity of your elopement day. But don’t worry, I’ll break down typical cost to elope for the various aspects of an elopement day to get you to a number on what you should budget for. So let’s get into it…how much does it cost to elope? And how can you craft your perfect elopement budget?
Let’s do a quick side-by-side comparison of what your elopement day location will cost you, compared to what you might pay for a traditional wedding venue (and you’d be surprised at the difference between the cost to elope, location-wise, compared to a big wedding venue). I’ve included general price ranges for both elopements and weddings. While there are always exceptions to the rule, the ranges are here to give you a general idea of how much it costs to elope versus getting married the traditional way.
As you go through the article, I’ve included a little cost counter for an elopement versus a wedding to give you a general idea of how these two events can compare side-by-side, as all the costs add up as you plan. The numbers will keep increasing as we go through the list.
So, how much does it cost to elope, when you factor in location rentals?
The cost of location permits for elopements is significantly lower than most any wedding venue’s fee, which drives down the cost to elope quite a bit. Unlike traditional weddings, the location price for an elopement is typically only the fee of a park or national forest permit. The most expensive permits are ordinarily a few hundred dollars. The location where I actually had my own elopement only cost $100 in permit fees. Yup, just $100.
There are even some elopement locations that do not require a permit at all (always consult with a ranger first, though). So the cost of eloping at one of these spots, permit-wise, is non-existent. And a little secret about many of these sites? They have views that are SO MUCH BETTER than any wedding venue. For a safe estimate on permit costs, we’d say bank on about $250.
Wedding venues tend to be one of the largest parts of a couple’s wedding budget. In fact, according to the Knot, about 30% of a couple’s budget goes toward their venue. The same cannot be said for elopements. The price of your wedding venue depends heavily on where you’re getting married. But as a photographer based in Colorado and shooting regularly in the mountains, I’ll use Colorado venues as our example.
While there are certainly venues you can rent out for a few thousand dollars, these venues typically don’t have the mind-blowing mountain views most couples getting married in a place like Colorado are looking for. To rent out one of our top-notch venues for a full day, you could be looking at a five figure rental (or even six figures, like Colorado’s gorgeous Devil’s Thumb Ranch). For the sake of this cost analysis, let’s say you book a venue for about $10,000.
Let’s face it, traditional weddings usually involve a lot of florals: florals around the arch, florals on every reception table, bouquets and boutonniere for the wedding party, the list goes on. This can have a significant impact on your budget for a big wedding, but luckily it doesn’t really impact your cost to elope. So, how much does it cost to elope, when you factor in florals?
With elopements, having florals is certainly not a requirement. In fact, many of the couples I work with choose to not bring along flowers at all. If you want to incorporate flowers, but don’t want a bouquet, a flower crown is a great way to do this, and it’ll typically cost you around $100 for a fresh flower crown.
For a bouquet, many of our couples choose to make their own (in fact, I made a dried flower bouquet for my own elopement!). This is a super inexpensive option to keep the cost to elope down, and it’s also a fun way to add your own personal touch to your florals.
If you decide to hire a florist to make a custom bouquet for you, you can expect to spend a couple hundred dollars, on average. For the sake of our elopement cost counter, let’s say $250.
Pro Tip: You might not even need to factor florals into your cost to elope, since some locations (like many desert spots in Moab), don’t allow flowers in certain areas, because of the delicate, protected environment.
As I mentioned earlier, wedding flowers involve much more than a bouquet. And a lot of florists have order minimums in order for you to work with them. This can definitely drive up any wedding budget.
Don’t get me wrong, a good florist is definitely worth the money, assuming flowers are important to you. But if you don’t care for them, $2500 could be a lot of money to spend on something that will simply wilt and die by the end of the day.
Wedding Wire estimates that the typical range for florals is anywhere between $700 – $2500, but a top-notch florist will certainly go above that range. For our wedding cost counter, let’s say you’d spend the average of $1500 on florals.
It goes without saying that the cost of food and beverages between an elopement and traditional wedding could not be more drastic. Like the wedding venue, this is another area where eloping couples can save big (and when I say big, I mean, several thousands of dollars). When it comes to food and drink, it goes without saying that the cost to elope is much smaller. So, how much does it cost to elope, when you factor in food and drinks?
If your elopement coverage lasts anywhere between 4 – 6 hours, packing a few snacks will be essential. A nice spread of snacks could cost you around $20. I also recommend bringing along a little to-go lunch or dinner. Many of our couples choose to have a picnic and bring along a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate their elopement. A nice picnic could cost you over $100, particularly with alcohol, but it’s also super easy to keep that cost low.
