Why couples are getting into debt to get married

Couples are spending more than they can afford to on lavish, extraordinary weddings, at the expense of their future financial stability

Instagram is wedding inspiration heaven.

The colors, the styles, the decors, and the smiles all ooze happiness and excitement at The Big Day, often caught perfectly in a few snapshots. Entire accounts are dedicated to documenting the journey to the aforementioned Day, from the moment the proposal is accepted.  Limited photos of the NickYanka and DeepVeer weddings – carefully curated, quietly released, implicitly competitive – left spectators digitally drooling over more glimpses of fairytale weddings, dreaming of times in which one might afford, or even attend, such a celebration.

And so began the race to meet celebrities in their pricey expressions of love.  

The average cost of a wedding in the United Kingdom is £30,000. On its own, the amount may not look daunting. However, when sandwiched in between the cold, hard facts of the average salary in the UK being £29,000, and the average salary for full-time work being £35,000, it hits home what a financial and emotional feat a wedding could become.

The Debt Advisory Centre found that roughly half of those spending exorbitant amounts on weddings – 47% to be exact – come to regret their impulsive financial decisions. Research has shown that three-quarters of couples are entering their domestic bliss in crippling Big Day Debt.

The pressure to have a big wedding is what drives just under half of newlywed couples into a financial frenzy.

The idea that a memorable wedding has to have a luxurious, all-inclusive-resort vibe in order to be successful is underpinning a culture in which weddings are becoming more of a liability than a celebration.

There are two issues with this hypothesis: firstly, in centering lavishness and aesthetics of a wedding, the core emotions of love and togetherness are becoming further lost and diluted. Secondly, who gets a say in the ‘success’ of a wedding? “[People are] willing to take on debt if it means they can get closer to achieving their dream,” says researcher Elyssa Kirkham.

Business-owners have capitalized on the emotional attachment to wedding days by what savvy couples have labeled the “Wedding Tax”.

The Wedding Tax is an informal premium added to a variety of services feeding into a wedding day: hair and makeup, florists, photographers, and venues have been known to quote a set price for their services for any other event, and add a markup for a wedding request, as if their normal service suddenly becomes more onerous when attached to a wedding request.  

Money management services have also caught on, recognizing that rational spending often gets disregarded when planning a wedding. Research by The Knot showed that credit cards were the second most popular method of paying for a wedding, with only 22% of credit card users planning to pay the balances off immediately.

 The sheer amount of risk taken on by newlyweds by waiting to pay credit cards off is in itself a personal finance catastrophe. Couples can also take out tailored wedding loans; for example, the Marks and Spencers’ Bank in the UK offers loans of up to £25,000, specifically to cover wedding costs, with an interest rate of 6.7% APR. Couples can choose the time frame in which they wish to pay the amount back, the longest amount of time being 84 months or 7 years.

By that time, the couple may well be into a new stage of life, buying a property or having a family, yet another stage that they’d be entering in debt.

In tangible terms, what all of this means for a couple looking to have a wedding is a substantial amount of difficult conversations about money and about future plans. A desire to make one’s wedding memorable might quickly backfire if the memorability comes in the form of a loan repayment every month. And with financial distress being the second highest cause of divorce, it seems ironic to start a lifelong commitment in the face of doom.

Weddings should not be a burden, and definitely not because of historical practices of using weddings as a means of displaying material wealth.

Unlearning such assumptions can take time, and some difficult decisions need to be made. Invite fewer guests, consider renting a dress and/or suit, use your wedding as an opportunity to practice your craft skills. If you’re open to risking the elements showing up on your wedding day, consider hosting outdoors. If you’re moving in with your new spouse after your wedding, you may consider asking your guests for financial or material contributions towards establishing your new home.

Above all, smart wedding planning is about recognizing and being real with yours and your partners’ money, and reclaiming the wedding for yourself rather than one more for Instagram.