Should We Elope?

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The Question

Some people had some comments on how to make a wedding cheaper by eloping, but no real specifics. I'm thinking about getting married next summer and both my girlfriend (soon to be fiancee) and I don't want a big wedding. We are currently thinking about going to Colorado for a week to elope and spend a fun week of mountain biking, whitewater rafting, etc. with just our immediate families. Does anyone have any suggestions for eloping?

Wedding With a View

Your idea of bicycling in Colorado with immediate family members sounds like a winner! Six years ago, my husband (then fiancee) and I got married in a hot air balloon in New Mexico. Only five people could fit in the balloon basket, so there was the bride, the groom, the minister, the pilot and the minister's wife, who served as a witness and took a video of the ceremony for us so that we could later show it to our friends and families in New York and California. Without the stress of handling logistics for a traditional wedding, we were able to focus on what really mattered at the moment, which was gearing up to spend the rest of our lives together. The actual wedding ceremony was the most magical time of my life.

For our honeymoon, we rented a micro-motorhome (a rented or borrowed car with tent in the trunk would have sufficed) and toured the National Parks of the southwest U.S. for two weeks.

Bed and Breakfast Wedding

In May, 1992, my husband and I were engaged. In July, 1992, we married in a waterfront B & B in Kennebunkport, Maine. Our plan was to elope with our immediate family and keep it a secret from our friends and extended families until the deed was done. The final product was a romantic, yet sneaky, family getaway, that no one in my family would ever have imagined doing. The ceremony was on a Thursday, which forced our families (There wasn't too much arm-twisting) to take two days off from work; this also served as a mini-vacation for them.

Our parents, brothers and sisters (13 in total) received a computer generated invitation with a sketch of the inn on the front, requesting their presence at our small wedding. We reserved the inn for one night (accomodating 15 people, including us). We arranged for a Justice of the Peace to officiate the ceremony, the innkeeper's friend, a free lance photographer, to take pictures, and for the inn keeper's sister to cater a few appetizers before we took everyone out to dinner at a local restaurant. We came back to a strawberry shortcake that was delivered from a local bakery. We did not nickle and dime the whole affair, but spent within a budget that was worth every penny. Including the lodging, dinner, photographer, caterer, flowers, cake, champagne, etc, we spent no more than $2,500.

My husband and I went up the day before our wedding, picked up the marriage license, and had our own candlelit rehearsal dinner. The next day we watched as the very organized innkeeper kept vigil for her friend and sister to show up on time. The guests arrived and pictures were taken. We tied the knot, made a toast, had dinner, and spent the rest of the night with our family with the entire inn to ourselves. The next day we shopped, saw the sites, had a great lunch and went home to catch our honeymoon flight to Scotland. We left the family behind to tell everyone our big news.

I am still relieved that we did not fall into the wedding trap and spend thousands of dollars for a day. Come up with something different that you can call your own. You will think back on your day and smile, just remembering that you didn't throw away all your money! Oh yeah, and that you got married too!

Wanted to Elope, But. . .

When I got married last summer, we were originally going to elope. A bunch of friends threatened to kill us if we did. They wanted to share the joy of the day.

We ended up renting a school hall, and a church, and having a potluck reception. It was a summer wedding and the invitations specified casual dress, and that men were requested not to wear ties. My wife wore a colored print dress that she has worn on several occasions since. I wore white bermuda shorts and a white short sleeve shirt. I think that we probably spent $500 for everything.
Sherwood B.

Distant Places

My husband and I were having a problem with spending too much for a wedding and decided to elope also. But we invited everyone anyway, it was in Hawaii, and we had a total of twelve show up including us. We bought them a luau dinner for coming (our reception).

If you are planning to elope out of state, there are books in the library on planning weddings out of the area. You might also look on the net. I called a few companies that handled weddings in the area I wanted. Every state has them. They have all kinds of packages, from intimate to secluded spots, etc, and also will specialize packages for you. They handled everything we wanted, and I was very happy with our wedding. We got there the day before, and they even rented my hubby a tux. Some of the companies will help you book honeymoon plans also, since it is in their area. Out of all the people I know, I have been the happiest with my wedding.
L & C M

Still Some Planning to Be Done

In response to M, who wanted some more specific details on saving money by eloping, I have a few suggestions.

