Don’t get Jarrett Holmes wrong.
He loves being married and getting married a few years ago was indeed a wonderful day.
But as a financial planner in the city, he understands the trend he’s seeing among clients and friends, who are putting off matrimony for other life goals often associated for decades with occurring after people get hitched.
“I’m 31… in that age range where people are getting together, getting married, having children, and buying homes,” says the fee-for-service financial planner with Ironshield Financial Planning.
“But the rising cost of housing is putting pressure on what people can afford, so they’re having to assess making tradeoffs between getting married, having kids or buying a home.”
In turn, he sees many in his demographic “forgoing the wedding in exchange for putting the money toward a down payment on a house.”
A recent poll by RBC suggests Holmes is onto something, particularly amid two years of a pandemic mindset.
“Finances is a hot topic for Canadian couples, and the pandemic has sparked more money conversations and the Prairies is no exception,” says Dawn Tam, an RBC financial planning consultant in Vancouver, noting 74 per cent of flatlander couples talked more about money since COVID-19 began.
Those conversations include weddings with 54 per cent noting money for the big day has been rerouted to other financial priorities. Additionally, 57 per cent who were planning to get married are delaying the event to buy a home.
“Things are changing for sure,” Tam says, about the shift in priorities. The traditional way of doing things—meet your life partner, get married, buy a home and have kids—has been somewhat turned on its head. Now it’s meet your partner, have kids/buy a home and then—maybe—get married.
“The pandemic has sped up that rate of change, but this trend was well underway before the pandemic,” she says.
That said, most couples still get married in Canada, Statistic Canada data show.
Of the approximately 20 million Canadians ages 25 to 64 in 2017, 56 per cent were married. Only about 21 per cent were in common law relationships, but that metric is three times more than in 1981.
Another report from Gallup from late 2020 notes a similar trend in the U.S. with fewer couples seeing the importance of getting married. It revealed only 29 per cent of couples indicated it was important to be legally married before having children in 2020 compared with 49 per cent in 2006.
Personal finance writer and advocate Kelley Keehn says it’s not that getting married is out of style.
“It’s totally a mixed bag,” says the author of Talk Money to Me: How to Save, Spend, and Feel Good About Your Money During COVID & Other Times of Financial Distress.
“Some have dreamed of a fairy-tale wedding their entire life and aren’t going to forgo the big wedding just because they have other goals.” Others aren’t into the idea at all, she says.
Even those wanting to tie the knot are typically waiting longer to save up, and often seeking financial help from family, she adds.
Across many cultures, families often contribute cash to the cause, Keehn says.
“Not exclusively, but I often hear from those that will receive support that a big wedding is a must.”
That support can be significant, given the estimated average cost. According to wedding planning website, The Knot, in its annual survey the average cost is about $19,000 U.S. in 2020. That’s actually down by $29,000 from the year before, due to the pandemic, it notes.
Globally, weddings are big business. Bridal wear alone generated almost $60 billion U.S. in spending in 2020. That figure is expected to increase to almost $80 billion in five years.
Costs are rising across the board, often faster than inflation, one Buzzfeed columnist wrote in 2017, comparing her wedding in San Francisco to her parents in the early 1970s, when it cost about $2,000 U.S. to have a big affair. Decades later a similar sized event costs more than $47,000, an increase of 370 per cent after accounting for inflation.
“Weddings have been getting larger and more extravagant, but it’s really one day in a life,” Tam says, adding consumer culture driven expectations surrounding weddings can lead to stress among couples.
She further points to the RBC survey, which found almost four in 10 planning one noted their partner had a significantly higher budget in mind.
If you’re among those suggesting a lower cost affair, consider this research to bolster your pitch. A 2014 study at Emory University found higher cost weddings in the U.S. are inversely associated with marriage duration. The bigger the wedding, the more likely you’ll get divorced, it posits.
Perhaps more than anything all of this points to how weddings—for centuries an economic arrangement—that shifted to an act of romantic love in the late 1800s, as historian Stephanie Coontz has written, is still tied to the purse-strings.
Indeed, as a financial planner, Holmes recommends clients contemplating marriage to consider its financial impact on other life goals (especially given the aforementioned average cost could equates to a down payment on a home).
“There is less need to conform today to what was once the social norm,” he says.
“Especially when people are already living together, marriage can be a really expensive way of formalizing it.”