With the advent of sites like Etsy, Pinterest, and Offbeat Bride, it’s cool to be different when it comes to your wedding – and that’s if you even get married at all. Tying the knot is entrenched in tradition, so it can be nice to break out of the mold a little. Trends like “wreck the dress” are more than a testament to that. But what if you forego the wedding completely?
In spite of the indie wedding’s rising popularity, elopement still feels like it warrants discussion in hushed tones. It’s like the back-alley deal of the wedding world. Is it that the term “elope” still has a certain stigma attached to it – an act of defiance and rebellion, where the couple runs off and flouts authority? Is it because it carries a sense of secrecy and taboo? In theory, elopement is becoming more popularly accepted, but it’s still very far from mainstream.
Personally, I was never one to muse about my future wedding. In retrospect, I suppose I thought I’d get married someday, but I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. I didn’t have my dress, cake, or first dance song planned out. I didn’t daydream about how I wanted the proposal to happen, or what kind of ring I’d like. In fact, I didn’t even know my ring size.
So, when my boyfriend proposed and I was suddenly in the strange territory of engagement and fiancés, I had a lot of unfamiliar ground to cover. Even so, it only took a couple discussions before we realized that neither of us wanted to deal with the stress of a real wedding. Saying vows before any number of people seemed entirely too nerve-wracking – I got shaky just thinking about the prospect.
We briefly looked into booking a place, but quickly found that we needed at least 6 months – if not a year! – of planning, not to mention scoping out venues, being pressured to put down a deposit, and trying to “beat” another couple to it for a preferred date, time, and location. And then there was the expense of it all! Even at the cheapest wedding venues, the cost per guest quickly added up. As we looked at our onscreen calculator amidst hundreds of overwhelming browser tabs, we shared a wide-eyed look as if to ask: is getting married really this expensive? (Yes – yes, it is.)
In fact, marriage costs in the U.S. keep rising. The average cost for a wedding is now estimated at about $30,000. That’s the price of a new car, or a sizable contribution towards a down payment on a house. And while there are ways to bring down the cost for yourself (getting married at someone’s house, for example) and for others (not requiring any particular attire for the wedding party), there’s no denying that weddings are expensive, even done on a budget.
Even setting stress and cost aside, I felt like getting married was a personal event – an intimate promise, not a public fanfare. So, after some deliberation, it was settled – we were going to elope. My parents, by the way, were thrilled with the idea (they had always wanted to, but were pressured into having a wedding by their parents.)
While the term “elope” typically conjures up images of a couple gallivanting off without anyone else’s knowledge or say so, ours was completely planned out. Both families knew the when, though they didn’t exactly know the where. The main difference was that there wasn’t a big ceremony – only five people were in attendance: our marriage commissioner, our photographers (who conveniently doubled as our witnesses), and, of course, the two of us.
When people hear that I eloped, one of the first questions I get is: “Aren’t you sad you missed out on the fun of having a wedding?” To which my response is always: “No way!” We got to have all the fun of a wedding with none of the stress or drama. In fact, we got to do everything our way, spent much less money, and had not one, but two parties afterwards. From my perspective, elopement had all the benefits of a wedding (as in: we still got married and had a celebration), and none of the downsides.
The second question I frequently get is: “Weren’t your parents mad?” Thankfully, no, they weren’t – they were very accepting of our decision. But, I’ll be honest: even if they weren’t, that wouldn’t have changed our minds much. We’re stubborn people, and, ultimately, it was what we were most comfortable with, both personally and financially.
If you’re engaged and getting overwhelmed by the planning process, the mounting expenses, or the stress and pressure of traditional expectations, I invite you to consider elopement as an option. Here are the top 10 reasons why I would recommend it to any couple:
1. It’s cheaper for you (and for everyone else, too)
Weddings can be ridiculously expensive, and it all starts with the venue. Take that out of the equation and you’re already saving thousands of dollars. Without a venue, other miscellaneous expenses go away, too: you don’t have to pay for music or a DJ, rent a sound system, hire a bartender, buy floral arrangements, or rent table runners and tablecloths. In fact, you don’t need tables or chairs at all – and, believe me, they will try to charge you for all of that and more.
You’ll also save time, which saves money. Couples who have full weddings typically pay for 4-8 hours of photography so that they can capture every moment from the preparation beforehand to the after party. They also pay full wedding rates. In contrast, we paid for 2 hours of photography and spent a fraction of the price for an elopement package (comparable in pricing to an engagement photo shoot). If we had a normal wedding, there’s no way we would have been able to afford the same photographers.