First, give yourself at least a month of preparation. Eloping is not necessarily the "easy way out." There's planning and logistics to be worked out with any size occasion, unless you go with a wedding chapel. However, I found that wedding chapels seemed to be very expensive, and that a better solution may be to find a minister who is willing to perform a service "anywhere, anytime." He/she may also be able to recommend some lovely area locations for the ceremony. You'll find these ministers listed with the wedding chapels. This is where the Internet and/or library is your friend, as many travel agencies will not have this type of information if the service is not combined with a travel package. Also, I got little to no help from the area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau.

You'll need to get a marriage license in the state/county that you choose to be married in. Different states have different waiting periods and rules, so you'll want to check early. A wedding chapel or minister may have this information, but the county courthouse will be your most reliable source.

Whether your family is present or not, you will want to have pictures of the event, so ask around to find a qualified but lower-priced photography stuido in the area which will go to your location. We got a small photo package for $300. Call the circulation office of the area newspaper to get a back copy of their annual wedding tab, which usually comes out in February. Many useful services will advertise in these flyers.

What to wear? This was a second marriage for me, so I was able to re-use my old dress and shoes, and we bought DH a new suit. You may choose to go western, or casual, or jump out of an airplane. Go with your personal tastes, but remember that the photographer will be capturing your choices on film for posterity.

Also, M mentioned spending the week with their families. We suggested to our parents that they were welcome to come see us get married, but the response was an uncomfortable, "Well, you ARE eloping." In retrospect, having them there would have changed the tenor of the whole event, and may possibly have defeated our purpose of having an intimate celebration of our spiritual union. Different families will handle this in different ways. Keep an open mind.

Finally, when I think of Colorado and Inexpensive, I think of the ski resort areas (Keystone, etc.) in the month of May. Often called "Mud Month", May lies between the late ski season and the early summer tourist season so many businesses offer great deals to the local residents and whoever happens to be travelling through. Also, this is a great time to rent condos for rock-bottom prices. The ground is muddy, but the scenery remains Colorado. One word of warning, however, on altitude sickness that may affect the older or more frail members of your families. Grandma may have trouble breathing, let alone hiking to that beautiful mountain grotto at such a high altitude.

Check with your travel agent about wedding packages. A friend of mine eloped in the Bahamas and got married on a ship at sunset by a ship's captain. Because of the expense, you may not choose this route, but talk about romantic!

We saved money by staying at a guest house on a military base (my husband was active military). Our room had a kitchenette so we were able to also save money on our food bill, rather than eating in restaurants for two weeks, but I got plenty tired of sandwiches, chips, and microwaved TV dinners. A condo would have had tableware and pots and pans, etc.

A note to our Catholic friends: Coordinate with your parish and the area parish. Many priests will not marry couples under age 30 without some pre-marital instruction. If you have had an anullment, make sure you have the proper paperwork with you to present to the area priest.

We found eloping to be very economical, much less stressful, and extremely personal. The trip was expensive for us, but nominal compared to the stress and expense of even a frugal, traditional wedding. We wouldn't change a thing.
Cheryl and Frank B.

Go For It !

Go for it. Where in the world is the sense in spending thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars on a one-day party? I know one couple who spent $15,000, most of it borrowed, on their wedding. It was a great ceremony with tailor made gowns and tuxedos, haute cuisine at the five-course, sit-down dinner, French champagne, even caviar. The problem is that they are now carrying $10K in revolving credit card debt and only have a picture album, albeit a very nice one, to show for it. What a waste!

Wedding ceremonies are great. My wife and I had a very beautiful affair in 1976. The total cost was $600. We made our own hors d'oeuvres and sandwiches, bought a keg of beer, rented a local sportsman's lodge for the reception. Of course, it is, or should be, a once in a lifetime event; accordingly, this is a very personal choice. However, what would you rather have, a "unique" wedding and a $200/month credit card minimum payment or money to enjoy each others company every Saturday night at your favorite restaurant?

Wish I Had Eloped

I highly recommend eloping. My wedding was a big pain and the money would have been better spent elsewhere. Disneyland does a weekend wedding package which includes ceremony, hotel, park entrance and champagne for around $500.
Susanna F.

Ours Was Fun

My husband and I eloped and it was so much fun. We had a reception that evening at a bed and breakfast we were staying at with just our families. My family spent the day getting the cake and small finger food together. The bed and breakfast was a little pricey, but with what we saved on a wedding was not so bad. And they (B&B) were more than willing to accomadate us. I would give the courthouse of the place you will be a call and find out what you will need to be married and ask for their suggestions as to whom can perform the ceremony. This is what we did and we had such a special day. I would reccomend the B&B for you and your family. They are very quaint and romantic. Who knows it could be a second honeymoon for your parents and new parents.

