To Elope? Or Not?
Should We Elope?
The Elopement Movement
No Wedding party at all?!
My very frugal bride-to-be is of a mind that we should just go to city hall ourselves without telling anyone. Of course, this is the most frugal of all possible methods, being no cost whatsoever, except the marriage license fees. (One reason is that this way we have a prayer of saving enough for a downpayment for buying a house within a year.)
I am of a similar mind from at least a financial point of view and I am thrilled to potentially avoid all the complications of going through a wedding "party". I wonder if any readers have done this and what their experiences and feelings were afterwards. (Including what their experiences were with family and friends who would in the "normal" course of events had been invited to a wedding.)
Anonymous in California
"In a Moment..."
I had a very frugal wedding and it was great, with the help of family and friends we put together a very nice wedding and reception. What we did was have the pastor announce during the service that we would be married a few minutes afterward, and that anyone who wished to stay and witness our marriage could. I wore a classic suit (suitable for business) in off-white rather than a very expensive dress. My father used his Weber grill and smoked a turkey and a ham. Family and friends supplied everything else except the cake. I estimate that the entire affair cost us about $900 back in '83. Plus, a family friend made our wedding pictures for us and paid to have them put into a memento book for us.
Is It Just the Money?
There are only two times in your life when you can have all the people you love and care about in one place to celebrate your lives together -- your wedding and your funeral. Unfortunately, you only get to enjoy one of them! I feel strongly that it's possible to have a nice, joyous wedding without putting yourself into debt, and without putting off things you want to achieve in life.
Frugality for its own sake, when it causes you to forego joy and celebration, isn't a virtue to me. It's too easy to forget that what matters in life is the moments we spend with each other showing our love, not balancing our checkbook to the penny!
My husband and I spent less than $500 on our wedding by getting married at a local parade. St Louis has a very big Mardi Gras celebration every year. None of our friends would miss it, so it seemed like the perfect time for a wedding.
Several of us had chipped in to rent an apartment on the parade route for a week. That cost us $20. The license was around $50. We bought a couple of cases of champagne for another $200. A couple of cakes and decoration were the rest of the expense.
The ceremony took place an hour before the parade started. We had champagne and cake afterwards. Then the parade and related festivities were the reception. It was a most memorable frugal day and no one will ever forget out anniversary.
I know several people who got married at city hall, then held a "coop" party (such as a potluck picnic in the park or a cookout at someone's house) to celebrate. Almost no cost, and you still get to celebrate with friends. (Also, if you're *really* mercenary -- you get more presents if you have some kind of party)
Jes the Cheap
Our Friends' Advice
After going back and forth with what we wanted for our wedding with a VERY little budget, we decided on an out door wedding and picnic reception. We talked to others who had gone the JOP route and ALL said they would do it differently if they could do it all over again.
You mentioned saving for a house. With a wedding comes showers, gifts, and $$$. With the gifts and cash, we paid off the bills from the wedding and had extra for a honeymoon! The gifts were things we requested from a registry that were reasonable. All in all, it was a lot of fun and I wouldn't have changed a thing!
Worked Fine For Us
I was married by a marriage commissioner. It was just me, my husband, the commissioner and her granddaugher. The whole wedding cost us only $60! $20 for the ring (we found it on sale), $20 for the license, and $20 for the commissioner! And I was married in a U.S. Navy t-shirt and jeans in true Navy fashion! (hubby is a sailor)
I wouldn't change it for the world. I know people who have spent upwards of $6000 easily on weddings. I must say that the fact that I saved THOUSANDS of dollars helped get the marriage off on the right foot! And I think we are just as happy if not more that the people who spend a fortune. In fact, the people I know who spent over $6000 on a small wedding are on their way to divorce court as I type!
As far as our families go, we called them after the wedding and told them the we had tied the knot, and they were just as happy for us as if we'd had a huge get-together. And I think that was partially because they didn't have to spend money themselves to "buy a new outfit"!!!!!!!!
My husband and I eloped on Valentine's Day 1992. We went to the county courthouse with a friend and a few siblings. The ceremony lasted longer than I thought it would. The judge said a long and meaningful (seemed very very long) sermon, and then we were married. We took a long weekend (4 Days) honeymoon skiing in Telluride, CO. All in all, the total cost was $800. When we got back and told our parents, they were angry with us.
However, the anger didn't last long. We just celebrated out 6th wedding anniversary, we own our home, and we have two beautiful daughters. Would I do it that way again? YES! We've been to several weddings since we were married (one cost $30,000), and I'm glad that we eloped. Right after we did it, I felt bad for having left people out, but now when I look back at it I laugh. For me, it worked out great. Will it work out for you? I think it all depends on your relationship with your respective families.
