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Couples juggle as many as 4 other money goals while planning their weddings: Here's how to prioritize

More than half said that budgeting for their weddings made them stressed or anxious.

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The pandemic has not only upended many couples' plans to walk down the aisle but also fundamentally reshaped Americans' economic habits: Personal savings are up, and credit card debt is down.

And odds are good that if you're getting married soon, throwing a wedding isn't the only financial goal you're working toward. More than 60% of engaged couples in a new survey from Grow and WeddingWire said that in addition to saving for their weddings, they were saving money for at least one other major expense, including a trip or honeymoon, buying a house, paying student loans, and saving for retirement.

Grow and WedddingWire surveyed nearly 1,000 people online who were engaged to be married from a pool of WeddingWire's and The Knot's social media accounts last April.

A plurality of respondents — more than 40% — also said they were building emergency funds and/or paying non–student loan debt while saving for their weddings. In all, the average couple is prioritizing four more goals in addition to their wedding.

Why couples are juggling so many money goals

One reason that couples have so many different priorities is that Americans are getting married later in life. In the last decade, the median age when both men and women tied the knot for the first time increased by two years, according to the Census Bureau. Half of men who got married for the first time in 2019 were at least 30 years old, while the median age for women rose above 28.

That means many have already established financial lives of their own before they walk down the aisle. Of couples who were already living together, two-thirds said finances — either their own or their partner’s — were a reason why they were not yet engaged or already married, a 2019 survey by Pew Research found.

How to decide on a wedding budget

If you're planning your wedding now, one priority that doesn't need to change is your attention to how much you spend, says Jeffra Trumpower, senior creative director at WeddingWire.

"The biggest surprise that came out of this study was even though 1 in 3 newly engaged couples anticipates that setting a budget will be the most challenging part of wedding planning, nearly 75% set a budget before doing any research," Trumpower says. "This leads to unrealistic expectations, which ultimately causes frustration and misunderstanding when a couple's budget doesn't reflect how much they actually spend on their wedding day."

The survey results back that up. More than half of couples reported that setting their wedding budgets was anxiety inducing and/or stressful, especially given the other financial goals they are trying to balance. Nearly half said that spending too much and not having enough for future goals was a major concern.

Make 'sure you're planning the wedding for you'

Setting a budget is stressful, but it's key when planning a wedding, says Janet Stanzak, a certified financial planner and founder of Financial Empowerment in Minnesota. You can find liberation once you've established how much you want to spend and what elements of the wedding you want to prioritize.

"It always comes back to values" and "being intentional," Stanzak says. "Sometimes we can so lose track of that, especially when it comes to weddings."

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There's room to personalize your specific goals within that framework, she says, especially if you're one of the 3 in 5 people in Grow's survey who are funding most, if not all, of your own wedding. She cites the growing trend of doing away with wedding parties, a move that can greatly reduce couples' costs.

Make "sure that you're planning the wedding for you, and not planning the wedding for every other voice that you might be hearing," Stanzak says. "Oftentimes it's all those [other] things that really add to the cost, and that might not be what you remember or what makes it really special."

Budgeting can also help you stay on track with your other financial goals. Even as you're saving for your wedding, make sure you're putting in at least a little money to build an emergency fund, keep up with student debt payments, and invest for longer-term goals like retirement.

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'Venders are booking up heavily' due to pent-up demand

Keeping to a budget will be especially crucial if you're one of the nearly half of couples who delayed your wedding during the pandemic, according to WeddingWire data from earlier this year. Almost a third of those had a marriage ceremony but postponed the reception, and another 15% delayed the entire wedding altogether.

This year, demand is rising sharply. That's evident in how quickly venues have gotten booked up now to the fall, Trumpower says. Couples who are struggling to find available locations are now willing to get married on days when weddings don't traditionally happen.

Couples "are going to get married on a Thursday, or a Monday, or even a Sunday brunch wedding," she says. "Vendors are already booking up heavily, especially when we look in the fall, when they're not just having that Friday or Saturday wedding; they're actually starting to see their entire week fill up."

Vendors are already booking up heavily, especially when we look in the fall.
Jeffra Trumpower
Senior creative director, WeddingWire

That said, the pandemic has had an impact on consumer tastes, and couples' financial priorities, as well.

Two big trends that will likely dominate this wedding season and could help keep costs in check are shorter guest lists — between 75 and 100 people (the average head count was 131, according to The Knot's 2019 wedding survey) — and preference for local outdoor venues that allow for physical distancing as opposed to more crowded indoor locations.

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