We Just Eloped

Some advice for the person asking about eloping. My husband and I eloped about 8 months ago. It was great and inexpensive. About a month after we eloped, we had a reception and prepared the food ourselves. We rented a inexpensive hall and a DJ and those were the only expenses we had. It was a great way to save money and we had a lot of fun doing it. We didn't take our honeymoon until a couple of months later, but that was mostly due to the fact that we had been on vacation the week before we decided to elope and we had to go back to work.

I'd Recommend It

My husband and I were married at the City Hotel in Columbia, CA (gold country, near Sonora). With minimal time and planning, we had a judge marry us upstairs at this 1800s hotel and had a family dinner in the 4 -star dining room which is run by a local cooking college. With an off-the-rack lace dress for me and a regular suit for him, plus a mimimal flower order from the local florist, invitations done on a laser printer, and my sister taking the photos, we pulled off this beautiful, romantic wedding at a low cost. No hassle, either! I'd recommend this to anyone over a $10,000+++ wedding any day! This wasn't a true elopement--we had 7 guests--but it was pretty darn close.

Don't Forget Reception

An idea I had was for you all to set up a reception after the wedding for all your friends and family. You could get married and have your honeymoon then come home and have a party. If you all have special clothes you wore for the wedding, wear that and have cake and show pictures. If they would like to bring presents that would be a good time for them to bring them. We had a regular wedding but many couldn't come to it because of distance. We had a party with cake, wore our wedding clothes and showed our video. They all had a great time. Those who were unable to go to the wedding felt as though they hadn't missed out.
Sheryl W.

Simple Morning Ceremony

Since my fiancee and I are planning to buy a house, our wedding budget is very tight. We have decided to have a simple morning ceremony followed by a brunch with our immediate families. Our parents (on both sides) are holding separate informal dinners with their family and friends later on. Since each is planning and paying for their own party, there are no wedding disputes.

"Walk-In" Wedding

My husband and I were members of a large church and planned a wedding with all the trimmings till we saw the cost. In the end, I bought a suit on sale for $39. He wore a suit he owned and bought a new tie to coordinate with my silk flower bouquet. We then contacted a photographer to meet us at the church and had a "walk-in" wedding in the chapel at 10:30 am on a Friday morning. The pastor was already in his office for the day and donned a robe for the occasion. Today, it is six years later and my silk flower bouquet sits in a china vase on the dining room table alongside our wedding picture. The people who mattered most were there and understood our decision to not spend lots of dollars. It was the right choice for us and every couple should do what is correct for them. Going into debt to finance a wedding? Not us!

Didn't Elope, But Kept It Simple

My husband and I planned to elope, but I realized he being the only child would cheat his parents for the ceremony that a wedding brings. We also didn't want to spend a lot of money. I hand wrote 50 to 75 invitation that had a poem in the front and an invitational style (similar to a party) with a request to bring potluck food. I bought a white summer dress and my two bridesmaids brought identical dresses in maroon. We asked our parents to pay for the flowers in lieu of presents. The church was free. The fellowship was also small but free. It was worth it. The photographer was a friend. My husband, the usher and best man wore their suits (not matching but who cares!) We had a wonderful time, great memories, and his parents CRIED (very reserved folks they are!) when we were all done. My parents have 9 kids so they went thru this many times. I am their last child so for them it was bittersweet, but they were pros at it.

It doesn't have to be fancy. In the beginning, sit down and decide who you would invite, where to have it, and what to wear. Then be really firm. There will be some guilt from parents but be firm.

It's Great

Eloping with your immediate family is great. Just be sure that your family wants to go where you want to go and can afford the trip. We have a family member who wants us all to come to a fancy vacation spot (airfare alone in the $200-ish zone and we have 2 teens to take also) to witness his second marriage. They have also planned it for a busy family time (end of school year) and business time. I do not have the sort of job that allows me to take time off "whenever." Yes, we can (barely) afford to do it. No, we do not want to go. Almost all the immediate family feel the same way. We think it would be wiser for them to marry here, where we all live, and vacation on their own! So - assuming none of this applies to you - go for it! Sounds like fun.
Glenda H.

