The Cost (and Value) of a Well-Planned Elopement Day

so… how much does eloping cost?!

Picture this… the wind is lightly ruffling your hair as you stand on a mountaintop holding the hands of your loved one. Your dress billows out behind you, making the scene jaw-droppingly picture-perfect. The Rocky Mountains tower above you, and moss and pine needles tickle your bare feet below. Everything is perfect, except… you didn’t realize the spot you chose was so popular and there are at least 20 people around you. And you didn’t know you needed to apply for a permit so you’re checking over your shoulder for park rangers. And you forgot to pack a snack! Ah! The worst!

Sure, minor slip-ups can happen to anyone, but a hastily-planned elopement can crack open faster than thunder on a late summer afternoon. So let’s talk about how to do the one thing you DIDN’T think you had to do when you chose to elope: plan.

Planning out your elopement day in full will make everything run that much smoother. Even with elopements growing in popularity and old-fashioned, invite-the-whole-town weddings declining, there still aren’t many resources out there on what you actually have to do when planning your elopement day. So let’s demystify and defog! Here are the six critical steps to planning your elopement day, plus what they cost in 2021!

Photographer/Super-Savvy Planner/Timeline Assistant: $3,000-$6,000 on average depending on coverage and location

That’s right, photographers do more than just photograph now. They provide timeline assistance and planning, so you don’t have to stress about little details that, quite frankly, you don’t have the experience doing. Vendor lists? Hair and makeup scheduling? Dress transportation sans-mud to the rugged mountaintop? Photographers have experienced it all, so nowadays they’re stepping up to help with everything you might not have considered.

This is especially important if you’ve never been to the location you want to elope in. You’ll need a seasoned professional who knows the area to help guide you along the way. They’ll know all the best vistas for photos and the perfect plateaus to have your ceremony on, as well as how to reserve those locations so there’s no tourist holding up an iPhone in the background!

Now, before you say “Can’t I just give my iPhone to my mom? She takes great photos!” hear me out. Burdening a guest (and, at an elopement, chances are it’s an immediate family member) with taking your pictures is never a good idea. Remember, you included everyone on your limited guest list so they could be truly present in this moment with you. Not watching it all through a tiny iPhone screen! And the thing is, there’s a reason that professionals get paid the big bucks to do this stuff. It’s. Not. Easy.

Most photographers have been perfecting their art for years. They know all the tricks to get the perfect first look teary-eyed glance and the funniest bust-a-move dance photos once the champagne starts to flow. And figuring out lighting and camera settings and back-lit, front-lit, side-lit, and heaven forbid, top-lit photos? Don’t even get me started. So please. Do yourself a favor and hire someone who knows what they’re doing!

Florals: $300-$500

Time to get tossin’, because flowers are still a big deal for elopements. Maybe an even bigger deal, since they don’t get lost in all the other decorations at a regular wedding venue. Your elopement bouquet should reflect colors that speak to you, but it also looks great if they match the setting. Think dusty oranges, gray-blues, and muted whites in the desert, or bright greens and vibrant pinks in a mountain meadow.

When it comes to florals, the more unique and true-to-you, the better! You can even splurge a bit, since elopement flowers (since you don’t have to decorate the whole dang place) cost a lot less than the average florals! And remember, these will be in your photos and heirlooms forever, so don’t skimp. Think of them as an extra accessory to your gown or suit, not just some flowers to hold for a few minutes.

Also, consider flowers that have meaning to you. What flowers were always blooming in your front yard where you grew up? What about the flowers your spouse-to-be brought you on your first date? Spend some time thinking about the types of flowers that carry special significance for you and your fiancé. 

Hair and Makeup: $200-$400

Another staple of getting married, the gorgeous up-do or intricately braided crown descending into long mermaid waves simply cannot be replicated on your own (if you can do it, though, props to you!). So let’s talk beauty.

The cost of bridal hair and makeup depends largely on your location, and once you add in travel, the prices can get sky-high pretty quickly. So, why do you need one of these pros at your elopement?

A key differentiating factor that hair and makeup artists have from your sister, or your mother, or your BFF (or, let’s be real, you with a Youtube video) is that they know how to do ya right up to look best in photos. There’s an art to makeup for photos specifically (Contour? Highlight? Lip liner? Who are they? I don’t know…but your makeup artist does!), and you’ll want a professional handling them for you. The same goes for hair–they know how to make the curls look like they’re naturally swept up in the mountain wind or seaside breeze, no wild weather pattern necessary!

Looking for a money-saving pro-tip? I’ve got you: book an artist who does hair AND makeup instead of hiring two separate vendors. Usually, they have deals if you book them for both, and you’ll only have to pay for one person’s transportation!

Officiant: $400-$800

Hiring a professional officiant has its perks. For example, you’ll be getting someone who has experience performing weddings and can craft a beautiful, thoughtful ceremony for you. You also won’t have to worry about a friend getting ordained and memorizing a marriage script for you.

Prices for officiants vary based on how experienced the officiant is and how far they’ll have to travel. If you’re having a hard time finding officiants in the area you want to elope, that’s something your photographer can help you with. I even got ordained so I can do it myself, if you prefer!

If you’re eloping in Colorado (first of all, excellent choice) you can even self-solemnize your marriage, no witnesses necessary! And in many states you can also have a friend or family member marry you, just do your research beforehand.

Lodging: $300 per night

In the wise words of Donna and Tom, treat yo self.

Seriously. There’s truly nothing better than a drop-dead-gorgeous rental to spend the night in after your wedding. Think quaint cottage along the coast of the North Carolina beaches, cozy A-frame in the woods of Washington, or vintage condo on the ski slopes in Colorado. The beauty of elopements is that the world is your oyster!

An added bonus of booking a beautiful place to stay is that we can get some amazing photos. From steamy hot tub shots to quaint fireside pics to a first dance with a view hang-on-the-mantle picture, the options for having fun with photos are endless! So don’t be stingy with your lodging–you won’t regret it.

More in-demand lodging will be higher priced, as well as places that are in-season. To save some money, book a place that is off the beaten path or out of season or both.

Permits and marriage license: $150-$250

You can’t just get married any old place–you’ll have to get a permit for that gorgeous Glacier vista or that open Yosemite meadow. National Park marriage permits are typically around $150, and all proceeds go directly to maintaining that park, something this Leave No Trace photographer loves to see. And, you’re getting views that you can’t even put a price on!

Marriage license costs vary from state to state, but they are typically around $50. Don’t forget that important detail!

So, how much does an elopement cost?

There are many reasons why elopements are increasing in popularity, and the lower price is certainly one of them. Cutting out the wedding venue and catering alone can save you a year of paychecks. And, elopements don’t have to be just you and your spouse-to-be. Typically, up to ten family members are invited to come along.

But an unforgettable (in a good way!) elopement can’t just be about penny-pinching and throwing something together quickly. It’s certainly nowhere near the cost of a full wedding, but if you add everything up (photographer, florist, hair and makeup, officiant, permits, lodging, and don’t forget travel!), an elopement can cost in the neighborhood of $10,000. And while that might send your head spinning, the elopement you deserve will cost a pretty penny. But not planning well will cost you even more!

So, if you’re planning to elope, make sure you give yourself ample time (and budget) to plan properly. And if you’re still searching for your photographer, you better believe I’d love to hear from you!