So, you and your partner have decided to elope. Congratulations! One of the burning questions I always hear from the lovebirds I work with is, “How much does it cost to elope, and how should I budget?” It’s a fair question! Many resources exist online about wedding planning and budgeting, but less is known about elopement processes and costs.
This article looks at all the realistic costs associated with planning your special day, provides steps to create your elopement budget and offers some tips to keep in mind as you move through this journey.
Budgeting is a critical part of the elaborate elopement planning process. Your budget ultimately supports your visions and sets realistic expectations for how much things cost on your big day. Creating a budget also helps you keep things organized, which leads to less stress and more enjoyment throughout the journey.
In most cases, eloping will cost a good chunk of money. Generally, it can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000, depending on your plan. This range may slide up or down.
Keep in mind that you can expect to pay more for high-quality services and vendors. For example, a good photographer, which most folks see as a necessary part of their elopement, can cost thousands of dollars.
What you decide to include in your budget is entirely up to you. For most couples, their elopement is a magical time that deserves going all-out—and this means spending a little bit more for experiences and services. Therefore, some necessary parts of your budget may include an experienced photographer, accommodation, travel expenses, food, adventure activities, and other vendors like florists or hair and makeup artists.
Here are some items to consider including in your elopement budget. Keep in mind that these are generalized price ranges. Depending on your location and needs, you may see higher or lower prices.
Hiring a photographer is one of the most essential expenses in your elopement experience—and I’m not just saying that because I am one!
Photographers play a pivotal role in this process, from helping you plan your ceremony location to ensuring you have everything ready for the big day. And it goes without saying—they’re there to capture these special memories so you can look back on them forever.
A photographer can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on the type of package you choose, if travel is required, and how many hours you book them for. Since photographers offer a service you can benefit from for an entire lifetime (photographs are for life), choosing ones that deliver high-quality work is critical.
The meaning of “venue” is quite flexible when it comes to elopements. You can elope in different spots, from a national park, a cabin, Airbnb, your own home, or other unique venues. The cost can range from less than $100 to $1,000 or more.
Travel costs largely depend on where you decide to elope. If you do it locally, your costs in this category may be lower than if you elope out of state or internationally. Travelling to a different location will include expenses like plane tickets and other associated costs like insurance, rental cars, or taxis.
Overall, travel costs when eloping can range from less than $100 to $2,000 or more.
Again, the cost of accommodations depends on your elopement plan. If you stay in your town or city and wish to stay home, you can skip this part of your budget. However, if you want to rent an Airbnb or lodge elsewhere, your accommodations can range from $150 to $1,500. This cost depends on how many nights you stay in the space, the overall cost per night, and if you include any guests.
The cost of your elopement attire varies based on what you want to wear. For example, new or custom-made outfits may cost over $1,000, depending on where you shop and what alterations are needed.
Many couples love infusing different activities into their elopement. Some examples of activities include:
Like everything else, activity prices can vary. While a museum entry fee might be $12, a wine-tasting experience or curated tour could cost $150 or more.
Aside from your photographer, other vendors you may want to consider having at your elopement include:
It’s important to factor in all other costs associated with your elopement for the most accurate breakdown of your expenses. Other items to keep in mind include:
Extending an invitation to guests is entirely up to you. If you want some people present at your elopement, you’ll need to decide if you’ll cover any of the costs, either in part or whole. Such expenses may include food, travel, transportation, and accommodation.
As much as you’d like everything to go smoothly, some unexpected hiccups or costs may arise. So, allocating part of your budget to a contingency fund is essential. How much you set aside is up to you, but 5% to 10% of your total budget is a good start. These savings can cover the following:
Before you start budgeting, it’s helpful to decide on a date because venues, vendors, and other experiences may vary their prices on different days of the week or times of the year.
Sit down with your partner and ask yourselves the following question: If you could only have three vendors at your elopement, who would they be and why?
The point of this exercise is to get your gut-feeling thoughts right off the bat. This is your special day, so establishing your priorities before getting into the details can help you plan a budget that fulfills these dreams.
Aside from priority vendors, talk with your partner about the other aspects of your elopement that matter the most to you. Discuss your financial situation:
At this stage, while it’s a good idea to have a spending range in mind, it’s also crucial to remember that these limits may need adjustments to match the reality of vendor costs, especially if you’re unfamiliar with what these prices can look like at the start. So, don’t set your budget in stone—flexibility at this step is key.
