An elopement is not a second-rate way to get married. An elopement can still be beautiful, meaningful, and important.
My brother and new sis-in-law just eloped in Vegas, and I spent the last month helping them pull it together. Since this was the second awesome and fun elopement I helped to plan in 2 years (my own being the first) I thought I’d post a comprehensive all-in-one for you smart kids who want a CHEAP AND FUN way to get married. For as little as $60, you CAN get married, on the sly, in style, and quickly. And it doesn’t have to suck.
Still not sure? You can always have a big wedding reception party to introduce your families and friends later on. This is becoming pretty popular. Who doesn’t want two weddings? Two awesome days celebrating you and the person you love? Two Anniversaries? TWO DRESSES, EVEN? Yes, please!
BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING:
How much money do you have? Fifty bucks? A couple hundred? A couple thousand? Decide on which of these items are most important to you, and spend – or plan to get it for free – accordingly.
Yes, but is the fire-eater in our budget?
Picture you and your bride or groom standing in a room with zombies breaking in through the windows. you have about 30 seconds to get married before you have to fend them off or die and turn into Zombie Bride. Quick: what do you picture it like and who is there with you? That’s probably what your elopement should be like and who should be there (for me it was my groom, my little sister, and a fabulous dress).
WHO TO INVITE and HOW TO GO PUBLIC:
Elopements can get a bad reputation, but I think it’s time to turn that on its head. It’s possible to elope with class and style. It’s not about sneaking off, but rather preserving the intimacy of a grave commitment that’s really only two people’s business in the first place. (At least, that’s how we saw it when we eloped.)
This decision and action is about starting a family of two people. So don’t go about it lightly, and don’t let anyone around the ceremony who will bring you down. Only drama-free and trustworthy people who consistently make you feel good about yourselves and who support your relationship should be invited. If that turns out to be no one else, then that’s okay. (You might want to… re-evaluate your relationships… but that’s for later; for now, let’s just focus on eloping.)
Therefore, decide early on who to invite or tell and formulate that list together. You can announce it later on, once you have some pictures back and the paperwork filed, and invite these “Fringers” to a larger party (with the date to be or already decided.) Facebook can live without your Status change for a couple weeks.
Okay, should we text this person yet? Photo by Beretta
LEGAL PAPERWORK ($50-60)
Call or browse the local county courthouse and find out what’s needed (Forms of ID, legal paperwork from previous marriages or immigration, and the fees). You may have to go on a certain day, or make an appointment, and you may have restrictions on forms of payment (check, Limits on credit cards, or cash only).
Don’t forget to file the paperwork properly after the wedding! You’ll need to look up exactly what is needed to file and when the deadlines are. Same goes for any name-changes.
Vegas: In Clark County, it’s notoriously easy to get hitched. http://www.clarkcountynv.gov has all the info you’ll need (Marriage License info is on the left of the page).
Photo by Beretta
CEREMONY LOCATION (Free- ??)
Think of your favorite places on earth or where you enjoy spending time together and think: why not get married there?
Take it from an ex-wedding-industry professional who LOVES weddings and equally loves to save money: Weddings can be a racket, and that includes trying to elope in style. From national parks to the local library to your favorite beach spot, the chances are that if you ask directly, you’ll encounter a fee or red tape. For our wedding, I spent a few weeks researching modest elopement packages, only to find that they all included a minister, cake and champagne ( all of which I don’t like) for fees upwards of $900, had very mixed reviews, and had limitations that really put a damper on our style.
When Husband and I eloped, we just went up to the Getty Center one night and wed in a secluded spot overlooking the lights of LA. The Getty was very special to us and where we had a memorable date early on in the relationship. It’s not like it was entirely “allowed”, but since it was at night, we didn’t have professional photographers, and there were only 6 people, no one really stopped us, either. It was like getting a $10,000 venue for free. The most people did was ask us not to take professional photos (which we respected).
