Perhaps, when Shakespeare wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” he should have substituted the word “cost” for the word “course.” After delaying the wedding of their dreams because of COVID-19 restrictions, many couples – and their families – are discovering that supply chain and labor issues, fueling inflation, are making those dreams more expensive.
“Full-scale celebrations are back in full swing and with the traditional wedding season approaching, engaged couples and their parents are once again confronted with having to pay tens of thousands of dollars for elaborate affairs that last only a few hours,” reads a statement from Wells Fargo’s Wealth and Investment Management team.
The statement quotes the wedding website Zola, which conducted a survey of 3,000 couples planning a wedding this year. Seventy percent of them are spending more on their 2022 weddings than they had originally planned. Another wedding website, The Knot, reports that couples spent an average of $28,000 on their weddings in 2021, back in line with pre-pandemic spending.
North Carolina’s average wedding was a bit less expensive at $23,000, according to The Knot. But those averages don’t take into account the cost of an engagement ring – up almost 10% from the average ring cost of $5,500 in 2021, according to the WeddingWire Newlywed Report – or the honeymoon.
Since many people are waiting longer to get married, couples may be financially established enough that they can bear some of the wedding costs. But that wedding outlay could reduce their ability to purchase a house in today’s competitive and rising-interest market.
As a result, many couples and families with weddings looming are talking with their financial planners about how to create a memorable milestone occasion without gutting their savings or robbing their investment accounts otherwise earmarked for retirement, student debt payment or a home purchase.
“We always ask our clients what major, one-time expenses they anticipate in the future,” said James Mosrie, a senior wealth planner for Wells Fargo in Raleigh. “It could be a family trip, new cars, but it’s often a wedding. Gradually, wedding expenses are going up, so we encourage clients to peg their kids into what kind of wedding they want: the Cadillac or something smaller. If they are going to pay for it, they try to make sure that’s within their retirement planning and cash flow analysis.
“This is a really tough time [for a major expense] because of market volatility,” he continued. “People are watching their portfolios. I’ve talked with other planners, who are seeing wedding costs come in 50% to 100% more than clients’ initial budgets. People are trying to manage their weddings differently, maybe with a smaller guest list, maybe a party that is more cost-effective. Having a destination wedding is one way to manage costs by keeping the guest list down.”
Another way to slim down costs is to find a less-expensive venue – venue costs account for a large chunk of wedding expenses – or to plan a midweek wedding, when event locations are typically less busy and perhaps more willing to lower their charges, Mosrie said, adding that costs also vary depending on time of year.
“The early winter months – around the holidays – can be less expensive, depending on the venue and the [geographic] location,” he added.
Scott Winslow has had recent financial planning sessions with two different sets of clients preparing for weddings.
“We have a client doing a destination wedding,” said Winslow, managing partner at Nabell Winslow Investments and Wealth Management in Wilmington. He points out this strategy allows couples to invite more people but likely have a shorter guest list. The other clients, who are retired, are planning a family wedding this fall, he said.
“They are well funded, although they are not enormously wealthy; they are going to pay what it costs, but they are getting quotes that are higher than they anticipated.
“It all depends on what you are trying to achieve,” Winslow continued. “We have a meaningful conversation with our clients about every big expense. I try not to get into people’s values. For some people, it’s important to have a huge bash for their daughter. At the end of the day, whatever you spend beyond your budget, there’s a higher probability of running out of money.”
Winslow added, “We are in a downturn market, with the highest inflation in 40 to 50 years. You can postpone savings for a while, or cash in an investment that’s not doing so well. We try to show clients what they can and can’t spend or risk running out of money, which means they will retire with less money or work longer. We show people what their risks are so they can make good decisions.”
That $28,000 wedding in 2021 is likely to cost $1,000 to $3,000 more this year, according to a study by The Knot. Cost increases can be even higher, based on what Mosrie said he’s hearing from clients.
Some wedding vendors are increasing their prices to help them recover from major losses during the pandemic, when most weddings were postponed or went virtual. And some vendors are still facing supply chain problems for items like wheat and higher prices for chocolate and other ingredients, according to a Fortune magazine story April 8.
Labor costs have also risen during the pandemic, especially as employers have had to compete for personnel. Higher gas prices have made transportation of goods, services – and guests – more expensive as well.
The City Club of Wilmington is “busier than it’s ever been” with weddings so far this year, said general manager Bryan Chappell. “We’re seeing 25% more business this year than last. Our costs for food and labor have gone up dramatically, but we’re trying to not pass that along to our wedding clients. We’re trying to help them keep their costs down.”
Chappell isn’t hearing complaints when there are some increased costs here and there, he said.
“They’re just happy to have venues open again with no restrictions,” he said. “And some people have saved money during the pandemic. We’re fortunate to have a stable staff that stayed with us.”