How to Have a Sustainable Wedding | Cost to Elope + Budget Calculator
Traditionally, weddings in the US average a cost of $34K! All that money spent on a fancy venue, large space, décor, and meals for 100+ people adds up. You’ll undoubtedly save on the cost to elope. However, that does not mean that elopements are worth less. Depending on the choices you make as you plan—travel costs, vendors, the types of activities you plan, etc.—you can still expect to spend an average of $5,000-$18,000… but with careful planning and consideration, it’s possible to have an elopement which is both sustainable and won’t break the bank.
If you are reading this, you are probably seriously considering eloping, even if you haven’t committed yourselves 100% yet. If you are thinking about eloping, you are clearly someone who is willing to do things a bit differently from the norm. So, here is another thing to consider. The numbers above don’t even consider the carbon footprint of the average American wedding. Did you know that the average wedding in the US produces an estimated 400-600 pounds of garbage and emits roughly 62 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? While no doubt aesthetically pleasing, all this waste produced in a single day is often more of an acknowledgment of cultural traditions. Not a true reflection of the unique values shared by the couple at the center of the celebration.
What to consider and budget for on your day:
By their very nature, elopements are more sustainable for the health of the planet. There is another reason to feel good about eloping instead of hosting a big conventional wedding. Why? Because elopements are smaller, averaging approximately 10 guests. Fewer people = lower cost per guest. A no-brainer, but here is where it gets interesting in planning an elopement. With fewer people, you have more freedom to consider smaller and cheaper (but no less beautiful!) venues.
Inside or Outside? Remote or local?
Rather than spending anywhere from $2000-23,000 on the venue, why not think about somewhere outside? Or, if weather or personal preference means that your elopement will take place inside, a smaller space? You’ll already be saving a couple of thousand dollars right here and most likely even more. Private home rentals are a popular choice, allowing couples to stay the night (or multiple nights) and have freedom of how the timeline of their day will look (see example elopement timelines here). Just make sure, if you do book a vacation home, to get preapproval from the host to hold a small event. Want to be extra eco-conscious with your booking? Consider looking up sustainable architecture homes or buildings like thermal mass and passive solar structures or regenerative farms.
If you’re getting married outside, also be sure to check if you’ll need a location permit from a park service or lands manager. These usually cost under a couple of hundred dollars, way cheaper than any private venue, and support our beautiful natural lands by providing a source of funding.
If you decide to elope somewhere far from your home with a few of the most cherished people in your life, travel costs don’t have to be crazy expensive. Sustainable elopement travel could be a whole separate blog post, but here are a few general suggestions: choose direct flights whenever available, consider combining your elopement with a honeymoon, act like a local (try not to eat, shop, or visit overcrowded areas like a “typical tourist”), and take the time to really get to know your elopement location and the natural landscape.
Lanscape or decor?
Once you’ve decided on the place, most couples start thinking about décor and how their elopement will exactly look. If you are eloping outside, nature has probably taken care of that for you, but if you are using an inside location, it’s much more environmentally sustainable to use vendors which are local to the area. This is another reason it’s worth it to hire an elopement photographer to help you; they can put you in touch with local guides and vendors. Even better, think about purchasing from businesses that specialize in organically produced native plants when you are thinking about flowers, for example. You don’t have to give up beauty and atmosphere to keep it healthy for the planet.
2. Food and Drink.
Even though this day will celebrate the beautiful aspects of marriage, someone has to clean up after the animals and take the garbage out, mop the floors, make the late-night orange juice run when someone
Then, of course, in planning your elopement you might be thinking about food. Think about this statement: “If food wastage were a country, it would be the THIRD largest greenhouse gas emitting country in the world” after the US and China. This isn’t something that you probably want to contribute to, so how can you plan a guilt-free meal for your guests that is not only economical and tasty, but that doesn’t damage this beautiful planet we call home? According to thousands of couples’ reviews on Wedding Wire, most couples spend between $1800 and $7000 on food… the average amount clocking in at around $4000.
When you are planning a meal for a smaller number of guests at an elopement, you’ll still be thinking about taste and aesthetics, but those things are quite easy to do if you work with local caterers who source their food from local and in-season sources. Some of the most delicious and creative foods come out of farm-to-table settings. And you can always think of it this way: if you can’t have the out-of-season food you really crave on your elopement day, you can have it at a party later on in the year. Your location will no doubt have some local specialty that you could try—yet another reason to celebrate!
To make sure that the meal at your elopement is as sustainable as possible, include these things in your planning: first, make sure you have a plan for any leftovers. Will you donate them, freeze them, or send them home with guests? Be sure, too, that you have a good (read, reusable or recyclable) way to transport any leftovers. And if leftovers are not an option or individual plates aren’t cleaned, consider finding a way to compost. Did you know that 30% of everything Americans throw away could be composed instead?
Which brings me to the next point: are the utensils and plate ware you (or your caterer, if you are using one) will be using reusable? The human race produces over 300 million tons of plastic pollution every year, of which half is single-use plastics, so reusable dishes are an easy way to reduce the carbon footprint of your elopement even further. Buying or renting secondhand tableware is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly route to go. If you must use single-use, consider biodegradable options like palm leaf plates.
Buying bulk and eating plants.
For beverages, try not to serve individual servings and instead go more bulk. Think kegs, pitchers of tap water, gallon wine, homemade mixed drinks or house-made lemonade over any individual cans and bottles. The drink menu is another area where you can try to shop locally. Try supporting regional wineries, breweries, or distilleries. (My firm opinion: small-batch productions are almost always better than big box brands anyway).
