Each episode of the Netflix show "Marriage or Mortgage" spotlights a different Nashville couple with big dreams and a budget in the neighborhood of $30,000. As the show's title suggests, the money will go one of two places: toward a dream wedding or as a down payment on a home.
To get couples excited about weddings, event planner Sarah Miller tours the lovebirds around potential venues, shops for party favors, and prices out dream features such as an exit via horse-drawn carriage or a fountain flowing with ranch dressing.
Convincing the couples to invest their savings in real estate instead is Realtor Nichole Holmes, who takes them hunting for properties that suit their needs. Some items on the featured couples' wish lists: space for church group meetings, a yard for dogs to play in, or a grand staircase to impress guests.
Much of the show's appeal lies in the easy chemistry and low-stakes competitiveness between Miller and Holmes, who break out the Champagne regardless of whether the couples choose to use their funds to sign a deed or get hitched. But for viewers, it can be tough to lose sight of the stakes, as either milestone can represent a life-altering financial commitment. (If you're a "scream at the TV" type, you may need cough drops alongside your popcorn — many viewers take to social media to express their horror at the couples' decisions.)
"Marriage or Mortgage" was shot before the pandemic, in 2019, and Netflix has yet to announce a second season. If the show is renewed, though, it will be even more relevant. The ultra-competitive housing market and a busy post-Covid wedding season is making its central question even trickier.
Grow caught up with Holmes and Miller to discuss how couples should approach financial milestones, which costs are negotiable, and why working with a pro can help.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Ryan Ermey, Grow senior writer: Younger people are directing their money into so many different directions. Saving for a home and for a wedding are two of the big ones, but there are also other concerns, such as saving for retirement and paying down debt. How can folks go about planning one of these big expenditures while keeping themselves in line to reach other goals?
Sarah Miller, event planner: Nichole has some more considerations on her side, but from the wedding side, it's coming in with a realistic budget and making sure that you hire a professional to help you and guide you along the way. Expand that budget as much as you can, but don't go beyond your means.
We're not in the business of making people broke or putting them into debt. You're planning a wedding and we want you to have this amazing experience, and feel good about it, not pressured or bad.
Nichole Holmes, Realtor: There may have been some misconceptions when people watch the show. They think that we're taking [the couples'] entire life savings. That's really not the case. These are adults, and we trust that they have other money in the bank — that they're not spending everything on either a mortgage or a wedding.
Ermey: My boyfriend and I are among the chorus of people watching the show and thinking, "Oh my God, these people need to do the sensible thing and invest in the house." But there has to be something to the fact that some people go the wedding route. Why do you think that is?
Miller: For me, I think having the experience of a wedding — it's the one time in your life that all your friends and family get to celebrate your love and your relationship and the next chapter in your life. It's all about having that experience, that one time, that's such a big moment. Buying a house is another big moment in everybody's life, but, you know, a wedding should be one-and-done and it should be for the rest of your life.
Miller: It really is an important moment, and those memories last a lifetime. It's a stepping stone to the next stage of your life.
Video by Jason Armesto
Holmes: And that's lovely and it's really sweet, and I'm so glad that's been her experience. That hasn't been my experience, nor has it been over 50% of the population's experience. So I think I'm a little bit more of a realist when I say that when you know better, you do better. My first wedding was large and extravagant, and do I regret it? Abso-effing-lutely. My second wedding was at a courthouse, so at least it didn't cost as much, but it still crashed and burned as well. So I think for more of the realists out there, we agree that putting money in an asset is far better than in an experience. But I understand the argument, I get it. Not everyone has had that experience.
Miller: I think it depends on the individual. A lot of the couples [on the show] that chose the wedding, it was the right moment for them. Some of the couples were just moving to Nashville from out of state, and just didn't want to take that big jump [into homebuying] yet. They wanted to ground themselves and figure out where they wanted to be. It might have been religious reasons, or their parents might have been involved — there were a lot of things that were game-changers in each one of their selections.
It completely depends upon where you're at in your life.
Ermey: That's a good point. A lot of people think, "I'm paying all this rent, shouldn't I be building equity?" But are there clients you talk to for whom you think, "Maybe it's better if you guys rent for a while"?
Holmes: In very few instances would I go that route. That's why you hire a professional. Even if you're moving in from out of state, you have a real estate agent who knows the area. It's my job to find out what these people want, what their interests are, and what's important to them, so I can find them the perfect neighborhood and the perfect house for them. Almost all our couples that chose a wedding, I think, made a huge mistake, and they should have picked the house.