My boss did something I consider to be very romantic, intimate, and cost- effective. They invited a handful of close friends and family to a dinner, and announced then and there that they were getting married. You could probably let the immediate family in on the secret to begin with, inviting them to the civil ceremony, then have an intimate dinner with other close friends and family to let them in on the secret. Personally, I would also have friends or family take a couple pictures from the wedding, purchase inexpensive wedding announcements, and send out announcements (with a small copy of one of the wedding pictures perhaps) to everyone else after the fact. Register with a local or national store so that if someone wants to buy you something, they'll know where to look.
A "Public" Wedding
My husband and I were married a little while ago in a very small ceremony that was really beautiful, included those close to us and cost us very little. I have several things to say:
Look for an attractive public place to get married, and then ask for permission. Usually that's free or nearly so. I would suggest checking out the local parks. I have friends that got married in a State Park on the edge of a cliff. The presiding reverend made a comment about "starting off on the rocks so as not to end up there later" that was very cute. The scenery was fabulous (in the middle of a forest) and the reception was held in their church hall.
I feel that you should try and make this special, because it is going to be one of the high points in your life, but there's no reason to spend money you don't have.
My grandparents got married during the depression in the offices of their religious representative, and my grandmother still tells me about it. I'm sure it will be a special day no matter what you decide!
Susanne in California
We did this very thing and the reactions were quite varied. My husband's family expressed some disappointment but were mostly happy that we decided to "tie the knot" after living together for three or four years. When they learned of our civil ceremony, they sent cards and money and still send us a wedding anniversary card each year.
My mother was deeply offended, as was my older sister. They felt as though they had been excluded from an important event. Though they too were happy that I "finally married," this sentiment was lost in the bad feelings they had. Since we had lived together for so long, we did not think it necessary or even appropriate to have a large wedding or any wedding at all. I despise formal ceremonies and we didn't want a lot of gifts or fuss. Had we done so, we would not have been able to buy our first house together which we did in the same month that we married. I guess my hindsight suggests that had I to do it over again I would still go to city hall. However, I would discuss my intentions with family members and hear their opinions on the matter before the fact.
The Purpose of a Wedding
It is good to save for a down payment for a house, and City Hall can be a pleasant place for a wedding. But please don't be so cheap that you miss the point of marrying, which is a social act. Getting married is important and deserves some form of community. One of the loveliest weddings I ever attended was a simple church wedding (usually no fees for members), with a marvelous pot luck supper in the church hall.
Elope Now, Have a Wedding Later
My husband and I went through a similar situation... money was very tight and a lot of other complications were involved. We eloped in our tiny apartment and invited our parents and extremely close relatives. We ended up with 12 people there and afterwards my father proposed a toast. This is my first marriage and my husband's second. I still want a "real" wedding and we intend to renew our vows when the time and money is right. This way I still can wear my gown that I never got to wear in the first place and it gives us plenty of time to decide how "we want our wedding" and time to search for the best prices, as well as allow us to put money aside. Our families have been understanding about the situation since we told them up front our reasons for eloping.
My wife and I decided to elope to avoid all the hassles that go along with a formal wedding. I contacted friends at the local cable TV access channel and "reserved" studio time and enlisted my friends as camera crew (they were excited to help, and even broadcast the wedding at a later date on their program). We arranged for my wife's pastor to perform the ceremony via telephone (he had to be in Canada that week). The decorations were studio props. We traded some old jewelry in exchange for wedding bands. My wife and I both bought new, informal clothes. I bought my wife a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The reception was a bottle of champagne in the studio parking lot. The total cost of the wedding was about $250, including the hotel room that night. We phoned our families the next day and they were all delighted. Both of our families threw shower parties for us in the next few weeks. We've been happily married for six years now. I wouldn't do anything different today.
I can just hear your mother now, she will be furious with you. I'm sure you will disappoint many relatives and family if you have no reception at all! You said the reason not to have a wedding party is to save the money for a down payment to buy a house in a year. Why the hurry? We lived in apartments for 4 years before we bought our first house. And had a very nice wedding with lots of great memories. I used all my cheapskate ways in order to have a nice wedding for under $3000.
Shelley in Swanton, Ohio
Our's Was Special
My husband and I too didn't want to spend a huge amount on our wedding, and so decided on a courthouse wedding. We both wanted a little spotlight though. After all, this was our big day. So we planned a very small, very intimate dinner party the night we were married. It was one of the most special days in my life. A couple of my friends got together while we were off getting married and made a delicious dinner of pot roast, potatoes, and carrots. I treasure the memories of that day and night!
If you have a couple of understanding friends you could confide in, there could be a post elopement party put on by the friends & family of the bride & groom to take the place of the reception, which would normally take place after the wedding. That would serve to sooth those who might not attend the wedding anyway, but only come to the reception.
