Eloping vs Wedding: Which One Is for You?

You’re engaged. Congratulations! Now you’re thinking about planning a wedding. Or are you?

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elopement at cliffside Yosemite
Photo by Allison Slater Photography

Sometimes, the perfect choice for you could be an elopement. So how do you choose between eloping and a traditional wedding?

Today’s article should help, and here’s what we’ll discuss:

  • What’s the difference between eloping and a wedding?
  • What are the pros and cons?
  • Does eloping count as marriage (is it legal?)
  • Do brides regret eloping?
  • Cost of eloping vs wedding (and other options!)

There’s a lot to cover, but your guide is fun, so let’s go!

Eloping vs Wedding: What’s the Difference?

There are several ways that eloping is different than a wedding. We also need to tell you that the “classic” definition of eloping is changing, and what eloping means now is probably different than you think!

Only decades ago, a dictionary would tell you that eloping meant “to run away secretly…usually without parental consent.” Now, online dictionaries like Merriam-Webster say something different.

Here’s What the ‘New’ Eloping Means

Eloping can still mean the two of you going to Vegas alone or getting married spontaneously in a civil ceremony at your local courthouse.

But eloping is now more about planning a smaller event centered around the two of you and less about wedding traditions you might not share.

So go ahead and make your own rules!

The biggest misconception is the issue of “parental consent.” You’re encouraged to get your friends and family in on your elopement-style smaller wedding these days.

Many couples consider a planned destination wedding the same as eloping. Alternatively, couples plan a surprise wedding!

It’s No Surprise That Surprise Weddings Are Popular

Over the past years, there’s been more publicity about celebrity “surprise” weddings, including comedian Amy Schumer, actress Margot Robbie, and “that time” Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux invited people over and got hitched.

While a surprise wedding takes the heat off of celebs being chased around by paparazzi, “normal” folks might consider a surprise wedding too.

We Can’t Forget Beautiful Old-School Elopements

For some lucky couples, eloping has little to do with budgets, family pressure, or the anxiety of walking down an aisle.

Your dream wedding might involve breathtaking scenery and an intimate ceremony; just the two of you and your officiant. If this is your fairytale, we applaud you both!

elopement breathtaking view
Photo by Allison Slater Photography

Mythbusting Eloping vs Weddings

As the idea of eloping has changed, we need to bust some lingering myths about eloping somehow being less than a wedding. Here goes:

You Don’t Need to Plan an Elopement

Um, yes, you do! But the well-known ways of eloping (a civil ceremony or a Vegas chapel) require days versus months or years you must wait after booking a ceremony location and venue for your more formal reception.

Where You Can Elope Is Limited

You’ll need a marriage license or certificate to elope within the US, but your civil ceremony doesn’t need to be directly in the courthouse.

Instead, once you apply for and receive the documentation, a properly designated wedding officiant can marry you on the beach or in your backyard!

You Can’t Book an Elopement Photographer

You can (and should!) hire a professional to capture your small wedding or elopement photos!

Did you know that there are various wedding photography styles, and you can choose the one that’s perfect to capture your precious memories? Check this out!

You Can’t Wear a Long White Dress

Of course, you can wear a long white wedding dress to elope! That’s one of my favorite myths to bust, and now that we’re on the subject, here are some fab styles of elopement wedding gowns for beautiful brides to wear.

Elopement Style to the Max

This lacy white, fully-lined maxi dress is called the “Florence,” and the modern boho style suits sizes S to 3XL.

I adore the fluttery bell sleeves and the open-back with braided straps—wherever you two are escaping to elope, you’ll float like an angel in this wedding dress!

Simple Elopement Dress Will Stun

Durable polyester and delicate chiffon flow together in this elegant design with practical details, including pockets!

Called the “Amalfi” wrap dress, this romantic cut flatters all brides with its natural waist and hi-low skirt offering so much freedom of movement. It’s available in custom colors too!

Elope in a Goddess Gown

We love the bridesmaid infinity dress style that is wearable in so many ways. This sweet elopement dress mixes the infinity design choices with Greek goddess style and a rustic lace overlay on the skirt.