If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can always hire a private chef to swing by your lodging after your elopement ceremony and adventuring is done, but that’s certainly not a requirement. Given that this is not a common choice many couples opt for, the price of private chefs are not factored into the range I’ve included above. But should you choose to hire one, you’ll be paying both for the chef’s food, time + staff, as well as any travel fees they require to travel to your location (this is important to note when you’re eloping in remote mountain destinations).
According to the Knot, with a traditional wedding, couples will spend about $70 per guest on food alone. Remember when I said that weddings are largely focused on the guest experience? Well, this is one of the biggest ways the guest experience eats up your wedding budget.
You’re going to be feeding guests during cocktail hour. If you choose to have a bar, you’ll also be covering the cost of alcohol for them. And then of course there’s dinner and desert.
From a desert standpoint, the average wedding cake will cost you around $500. And if you’re having a very large wedding, you’ll likely need a full desert spread so each guest has a chance to indulge.
Given the small or non-existent guest lists for elopements, most couples opt not to send invitations. So invites don’t really factor into the cost to elope, typically. On the other hand, large weddings will typically include a full suite, with a save-the-date, the invitation itself, and RSVP cards.
And beyond that, there are other paper products that big weddings require, like programs, a guest book, and printed name cards at each table. So, how much does it cost to elope, when you factor in paper products like invitees?
If you’re eloping just the two of you, there is no reason to purchase an invitation suite if you don’t want one. However, if you’d like to have an invite to remember your day, you can certainly order a sample from a paper or design shop, customized with your info on it. Some samples from certain sites can be free. Others require a small fee. Just bear in mind that not every print is valued equally. Treatments like letterpress cost a premium (personally, I love the look and think it’s a gorgeous touch if you decide to have invitations printed, but just know it does cost more).
As far as paper products are concerned, the main cost you’ll be incurring when eloping is purchasing vow books, but there are so many choices, from more intricate designs to simpler, less expensive books.
I know that’s a bit of a range, but here’s the breakdown. The $250 is going to be for a non-custom set of invite cards only (so this wouldn’t include save the dates or printed RSVPs). It will be a design that is manufactured in bulk and you’ll really only be customizing text fields. The $250 is an approximation for about 100 invites.
On the other end, custom designs and designs that require special paper treatment like gold foil, letterpress, or a thick stock paper will run that price up. According to Brides, couples tend to spend anywhere between $5000 and $8000 on their wedding invitation suites.
The biggest difference between how much elopement hair and makeup costs compared to what you’d spend for a traditional wedding mostly has to do with the amount you’re spending on your wedding party. So, how much does it cost to elope, when you factor in hair and makeup?
How much does it cost to elope when you’re also getting your hair and makeup done? To give you an idea, many of the couples I work with opt to do their own hair and makeup, particularly if they are eloping at sunrise. I’ve even had couples who have chosen to wear no makeup at all, and I think that’s super awesome!
That being said, if you’re like me and tragically bad at doing your own hair and makeup, hiring someone to help you out on your elopement day is always nice. Typical cost of elopement hair and makeup will be in the $150 – $600 range, so for our elopement cost tally, let’s assume you spend $300.
With wedding hair and makeup, you can expect to spend about the same amount for yourself as you would with an elopement. The key difference in price comes into play when you factor in the cost of your wedding party’s look.
Hair and makeup for the wedding party members will be slightly less, but you’re looking at about $150 per person on average. So with a five person wedding party plus yourself (for about $300), that’s around $1050.
Because elopements aren’t focused on the guest experience in the same way that traditional weddings are, the cost of eloping is significantly reduced. So who exactly are these non-essential vendors?
Most of the couples we work with are eloping in remote mountain locations. When they want to share their first dance with one another, they bring along a little portable speaker or play their song on a cell phone. As many national forests and parks have rules and regulations about amplified sound, something small that doesn’t make loud noise is key.
So as you can imagine, there’s no point in hiring a DJ. You won’t have a room full of guests, and you’re not going to have hours of your timeline dedicated to a giant, swarming party on a tiny dance floor. Couples, on average, spend about $1000 for a DJ. When you elope, that’s $1000 more you can pocket instead, or use towards another aspect of your elopement day that’s important to you, whether it’s traveling to your dream mountain destination, your elopement photography, your attire, or whatever else.
If you choose to elope in a place like Colorado, you can actually self-solemnize (where you and your partner don’t require any officiant or witnesses to get married). But something we commonly see with the eloping couples we work with (particularly those who want absolute privacy on their day) is bringing along a friend or family member to officiate rather than a stranger, or taking care of the legal process back home and using their time at their elopement destination as a time for adventuring and reading their vows, without having to deal with the paperwork.