Another aspect to discuss with your partner is the general location you hope to elope in. This will determine many of your budget items. For example, if you elope out of state or the country, you must consider travel expenses and accommodations.
Next, brainstorm your values, needs, and wants:
At this stage, jot down all your ideas on paper. You can also consider making a table with one column for wants and another for needs to help you visualize your priorities.
After you have an idea of your location, wants and needs, and overall financial situation, it’s time to research ballpark estimates of how much everything will cost in your ideal location. As I mentioned in the previous step, your ideal spending range may shift during this research time.
For example, some might assume they can find a photographer for less than $100. The reality is that these costs range in the thousands. So, coming across these findings before planning your budget is critical for setting realistic expectations.
Write down the price ranges for each item you hope to include in your budget. At this time, you can also take note of potential vendors and consider contacting the ones that catch your eye to get the ball rolling.
If you’re an LGBTQIA+ couple, keep in mind that at this stage, it’s also essential to search for queer-friendly vendors. You can look at their portfolio or website for signs of queer-friendliness or directly inquire about their stance.
I recommend starting an elopement budget spreadsheet to help you keep things organized. Include columns such as:
The goal of this spreadsheet is to have a visual representation of all costs associated with your elopement so you can keep things organized and allocate the right amounts accordingly.
As you hear back from your inquiries and confirm certain activities and bookings, fill these items out in your spreadsheet as soon as possible. At this stage, you might encounter the following situations:
Encountering these scenarios is a normal part of the budgeting process. During this time, it’s essential to remain flexible. While it’s important to have spending boundaries, it’s also critical to have realistic expectations: Elopements cost money, and it’s possible that you may need to stretch your budget to honor your wishes on your special day.
Here are some additional things to keep in mind as you move through the budgeting process:
In most cases, couples want to make their elopement day as memorable as possible. So, it’s crucial to be prepared to spend your money. While it’s easy to get caught off guard by the cost of services, vendors, and experiences, don’t let these prices deter you from doing the things you dream of.
When it comes time to pay bills, whether for specific vendors or experiences, feelings of guilt may arise as you watch a large chunk of change leave your bank account. That’s totally normal! Remember, the purpose of your budget is to help you decide on your biggest priorities. So, if you’re spending money on these items, it means you’ve identified them as having a role in your happiness—and happiness should come guilt-free.
As I said earlier, part of your budget should be a contingency fund. Anything can happen, and the last thing you want is to scramble to put together funds to pay for something that wasn’t part of the plan!
As I’ve reiterated throughout this blog, elopements will cost money, especially if you want high-quality services, vendors, and experiences.
However, you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make your elopement meaningful. For example, practices like writing a letter to each other or taking a stroll through a forest can add value to your big day without taking up a large portion of your budget.
Throughout this article, I’ve emphasized the importance of prioritizing the things that will make your elopement experience feel special and unique. In many cases, doing so means having a larger budget to pay for the things that will make you happy.
However, the opposite is also true. If you and your partner don’t want to go all-out for this experience and want to do something simple, like elope at your local courthouse and go out for dinner without any professional photographers or vendors, go for it. You know your relationship best, so stick to what feels right when honoring your love!
Here’s an example of different ranges for your budget items. Keep in mind that you don’t need to include all of these in your elopement, and costs can vary depending on where you are and who you decide to hire.
Photographer: $2,000 to $10,000
Marriage License and Other Legal Records: $40 to $115
Venue: $100 to $1,000
Travel: $100 to $2,000
Accommodation: $150 to $1,500
Elopement Activities: $10 to $150
Attire: $300 to $3,500
Officiant: $300 to $500
Florals: $300 to $500
Wedding/Elopement Planner: $800 to $2,000
Hair and Makeup: $150 to $500
Videographer: $2,000 to $10,000
Miscellaneous: $150 to $500 (park entrance fees, food, decor, etc.)
Budgeting can be a tricky part of the elopement planning process—I get it! Without a solid plan, a realistic understanding of what services cost, and an efficient way to organize your money, this journey can feel overwhelming. Remember, setting a budget is all about dedicating the right resources to the areas that mean the most to you.
As a photographer who has worked on countless elopements, I can provide some tips and tricks based on my previous experiences working with couples. I also offer various elopement packages at different price ranges to fit all kinds of needs. Ready to get started? Reach out to me today—I can’t wait to meet you, hear your story, and capture your beautiful love.
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