This soft, romantic dress has a semi-matte look, and the lacy skirt color is customizable too. The elasticized waist can be worn high or low, and a matching tube top is all the bra coverage you may need.

What Are the Pros of Eloping?

When I look at the pros of eloping, it means planning a wedding that works for you, whether you escape as a couple and get married in a truly intimate setting or arrange a smaller wedding with fewer rules and better expectations.

Here are the benefits!

An Authentic Headstart

Eloping involves the two of you being authentic to who you are now and acknowledging where this journey called life will take you together.

I’m lifting that sentiment off of vows I heard during one of my favorite weddings, a small ceremony on a crowded beach in Florida.

The couple invited a handful of guests, scrounged up picnic tables, and had an informal beach BBQ following their original vows written and spoken from their hearts. It was beautiful!

The Cost Savings Can Be Considerable

My fellow Wedding Pioneer writer Lauren did an excellent article on planning a wedding on a $1,000 budget, and it’s great for an elopement.

Another area to save money on an elopement-style smaller wedding is invites. Many couples send e-vites to people for free through their wedding website package, and you can also check out wedding evite styles to edit at home and email or text to your guests.

The Freedom Is Yours

Whether you decide on your parent’s backyard or the family cottage, planning your elopement focuses on fun.

When you remove the stress of planning a more formal large-scale wedding from your plate, the freedom of beginning your new chapter together can be truly exhilarating!

Here’s another freeing thing about eloping: a smaller-wedding elopement can be on any day of the week, including a Sunday. So it’s a great idea if you’re planning a surprise wedding on a long holiday weekend!

Teeny Tiny (As in No) Wedding Party

I know many brides who wouldn’t consider getting married without their sisters or BFFs standing by their side! But, of course, I’ve also spoken to some of those brides in the heat of wedding planning when the not-so-groovy issues arise (bridesmaids can’t agree on a dress, someone feels left out, etc.).

My favorite solution is this: I once saw a small ceremony with the couple standing in the middle, surrounded by their loved ones and dearest friends. Now that’s a wedding party, people!

What Are the Cons of Eloping?

Here’s where I’ll break up the notion of eloping into two separate scenarios. First, let’s discuss the cons of eloping together alone.

Families Are Disappointed

This negative point is a no-brainer. Let’s say you decide, relatively spur-of-the-moment, on a glorious elopement. But, then, there’s a big chance it will disappoint your closest family not to be there.

No Gifts

It might sound cheesy and materialistic, but don’t be ashamed if you think it! Unfortunately, when you elope, you forego all those fun and maybe valuable wedding gifts.

However, there is a solution, and it’s called the post-elopement reception! Check out the costs of eloping vs a wedding below for a post-elopement option.

It’s Not Entirely Stress-Free

Planning a less elaborate wedding may mean doing your own catering, and we’ve written what you need to know about catering your wedding.

While I enjoy event planning for others, it ups the stress level when you’re the caterer and the bride.

It’s definitely doable to cater your wedding; it’s joyful when done correctly. Just be kind to yourself when you take on extra duties.

You Still Need a Backup Plan

Informal, outdoor weddings are glorious—when the weather cooperates.

Planning an elopement-style ceremony may be picture-perfect in your mind, but make sure you have a backup plan in case the natural world acts up on your big day!

Is Eloping a Real Marriage… and Is It Legal? 

The short answer is yes—as long as your elopement meets legal requirements. Any marriage is considered real (and therefore, lawful) in the US when couples meet the following conditions.

  • Couples abide by the marriage laws in their state. For instance, it’s essential to know whether a blood test is required to obtain a license in your state, and most states require each person to show a photo ID to obtain a marriage license.
  • Couples obtain a legal marriage license in their state (google marriage license + the state or county where you live or you’re getting married for further details).
  • Couples are married by a licensed officiant to perform marriages (google marriage officiants in your area to obtain further information).