Ermey: At the end of every episode, you both throw in some sweeteners to get the couples to pick your side. Since you filmed the first season, the housing market has gotten more competitive, and I think I'm going to a dozen weddings this year. How do you go about finding deals in a hot market, and what kinds of things can you generally negotiate?
Holmes: From a real estate standpoint, it's always about closing costs and negotiating prices and things like that. Obviously with what's going on right now in the housing market, with low inventory, it would be a little more difficult than it was while we were filming.
If we're granted a Season 2 and if it starts filming soon, it will be far more competitive between Sarah and me, given the fact that houses are harder to come by. If I find three that fit, I'm really going to be pitching that much harder.
Video by Richard Washington
Miller: Because of Covid and everything getting pushed, weddings have gone from zero to a hundred in like a week. It's been insane. People are ready to get back in the groove of things and planning and all that. So it is a little bit more [difficult] to find everything that you're [looking for] very quickly, and it's a little bit harder to negotiate.
Sometimes it's not even about negotiating; sometimes it's about the couple putting their money where they want it. And then we go back in the other areas and try to expand their budget in those ways, instead of negotiating with vendors.
Ermey: Hardly anyone goes into buying a home without talking to a real estate agent, but there are plenty of people who plan their own wedding. What's the importance of working with a professional in your industries?
Miller: I really do think it's kind of wedding suicide if you don't hire a wedding planner, because you're just wasting endless amounts of time doing research.
Homes: Wedding suicide? I haven't heard that one before.
Miller: That's what I call it! It is! You need a professional to guide you in the right direction. Otherwise, it's kind of like walking into things blind. They're going to steer you the way that you need to go with the best vendors for what you're looking for, the best prices, the best style, and do all of that back-end research, rather than you having to spend endless hours doing it yourself. It saves you time and money in the long run.
Holmes: To your point, Ryan, I think far fewer people try to do the housing market on their own, but there are still those out there that do. And they think it's all just fun shopping and finding the house. Finding the house is the easy part. Getting from contract to close, where all the hiccups come in and where all the craziness can happen and go sideways — that's when you really need to have someone who is used to negotiating contracts and who has all of that at their fingertips. That's where it's important.
Ermey: I think your show speaks to the fact that a lot of people want the whole American dream: a beautiful wedding and the house with the white picket fence and the golden retriever. What would your advice be for young people who want to start building toward being able to afford these things?
Holmes: It's never too early to start saving, whether it's saving for a wedding or saving for a house.
Miller: For weddings, come up with a realistic budget that you can achieve and that's not putting you out of your means, and try to stick with that and not go over it.
Holmes: What's interesting about real estate is that a lot of young people don't even realize what they are capable of affording. So I feel it's important to let them know to go talk to their banker or a financial planner and figure out, if they're serious about it, what can they afford, what a mortgage payment looks like, and what goes along with that.
Ermey: The people on your show all have preapproval, right?
Holmes: Oh, absolutely. And that is what I tell everyone. All of my current clients call me who don't know where to start — 'what do we do?' Get preapproved. Be ready. Because especially in this market, if you find something you like, you have to jump on it. We have to be ready to write an offer. We can't wait a few days and figure it out.
Ermey: OK. Once and for all: marriage or mortgage?
Miller: It really depends on where you are in your life, what your budget is, and making sure you don't go out of your means, and then making sure you're taking those steps together to make the right decisions.
Holmes: I agree.
Miller: This is a first!
Holmes: Are you shocked? No, but Sarah is right. It's all about budgeting and what is important to you. I think it boils down to, are you in it for the feeling of it? Or are you in it for making a good financial decision? You either look at things in black and white, or you look at things like Sarah does. And that's valid too.
I'm always going to opt for putting down roots and putting money where it's going to make you money. And I like to tease Sarah. I always ask her, "What's the ROI on turtle doves or Champagne towers or ranch fountains or whatever?" It doesn't make sense to me. But that's just me.
Miller: And I don't knock homebuying! That's definitely not where I come from either. I totally agree with what Nicole is saying, that it's an investment. But I believe in getting married first and then taking those next steps. I'm more of a traditionalist. But everyone lives their own life. Everyone has their own reasoning. So it depends where you are and what's important to you.
More from Grow: