You’ve found “the one” and you’re ready to make the ultimate commitment. But there’s one deal breaker, and it’s not your partner — it’s the cost of getting married.
A 2017 survey from The Knot found that the average wedding costs a sky-high $33,391. With such a high price tag, many couples delay their nuptials. In fact, our new survey on wedding costs found that 52% of couples have pushed back their wedding due to financial concerns.
To find out what paying for a wedding actually looks like, we surveyed over 1,000 people who are getting married in the next 12 months. The results are striking. Seventy-four percent, for example, said they’re getting into debt to pay for their wedding.
But the survey also reveals the smart strategies couples are using to get around high wedding costs. That way, they can avoid putting off their big day.
Key survey findings
- Most couples will spend much less than $33,391 on their wedding. In fact, 63% of people getting married in the next year said they plan to keep total wedding costs under $30,000.
- Couples are setting wedding budgets. Nine in 10 respondents said they’ve set a wedding budget. Many couples (48%) have a detailed budget with a breakdown of costs.
- Couples are willing to make sacrifices to save money. Over one-half of engaged couples (51%) have delayed their wedding for financial reasons, some by as much as one year or longer. And 63% have considered eloping to keep wedding costs low.
- Personal savings play a big role in paying for a wedding. Seventy percent of couples said they planned to use savings to help afford their wedding.
- Most couples (74%) plan to take on debt to cover wedding costs. A striking 61% said they planned to use credit cards to help cover costs. A few plan to use personal loans (21%) to help cover costs.
One-half of couples plan to spend under $20,000 on wedding costs
While The Knot put the average cost of a wedding at $33,391, our survey revealed a median cost of around $20,000. About one-half of respondents (47%) expect to pay less than $20,000, while the other half (53%) project higher wedding costs.
About a quarter of couples (23%) plan to keep wedding costs even lower, under $10,000. But not all couples are so frugal. On the other end of the scale, 20% are set to spend $50,000 or more on their nuptials.
Some couples are feeling the financial pinch of a wedding. About 1 in 4 (23%) said they feel “somewhat stressed” or “very stressed” about their wedding costs. Another 38% agreed with the statement, “I can’t afford to pay for my wedding.”
A wedding can also come with social pressures that might influence how you spend. Some respondents said they feel pressure from family, friends, or even society to throw a lavish wedding.
It’s a good sign that most people getting married (53%) said they don’t feel such pressure. But for those who do, that pressure was most likely to come from family members (29%).
Interestingly, men are more likely to feel pressured to have a big wedding than women:
- 34% of men said they feel pressured by family, versus 27% of women.
- 24% of men said they feel pressured by friends, compared to 14% of women.
Most couples who have a handle on a wedding budget said they feel “somewhat comfortable” (29%) or “very comfortable” (36%) with their costs. Overall, a significant majority of respondents (84%) felt that their wedding would be worth the cost.
89% of those planning a wedding have a budget
A key to keeping wedding costs under control is setting a budget, said Lindsay Jones, founder and editor of Woman Getting Married.
“Figure out exactly how much you feel comfortable spending on a wedding … and stick to it no matter what,” Jones said.
Our survey found that the majority of those getting married in the coming year have set a wedding budget.
Forty-one percent of couples said they’ve decided on a total amount to spend. Even more, 48%, said they have a detailed budget that outlines specific costs, such as how much to spend on the venue, catering, and more.
Most couples started planning out the cost of their big day shortly after getting engaged. However, nearly a quarter (23%) said it took them longer than six months after their engagement to decide on a budget.
Don’t put it off too long, Jones advised. “After you’ve taken those awesome first days or weeks after getting engaged to enjoy the pure excitement of it, you’ll want to sit down with your partner and start to piece together who’s paying for what,” she said.
Venue and catering are the biggest wedding expenses
Part of a wedding budget is deciding what to spend more on and where to cut back. Here’s what couples decided were their big-ticket items:
Unsurprisingly, the venue and food are the most common big-ticket items. But 15% of couples actually said they plan to spend more on engagement rings and wedding bands than on any other cost. That move could make sense. After all, the rings are the most lasting part of the ceremony.
“Once you have a total wedding budget figured out, you’ll want to figure out what your priorities are,” Jones said. “If where you get married is more important to you than, say, your wedding invites, you’ll want to assign a higher percentage of your budget to your wedding venue.”
The written responses from couples revealed some unique factors influencing expenses. A few respondents, for example, said their cost was higher because they’d chosen a destination wedding. Others compromised to make a partner happy. “My fiancee wants a nice wedding. Enough said,” wrote one respondent.
Couples make tough choices to cut costs
Our survey revealed that couples are willing to make sacrifices to keep wedding costs affordable:
- 63% have considered eloping to cut costs.
- 80% said they’d be willing to choose a less-preferable wedding date, such as a less-popular day of the week or offseason month, if it would lower costs.
