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Planning Your Dream Elopement

by Gary Foreman

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You've been planning your dream elopement for months. You've been sharing dreams and plans with the special someone. But you've never eloped before. So you wonder if you're missing anything or leaving something undone?

To help you make the most of your elopement, we asked Matt Dalley and Cody Rutty of SimplyEloped.com to help us understand some of the pitfalls to avoid and blessings to make sure you get.

Q: Are there certain elements that make eloping successful?

Matt & Cody: When many people hear the term "elopement," the first thing that pops into their head is a couple secretly running off to Vegas and quickly tying the knot. While this approach works well for some couples, that isn't the only way to think about an elopement.

An elopement can also be a pre-planned ceremony that just has a smaller scale than a traditional wedding. Rather than hosting a big blowout ceremony, an eloping couple can simply hire an officiant, invite friends/family, and exchange their vows in a location of their choice (assuming they've taken the necessary steps to be legally married in their state).

The minimal nature of these weddings can make them much more affordable than traditional ceremonies. If a couple works with an officiant to hold their elopement in a public location, they can have a memorable ceremony for a fraction of what a traditional wedding would cost. Through our company, a couple can do a ceremony like this for just $500.

Elopement ceremonies can happen in parks, on beaches, or other locations that are meaningful to the couple. This approach is an alternative to a normal wedding ceremony and it gives couples the opportunity to be really creative. We think that putting in the time to think about how the ceremony can be meaningful to the couple is an important step in having a successful and memorable experience.

We also recommend that couples be mindful of costs. Elopements can be much cheaper than traditional weddings. That being said though, things like pricey photo services, exotic locations, etc. can make an elopement more expensive. We recommend that couples develop a budget for the elopement and stick to it.

Q: What circumstances can derail an elopement?

Matt & Cody: Elopements provide the chance to conduct the wedding in a unique place relatively easily, which makes them really special. However, this can also lead to distractions, which could be frustrating for some couples.

If the couple chooses a location that's near train tracks and a train passes by during the ceremony, for example, that excess noise could be an unwelcome guest.

When choosing a location, it's ideal to find a place where there won't be loud noises or other distractions taking place during the experience. Be wary of locations near airports, train tracks, noisy crowds, construction, and other any other factors that could take the focus off of your experience.

It's never a bad idea to give some thought toward a plan B location near to their ideal spot, just in the off-chance of adverse weather or something going awry.

Though maybe not an immediate concern during the ceremony itself, the backdrop to the couple can play a big role in how the photography turns out. When choosing a location, this is another factor a couple should be mindful of if photos are important to them.

All of this being said, as our company's officiant Stephen Dym recommends, "Let go of expectations and have fun. Life is an adventure." It's hard to plan for every possible thing that could come up during the elopement. If the couple has a good attitude and is open to possibilities, everything will be fine. With the right attitude, events like bad weather or loud noises that may be annoying during a ceremony could also be viewed as experiences that make the elopement more unique and memorable.

Q: Are there any current trends for eloping couples?

Matt & Cody: Amongst the millennial generation, we foresee a trend of elopements growing in popularity. First off, many millennials came of age during the recession and that appears to have affected their purchasing behavior in a way that encourages frugality. On top of that, many studies indicate that millennials value experiences over material possessions. As elopements are a much more affordable option for many couples. With the money they're saving, they can spend more on memorable experiences.

The money saved can create the opportunity to do the elopement in an interesting location. Flying off to Paris, for instance, or returning to the vicinity of where they met are two options that this approach could put on the table.

The last few years have also made high-quality photography equipment more accessible than it's ever been. As DSLR cameras and more-and-more powerful cameras in phones continue to penetrate the market, we expect it to become easier and likely cheaper to document ceremonies.

The internet is also making it so much easier to personalize a wedding. Finding people to provide horse drawn carriages, untraditional flower arrangements, or other creative ceremony components can happen with a few clicks. Since it's getting progressively easier to get creative with a ceremony, we think we'll see an increase in personalized and unique weddings.

Q: If the couple is planning on a honeymoon, should they get married where they live? Or where they'll be honeymooning?

Matt & Cody: This largely depends on whether the couple wishes to have guests in attendance. In which case, a distant location may decrease the amount of people that can make the trip. A hometown wedding can be a good fit if the couple wants to have friends and family in attendance. Hometown weddings can also be easier to pull off and cheaper than more exotic locations.

Although, if the honeymoon destination offers a higher appeal in terms of scenery, romance, personal meaning, or even convenience, a destination can be a fine approach as well.

What it really comes down to is the priorities of the couple. For some couples, a hometown wedding makes sense for them and their budget. For others, a destination elopement is more appealing. Both of these approaches can lead to elopements that are both beautiful and memorable.

Q: Is it important to have a couple of friends to act as witnesses? Or should the wedding couple just run off and get hitched?

Matt & Cody: The legality of witnesses varies state-by-state, so we would first recommend the couple ascertain what's required in the state they plan on eloping. Aside from that, this really comes down to the level of intimacy the couple is envisioning for their ceremony and what roles guests will play in the experience. Ultimately, the size of the ceremony is a personal decision that should be made by the couple.

Q: What's the best way to tell family and friends that you eloped?

Matt & Cody: Even though an elopement is an atypical approach to a wedding, we think that it's something to be proud of doing. In many cases, the elopement news can be shared however the couple typically shares milestones in their lives. Social media can be a great way of sharing quickly disseminating elopement details. For other couples, sending friends/family a card with a picture of the couple can be a good fit.

If the couple feels best about giving people an informal advance heads-up about their wedding online, that's fine. If the couple wants to do something more personal, something like a card could make more sense.

When it's all said and done, an elopement offers a lot of flexibility. It gives couples the opportunity to define their wedding ceremony on their own terms. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to anything related an elopement, I think that the best path is doing what makes the most sense for the couple and their budget.

Reviewed August 2017

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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