Another B & B Fan

I think I have a great alternative to an inexpensive wedding. My husband and I were married in a B & B with a very small ceremony (immediate family only). The out of town guests stayed in the B & B, and because each of their rooms were paid for by our guests, the downstairs parlor, formal dining room for refreshments and the kitchen was free for us to use for our day. Another advantage is that the B & B is already decorated nicely, saving us from that expense. We didn't even need to rent/purchase candles. It was a beautiful family event. The charm of the victorian B & B made the ceremony even more beautiful. Our B & B maximum guest capacity was 50 people.
Julie S..

Small, Elegant Wedding

I am replying to the reader who wants to cut wedding expenses by eloping. My husband and I had a very elegant, yet small wedding. ( I wouldn't call it eloping since our families knew about it and atttended). We invited immediate family only to the ceremony and luncheon afterwards.

I wanted a short wedding dress since I was getting married at noon and did not want to waste money on a gown I could never wear again. At the time I was married (6 yrs ago), there were not too many choices out there but now there is a much greater selection of short wedding dresses in brides' magazines. (Be warned, that anything remotely associated with the word wedding is a license to charge ridiculous prices, so whenever possible don't limit yourself to the words "wedding dress" and you'll have more options to choose from at lower prices.) I overcame that obstacle by going to a boutique and getting an elegant after five white dress on sale that had pearls sewn on the bodice only. Headpieces at bridal shops were as much as my dress so I had my seamstress create one for me using a haircomb/barrette from a local department store that had a white satin fabric bow on it. She attached white tulle with pearls (available at most fabric stores) to the base of the comb and it looked just like the veils I saw at bridal shops for hundreds of dollars more. If the bride can wear a hat in the ceremony (I could not), try looking in the millenary section of a major department store. I found an elegant white pillbox hat with a tiny veil and flower in the clearance table at Marshall Field's for $9.99 that I bought because I loved it so much and ended up wearing it to the reception.

The reception was held in a private room at a local restaurant and that was our largest expense. We had about 20 people (my husband is one of six so his immediate family is rather large) including our sponsors (the best man and his wife). Our guests had a choice of seafood, steak or chicken and since it was in the early afternoon, lunch prices were in effect.

We did not have a band or any entertainment since the sacrament of marriage was the focus of the day. We did, however, hire an excellent photographer to capture the event on film but did not hire a videographer. The priest at our church even commented that it was nice to see the ceremony as the focus of the wedding for a change.

The invitations were preprinted with the words Date, Time, Place etc. that I filled in the details using a calligraphy pen. You now can buy paper that you can feed through the laser printer and use a script font to get the same effect. My bouquet was small and tight (almost like a nosegay) so I saved money on flowers but I did not skimp on style. I cut out a picture from a bride magazine and took it to a local out of the way florist who created an almost exact replica of the picture for only $35. A florist in downtown Chicago wanted to charge me $150 for the same thing. The best part of having a small wedding is that we were able to spend our money where it brought us the most enjoyment - the honeymoon. We spent two wonderful weeks in the Greek isles.

Have Inexpensive Wedding Instead

I am currently planning my own wedding and have learned many different ways for saving money. I'll list them here:

  1. Flower bouquets (for bride and bridesmaids) - Rather than spend a fortune on real arrangements, try going to a craft store and getting the holder and using dried or fake flowers. There are definitely ugly fake flowers out there, but if you search just a little you can find nicer ones. Plus there's no need to care for them or worry about wilting, etc.. Craft magazines have patterns you can use for the arrangements.
  2. Photographer - This, along with flowers, was one of the biggest expenses I came across. So I've decided not to hire someone. Many cost up to and over $500, for the various poses and developing. My friend's wedding pictures involved about 30-40 poses, just shuffling around the same people and cost a fortune! Why not just get someone you know who can take reliable pictures, set up a couple poses, take pictures then get extra copies of only the ones you like best to share with friends and families instead of having to buy an entire "pack" of pictures? Also, I bought a couple of disposable cameras to give to a couple of people in the audience to get different shots during the wedding itself. The same goes with a videographer - our friends will have their video cameras there, so why hire someone else?
  3. Have it at a house - If your house isn't big enough, why not ask a friend or family member if you could use their house? It saves on the cost for the church (if there is any) and for a reception hall. Being a less formal atmosphere, it's also more conducive to interaction among guests.
  4. Decorations - go cheap! Who needs HUGE flower arrangements that will die in a few days or weeks?? They cost a fortune! A few, smaller, well-placed arrangements can have a very nice effect just as easily. For both floral decoration and other decorations (paper items, balloons) - always shop around, at least a little. Look for better prices and bargains.
  5. Reception - Mine is going to be at the house I am getting married in. We are getting married on July 4th, because my fiancee's family always has a big get-together for it, and this way everyone will already be together. There will already be food and activities, etc. So we're having the wedding at 11:00 and afterwards the celebration is like a reception, but for free! It saves us having to take EXTRA time off for the wedding (this was already a planned vacation, the trip to this gathering), as well as saving the family a bundle in having to get together a second time. And no cost for a church or reception hall.
  6. Bridesmaids/groomsmen - There is no law that says you have to have 3 bridesmaids, a maid of honor and a flower girl (+ the male counterparts). Since our wedding is going to be on the simpler side, we are only having a maid of honor and best man. This saves us money on gifts for them, and saves time in planning. I've also left it mostly up to my maid of honor what dress she'll wear (with my approval, though), and want her to get something that she will be able to wear again. This saves her money in that she'll get more than one use out of it. Well, I could just about write a book about the subject, but these are some of the main things I've found to help save a bundle. Things need not be extravagant to be elegant, there IS such a thing as simple elegance, and that's what I'm shooting for.