- 51% delayed their wedding due to costs. This can give couples more time to save up money and make room in their budget to pay for the big day.
In addition to considering these strategies, Jones warned couples to watch out for the most common wedding budget buster: your guest list.
“The best way to lower your wedding cost is to keep your wedding guest list in check,” she said. “A more intimate wedding of 100 or fewer guests will not only open up your venue options, but you’ll save on everything from invitations to your open bar.”
Couples pay for weddings with a mix of savings and debt
Most people getting married within the next year are planning out their costs and using a wedding budget to manage them. But where do you get the funds to pay for the wedding?
We asked how respondents planned to pay for their wedding and allowed them to select all sources of funds that applied.
70% of couples will use savings
The most common form of wedding funds is savings. Seventy percent of respondents said they planned to tap savings to help cover wedding costs. A credit card was the second-most popular option (61%).
Another popular and effective way to cover wedding costs is through monthly income. Many wedding costs are spread out over the months leading up to the actual event, making it easier for couples to pay as they go. More than one-half (53%) plan to cash flow at least some wedding expenses through their monthly budgets.
Over one-half of couples are counting on help from family or friends
Another common resource couples are tapping is family and friends. More than one-half are counting on financial help from their social support network to help cover costs.
Knowing how much family or friends can pitch in can be an important part in mapping out a wedding budget.
“Have your parents shared with you that they would like to help pay?” Jones asked. “If so, you’ll want to schedule a time to talk with them.” She recommended that you first thank them for their support. Then, find out how much they’re willing to spend.
Most couples are also asking for the following forms of help from family and friends:
- 71% registered for gifts.
- 55% asked for money.
- 38% set up a honeymoon fund.
74% of couples will have debt due to their wedding
Taking on debt to pay for a wedding can make it all too easy to run over budget. It also adds a new expense: interest charges. Yet two forms of debt, credit cards and personal loans, were among the most popular selections when respondents were asked how they were paying for their nuptials.
Only 27% said they plan to stay out of debt while paying for their wedding. The other 74% expect to take on some debt to help cover costs.
Fortunately, couples who are planning to borrow are making an effort to limit debt. Thirty percent vowed to keep their debt under $10,000.
But 11% are expecting to borrow $50,000 or more to cover their nuptials. For couples starting their lives together, this amount of debt can negatively impact their marriage, especially as newlyweds.
Credit cards are the second-most popular way to pay for a wedding
When it comes to the most common sources of funding, credit cards came second only to savings. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they planned to pull out the plastic to cover expenses.
Using a credit card doesn’t always mean getting into debt, however. Additional questions gave us insight into how couples plan to use their credit cards.
Nearly a quarter of couples who expect to put wedding costs on a credit card said they plan to pay off the balance right away. This is the wisest choice. If they can avoid carrying a balance, they’ll avoid credit card interest charges.
Couples can also use this strategy to take advantage of credit card perks. Use a travel or rewards credit card you already have or look for a new one with great sign-up perks.
“If you put the majority of your wedding costs on your credit card, you could end up using those points toward your honeymoon,” Jones pointed out.
Still, one-third (35%) of people getting married in the next year expect to take at least six months to pay off credit card balances. One in 10 said they’ll be paying down credit card debt for more than a year.
Personal loans can be a more affordable way to borrow for a wedding
Just 21% of respondents said they planned to use a personal loan to help fund their wedding.
For couples who don’t plan to pay off credit card balances right away, however, borrowing for their wedding with a personal loan could be the smarter move. That’s because personal loans have lower interest rates than those charged on credit cards.
According to the most recent Federal Reserve Consumer Credit report:
- Credit card accounts on which interest was assessed charged an average 14.99% in Q4 2017.
- Personal loans with a 24-month term had an average rate of 10.57% in the same period.
This means choosing to pay for a wedding with a personal loan rather than a credit card could be more affordable. For couples who plan to borrow a large amount or carry debt for more than a year, the interest savings are significant.
For couples already in credit card debt due to their wedding, or who plan to pay with a credit card for convenience, personal loans can help. Couples can consolidate credit card debt with a personal loan once the wedding is over. This gives them the best of both worlds: the rewards and flexibility of paying with a credit card now, and the savings of lower interest rates in repayment.
Overall, it’s a good sign that so many couples are thinking through their wedding costs, setting a budget, and following through. Unfortunately, debt will be a reality for many couples getting married.
But by using debt wisely, choosing affordable options, and limiting borrowing as much as possible, couples can make sure their big day won’t set them too far back as they start their lives together.
Survey Methodology: This survey was conducted on February 9, 2017 via SurveyMonkey, with a nationally representative sample of 1,063 adults living in the United States. “Are you getting married in the next 12 months?” was used as a screening question, with a target answer of “Yes.”
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