Key takeaways

  • The average cost of a wedding is $23,000-$35,000
  • An elopement can be the equivalent of a small, intimate wedding
  • Both weddings and elopements require planning
  • There is no one “best choice” - the right answer is different for every couple

Wedding or elopement? That is the question.

Some couples have always dreamed of the perfect wedding with hundreds of family members and friends sharing the day. Others prefer a small, intimate ceremony and reception, or choose to elope with only a handful of guests as witnesses.

With weddings, not including the honeymoon, costing an average of $23,000-35,000, smaller weddings and elopements are becoming more common. Although no figures exist, Pinterest reports a 128% increase in searches this year for "elopement photos," and the social stigma of eloping has faded.

When the total cost for a wedding rivals the price of a car, or even a downpayment on a home, does it still make sense? Couples should weigh these key factors before deciding: the financial and emotional benefits and costs of each approach, and the logistics of planning a wedding or elopement.

The benefits and drawbacks of big weddings

For many couples, the opportunity to spend their special day with many of the people who are most important to them has always been the dream. They can bring their extended families together, make aunts, uncles and cousins happy, and enjoy the attention of a crowd.

And they’ll almost certainly have lots of gifts to open.

Of course, a big wedding has a price. Literally. Big weddings tend to be five-figure, sometimes six-figure, affairs. With so many family members, the chances for drama increase. (Which at least can make for a great story later.) Planning a big wedding takes a lot of time and energy.

And after the honeymoon there will be a lot of thank-you notes to write, which gets tedious after opening the fifth set of salt and pepper shakers.

The benefits and drawbacks of small weddings

Maybe you don’t want to spend the day with 150 of your closest family and friends. A handful of special people would make you happier.

If so, you’ll almost certainly spend much less time, energy, and money. You can D-I-Y your wedding and skip the wedding planner. Your choice of venues will be much broader. Chances are you won’t have dozens of people from out of town who expect to be fed and entertained all weekend.

However, some family members or friends may be upset they aren’t on the (short) guest list, so a smaller ceremony and reception doesn’t guarantee less drama. You could be hearing about it for years. (“It’s a shame Aunt Edna didn’t see you get married before she died.”) And, of course, you’ll probably receive fewer gifts.

Sidestepping the wedding and eloping

The classic elopement strategy for decades was to head for Las Vegas for a quick wedding and make an announcement to friends and family when you returned. All you need to obtain a wedding license in Nevada is:

  • Be at least 18
  • Have $77 in cash
  • Provide one form of I.D. each (driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate)

There are no blood tests or waiting periods. Once you get the marriage license, you’re good to go. Make an appointment at one of the 50+ wedding chapels in Las Vegas, or (in many cases) just walk in, pay the chapel, and in a few minutes you’ll walk out as a married couple. Fees for a basic ceremony are low ($199 or less), and you can always pay extra for an Elvis impersonator if you’re a hunka hunka burnin’ love.

Not anywhere near Nevada? Several other states offer same-day weddings with no blood tests required.

There’s no question that eloping, excluding the cost of the trip itself (assuming you travel to get married) costs much less. Couples who used the website Simply Eloped reported their average wedding cost was $1,485. Many invited a few guests (the average was 10) and chose a spot that was meaningful for them.

You can still have a photographer or videographer document the day, and host a party afterwards for family and friends.

You may, of course, have family members or friends who are hurt that they weren’t invited, or criticize you for not having “a real wedding.”

But you’ll still be just as married. You may not be able to register for wedding gifts (etiquette experts frown on it), but chances are you’ll still receive a few. And you may even have a few stories to tell.

If you’re still unsure about whether you’d rather elope or have a more traditional wedding, a CFPⓇ Professional from Facet can help you weigh the financial implications of both. You’re on your own for the thank-you notes, though.