This week, Samantha Solomon is on a brief hiatus from her regular Young and Prudent column to attend a meditation retreat. In her stead, editors Marie Haughey and Chris Worthington – who are both getting married this year to their respective partners – will tackle the subject of weddings. For many, weddings are one of the most exciting (and expensive) events of their lives. How can a prudent young millennial keep it all in perspective?
In the 2005 film Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn asks Owen Wilson which he likes better: Christmas or Wedding Season.
Vaughn then raises his hand to answer his own question: “Yes. The answer would be, um, Wedding Season?”
“Bingo,” replies Owen Wilson.
Of course, the two business partners are excited for their own sordid wedding plans. But the rest of us, particularly those of us getting married soon, are also excited for the nuptials (and the cocktails) in our near futures.
And yet, as wonderful as weddings can be – stirring displays of commitment, love, and faith followed by a joyous meal and some raucous dancing – it’s not always easy to stomach the associated financial burden.
Wedding expenses have mostly risen (aside from a few years following the Great Recession) even as wages have remained mostly stagnant. For millennials outside of the 1%, it’s tough to reconcile the wedding you may want with the wedding you can actually afford.
Dollars and Sense
For the most part, the average cost of a wedding has returned to pre-recession levels, according to TheKnot.com. In 2014, the most recent year from which data is available, the average cost was $31,213.
That’s an incredible amount of money to spend on roughly six hours of your life.
For millennials just out of college, burdened by student debt and struggling to find well-paying jobs with growth potential, the wedding of their dreams is becoming more like a pipe dream.
As the chart below demonstrates, the gap between wage growth and the cost of weddings has grown substantially in recent years.
Even the median cost of a wedding (likely a more accurate number, since it smooths out the influence of ultra-extravagant affairs) tends to be about two-thirds of the average. That equates to more than $20,000 in 2014.
Even accounting for inflation, the cost of weddings has skyrocketed. According to the Job Application Center, a wedding today costs an average of 33% more than it did for Baby Boomers and a whopping 273% more than it did the Greatest Generation.
A different study by Quartz showed that the average wedding in 2013 cost about 50% of the couple’s household income, compared to just 25% of a couple’s household income in 1939.
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It’s hard to imagine spending that much money on a single day, even for one of the most important days of your life. And millennials should be asking themselves whether it’s worth blowing their life savings – or even taking on debt – to pay for a dream wedding.
The Power of Prudence
Indeed, prospective newlyweds should strongly consider whether starting a marriage on such shaky financial footing is a good idea.
In fact, research shows that the more a couple spends on their wedding, the more likely they are to divorce.
For example, a couple who spends between $10,000 and $20,000 on their wedding are 29% more likely to divorce than a couple who spends between $5,000 and $10,000. Spend over $20,000, and you’re 46% more likely to divorce!
By comparison, spending between $1,000 and $5,000 means you are 18% less likely to divorce, while spending less than $1,000 decreases the chance by 53%.
Depending on your financial situation, that money would be better spent paying off student loans or putting a down payment on your future home.
Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t have a lovely wedding. If you can afford it without going into debt, the choice is certainly yours. The point is to examine your financial health and make a reasonable, responsible choice.
Fortunately, there are many ways to have a beautiful wedding while keeping your costs down.
The largest chunk of money you’ll fork out for your wedding is likely going to be for your venue.
Everyone wants to get married on a Saturday, so Saturday venue rentals have gotten notoriously expensive. It makes sense, since Saturday is the easiest day for all of your guests to work around.
But if you want to save yourself a significant amount of money, consider having your wedding on a Monday through Thursday. These unpopular weekdays are by far the cheapest, and you still get the same beautiful space.
For example, one venue we researched charged $4,000 for a Saturday rental, $2,500 for Friday and Sunday, and just $650 for an all-day rental Monday-Thursday.
As Samantha Solomon mentioned in her first column, millennials are facing a different economic environment than previous generations, one that requires us to be adaptable. Part of doing that is questioning social norms and expectations.
When you’re overwhelmed with wedding planning and trying to budget the cost, ask yourself this: Is your marriage going to succeed or fail based on the size and grandeur of your wedding? I hope the answer is “No.”
Marie Haughey and Chris Worthington