MY MONEY

When 'I do' matters more than the big do: how to save money by eloping

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Elopements are a popular option for couples who want to tie the knot without tying themselves in organisational knots and racking up personal debt.

The average Australian wedding today costs $36,000, according to Moneysmart. To pay for it, 82% of couples dipped into their savings, 60% took out a loan and 18% used their credit card.

Eloping can cost a lot less. Starting at around $150 for a registry wedding and around $400 for a celebrant and small ceremony; it can rise to $4000-5000 for a more lavish package or as much as $10,000-15,000 in a spectacular resort. However, the average package is around $2000-3000.

eloping wedding saving money

Jarrad Bayliss and wife Kristen started boutique elopement company Pash&Dash four years ago. They say the industry has grown significantly over the last five years.

"The idea of elopement used to mean running away but now it just tends to be something small. Where people would have once gone to a registry office they now decide to do something nicer," Bayliss says.

Nowadays elopement includes the couple and possibly their immediate family (parents and or kids) - but it's usually less than 10 guests.

The rationale is usually convenience, not wanting a long drawn-out planning phase, cost-effectiveness and life stage, Jarrad says.

Owner of specialist elopement company My Little Peony, Tegan Gillam says there are definitely more people eloping.

"They may be couples who already have kids, or have been married before, are aged in their late 20s to mid-30s and don't want to spend a lot on their wedding or have all the fuss that goes with it," says Gillam.

She says that people choose destination elopements so they can turn it into a mini-honeymoon. My Little Peony's most popular destinations are New Zealand's south island and the north Queensland islands.

Gillam estimates the cost of a destination elopement is between $10,000 and $15,000 which includes celebrant, hair and makeup, flowers, paperwork, light catering, a night's accommodation and lunch or dinner.

Vanessa and Matt Fletcher originally planned to have a destination wedding in Greece.

"We thought a fabulous destination wedding on a Greek island would be the best location for our British and Australian friends and family to enjoy sunshine and celebrate our nuptials," says Vanessa.

"We were so excited about getting married yet that enthusiasm wasn't extending to the thought of organising the destination wedding."

But the plan changed.

"Neither of us wanted the traditional wedding; we didn't want the attention. It was going to be my second wedding and I was embarrassed by the thought of doing it all again, plus at our age (late 30s) the expense put us off," says Vanessa.

Eventually they decided the time and energy required to plan and invite guests who would need to organise travel was going to be too hard. Instead they decided to get the two sets of parents together and elope, and from there the organising was easy.

"The decision was made on a Sunday and by the end of the next day I had found a venue, picked a date and paid the deposit," she says.

Vanessa already had a dress that would be suitable and Matt just needed to buy a suit.

"Even though we eloped it was still a destination wedding in the Hunter Valley," she says.

"We saved loads. In the end we paid for accommodation for six of us, the meal, wine tour, and costs associated with the ceremony for around $5000; I think a destination wedding would have cost us upward of $50,000."

Emily and John Carter* had never dreamed of a big wedding.

"I always wanted to get married. I like the concept of commitment through marriage but for my husband marriage was less important as he felt we were already committed through joint finances and mortgages," says Emily.

"At the start of the process I thought that marriage was just about the two of us, but I soon found out that getting married is a bigger deal to the families. Also, the party element of getting married wasn't important to either of us and we didn't want the stress and expense of something that neither of us wanted."

In the end, the couple chose a small ceremony and lovely lunch with immediate family - 15 people in total.

The cost was around $11,000 - including a fancy lunch, expensive wines, an off the rack designer dress, hair, makeup, seats for guests, transport to the restaurant, flowers, a photographer and a celebrant.

The saving on the wedding has already been earmarked for some great honeymoons (yes, they are intending to have more than one) over the next year.

*Not their real names

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Julia Newbould is a financial writer and commentator with a background in journalism. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance, which will be out in April. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
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