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Big Wedding vs. Small Elopement: Which is Right For You?

Table of Contents:

Okay so I write a lot of blog posts about how to elope and where to elope. . . buuut what if you don’t even know if you want to elope yet?! Choosing between a big wedding vs. small elopement can be a really damn hard decision, especially if you’ve spent your entire life envisioning a more traditional wedding, or saving photos of huge weddings to your Pinterest boards. Maybe you got engaged and then realized you’re kindaaa into the idea of having a smaller celebration with wayyy fewer people – all of a sudden, an elopement sounds super sexy 😉 

So I wanted to put together a guide to help you decide what option is right for you based on what you value most, your budget, what your priorities are, etc. Hopefully by the end of this you’ll know whether you and your boo want to swipe right on a big wedding or on a small elopement!!

Elopement & Wedding 101

Got questions about how elopements and weddings are different? Well luckily for you, class is in session! Let’s answer all those FAQ’s you have floating around in your brain, or that you’ve been typing into the Google search bar.

What’s the difference between an elopement and a wedding?

The main difference between an elopement and a wedding is that elopements are primarily focused on the couple’s experience

While elopements vary a TON across different couples, the reason they’ve become so trendy & mainstream recently is because couples realized that they had the option to do something a little different! 

Traditionally, weddings have been pretty cookie-cutter: you find photos to save on Pinterest, re-create them for your own wedding, you follow a list of traditions (even though you might not give a shit about any of ‘em), you find something old/new/borrowed/blue, you invite 300 guests. . . you get the picture. And hey, if you love tradition and have always dreamed of having a day that looks like this, then by all means – do it and enjoy the hell out of it!!

But lately, couples have been starting to break more of those “rules” and think outside of the box a little to create a day that’s more unique to them + focused on their one-of-a-kind love story. Especiallyyy after the mess that was 2020, more and more people started planning elopements that didn’t have a huge guest list or require an all-day venue rental – COVID really brought to light all the different ways you could celebrate, since big weddings were pretty much gone!

Big weddings also often revolve around the guests and their experience, and tend to place more value on material things, whereas elopements stay more focused on the actual couple, what they want to do, and what kind of experience they want to have. 


Big weddings place more value on:

  • Guest experience
  • Material things
  • Image/aesthetic
  • Tradition

Small elopements place more value on:

  • The couple
  • Meaningful experiences
  • Authenticity
  • Rule-breaking & the creation of new traditions

What size wedding is considered an elopement?

This is always a hard one because there’s really no black & white answer!! Elopements can vary from zero guests, to 3 of your BFF’s, to 15 of your closest family members. Honestly, don’t worry too much (at all) about labeling your elopement based on the number of people you have. The main reason this would matter is because some vendors will offer different packages for “elopements” vs. “microweddings” vs. “big weddings” – but even then, just ask them which one fits your day best.

If you are reallyyy dying for numbers to guide you, then here are some ranges based on what I see most often in the couples I work with:

  • Elopements: 0-15 guests
  • Micro weddings: 15-30 guests
  • Intimate weddings: 30-60 guests
  • Traditional weddings: 60-300+ guests

Is eloping stressful?

There will probably always be certain stressful elements of planning a wedding or elopement, simply because there’s a lot to think about, but in general, a lot of my couples do seem less stressed if they’re eloping. This is often because their elopements don’t involve as many vendors to hire/coordinate with, they’re not renting out a venue space, and their day is completely centered around them instead of meaningless traditions – so the excitement outweighs the feelings of stress. That’s why I always recommend hiring kickass vendors who you love and trust, because they’ll take a TON of the weight off your shoulders throughout the whole process & on the day-of! 

Is eloping legal?

You betcha! Elopements involve a legal marriage ceremony just like big weddings 🙂

Is eloping cheaper than having a big wedding?

