Maid of debt: About 20% of Americans have gone into debt to plan or attend a wedding

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In a Nutshell

A new Credit Karma survey shows that 21% of Americans have gone into debt to pay for their own wedding, while 20% have gone into debt to attend one. Millennials are most likely to rack up debt as wedding guests, but Gen Z is most likely to go into debt planning the big day. But no matter their age, most were driven into wedding-related debt by the pressure to impress.

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Weddings are a time to celebrate among friends and family — but if you’re not careful, these celebrations could leave you saying “I do” to debt.

A new Credit Karma survey of 1,039 Americans ages 18 and up shows about one in five Americans (21%) have gone into debt to fund their own wedding. Meanwhile, 20% of Americans have gone into debt to attend someone else’s wedding.

Millennials are most prone to rack up debt as wedding guests, with 35% of millennial respondents having gone into debt to attend a bachelor or bachelorette party and 30% having gone into debt to attend a wedding. But Gen Z takes the debt cake when it comes to their wedding day, with nearly two-fifths (38%) of Gen Z respondents having gone into debt to finance their nuptials. (Learn about our methodology.)

Why all the wedding-related debt? It could have to do with the social pressures and expectations set around weddings, our survey found. Respondents cited feeling the need to impress friends and family (32%) as one reason they overspent on their own weddings, while others (20%) said they went into debt to make their wedding look good for the ’Gram.

But a wedding doesn’t have to leave you with lasting debt. We’ll provide some tips to help avoid overspending while celebrating happily ever after. But first, let’s explore more about who’s going into wedding-related debt and why.

Key survey findings

About one in five Americans (21%) have gone into debt to pay for their own wedding, with a quarter (25%) going $10,000 or more into debt. Nearly two-fifths (38%) of Gen Z respondents have gone into debt to fund a wedding, making them the most-likely generation to do this.
41% of respondents who went into debt to pay for their own wedding said they did it because they felt like they had no choice, while others were driven by stress to impress — 32% overspent on their wedding because they wanted to impress their friends and family and 20% did it to make their wedding look good on Instagram.
20% of Americans have gone into debt to attend a wedding, with 38% going more than $500 into debt. The top debt-driving purchases, according to respondents: the wedding gift (58%), lodging (44%) and outfits (43%).
Nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) have gone into debt to attend a bachelor or bachelorette party. But for millennials, bachelor(ette)-party debt is even higher (35%).
Some optimism for the 2019 wedding season: Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) think they can attend all their scheduled wedding-related activities this year without going into debt. At the same time, a third of respondents (33%) wouldn’t feel comfortable saying no to a friend’s wedding even if they couldn’t afford to attend.

Why are Americans going into wedding-related debt?

The expectations surrounding your big day — and the events leading up to it — can be huge. And according to our survey, the pressure to meet these expectations may be driving many to overspend, especially in the age of social media.

When asked why they went into debt to fund their own weddings, more than two-fifths (41%) of respondents said they “felt like they had no other choice,” while 20% said they wanted their wedding to look good on Instagram. The latter may come as no surprise, considering that Gen Z — a generation raised with the internet — was the most-likely generation to go into debt to pay for their weddings, at 38% (versus 33% for millennials and 16% for those 39 or older).

Top 5 reasons people went into debt to have a wedding

Reason Percentage of respondents who went into debt
I felt like I had no other choice 41%
I and/or my partner have a large family 41%
I wanted to impress my friends and family 32%
I wanted my wedding to look good on Instagram 20%
I wanted to one-up someone else’s wedding 16%


Wedding guests are also under pressure to overspend, with the expectation to show up driving many into wedding-event debt.

When asked why they went into debt to participate in a bachelor or bachelorette party, respondents’ top reasons were “I felt obligated” (46%) and “all my friends were participating” (38%), while the second most-common reason cited for going into debt to attend someone else’s wedding was “all my friends were participating,” at 41%.

