A new study shows that marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony. Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, two economics professors at Emory University in Atlanta, published a research paper in September titled “A Diamond Is Forever and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration.” The study was based on the wedding budgets and marriage track records of more than 3,000 US adults.
This doesn’t mean that extravagant weddings cause divorce. But financial strain can cause marital stress. Money troubles are at the top of the list of causes of divorce. This is just one reason why I have a busy practice advising couples on the financial issues of splitting up.
According to “Cinderella dreams: the allure of the lavish wedding” (University of California Press), in 1959, Bride’s magazine recommended that couples allocate two months to prepare for their big day with a 22-task checklist. In the 1990s, Bride’s recommended allowing twelve months to prepare, along with a 44-task checklist. Messrs. Francis and Mialon site that “prior to World War II, in Western countries, only 10% of engagement rings contained a diamond. By the end of the century, about 80% did.” To tie the diamond engagement ring to the promise of a long marriage, in the 1980s the diamond company De Beers introduced a marketing campaign, “Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?”
Based on respondents, Messrs. Francis and Mialon note that …
- Men say that spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring is associated with 1.3 times greater hazard of divorce compared to spending between $500 and $2,000.
- Men and women both say that spending $1,000 or less on the wedding is associated with a significant decrease in the hazard of divorce.
- Ladies say that spending $20,000 or more on the wedding is associated with 1.6 times greater hazard of divorce.
- Evidence suggests that weddings that are relatively inexpensive but are high in attendance are associated with a lower likelihood of divorce
It is fairly easy to figure out how to spend less on a ring and a ceremony, but how do you have high wedding attendance and avoid high wedding costs? According to CostOfWedding.com, in Brazos County a single guest could add between $147 and $180 to the overall cost of a wedding. A quick search of online comments from across the country showed me that a wedding can be both large and lower cost when held in a public park (including the cost of renting a tent to hedge against the weather). This website tells you the average wedding cost based on geographic location. The average wedding in Brazos County costs $16,085, while 45% of local weddings cost less than $10,000. Fourteen percent of local weddings cost more than $30,000. You can find all kinds of details on this site about the average cost of wedding items from guest books to venue to catering.
When I help clients budget, some of them ask me for percentage guidelines such as the percent of food costs relative to their entire spending. This, of course, is highly individual. Wedding costs are also unique to the families. With that in mind, here is a list of relative costs based on nationwide information from newly married couples.
- 45-55% – Reception (including venue, food, cake, and beverages)
- 10% – Attire (gown, tux or suit & accessories)
- 8-12% – Photography & videography
- 5-10% – Entertainment
- 2-5% – Wedding rings
- 2-4% – Gifts & favors
- 2-4% – Invitations & other cards
- 2% – Ceremony (venue, officiant & marriage license)
- 2% – Transportation
- 5-8% – Taxes & gratuities
- 10% – Miscellaneous (insurance, overtime, etc.)
Another factor that predicts marital strife is in the process of planning the wedding. Family therapist Faith Wilson has advised countless couples on preserving their marital relationship. “Brides who want their grooms to help make every decision of the wedding preparations are presenting a complication. Her groom is not in charge of the budget but is being asked to help make financial decisions. She is also asking him to help with decisions in areas in which he has little or no working knowledge. This is a sticky situation, and that is what makes it so valuable to their relationship. In this first major collaborative project, his behavior is an indicator to her as to how he will communicate in regard to other important decisions in their marriage.” The same goes for the bride’s behavior as to how she is likely to handle stress during their marriage.
Ms. Wilson summarizes groom participation into three main types.
- Groom #1 does not participate or grudgingly participates
- Groom #2 tries to control decisions
- Groom #3 participates but will readily admit when he does not have experience in an area. “I don’t know about china but I think what you have chosen is beautiful.”
Ms. Wilson advises brides to take note of their partner’s character traits during the wedding planning stage. These behaviors will appear later in their relationship. This is fine as long as the bride sees these traits and recognizes what she’ll be dealing with during the coming years. Ms. Wilson realizes that most brides are starry eyed, but she still urges them to understand that character traits (whether his or hers) will continue to develop. “We always think people will change for us. ‘If he loves me, he will change.’ But when it is a basic character trait, people usually choose not to make those changes.”
Weddings are wonderful and joyful events. They are opportunities to experience the value of budgeting and starting a lifetime of sound financial decisions. They are rehearsals for making compromises in relationships and increasing chances of a lifelong and loving marriage.