Eloping is often cheaper than having a big wedding, but not necessarily; it totally depends on what you want your day to look like. One of the biggest ways you save money by eloping is by not having to rent a venue – those venue costs can really rack up for big weddings, whereas for elopements you might just pay for a permit for a national park, or pay to park wherever you’re getting married. I’ll talk more about elopement vs. wedding costs later in this guide!

Do you have to run away to elope?

Nope!! Although if you think the idea of running off to Vegas to elope is super romantic and it feels right, then absolutely do it 😉 I’m not even sure what it means to “run away” to elope – I guess it comes from the concept of eloping in old movies/books when couples had to literally run from their parents because they knew they wouldn’t get permission?!

Does eloping have to be a secret?

Another no! You can totally keep it a secret if that feels fun and in alignment with your day (e.g. if you’d be stressed telling your family beforehand, and would rather tell them afterward), but you don’t have to by any means. It’s not one of those super rebellious, looked-down-upon things like it used to be.

Do people ever regret eloping?

I think the only ways you might regret eloping are if you 1) wish you’d invited different guests, or 2) regret marrying your partner in general, lol. This is why it’s important to create a guest list that you love beforehand, so that you don’t wish so-and-so was there after it’s over, or so you wish that somebody WASN’T there on the big day 😬 And it’s just as important to carefully pick who you invite as it is to decide who you leave off your guest list. You deserve to be surrounded by people who love you, support you, and who you truly want there by your side. It can be hard to not invite certain people who you love, but they should understand that this day is about you and respect your decision!

What’s the point of eloping?

Well, the point is to marry the love of your life in a super meaningful, special way that you’ll remember forever! As long as that happens, then your elopement will be incredible no matter what bumps or obstacles you might run into along the way.

What Are the Pros & Cons of a Big Wedding?

So you know what elopements are now & how they differ from big weddings, but what are the advantages and disadvantages of each one? I’ve got a simple pros and cons list for each to help ya out 🙂

Pros of having a big wedding:

  • You can invite as many family members & friends as you want to
  • It’s the perfect excuse to have a big-ass party
  • You don’t have to worry about hurting feelings by not inviting certain people
  • You get to put together a big registry (let’s be real, who doesn’t love more gifts?)

Cons of having a big wedding:

  • It takes a lot more planning & coordination (and usually takes longer to plan)
  • Venue costs can be superrr high, especially during peak season
  • Your location options are limited, since you have a big group
  • Costs rack up QUICKLY
  • There’s pressure to follow traditions, even if you don’t care about them
  • There’s a lot more vendors to hire
  • The timeline is stricter & if things run behind, it affects the rest of your day
  • There may be pressure from family members to do certain things, look a certain way, etc.

What Are the Pros & Cons of a Small Elopement?

Pros of having a small elopement:

  • You can do it all by yourselves, without any guests!
  • It requires less planning, and you can do it in a shorter timeframe
  • You don’t need to hire as many vendors, so you can spend your money elsewhere (or save it for your honeymoon)
  • You can have an afterparty/reception on the day-of, or sometime after the fact if you want to celebrate with your loved ones
  • There’s no pressure to follow traditions
  • No need to buy favors for your guests
  • Way fewer mouths to feed (read: a lot cheaper!)
  • You can have a super loose timeline to follow & can adapt as needed

Cons of having a small elopement:

I’ll be honest – there aren’t really any cons to having a small elopement 😅 The main reason that a you might not opt for a small elopement is if you have a big family or friend group that you’re super close to, and your wedding wouldn’t be as special without them. It can definitely be hard to elope without certain people as well, and it is possible that people’s feelings might get hurt along the way if they don’t respect your decision!

Cost of Eloping vs. Having a Big Wedding

I said earlier that I’d do a little more money talk, so now’s the time! Obviously, the cost of your wedding or elopement will completely depend on the two of you, your budget, what you’re prioritizing, what you value most, how many guests you have, how fancy you want to go, where you get married, what you want to eat, etc. But hopefully this section can give you some insight into how your costs may change if you decide on a big wedding vs. a small elopement!

