Money-Saving Tricks I Learned Planning an Elopement

By Andrea Karim on 2 February 2011 (Updated 12 December 2011) 8 comments
Photo: S. Su

I used to love weddings. Then I started planning my own, and all of a sudden, I wanted to cry.

A few months ago, my fiancé and I decided to tie the knot. We thought we'd somehow manage to have a wedding in Seattle, followed by a Seattle-area reception and then another reception in India, where his parents currently reside. It seemed like a good idea until we realized that we would need, and did not have, the following: money, resources, lots of spare time, and a love of planning stuff. (See also: Alternative Wedding Ideas for Big Savings)

The thought of flying to an exotic destination and eloping did occur to us, and then we remembered that we couldn't afford that, either (see above, Money: We ain't got none). So we decided to have a technical elopement instead. It turns out that eloping can save you a bundle of cash, and not just because you avoid having to feed a couple hundred friends and relatives.

See, in the wedding industry, an elopement is really just a small wedding. It doesn't have to be spur-of-the-moment, and it doesn't have to be an exotic destination wedding. It turns out that many vendors treat any wedding under 14 people as an "elopement," and some offer cheaper packages. I had never thought of our upcoming nuptials as "eloping." I mean, who sits around planning to elope for 10 months?

Apparently, plenty of people. Once we finally decided to keep the wedding as small as we conceivably could, we found that plenty of other people have had teeny, intimate weddings on a dime. Here is some of what I have learned when planning my elopement:

Tiny Venues Can Be a Blessing

Because our wedding party is so small (10 people including the bride and groom!), we were able to book a local garden conservatory for the ceremony location. The Volunteer Park Conservatory is very strict about what you can do with the space during a ceremony — no decorations, no flowers, and no "set-up." This will save me a bundle of money, because otherwise I would have blown a few hundred dollars on Chinese lanterns and flowers, easily.

Go with Local/Seasonal for Flowers

If you do get to hold a bouquet on your (tiny) big day, you can pull together a gorgeous floral arrangement at your local grocery store or florist. Just buy the flowers loose, choose local or in-season flowers, and never utter the word "wedding" within earshot of your florist.

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Ask for an Elopement Ceremony

Because our ceremony is going to be mercifully short, our secular wedding officiant is charging less than half of what he would charge for a full-scale wedding ceremony. We met with him a couple of times and worked out most of the ceremony details over email.

Bargain with a Photographer

Our wedding photographer's package is literally 1/3 of the amount of a full day of wedding photography and includes "engagement photos." We're skipping many of the day-of photos of everyone preparing for the wedding, because we don't like that kind of thing.

Put Your Wedding Online for Those Who Can't Attend

I'm not big of being filmed, but we are in the midst of bargaining with a videographer to have our very short ceremony filmed so that we can put it online and share it with the bazillions of relatives and friends that we couldn't have at the wedding. What, you thought YouTube was only for cute kitten videos?

Scout Reception Locations

Having a nice dinner for 10 people in Seattle isn't that hard — most restaurants we have spoken to have been able to quote us reasonable prices for our party. We haven't settled on a dinner venue, but since we're spending less than 2K on the rest of the wedding, we can afford to splurge on a nice dinner.

Get Married on a Weekday

Getting married over a weekend is expensive, but if you only have a few guests, see if you can talk everyone into attending a weekday wedding. We are getting married on a Thursday, which is one reason why so many vendors were ready and willing to work with us. It's easier to book venues, too. (Hat tip to Christina @ Northern Cheapskate for the reminder!)

Did you elope? What are your ideas for saving money with a small wedding?

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Guest's picture

Congrats on the small wedding! My husband had a small wedding - just 17 people including the minister - and it was wonderful!

Here are a few ways we saved:

We made our own invitations using the computer. Since some of our guests were couples, I only had to make about 10 invitations.

You don't need the fancy dress and tux... I did buy a nice, elegant cream dress and veil (on clearance at a bridal shop), but my husband wore a suit he still wears today.

We got married on a Friday afternoon and saved money. Many services - like photographers or caterers aren't as busy on Fridays and will cut you a deal.

My husband and I have been married 10+ years and everyone who was there still talks about what a beautiful wedding we had.

It doesn't matter whether you spend $1,000 or $100,000 on a wedding. Everyone leaves with the same piece of paper saying their married. :-)

The marriage is far more important than the day!

Best wishes for a happy marriage!

Andrea Karim's picture

Oooh, thanks for the extra tips! I didn't feel like I could talk about the dress, since I did blow some money on that. :) And I TOTALLY forgot to mention the day of the week! I have to get that in there - thank you!

Guest's picture
Jon

Christina, My wife and I also got married on a Friday it nearly cut the bill in half!

Here is some more useful ways to save: 40 Ways To Save On Almost Anything

http://www.curiousread.com/2010/08/40-ways-to-save-on-almost-anything.html

Guest's picture
Tiffany

Congratulations Andrea! I have another tip for the dress, if nothing off the rack or on discount works. I had mine custom made by a local dressmaker who specialized in taking apart (ugly) vintage dresses and re-designing them as something new. I had a lovely custom dress for a couple hundred dollars. Depending on the design, the cost could be less or more.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks! That dress idea sounds incredibly cool - does this designer have a web site, by any chance?

I looked at local designers when it came to wedding dresses, but I noticed that the trend in dresses right now is Mad Men-style tea-length vintage. It's really a cute style, but it does not work with my build. I always assumed that I wouldn't wear white or cream, either, but the only dress I found that really did it for me is cream-colored. And here I had thought I would get married in an electric-green sari. :)

Guest's picture
Tiffany

Local for me is Sonoma & Napa CA, so that dressmaker probably wouldn't work for you (her shop in Napa is Betty Girl Boutiqu). I think if you found someone who can sew and likes repurposing materials, you'd be good to go. Not only is new fabric expensive, it's just not as well made. Vintage satin feels so much nicer & heavier. FWIW, I also found myself leaning towards a champagne colored dress, even though I'd always pictured myself in color!

Guest's picture

All great things any "one foot out the door" (regarding a big wedding) bride should know. I would also add that a cocktail reception where you serve only drinks and apps is another great way to go. (Particularly if you find yourself somewhere in that fine line of elopement and small wedding). Just make sure to hold it at a time that guests do not expect a full meal (ie, have the reception after 8pm or before 3pm).

Andrea Karim's picture

That's a really good option - my cousin did this for his wedding. Wine, beer, and appetizers. It was stand-up, too, although there were chairs for the older people. It was more than enough food, and having so many different canapes made the eating more interesting.