Husband and I, Getty Center Los Angeles. Photo by Yenny Munter
Since then, the Getty might be wise to Flash-Mob Style weddings. But be it a beautiful park or forest, a beachside overlook, a historic landmark, or a rented cabin for the weekend, you can find original, beautiful, and CHEAP places to get married (and maybe even have a long romantic weekend).
If you plan to do something similar to what we did, you might have to have a few plans in hand and be open to some hi-jinks. So –not that I told you so– unless the venue specifically says on their website that weddings are not allowed or are allowed only for a fee, DON’T ASK and DON’T SAY WEDDING. Just show up, find a little area to wed in, and do it. Be respectful to all personnel and all posted rules, don’t cause a scene, and don’t dally with your professional photographers. Take the time to shoot the photos elsewhere. If you do this, chances are you’ll get away with it.
If all else fails, if you have a trusted friend or family member with a home you love, consider doing it there!
In Vegas (Clark County), you can practically do a drive-through wedding. On Chapel Row in old Vegas, they have scores of places with officiants and even Elvis. Browse a few online. Most packages will run you a couple hundred, with add-ons like photos and DVDs (which you can order later).
All told, an Elvis wedding at the adorable Graceland Chapel ran my brother around $300 including the courthouse paperwork, and it was a great wedding.
I will definitely be buying this photo, thankyouverymuch. Photo: Graceland Chapel
OFFICIANT (Free – ??)
Officiant’s fees in Vegas are about $50-60 and may be separate from a wedding package, so if you’re booking a package, be sure to ask if it includes this fee.
If your venue doesn’t include an officiant, or you prefer to have a person close to you officiate and wish that person to be an ordained minister, you can usually get a friend or family member ordained online (Try Universal Life Church ). This also saves an officiant’s fee.
(Husband, officiated and marrying friends.)
You can also be married at a courthouse, by a notary, or even a ship’s captain. Additionally, some states will recognize a one-time marriage performed by a citizen. Research who can by your state and county, and make sure several sources say the same thing before you consider the information valid.
You’ll also need a witness. This can be a person at the venue, or a guest you invite.
TOKENS OF AFFECTION: (Free- ??)
Photo by Beretta
Be they heirlooms, rings, tattoos, or other tokens of affection, these items exchanged are highly personal; you can exchange pieces of string or rings costing zillions. Price, item and the urgency that you have the exactly right items at the time of your elopement are totally up to you.
Don’t let the cost of potentially expensive jewelry dictate what you exchange as your tokens of love and affection on your Elopement day. There will be time for upgrades later, if needed. We got our titanium rings online from China for a fraction of what retailers charge. (They were so cheap, in fact, that we actually ordered several each and chose in person which ones we liked.)
If rings are what you decide to exchange and you’re purchasing sight unseen, go to a jeweler to get sized so you know the size to buy, no matter where you get them.
There’s nothing wrong with putting on your own best clothes, borrowing something from a friend, or dressing casual to get married. In fact, it’s smart, savvy, and you’ll look back and remember how happy you were, not that you didn’t get to wear a new dress. But if you want to get new duds for the big day (like I did) , you don’t have to spend zillions.
What will really help you here is taking and knowing your exact sizing and measurements, since buying something online for an elopement can often mean rush shipping and sight-unseen purchases, and alterations tack on tons of time and extra money. Keep in mind that Bridal or vintage sizing can run 2-4 sizes larger than street size. So a bride size 8 can be a 10 or 12 in bridal or vintage.
My second wedding dress, our reception party. Photo by Jillian Hughes.
Less-traditional brides and grooms can look into going vintage or vintage-reproduction, or finding couture or handmade items.When I eloped, I paid about $100 for my vintage-reproduction dress; my new sister-in-law is more traditional, so I scored an adorable gown for her for under $170 with free shipping from David’s Bridal. You can also browse online for the option of places near you that will rent designer gowns or even costumes.