However, if decide you’d like an officiant at your elopement, it’ll typically cost you a few hundred dollars.
If you don’t need to keep a room full of guests entertained, there’s no need for a bartender to provide drinks during cocktail hour, dinner, and throughout the night. That’s about another $2500 you can save. Many of the couples I work with will simply factor the cost of a nice bottle of champagne or some summit beers into their elopement budget. That’s it!
Wedding planners are great and 100% encouraged when you choose to have a bigger wedding. But they are not required with an elopement, particularly when you’re choosing a hiking or adventure elopement with nature as your decor, with minimal moving parts to your day.
Now, you might be wondering, if I don’t pay for a wedding planner for my elopement, how will I figure out the permitting process, know which towns I should lodge in, and what my elopement timeline should look like?
As an elopement photographer, this is one of the services I provide. I create elopement timelines for every couple I work with, and serve as a resource during the elopement process. One thing to note: elopement photographers are not technically “planners” in that they don’t coordinate booking your other vendors, they don’t manage the vendor communication process, they don’t reserve anything on your behalf, and they don’t help set up or break down anything for you as a coordinator might.
However, many elopement photographers, myself included, provide you with the resources and recommendations you need to bring your own elopement to life, no planner needed. This drives the cost of eloping down by a couple thousand dollars.
Earlier, we did a little side-by-side comparison of the cost of certain vendors for elopements versus traditional weddings. We talked about elopement permits, elopement florals, elopement food and beverage, hair and makeup, and elopement invites. Aside form elopement permits, many of those aspects of the day aren’t necessarily a requirement, and thus they don’t have to factor into your cost to elope. And even if you incorporate them all, the cost of eloping with them all included is negligible in comparison with traditional weddings.
Now we’ll look into the elopement vendors that will make up the majority of your elopement budget and cover the largest portion of your cost of getting eloped. These vendors are: your elopement photographer, your elopement attire, and your elopement travel costs and lodging accommodations (if you have chosen an elopement location away from home). Let’s break them down.
When looking for an elopement photographer, the best advice I can give you is to hire someone who specializes exclusively in elopements and small weddings. Big weddings and elopements are very different, and the way you document them is different as well.
A good elopement photographer will know the ins and outs of the elopement process. They’ll be able to help you find your elopement location, navigate the permitting process, and provide guidance on what to wear. They also should be able to help you create a timeline. Ultimately, how much an elopement photographer costs depends on how much coverage you’re looking for during your day.
Personally, I’m a big believer that elopements deserve just as much coverage as larger weddings, which is why my coverage starts at 4 hours and goes up to 10 hours. For an elopement photographer who knows their stuff, you can expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to sometimes over 10k. Ultimately, though, the cost of elopement photography will be highly dependent on how much of the day you want documented and what types of activities/travel you’re incorporating into your day.
While obviously I’m a little biased, being an elopement photographer myself, if there’s one part of your day to invest in, it’s this part. Your elopement photos are the one thing you will be able to look back on for years to come. They are keepsakes. And it’s one of the biggest reasons your elopement photography will be one of the largest costs in your elopement budget.
For our side-by-side cost comparison, let’s say you hire a top-notch elopement photographer for seven hours of coverage, timeline assistance, permit assistance, and vendor guidance, and they cost you $6500. Meanwhile the average Colorado wedding photographer will cost about $4000, and that is without them helping with timelines or anything like that. Just photos, because wedding photographers don’t get nearly as involved as elopement photographers do.
Good elopement attire doesn’t need to break the bank, but with all the savings you’ve made from not having to hire most of the traditional wedding vendors, if you want to splurge here, you certainly can!
For example, there are some gorgeous elopement dresses that’ll only cost you a couple hundred dollars, whereas some others will be in the $3,000 – $4,000 range. It simply depends on what you like and which brands really speak to you. To cut down on the cost to elope, non-white dresses and opting for a jumpsuit or non-traditional look can help. Suits also tend to be priced less than dresses.
With adventure elopements, you’ll want to choose attire that’s comfortable to move in, which isn’t something you have to think too much about with traditional weddings. Also, if you’re eloping on a hiking trail, you’ll want to consider hiking boots and other outdoors gear into your elopement budget, as those items will be extremely helpful on your elopement day. Common elopement costs we see are: a good pair of boots, headlamps, first aid kit, hiking packs, insulated water bottles, bear spray, and the like.
Let’s say, all-in-all, you and your partner spend $3000 in total on attire (and that’s on the higher end!), whether it’s a big wedding or elopement.