Finally, another positive impact that you can have on the environment is to reduce the meat on your and your guests’ plates. There has been lots of research proving that plant-based diets are healthier for the planet. But even if you don’t choose to go entirely vegan or meat-free, there are lots of plant-based side dishes that are good for the planet as well. And it goes without saying that locally sourced foods—whether plant-based or not—create a much smaller carbon footprint because the costs to get them to the location are smaller.
There are lots of ways to be sustainable with your elopement attire as well, which averages around $1795 per couple. That cost probably doesn’t include any sort of individual customization or a second outfit for the reception after the ceremony (a recent trend in conventional weddings), but it’s possible to find your dream outfit for much less by shopping online or by considering a dress which you could wear again, for example.
Another, more sustainable, option is to choose to rent clothing. However, renting can put limits on your freedom to be adventurous and get your items dirty, so it not my first recommendation. My favorite choice, and what I did myself, is to buy used and then clean and again resale. You can often resale for the same, if not close to the same cost as you bought your items. And then you have a free/nearly-free cost from your elopement day!
More and more couples are considering these issues for their attendants, as well, by suggesting that they choose clothes that they could wear again. And, depending on where you are eloping, they may already have suitable clothing for your elopement. Even if you don’t, appropriate more casual attire for a hike, for example, costs much less than a traditional clack-tie wedding attire.
4. Florals and Decor.
Flowers and other décor are important to many couples as they plan conventional weddings, and they often play a part in elopements too. In the US, couples spend an average of $1500 on flowers, with some spending upwards of $10k for elaborate decor. For a sustainable elopement, however, the costs can be much less and much gentler on the planet. Like everything involved in planning an environmentally sustainable elopement, your flowers should reflect the priorities you and your partner share. Therfore, you want to make sure that the florist you hire (if you use one) uses locally sourced and in-season plants.
If you’re eloping on public lands, also make sure you read the LNT (Leave No Trace) guidelines for the given area to see if you arrangements with seed-bearing plants are even allowed. Native ecosystems can be fragile and sometimes, foreign species are accidentally introduced and suddenly, all-to-easily become invasive and damaging to an area.
With your flowers and/or plants too, you’ll want to be sure you have a plan for afterwards. Can they be donated or composted? Where? If you are eloping somewhere outside in nature, it will be even more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable to buy only the flowers that are truly important to you. No expensive centerpieces required!
There’s one more area where sustainability is quite easy: wedding stationery. According to a survey conducted by the Knot, American couples spent an average cost of $590 on wedding stationery. And usually, all that is tossed after the day is over. In our increasingly digital society, many people simply do not keep stationery products. Consequently, some couples choose not to use paper products at all, sending digital save-the-date cards, invitations, and RSVPs. However, if you do choose to use wedding stationery, remember that your stationery decisions are another way to embrace your uniqueness. Since your elopement is your and your partner’s celebration with your nearest and dearest rather than a conventional wedding with a huge guest list, sustainable stationery doesn’t have to overrun your budget.
There are many stationery suppliers who use sustainably-sourced paper or paper made from recycled paper; another popular alternative is stationery made from seed paper. These alternatives mean that after the elopement, should someone choose not to keep the invitation, you don’t have to feel guilty. You won’t be contributing to the 400-600 pounds of waste that the average wedding produces. And, if you use seed paper, your guests’ home gardens will thank you. The flowers that might sprout from your invitation will be a memory of your elopement that will last much longer for your guests than any conventional type of favor. Read more about all the steps you need to take to plan your day on my How To Elope post.
Total Cost to Elope and Impact (breakdown of actual spending)
Below, I’ve created an elopement cost to elope calculator for you to get an idea of how much you might be spending. This is in no way going to be completely accurate for your unique day, but it should put you on a general track of what you’re likely to spend and after reading this post. And you hopefully have an idea of how your decisions will impact our environment in addition to your savings.
Looking back on my own intimate wedding, I am happy with how we spent on what matters to us (food, location, and photography) and where we saved (florals, attire, décor). We were fairly eco-conscious, but I know we could have been better. Not choosing an international destination location, for example. However, the strides towards helping our planet do better are when many are imperfect, rather than a few are perfect.
What’s most important when figuring out your own cost to elope? Decide on the aspects of the day that are most important to you and what you’ll think you remember the most — and spend on those items while budgeting or even cutting those things you’ll forget about a year later. Downsizing or going minimal is a natural and less stress way to be environmentally friendly. But for the items you do need, the number one thing to consider to stay sustainable is where it’s coming from. Keep items and goods as natural and sourced as local as possible. But don’t beat yourself up if everything isn’t as environmentally friendly as absolutely possible. We know that the sustainable route isn’t always the cheapest route, and corporations are to blame for that, not individual consumers.
As someone who is concerned with planning an environmentally sustainable elopement, you already know that experiences last longer than things. The most sustainable action you can take to preserve your memories of your elopement is to invest in good documentation. An experienced elopement photographer can document your entire elopement from start to finish, letting you relive the memories and providing you and others visuals of the past. These images will last for your entire lifetime—and isn’t it comforting to know that your sustainable elopement will help extend the lifetime of the planet?
Still curious on exact costs of eloping and want a concrete example? Here is an exact breakdown of my own intimate (25 guest) wedding in Italy…
Travel: free because we used points
Food and drink: $4475
Venue (included 3 nights lodging): $7691
Rehearsal dinner with everyone invited: $356
Décor for dinner (candles and table runner): $208
Attire and rings: $1465
Gifts and miscellaneous: $231
Total – $21154
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