To start off, here are some of the MAIN things you’ll save on by having a small elopement instead of a big wedding:

  • Venue rental (def the biggest one)
  • Furniture rentals
  • Big installations/florals for your ceremony
  • DJ/MC
  • Dance floor
  • Lighting/sound
  • Wedding party attire, gifts, & florals
  • Wedding favors for guests
  • Meals & drinks for guests
  • High volumes of invites/RSVP’s/stationery
  • Transportation for a large group

For a smaller elopement, your vendor list will depend on how intricate or simple you want your day to be – but here’s a list of vendors I typically see couples hire for their small elopement:

  1. Photographer
  2. Videographer
  3. Officiant
  4. Planner
  5. Florist
  6. Hair/makeup
  7. Meals
  8. Drinks
  9. Desserts
  10. Attire
  11. Stationery

Compare that to the list of vendors for big weddings, and you’ll notice a HUGE difference. Bigger weddings often involve a ton of additional vendors, such as venue coordinators, DJs, bands, lighting/sound techs, caterers, bartenders, alcohol, guest entertainment, and more. Plus, the sheer volume you have to pay for, for a more traditional wedding is a big factor – e.g. instead of paying for 10 invites like you might for your elopement, you’d have to pay for 200! And instead of having maybe 3-4 mouths to feed besides the two of you, you’d have to pay for 200+ meals and a TON of drinks.

Obviously, there are a variety of ways you can save money on either type of wedding if you want to keep your budget lower, such as DIY’ing your decor, printing your own invites, doing your own florals, hair, and/or makeup, and opting for a cheaper food option. You could easily spend $80K on a wedding, but you could also absolutely spend $80K on a smaller elopement – your money would just be allocated differently! Maybe your main expense for a big wedding would be a venue, whereas with your elopement you’d have more money to spend on your photographer, or on higher-quality meals from a luxury caterer vs. a cheaper caterer to feed hundreds of mouths.

See what I meant when I said it REALLY just depends?! It’s different for everyone, but my main tips would be to:

  1. Create a budget range together so that you’re both on the same page
  2. Set your top priorities so you know how you want to allocate your spending (and what you don’t care about spending on)
  3. Decide what you value most, and figure out how your money can be a tool to achieve that

How to Choose Between a Big Wedding & Small Elopement

I know it can be easier to decide if you see a quick checklist that tells you what to do, sooo I put together a little list below of why and elopement might be right for you vs. why a big wedding might be right for you. Now, there are SO many other variables to take into consideration, and literally every couple is different, so if any of this doesn’t make sense for the two of you, leave it and take what does! 

An elopement is right for you if. . .

✅You want to prioritize yourself and your partner

✅You want to celebrate in a way that feels authentic to you

✅You don’t really like being the center of attention

✅You don’t care about traditions that aren’t meaningful to you

✅There are only a few people you want by your side, or you want to elope by yourselves

✅You place more value on experiences than material things

✅You want to celebrate out in nature, in your backyard, or somewhere other than a traditional venue

✅You enjoy loose structure & would rather have a go-with-the-flow timeline

✅You’re down to be flexible as needed

✅You want to incorporate your favorite activities

A big wedding is right for you if. . .

✅You want to be surrounded by ALL of your favorite people in one place

✅You want to celebrate in a big venue

✅You enjoy tradition

✅You want to prioritize creating an experience for your guests > yourselves

✅You love being the center of attention

✅You enjoy a strict timeline and like planning things down to the minute

Alrighty we made it to the finish line!! I hope by now you’ve got a good understanding of the differences between big weddings vs. small elopements, and that you have a better feel for which one might be right for you & your partner. Either way, all that matters is that you have a damn great day celebrating the two of you and committing your lives to each other, whether that’s with 3 people in the middle of the mountains or 300 at a luxury venue in the city. Happy planning!

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