When looking at the cost of getting eloped, you’ll want to factor in lodging and travel fees. If you’re eloping near home, this value will be negligible, but if you’re eloping in a different destination, you’ll want to consider gas/rental car, flights, and hotel/Airbnb accommodations. If you’re traveling, dining and tourism activities you participate in when you arrive at your elopement destination will also need to be factored in.
Because travel costs to elope will vary significantly based on where you’re from and where you’re traveling to, you’ll want to do research beforehand to see how much you’ll need to budget for your elopement.
For the sake of this study, let’s say for both the cost of a wedding and the cost of an elopement, you spend about $1800, which includes domestic US flights, few nights of lodging, and a rental car.
The amazing thing about elopements is that they go against wedding industry expectations. They are inherently rule-breaking events, which is one of the things I find so amazing about them, and why I specialize in documenting them.
Because of this, how much it costs to elope is truly up to you and what you value. You should never feel pressured to purchase something you don’t want. The top piece of advice I give to couples I work with when they’re unsure of how to budget for their elopement is to pick the 3 most important parts of their elopement day. It’s a little something I call the “Elopement 3.”
Those three things — whether it’s your elopement photography, elopement attire, or whatever else — are the things you can give yourself permission to splurge on. And the rest? Get crafty. Get creative. But don’t feel like you need to dedicate a large sum of your budget to them. The “Elopement 3” should make up the majority of your cost to elope. Everything else is just a plus.
Remember: this is your elopement day. You get to define how it looks. But if you want a final dollar value for how much it costs to elope in a place like Colorado, compared to a wedding out here (specifically, at a mountain venue), you’d be looking at the final cost tally below. Pretty big difference, huh?
While I don’t believe the cost of elopements should be the only reason you choose to elope, I can tell you from my own experience and the experience of working with many couples who’ve ditched their traditional weddings to elope instead, eloping is not just a less expensive way to get married…it’s a way to get married in a way that celebrates you and your partner, rather than a room full of guests.
The secret about elopements is that they are some of the most fulfilling types of weddings, and they just happen to typically cost way less than any big, traditional wedding.
I distinctly remember when I was planning our large, traditional wedding. I’m pretty sure I dedicated at least 10 hours of my time going down a rabbit hole looking at hand-thrown ceramic plates and vintage brass silverware for our dinner reception, only to discover an obscene amount of money would need to be dedicated solely to table decor. Table decor that I honestly didn’t even care that much about. Same thing when it came to florals and catered food and a cake that costed just as much as a pair of Louboutin shoes.
My now husband and I both already knew that a traditional wedding didn’t feel like “us,” but felt forced into it (courtesy of the wedding industry and its archaic rules). In our minds, it didn’t really make sense for us to drop the equivalent of a home down-payment on an event that was pretty much exclusively focused on a room full of guests having a good time. If we were going to invest in anything, we were going to elope and put our money toward making that elopement an epic adventure. So we did. And how much did it cost us to elope?
Well for starters, we’d already paid for our traditional venue in full, and even with that lost money factored into our elopement cost, our total cost to elope was 1/3 of what we’d anticipated for our wedding day. The best part about our choice to elope, though, is that we didn’t make any compromises on our details or vendors. We booked exactly what we wanted, and it still cost us a fraction of what our big wedding was going to cost. I’ve been in your shoes firsthand, trying to figure out how much it costs to elope and figuring out how I could bring this day of mine to life. And I’d love to help you do the same.
Our Ultimate Elopement Guide covers everything from prioritizing your elopement budget to figuring out what to pack for your elopement day.
Interesting in what it takes to elope in epic mountain and desert destinations? We’ve written about how to elope in Colorado, how to elope in Washington State, and the best places to elope in Utah and California.
Not sure how to tell your friends and family you’re eloping? We have an article about sharing the news of your elopement plans with them and helping them get on board.
Trying to figure out which shoes you should be wearing on your adventure elopement day? No worries, we’ve got you’ve covered on that one as well.
P.S. As an elopement photographer who also had her own elopement, I’ve been in your shoes. I work with couples who have felt like the wedding industry has failed them. Couples who have even tried planning a traditional wedding, only to realize that it didn’t really feel like them, both from a cost standpoint and a personality standpoint.
I’m here to be your resource during this elopement process, whether it’s helping you find your perfect elopement location to recommending my favorite vendors based on your price range. Elopements can vary quite a bit in cost, but that’s solely based on what you want your day to look like. The power is in your hands, which is not something that can be said for most of the wedding industry.
Check out some of our favorite elopement and adventure wedding planning resources:
Empowering You To Have Your Adventure Elopement, Your Way
Colorado Elopement Photographers + Adventure Wedding Photographers