You know the story: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl go into massive debt to throw a lavish wedding? Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like the happy ending we remember from the fairytales.
Weddings are seriously expensive. The average celebration costs over $35,000, according to The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Study — and that’s not including the honeymoon.
Enter the planned elopement. Faced with that impending financial stress, many couples are bucking tradition and opting for a cheaper alternative.
But how much can you save — and how would your family take the news? Three eloped brides share the details.
"We threw a no-frills party and saved thousands."
Anna Reichert, 28, an event manager & Étienne Guérin, 41, a restaurant wine director in Queens, New York
"Our path to marriage didn't involve a formal proposal; it was more of an ongoing conversation about our future that always ended with us saying we should get married. I work at an events venue where wedding receptions begin at about $10,000. Then there's the engagement party, rehearsal dinner, bridal party gifts ... you could put a down payment on a house with that kind of money!
Étienne and I agreed that the financial burden, plus the all-around stress of a traditional wedding, wasn't something we wanted. I called my parents in Minnesota last summer and told them we were getting married two weeks later at City Hall — and, aside from two of our friends-slash-witnesses, weren't inviting any guests. The original plan was to go out to lunch afterward and call it a day, but after talking to my mom, we decided to do one get-together with our New York friends and another at home in Minneapolis.
Étienne is a wine director at a local restaurant, so we did the first party there and had about 65 guests. Between food, wine, labor and supplies, the whole thing cost us just over $2,200, which we covered in cash. It was honestly the most amazing and laid-back night — exactly what we wanted!
Our Minneapolis celebration is going to be a small backyard party that my parents are largely gifting us. (They're supplying the food and drinks; we're paying for the cocktail tables, linens and invites, which is setting us back about $200.)
Forgoing a traditional wedding has saved us at least $7,000 — money we eventually plan to use on a down payment on an apartment."
"We got married in our living room and spent the savings on a dream honeymoon."
Bernadette, 45, an accountant & Anthony Harris, 43, a business operations specialist in Atlanta, Georgia
"Anthony and I had known for a long time that marriage was in our future, but we didn't want to put ourselves in debt just to tie the knot. So we decided to semi-elope last year, selecting a date and sharing it only with our mothers and the minister who married us. A few months later, we had a small ceremony in our living room; our only guests were two friends who served as witnesses.
Since the only money we spent was $10 on the marriage certificate, we had the financial freedom to take off on a dream honeymoon to the Caribbean two days later. We spent a week lounging on a private terrace, enjoying butler service, eating five-star food and soaking up an utterly blissful honeymoon. The trip cost us way less than a traditional wedding — $3,000, which we paid for in cash.
We announced our marriage on Facebook upon returning and got mixed responses. The majority of people were shocked; a few were hurt that we'd excluded them from our special day — especially Anthony's family. This is his first marriage (third for me), so they were expecting a ceremony and celebration.
Thankfully these feelings have passed and they seem genuinely happy for us. There was initially some pressure for us to throw a big party since we skipped having a wedding, but we've been adamant about not going into debt to please others. This translated to us receiving fewer gifts, but we think it's a fair trade!"
"We tied the knot for $150 and started our marriage with financial stability."
Beth Adan, 25, a publicist/graphic designer & Jake Frazier, 26, an organic farmer in Pullman, Washington
"Eloping in 2014 easily saved us at least $10,000. Jake and I have big families, so hosting a traditional ceremony and reception would have been way out of our budget. (We would have either had to borrow money from family or go into debt to make it happen.)
So we made plans to elope on our four-year anniversary. After my brother got ordained online, we met up at our home with two close friends to witness us signing our marriage certificate. And just like that, we were husband and wife! Jake and I celebrated with a weeklong camping trip at a local park. From start to finish, the whole thing cost us about $150.
We funneled our massive savings into our travel fund and honeymooned on a little beach in Nicaragua shortly after. Instead of stressing over planning and paying for a wedding, we spent a week surfing and backpacking in paradise. In total, the trip set us back roughly $1,500, which we saved bit by bit beforehand to avoid going into debt.
While we were thrilled, our families weren't nearly as happy — they wanted a big wedding, and it was hard to explain to them that we weren't responsible for living up to dreams we didn't share as our own. Three years have passed and they're still pushing for a party. But throwing some big shindig just doesn't feel like us. Plus, eloping enabled us to kick off our marriage with financial stability. For us, it was a win-win!"