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Would You Go into Debt for Great Wedding Photos?


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Last month, Debt.com reported on one of the saddest side effects of inflation: “Around 39 million Americans feel pressured to overspend on celebrations like weddings and other happy events.”

Well, the results are in. Many have succumbed. Just about 8 in 10 marrying couples expect to blow their wedding budget this year. A new survey from wedding vendor aggregator Carats & Cake concludes, “79% of couples we surveyed are already expecting to go over their original set budget.”

They’ll do so willingly, too. The top item couples “are willing to go over budget on”? The photographer, at 24 percent of respondents. That edges out the wedding venue by 1 percent.

Interestingly, less than 1 bride in 10 was willing to blow their budget on their dress.

What’s going on here? I think social media explains it all.

Weddings are for those who aren’t there

Weddings today are social media mega-events, so even in an era when everyone has an exceptional camera on their phone, couples want photo quality they can’t get every day. The priciest wedding dresses look best in person, or in large-format photos you hang on a wall. Scrolling through social media, a mid-price wedding dress can still look stunning – especially with a talented photographer.

That might explain why couples are willing to overspend on the venue, too. The background in those photos is crucial. Yet fewer couples are willing to overspend on food (only 21 percent) and entertainment (17 percent) – perhaps because those two line items don’t show well on social.

Also backing up this theory: More than half (53 percent) of couples are willing to slash their guest list to save money. After all, only so many people can fit in all those amazing photos.

Weddings are for those who don’t mind debt

Wedding prices remind me of student loans, as odd as that sounds.

A few months before the pandemic changed our world, Debt.com took a deep dive into wedding debt. The conclusion in September 2019: “You can buy a 2019 Acura ILX with all the bells and whistles for less money than the average wedding in the U.S. today.”

Since then, weddings have gotten only more expensive. Instead of cutting back, however, we’re just growing accustomed to carrying this debt.

That’s exactly what happened with student loan debt. In August 2016, I wrote, “Are we getting too comfortable with the student loan crisis?” I called it “such a big number,” which was $1.2 trillion. Today, student loan debt stands at $1.6 trillion, and only recently has this become an urgent national conversation.

I’m not saying wedding debt will reach the Congress and the White House. I am saying we often get too comfortable owing money – especially when we have an excuse like, “But it’s the most important day of my life!”

First, we need to dispel that expensive myth, driven by the wedding-industrial complex. I’ve been married for more than 20 years, and anyone in a good marriage for that long will tell you: The wedding day won’t even break the Top 5 after many years of memorable vacations, family moments, and even lazy days doing nothing.

Second, we need to question wedding expenses like we’ve just now started questioning the value of an overpriced college education. In neither case are we being cheap or unromantic. Slowly, it’s becoming acceptable to attend community college for two years before going off to an expensive university. It needs to be acceptable to have an affordable wedding. In fact, it needs to become a badge of honor.

I can tell you one last fact: Debt is a leading cause of divorce. If you rack up debt at literally the first moment of your marriage, your wedding day will indeed be your happiest memory – because every other memory of your marriage will be stressful ones, until the day you split up.

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