Then there’s the money saved by everyone else who’s involved in the event. According to survey data from 2014, the average cost for someone just to attend a wedding is $592, and that doesn’t even include the gift. If you’re actually participating, it’s even more – bridesmaid dresses, tuxedo, shoes, hair and makeup, bachelor and bachelorette parties, bridal showers, travel costs – all of it adds up quickly. In fact, CNN reports that the cost to be a bridesmaid in a wedding is approximately $1,695. That’s insane! For those who are keeping score, that’s easily round-trip airfare for a European vacation. Though participating in a friend or family member’s ceremony may seem like an honor, the cost can be incredibly steep.
2. What money you do spend can be used more effectively.
Without paying for a venue and food, you suddenly might be able to afford things you didn’t think you could before. Maybe you can get a photographer now, go on a honeymoon, or extend your trip by a day or two. You can start a nest egg for a house or a trip in the future, or even just save it for a rainy day. And, really, what are you going to remember more about your wedding – the food you (or other people) ate? The music that was playing? Or are you going to be looking back at pictures and remembering what a great time you had with each other? For us, the choice was a no-brainer.
3. You can wear whatever you want.
Sure, everyone says it’s supposed to be your day, but traditional expectations have a way of encroaching when you go about it the old-fashioned way. When you elope, you have complete control over the experience. No one will judge you if you want to wear a Hawaiian shirt – and, if they do, well, you probably don’t know them anyway. In my case, I picked up an adorable (and inexpensive!) retro-style black-and-white polka dot dress and paired it with some awesome, bright red patent leather heels. I felt like a rockstar.
Better yet, because neither the dress nor shoes are traditional wedding attire, I’ve gotten multiple wears out of both. Call me practical, but it seems silly to buy clothes that you’re only going to wear once in your life. If you skip the wedding dress, you also save money in other ways: for example, dry cleaning a wedding dress costs $80 or more, and preserving it costs up to $200. In contrast, the most I’ve ever paid to dry clean my dress is $30.
4. There’s less pressure
When you elope, you don’t have to practice your public speaking or stand in front of a bunch of people who’re watching your every move. It can be as private or public as you want. At its most basic, it’s just you, your partner, whoever’s officiating, and the witnesses. It’s pretty amazing how having fewer people there has a way of easing your nerves. I was still a little shaky, but I was significantly less self-conscious than I would have been if we’d had a traditional ceremony.
5. There’s less family drama
We’re lucky to have very mellow relatives and not a whole lot of drama on either side of the family tree. However, I’ve heard (and witnessed) some real horror stories. If you’re nervous about dealing with a snubbed relative or stressing out over high-stakes seating charts, then good news: you can just elope! Worried about picking people for the wedding party without hurting any feelings? Spare yourself the anxiety and spare them the expense: elope! Am I starting to sound like a broken record? Plus, let’s be honest: there’s almost always at least one person who starts to act like it’s their wedding and gets too commandeering. When there’s nothing to commandeer, everything is simpler.
6. You can go somewhere cool (or go nowhere at all)
Some people use destination weddings as a forcing function to ensure only the most dedicated friends and family end up attending. Why not go a step further and just make it the two of you? Or, go the opposite route and have the ultimate staycation wedding. Elope in your living room, backyard, or city hall. Easy!
7. You don’t have to mingle with anyone
When a traditional wedding is followed by a reception, you have to play the good host/hostess afterwards instead of relaxing and spending some quality time together. When you run off to get married with your loved one, it’s just about the two of you; you can do whatever you want afterwards. It’s a great way to keep things low-key.
8. Choosing a date is easy
When you elope, your wedding day can be totally flexible. Want to get married in spring or summer? No problem – pick a day in the middle of the week, and there’s absolutely no competition. It’s also cheaper to travel and easier to find an officiant, photographers, and accommodations. You might even get a discount!
9. You can still have a party (and that’s the part most people care about anyway)
Most people are at your wedding for the food, drinks, and the party – they want to celebrate with you. Seeing you exchange vows is a comparatively small part of it. Why not just elope and then go out for dinner at a nice restaurant, or have a potluck at someone’s house? In our case, we came back and celebrated with a private dinner for our closest friends and family at one of our favorite restaurants.
For extended family and friends, we had a second reception at my in-laws’ house with inexpensive food and drinks from Costco. No one minded that we decided to go reception-only; they still got to see our wedding photos and celebrate, just minus nuptial pomp and circumstance.
10. At the end of it all, it makes for a great story
I love telling people that we eloped. We got to go to beautiful British Columbia and stayed at the same bed and breakfast where my husband proposed. Our wonderful hosts filled the room with flowers and chocolate and even burned us a CD of their favorite love songs. We exchanged vows on Granville Island, then got to do a kickass photoshoot. Afterwards, we ate a delicious meal at a French restaurant, then spent the night relaxing. It was the perfect, low-key, stress-free wedding, and I have absolutely no regrets.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, give traditionalism a kick in the pants, and elope! Your partner, wallet, and sanity will all thank you.