Keep It Small, Simple

One reader requested ideas for a cheaper wedding. A cousin of mine decided to get married some years ago. Both sets of parents offered to pay them the cost of a wedding, and they could use it to buy a starter home. They had a quick - in 3 days - wedding with just the immediate family. I suppose they wore church clothes. It was so quick, I did not make it either. That starter home got them going, they paid it off and were able to buy a larger place later on.

One summer, years ago, two friends of ours decided to get married - they are sisters, and the parents could not afford to help much. The brides borrowed dresses from others, they picked flowers from friends around their small town for the church decorations, I think their churches brought potluck type food in for the reception, etc. I think the parents gave them $100, so they had to borrow most things.

Another wedding I went to, the girl's dresses were made out of pretty cotton/poly and in a design that could easily be worn again. They made vests for the guys and the ties they wore were from the girl's dresses, including the wedding gown, which was also made. The men wore basic dress slacks. The bride and groom did their own music, but taped it ahead of time. In that wedding and another one that summer, they had a group of us from college, provide the reception music - singing songs they loved from our campus ministry. The bride had designed the invitations, which were lovely. I love homemade things like that.

At another wedding, this couple chose to have their wedding in Itasca State park, and had a softball game following the ceremony, so most people wore jeans to the ceremony. A picnic followed that. You could choose to bring your food, ask the guests to bring dishes, or cater the group. Some individual caterers are not that expensive, especially in small towns. Stores like our IGA do catering and are very good.

A really good book, with ideas for weddings too, is Living More with Less that was compiled by a Mennonite organization. Find a friend to design the announcements, even if you are not inviting most people to the ceremony. Or use your computer to make your own. I love weddings that are unique and personable. I like to see that people have thought through the wedding and the marriage, using music they love and poems or whatever that speak of their relationship. Those things do not cost money. One cousin of mine printed up the names of those in the wedding, or helping with the service, in the program, and told how they met, or what their relationship was etc. I thought that was special, since we often do not know the individuals who are in a wedding we attend. We also took the opportunity to post our new address in the wedding program, to make it easier to get that news out.

For our own wedding, my in-laws brought the food for the rehearsal dinner, and we ate at my folk's house. It was very informal and fun. My mother-in-law had the food in their trailer - which they parked in the driveway, so it was not too hard to do. They were not ones to eat out much - she much preferred to make the food - so that 's what we did. I found my dress on sale for $90, and my mom found a veil to match later on. We rented basic suits - which my folks were willing to pay for, since the 3 guys were still college students and broke. The girls dresses were simple and not expensive. I let them pick them out. We did hire a caterer, so my mom would relax and enjoy the day, instead of fussing in the kitchen at church. The leftover food went to the house for company to eat that evening. Today I would buy the silk or freeze dried flowers, since they keep forever. Or use some fresh and some silk. Mine were very simple and did not cost alot. I had two ten year old girls, one a cousin, the other a niece, who wore homemade dresses, and walked ahead of the other attendants. They were thrilled to be in the ceremony. Each mother made their dress. Friends and family served the food.

We did buy pictures from the photographer, but we bought the 5x7 size. We also made sure we bought different pictures from the ones my folks chose. That way we got many more poses to look at.

We also have friends who truly eloped. No one knew. They simply bought dress outfits on the premise they were for some dance, then headed out to the Little Brown church in Iowa to marry. They are glad they did it, although they love weddings of others.

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