Then, for the two sets of parents, especially the bride's mother, who has been planning this event for 20 years, more or less, there is a two pronged approach. First of all, the parents could stand up as witnesses with the happy couple at city hall. This, at least, would include the parents in the ceremony. Secondly, a rededication of marriage vows with full bridal party, etc., could be done at a later date, say, on their first anniversary. After all, who is the ceremony for, anyway, the friends & family, or the couple who are dedicating their lives to each other for "as long as they both shall live"?
Prepare Your Family
Tell your family first of your plans. I didn't and my mom cried for a week. You don't want to shock or alienate the family. Give them a little time to come around to the idea. When you explain that you'd rather save the money for the household and emergencies, it's almost impossible for others to think that it is a bad idea.
Civil Ceremony Wasn't Enough
My husband and I got married at the court building here in town and yes, it was quick, relatively painless, and cheap, but I was left feeling a bit empty (especially when the clerk said "Congratulations" and handed us a plastic bag full of goodies like a roll of toilet paper and a sample bottle of Excedrin!). Afterwards, we decided to have an outdoor, simple but MEANINGFUL ceremony with about 50 friends and family members. It was really beautiful and to me made the marriage vows much more spiritual and deep, instead of the two minute "Do you...?, Do you...?" from the local judge. If you're really worried about cost there are lots of ways you can save lots of money at a wedding --you can always have a potluck picnic affair, for example-- but to me, the union of two families should be celebrated as that and not thought of an just another expense.
An Intimate Alternative
Have you considered the following which would make everyone happy? A small intimate wedding in the house or yard. The minister could come out and do the ceremony. You can make or buy very inexpensive invitations. Get a few bottles of wine and a couple loaves of bread. Limit the party to one hour.
Everyone is happy that they witnessed your wedding, and the cost to you is minimal. The benefit, however, is that you will receive gifts (hopefully of money) to help your investment toward your new home.
Avoid the Craziness
My husband and I got married at the county courthouse and have always been thankful for that. Our reasons were financial as well as the fact that we knew our mothers would make us crazy trying to plan a wedding together. We took a bottle of champagne, two wine glasses, birdseed to throw at each other, and my handmade bouquet. It was quite nice and most importantly, it felt like it was just "between us". Afterwards our mothers had a stink about it and threw us a "small" wedding celebration, that turned out fine but was QUITE nerve wracking, just as we had figured it would be. We were so glad we had had our real wedding just between us!
Only Now Do I Regret It
My husband and I were married in City Hall. I only came to have regrets after about ten years. When friends and family members are having their weddings you will start wishing you had done something. Why not a small informal ceremony at your church, a park, or even someone's home. Limit your guest list to CLOSE relatives and intimate friends. Have a little reception complete with the video, the pictures and memorabilia. You won't spend the high dollars that a traditional wedding would cost, but you won't wish you had done otherwise later in life.
Come As You Are
My husband and I did something similar, and it turned out wonderfully! I would recommend it to anyone! We simply made an appointment with the judge and he offered to marry us outside on the town green. We told people what time and where and said come if you want to! you have to be VERY firm with family about this, though!! About 17 people showed up and it was just beautiful!!! Took about 5 min., and we were on our way to a romantic dinner ALONE, then to a local hotel with a jacuzzi, which was a gift from a friend, for two nights, then home!! I wouldn't change a thing!!
A Great Story
Ten years ago on a Monday in March, my husband and I went to the courthouse in Santa Ana where we were married by the County Clerk. There was a white plastic trellis at the end of the counter with plastic flowers poked into it and we were the only English speaking couple in there. Afterward, we stopped for a celebratory hamburger and proceded to go fishing for the rest of our honeymoon day. And, I have never regretted having done it that way. First, my wedding is certainly the most unique story you will hear. We all get a great chuckle out of it.
It never bothers me that I didn't go the traditional route. I never give it a thought unless someone asks. Then you're in for a great story.
A Few Simple Requirements
My husband and I did almost the same thing. We were married by a minister alone in the church, and asked only my next-door neighbor (a good friend) to take pictures. We've never regretted it for a moment! It was the most intimate, satisfying way we could have gotten married. Our families took the news very well and were just pleased to see us so happy.
Here are some of my tips. Explain your "elopement" as choosing an intimate moment, not "leaving out" anyone. Tell everyone as soon as possible, for obvious reasons. Even if it's just the two of you, add a few special details like flowers, a small cake, and a special dinner to commemorate the day. Ask someone from NEITHER side of the family to take a few pictures to preserve the moment. If friends/family continue to feel "left out," let them know how much you would appreciate it if they hosted a small celebration or family dinner. (You may feel like you're imposing, but if they REALLY have trouble getting over the missed event, they'll welcome the opportunity to participate SOMEHOW.)
Rebecca in San Antonio, TX
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