We Eloped In Italy For Nearly 1/10 Of The Average Wedding Cost In The US — Here’s How

This Essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

The average wedding cost in the U.S. was $44,000 in 2018 when my husband Alex and I started having real conversations about marriage.

Since then, the industry changed drastically. The global pandemic led to many couples opting out of traditional ceremonies, and instead, getting creative with their plans.

So, in 2020, when we found ourselves engaged with little desire for a flashy big, white wedding, we decided to follow suit.

After several months, a few COVID jabs, and one unexpected — but welcomed — pregnancy later, we decided we were ready to start planning. (We had already missed the deadline for a “shotgun wedding.”)

We got about two minutes into a sleep-deprived session of drafting a guest list and brainstorming cake flavors before giving up and deciding what we wanted more than anything, was a vacation.

We had just made it to the other side of white-knuckling a grueling pregnancy, and a spell of postpartum depression that knocked the wind out of me.

The thought of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for one long day of fuss and unwanted attention on my tender mom-bod in a sea of white tulle was wholly unappealing.

I wanted calmness, I wanted romance, but most of all I wanted my ever-helpful husband to finally get a good night’s sleep. We deserved that.

My indulgent imagination took this idea and ran. Before we knew it, I was consumed with visions of a chic, sun-kissed woman with a bob wearing shapeless loungewear and drinking white wine in the Mediterranean.

Who was she? I didn’t know but I was determined to embody her.

Flash forward to April 2022: My carry-on is stuffed with every linen dress I could find from the H&M sales rack, and my angelic mother has plans to take our ten-month-old on their own little mini-vacation to visit family members in Florida.

Here’s a breakdown of how we got married in Italy for a fraction of the average cost of a U.S. celebration:

The Flight: $612/Per Person Roundtrip

I landed an incredible deal on the international flight. The downside, however, was we couldn’t check any bags, and it took 36 hours to get to our final destination in Verona, Italy.

If I were to change anything about our trip, I would shell out the extra cash and fly direct. There is nothing romantic about jet lag.

The Wedding Planner: Free

I enjoy spending an ungodly amount of time idly scrolling on Airbnb, so I took on the task to plan the wedding. My partner is very “go with the flow” and gave me full reign over the itinerary.

Honestly, I found the process to be pretty fun. I decided on Lake Garda as a destination based on picturesque TikToks. I considered this phase as a sort of “pre-gaming.”

The Dress: $2,950

Honestly, this is where most of the budget ended up. My mom and husband accompanied me to a vintage-inspired bridal boutique in Atlanta called The Sentimentalist.

The light fabric and flowing silhouette made me feel like a Greek Goddess. After having my insides rearranged from pregnancy, I needed that.

The Shoes: $54

I wore crocs to my wedding. Yes, really. I find their platform sandals surprisingly stylish, and way more comfortable than heels.

The Venue: $218/Per Night

Maeve hugs her husband Alex after their wedding ceremony in Italy. Right: A view of the mountains of Lake Garda from the Airbnb deck where Maeve and Alex got married.Maeve hugs her husband Alex after their wedding ceremony in Italy. Right: A view of the mountains of Lake Garda from the Airbnb deck where Maeve and Alex got married.@maevecbrowne | Instagram

According to a study conducted by The Knot, the average cost of a wedding venue in 2021 was $10,700.

We decided instead to hold our private ceremony at a luxury Airbnb since we didn’t have to accommodate any guests.

I chose this house nestled in olive trees in the small town of Torri Del Benaco just a short drive away from Verona. The deck overlooked the mountains of Lake Garda and served as a perfect romantic backdrop.

The bright and airy space was flooded with natural light, and there was even a sauna and a pool with a view.

Photography: Free

Our wedding officiant offered to snap a few candid shots after the ceremony to keep as memories. This felt more natural than having to shuffle and pose for a few hours of a full-blown photoshoot.

Officiant: $300

We hired a lovely local officiant. We worked ahead of time to set the vibe, and give a little background on our history and personalities. On the day of our wedding, she drove to our Airbnb to host our intimate ceremony.

Rings: $385 For Both

Maeve's Solid Gold Diamond Star Signet Ring, Right: Alex's Solid Gold Diamond Star Signet RingMaeve’s Solid Gold Diamond Star Signet Ring, Right: Alex’s Solid Gold Diamond Star Signet RingLocal Eclectic, Local Eclectic

It is not uncommon to rack up thousands of dollars for one ring alone. We decided instead, to purchase our rings from Local Eclectic, a modern brand that sells fine affordable jewelry.

My “Solid Gold Essential Marquise Cluster Ring” with white topaz cost $175. My husband went for their “Solid Gold Diamond Star Signet Ring” which was $210. Both are from their “Family Gold” collection.

Music: Free

There was no need for a DJ or live band for our private ceremony. We spent a few months curating a wedding playlist on Spotify. Our first dance was to “Can’t Nobody Love You” by The Zombies.

Transportation: Free

It is typical in my hometown of Savannah, GA to see expensive trolleybuses full of wedding parties being carted to their next location.

We were lucky enough to have a very kind host, who offered to bring us to and from our wedding dinner as a gift. The hospitality we experienced in Italy was unmatched.

Dinner: $70.85 For Two People

Between rehearsal dinners and catering, the average couple spends $4,000 on food alone.

We hitched a ride down to a waterfront osteria and filled up on local specialties and spritz cocktails for a total of €68 (USD $70.85).

A table in Torri Del Benaco full of salad, pizza, and caprese with spritz cocktails.A table in Torri Del Benaco full of salad, pizza, and caprese with spritz cocktails.@maevecbrowne | Instagram

Wedding Cake: $4.21

Going into our trip, I was determined to have an out-of-body experience over a slice of homemade tiramisu.

Sharing a slice for €4 was a sweet end to a memorable night.

Reception: $151

Maeve wears a cow print bikini top and a gold necklace with black sunglasses while taking a selfie on a boat. Right: Alex navigates a boat in a tan shirt on Lake Garda.Maeve wears a cow print bikini top and a gold necklace with black sunglasses while taking a selfie on a boat. Right: Alex navigates a boat in a tan shirt on Lake Garda.@maevecbrowne | Instagram

We decided to celebrate our newlywed status by renting a boat on Lake Garda and enjoying a light picnic with a bottle of Prosecco. For the small price of €130, you can rent a boat with no license necessary and pretend you’re in a Harry Styles music video.

Seeing the castles on the shore of Lake Garda, against the expansive and rugged mountain range was breathtaking.

For me, this was an ideal stand-in for a traditional “reception.” I look awkward doing the Cupid Shuffle anyways.

The Grand Total: $4,745

Our wedding day cost roughly $4,745 give or take. This is nearly 1/10 of the $44,000 we found when researching in 2018.

Since then, the average has dropped down to $34,000, likely due to pandemic chaos. I anticipate other couples will take a similar route, and opt out of the traditional big, white wedding, and instead choose something they’ll find more personally enjoyable.

Reflecting on the experience, I am grateful we chose to celebrate the way that we did — crocs and all!

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