I went to get my hair cut the other day and my stylist, Sergio, told me he and his fiancé have finally set the date for their wedding: September, 2013; only four years after the birth of their son. As Sergio said, “Better late than never.”
Much controversy has arisen over the deep decline in the rates of marriage amongst Millennials. “Just 20% of Millennials are currently married,” reads a report by the Pew Research Center. “Back when Gen Xers were the same age that Millennials are now, some three-in-ten of them were married, as were more than four-in-ten Baby Boomers and more than half of the members of the Silent Generation (ages 65 and older).”
It would seem Millennials just don’t like marriage very much.
Some claim it’s because “those kids” are too immature or refuse to grow up. Some argue Gen Y has seen the high divorce rates and refuse to repeat the pattern of their parents or older siblings. Others say the institution itself is old-fashioned and doesn’t reflect the realities of modern life. However, the research belies these theories. Pew says: “Among 18- to 29-year olds who are not currently married and have no children, 70 percent say they want to marry and 74 percent say they want to have children.” For a smart Millennial, marriage may not be the issue at all. Perhaps weddings are the problem.
The average wedding costs over $25,000 (!). This includes the fancy dress, the flowers, the caterer, the limo, the music, the videographer, et cetera, et cetera. And of course, don’t forget the wedding planner. Any financially savvy Millennial will know that this kind of expense can be a big deterrent to committing to a wedding. That’s what kept Sergio from walking down the aisle. “She had a vision in mind, and we couldn’t afford it until now,” he explained.
Many women — like the one I recently read about in the New York Times — have been planning their wedding for years, often long before Prince Charming has even stepped into their lives. They envision their dress, that special moment of “I Do” and the rockin’ party afterwards. Hard not to get excited when Hollywood feeds the fantasy with movies such as Bridesmaids, 27 Dresses, and The Wedding Planner.
I can relate. I’ve seen all the movies and cried or laughed on cue. I’ve seen them, and loved most of them, because I’m a romantic and I believe in love and marriage. But it’s fascinating that as weddings are on the decline, we are being bombarded with movies about weddings. When I was in my twenties and planning my own wedding, there was no media blitz telling me how it should be done. And certainly no Pinterest to reinforce my materialistic fantasies.
Still, as look back over my shoulder all these years later, there are so many things I wouldn’t have done at my wedding, not the least of which was to waste so much of my parents’ money. My husband and I were lucky in that they were willing to foot the bill (within reason). But, did I really need all that pomp and circumstance? I’ve come to understand it isn’t about that one day, it is about all of the days that follow.
I have more than one friend and a number of relatives who regret the tens of thousands of dollars they spent on their weddings. One, who prefers to remain anonymous, told me he and his fiancé spent two years and nearly $50,000 on the wedding of “her dreams.” Then, two years later they were in divorce court. Apparently he wasn’t her Prince Charming. “She decided planning the wedding was more fun than actually being married,” he complained.
A few years ago when my much younger sister asked me about how she should plan her wedding, I told her to keep it small and save the money for a home, a place in which she and her husband could build their life together. And that is exactly what she did. Now they live out in the country with a view many would envy. Their house has room for their six-year-old son and the baby soon on the way. Money is tight, but would have been much tighter if she’d wasted all of her savings on one day rather than all the years that have followed.
If you are busy fantasizing about or even actually planning your “dream” wedding, I encourage you to step back and ask yourself if the money could be better spent on building a long-term foundation for your future rather than letting it float away on the fleeting pleasure of a champagne bubble. It isn’t just about cost cutting, it’s about asking yourself, “Will this really matter ten years from now?” If your parents are helping with the costs, perhaps you could negotiate to receive the money they would have spent on a lavish wedding and put it to much better use. I estimate you’ll save bundles if you keep the long-term view front and center. Remember, you don’t need hundreds of people to confirm your love, just that one special person.
If you are married, how did you handle the expense of your wedding? If you’re not married, are the costs a deterrent to making that commitment?