Knowing who can or cannot perform marriages in your state is essential. For example, Maine has no Justices of the Peace, and an out-of-state Justice of the Peace cannot officiate weddings in Maine.

Do Brides Regret Eloping? 

This question is another common fear, especially for brides who grew up with the idea of a fairytale wedding complete with a princess ballgown.

Our article on black wedding dresses featured Sarah Jessica Parker’s black ballgown worn at her surprise wedding to Matthew Broderick. She looked gorgeous and thrilled, and her style choice set a fashion trend that continues to influence modern brides.

Decades later, Parker revealed in an interview that she regretted wearing that stunning black gown. If she had a chance to redo it, she’d wear classic white at her wedding.

Regrets are a part of life, but you can learn how to make a positive out of any regretful feeling. This detailed research study shows many thousands of people have regrets about things more serious than a beautiful and heartfelt elopement.

The best choice for you is what works for your life now. As the cost of living increases, the modern definition of eloping (a smaller or even surprise wedding in your backyard or a “destination” wedding close by with just the two of you) can be your real-life fairytale.

Besides, when you get a great start to your marriage (including financially), there are fun ways to celebrate later, including a post-elopement reception.

Let’s talk about one (if not the most) important consideration in eloping vs weddings: the costs!

Eloping vs Wedding: Costs and Other Options

We started by investigating the costs of a traditional, larger-sized wedding (100+ guests) to compare against eloping or smaller events.

Current Costs of Larger-Sized Weddings (2019-2021 Data)

Thanks to The Knot for publishing annual surveys on wedding-related data. Here are a few key statistics showing how much costs vary by the number of guests and where you’re getting married in the country:

  • Larger weddings average approximately $38,000, but costs fluctuate a great deal. For instance, the average price of an Orlando wedding is $25,000, while a wedding in Boston can cost as much as $40,000 for a similar-sized event.
  • Banquet halls, barns, and historical buildings are favored venues for many bridal couples. The average venue cost is approximately $11,000, and with catering and alcohol costs included, the average price of a wedding reception alone is almost $16,000.
  • The national average for a wedding cake in 2021 was $500 at the low end.
  • The average cost of a florist in 2021 was $2,300.
  • The average cost of a DJ in 2021 was $1,400.
  • Considering the price differences of weddings by state, the average cost per guest in 2021 was $266.

Those are eye-opening numbers! Now let’s add another popular option: the destination wedding:

  • According to Brides, the average baseline cost for a destination wedding is approximately $35,000 (price dependent on how long you’re away, the location, and the exchange rate).

How a Smaller Wedding Stacks up

Smaller, more intimate weddings (1-50 guests) average approximately $15,000 across the country (2021 survey data).

Here are the average costs that bridal couples face, regardless of the size of their event:

  • Dressmaker (average cost $1,800)
  • Bride hair and makeup (average cost $250)
  • Photographer (average cost $2,500)
  • Groom’s suit (average cost $270)

Fewer guests will trim your wedding budget, and many couples take on DIY projects like flowers, music, and the wedding cake to make their small wedding even more affordable.

Did you know Kate Middleton did her own makeup when she married Prince William on the world stage? If she can, you can too!

Surprise Weddings and Post-Elopement Receptions

The research is in, and it’s shocking. For example, can you believe that guests may spend up to $3,000 on each wedding they attend this year?

When we saw those numbers, it made us realize that a surprise wedding can work for everyone. Of course, it’s always fun to get gifts, but having your friends and fam gathered around you is the greatest gift of all!

A post-elopement or anniversary reception is similar to a smaller wedding reception if you want an intimate elopement ceremony. You can hold the celebration any day you wish, anywhere you choose!

When Eloping Makes the Most Sense

Suppose you elope as a twosome with some traditional elements (a wedding dress, a groom’s tux, and a wedding photographer).

In that case, your additional costs will be your marriage documents, an officiant, and minor incidentals (national parks may require you to purchase a permit for a small fee).

Whatever you choose, planning the right wedding day for you means a lifetime of priceless memories!

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