Brides Against Breast Cancer, Recyled Bride, CraigsList, Etsy, and Ebay.com are all great places to find used (and cheaper) wedding gowns, accessories, tuxes, or suits. If you’re shopping a chain, try searching coupon codes for the seller, “friending” them on Facebook or signing up for their email list. You might save 10- 20% or score free shipping.
PHOTOGRAPHY and BRIDAL HAIR & MAKEUP: (Free- ??)
Wedding photos and hair and makeup are kind of similar in category. They are professional services that you would normally hire someone months in advance for, who usually specializes in weddings. So these 2 categories require a little resourcefulness on your part, and a sensitivity toward a personal career and talent I feel needs addressing.
If you hire a stranger or professional, expect to pay a rate for these services, but ask if they can work with you on price. Most photographers, makeup and hair artists undercut their prices as it is, so if you do hire a professional for your wedding, don’t haggle too much. Be honest, nice, and agreeable. The more personable you are, the more likely it is you’ll find someone willing to work with you on short notice for a better rate.
If you really have no budget, then try asking a friend or family member to help you, or try posting in your social network – you might be surprised! Be sure to state that you can’t afford to pay, but offer some sort of compensation, such as a trade in professional talents or services, babysitting, a week’s worth of home-cooked meals, etc.
Both makeup and hair artists and photographers can be found on model-and-photography resource websites like ModelMayhem.com or PinupLifestyle.com. Just be clear on your budget, communicate primarily on the phone if you can, and even meet in person beforehand if possible.
Hair and Makeup:
E and T in pre-wedding get-pretty mode. (MUAH and Photo by Beretta)
For DIY hair and makeup, video tutorials galore can be found on YouTube. One of my favorite gals for this is Kandee Johnson.
Or, if you want to hire someone locally, you might find hair and makeup artists at a boutique salon near you.
For our elopement, we just had friends shooting pictures and video, and saved up to hire a photographer friend for more professional photos at the Reception Party.
In Vegas, for my brother’s wedding, the chapel shot photos and DVD during the ceremony, which they could order later on piece by piece; before and after the ceremony, we ran around Vegas with a consumer-grade high-end Nikon for some awesome pre-and-post wedding shots.
All set to wed! Bring on the Elvis!! Photo by Beretta
FLOWERS: (Free- $75)
For our elopement flowers, we just popped into an adorable local flower store, chose the bouquets and boutonnieres the afternoon of the ceremony, and had the florist wrap them into bouquets, all for about $50.
In Vegas, the flowers were included in the package, but I brought along some silk prop flowers for the bride for the before photos.
Even for our reception party a year later, I went to the LA flower mart the day before the wedding and got an SUV-load of fresh flowers of every kind imaginable, for under $75. We arranged them in bouquets, boutonnieres, and in jars ( a la Every Pinterest Wedding Board from 2011-2012) and were total Wedding Chic for a fraction of what a florist would have charged.
Flowers for tables and petals for throwing. Photo by Jillian Hughes
RECEPTION/ AFTER PARTY: (Free- ??)
For an elopement, following it with a fun activity together or with your small entourage of guests is a great way to make your quick and easy ceremony feel special.
Planing a nice dinner, a picnic, a trip to a zoo or theme park, a camp-out, a potluck at home, or a night spent boozing and dancing is a great way to cap off the evening.
If you do plan on dining out, make sure to reserve a table (giving yourself ample time to get there from the ceremony site).
Don’t feel you need to state it’s your reception, since most restaurants may specify set menus and additional charges for official “wedding receptions”.
But do ask (nicely) for the nicest table they can accommodate.
Oooh, Cake-like! Yamishiro, Los Angeles Photo by Rossanna
Need more help? I made a PUBLIC GOOGLE DOCUMENT of links and a checklist to help you get organized… because I’m really that Type-A. Click here to view and make your own write-able copy, or download to print out and write on.