First comes love, then comes marriage — and the giant bill for the wedding?
A new survey from Novi Money reveals how much people spend on their wedding, how they paid for it and the emotional impact of that decision, by surveying 1,000 respondents who got married in the past 10 years (including those who were divorced or remarried).
Our survey shows that managing wedding costs and any resulting debt
- Weddings don’t have to break the bank; 60% of people say they spent under $10,000 to get married.
- Getting married often comes with surprise costs, however. Nearly half (46%) of people who have gotten married say the wedding costs were higher than expected.
- Managing the wedding budget was the most stressful part of tying the knot for 42%.
- Even more stressful was managing wedding debt. Among the one-third of people who took on wedding debt, 82% say they found repaying this stressful. Those who borrowed to pay for their wedding also carry 2.5 to 4 times more debt than those who didn’t.
- Nearly three-quarters of wedding costs were paid out of pocket, on average, though respondents relied on debt to cover 19% of wedding costs.
- Money is a problem for many couples, and it’s a source of conflict for 79% of marriages that ended in divorce.
Nearly half of weddings cost under $5,000
A wedding doesn’t have to break the bank, our survey finds. The most common amount people say they spent was less than $5,000 — 44% of people who are married or divorced say that’s what their wedding cost. Another 16% spent $5,000 to $9,999 on their wedding, meaning 60% dropped less than $10,000 to get married. For comparison, the average cost of a wedding was $33,931 in 2018 according to The Knot.
Engagement rings followed a similar pattern to weddings, in that most people who have been married said they spent less rather than more. One in 10 people say they skipped the engagement ring altogether. And more than a third spent less than $1,000, including 23.6% who spent less than $500 and 12.5% who spent $500 to $999.
Divorced people are twice as likely to have skipped the ring
Is it possible, however, to be too cheap when it comes to tying the knot?
Our survey finds that divorced people are about twice as likely to say they spent less than $1,000 on their first wedding. While just 22% of people who are still married say they spent under $1,000, 40% of divorced people and 48% of remarried people say that’s what they spent.
Not buying an engagement ring could also be a sign of an increased likelihood of divorce. Just 7% of still-married people say they didn’t buy an engagement ring, while twice as many divorced people (14%) and remarried people (17%) went the no-ring route.
46% say wedding costs broke their budget
The trend of spending less on weddings and rings is a sign that many couples are more conscious of their costs and are willing to simplify their wedding if it makes them cheaper.
But keeping costs under control takes a lot of effort and can cause some stress. Many respondents (42%) say that managing the wedding costs and sticking to a budget was the most stressful part of getting married.
And even couples who paid attention to their wedding costs found themselves surprised by the totals when the bills rolled in. Our survey shows wedding expenses are difficult to predict, with 46% of people saying their wedding cost more than they’d anticipated.
Among this group, 34% went over budget by $1,000 or more, which includes 12% who were over-budget by more than $5,000.
For 1 in 3, getting married means taking on debt
When these surprise costs pop up while planning a wedding, engaged and newlywed people might be scrambling to cover them. If they don’t have cash on hand to pay for wedding-related purchases, they might find they have to turn to credit cards or personal loans.
One-third (35%) of people who have gotten married say they took on debt to pay for the wedding. Of this group who borrowed for their wedding, 82% say they stressed over repaying this debt.
Meanwhile, one-fifth of wedding costs are paid for with debt such as a credit card or personal loan. Here’s the breakdown of how an average couple says they covered wedding costs:
- 30% were paid using their available cash
- 28% were paid by family members
- 19% were covered with
creditcards or personal loans
- 15% were covered out of their own savings
- 7% were paid through other means
Couples with wedding debt owe $117,000 more across all debt
Interestingly, there is a connection between respondents who have high debt balances today and who borrowed for their wedding.
Respondents who took on wedding debt owe an average of $116,800 (or 2.5 to 4 times) more on consumer debt such as credit cards, auto loans and personal loans than those with no wedding debt.
Here’s a comparison of the average current balances owed by people who took on debt for their weddings — and those who did not.
What explains this six-figure difference in debt load between couples who borrowed for their weddings and those who did not?
One possible answer is that the respondents who avoided debt were able to do so because they limited their wedding costs relative to their income and savings on hand. If they kept wedding expenses affordable, they could pay them out of pocket and have no need to borrow. Those who took on debt, on the other hand, may have been less willing to limit wedding costs to what they could afford at the time.
This difference in debt load may also relate to overall borrowing habits. For those who chose to avoid debt for a wedding, this decision could be a sign of a more restrained attitude toward credit.
The best way to deal with wedding debt? Avoid it
Our finding that couples who borrow for the wedding have far more debt overall indicates that this decision could have far-reaching implications.
It suggests that starting a marriage off with debt from the wedding can set couples up for a continued habit of borrowing. It also leaves them facing interest charges and monthly payments, which place an unnecessary burden on couples just starting their lives as newlyweds.
The best move, then, is to limit costs to avoid taking on wedding debt. Brides- and grooms-to-be should make an honest assessment of what they can afford to spend on their wedding, and commit to sticking to that figure.
“Engaged couples facing wedding decisions could look closely at what would make the day most memorable for them, and prioritize those expenses before their budget gets out of control,” says Risa Dimacali, CFP®.
“Having a wedding day that’s within their means and without wedding loans of any kind will avoid the stress of debt, and start the marriage off on an optimistic note money-wise,” she adds. “Along with a solid relationship, a positive financial start with your partner is a beautiful thing.”
Money management matters in marriage
There’s no doubt that managing money can be a source of stress when planning a wedding, and this can carry forward into the marriage as well. In fact, two-thirds (66%) of respondents say money was a problem in their marriages.
Among respondents who are divorced or divorced and remarried, money was a problem in 79% of their marriages, and a serious problem for 25%. In comparison, 65.7% of respondents who are still married say money is an issue in their marriages, and just 7.9% qualify finances as a serious problem.
Managing a wedding budget and dealing with these costs can be a major source of financial stress for couples. But it can also be a golden opportunity to learn how to more effectively manage money together and team up to work on major financial goals.
Couples can focus on keeping wedding costs manageable and avoiding debt now as a way to set themselves up for financial success in marriage. The habits they develop now will carry forward into their lives together, and help set them up for both marital and financial security.
This survey was conducted through AYTM Market Research and on June 19-21, 2019. The survey collected 1,000 responses from people ages 18 to 54 who indicated they got married in the past decade, as screened by the question: “Have you gotten married in the past 10 years?.”