Top 5 reasons people went into debt to attend a bachelor or bachelorette party

Reason Percentage of respondents who went into debt
I felt obligated 46%
All my friends were participating 38%
I didn’t want to offend the person who invited me 34%
Novel/once-in-a-lifetime experience 32%
I didn’t want my friends to think I was broke 27%

 

Top 5 reasons people went into debt to attend a wedding

Reason Percentage of respondents who went into debt
Novel/once-in-a-lifetime experience 42%
All my friends were participating 41%
I didn’t want to offend the person who invited me 39%
I didn’t want my friends to think I was broke 29%
I didn’t know I was going into debt at the time 19%

How much wedding debt are people racking up?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, wedding-related debt is especially high for the couple throwing the wedding. A quarter of respondents (25%) who went into debt to pay for their wedding did so to the tune of $10,000 or more.

How much debt did people accumulate to throw a wedding?

Amount of debt Percentage of respondents who went into debt to fund their wedding
$1 to $999 13%
$1,000 to $4,999 31%
$5,000 to $9,999 30%
$10,000 to $14,999 13%
$15,000 to $19,999 5%
$20,000 or more 7%


But weddings can also be costly for guests. Of respondents who said they got into debt as wedding guests, more than a third of wedding attendees and more than a third of bachelor/bachelorette party attendees reported racking up more than $500 in charges.

If you have four or so weddings to attend this year and don’t think you can participate in the wedding or prewedding events without going into debt, you could potentially end up racking up $4,000 or more in debt — a hefty blow to your wallet if you also have travel plans, are trying to save, or have unexpected costs come up throughout the year.

How much wedding debt did attendees rack up?

Amount of debt

Percentage of bachelor/bachelorette

debt

Percentage of wedding guests’ debt
$1 to $49 9% 7%
$50 to $100 13% 12%
$101 to $250 20% 20%
$251 to $500 23% 22%
$501 to $1,000 20% 21%
$1,001 to $5,000 12% 12%
More than $5,000 4% 5%

What kind of expenses drive wedding-related debt?

Costs can run high for all participants of wedding-related activities, but what are people actually spending (and overspending) on?

The pressure to impress seems to come into play here, as well. The top expenses on either side (hosts versus guests) revolve around pleasing the other party. Married couples cite food as the costliest wedding day expense, while guests cite the wedding gift they buy for the happy couple.

Otherwise, top expenses include the venue and dress for those getting married, and lodging and outfits for guests.

The 5 biggest expenses when throwing a wedding

Expense Percentage of married respondents
Food 29%
Venue 17%
Wedding dress 12%
Wedding cake/drinks/photographer (tied) 4%
Music and/or entertainment 3%

 

Top 5 expenses that cause debt for wedding guests

Expense Percentage of guests who have gone into debt
The wedding gift 58%
Lodging/hotel stay 44%
Related events (bridal shower, bachelor party, welcome party, engagement party, etc.) 43%
Buying my outfit(s) 43%
Travel (plane tickets, car rental, Ubers/Lyfts) 42%

Happily ever after: How to keep spending low while celebrating a wedding

Of respondents, 79% of those who’d ever been married report not going into debt to fund their wedding. And 63% of all those we surveyed said they think they can attend all of their scheduled wedding-related activities this year without going into debt.

But how are they going to manage it? Here are some tips for celebrating happily ever after without adding debt to the mix.

Have a budget and stick to it

Before you begin to plan your wedding or think about attending a wedding or prewedding event, it pays to think about how much you can afford to spend without going into debt. Our survey results showed that the most-cited reason people were able to avoid going into debt to plan their own wedding was that they had a budget that they stuck to (53%). Similarly, 44% of those who avoided debt for a bachelor or bachelorette party were able to do so by picking a budget-friendly activity. It could help to reach out to the happy couple to find out what prewedding activities they have planned. Write them down and figure out which ones you can attend without breaking the bank. The couple will likely understand if you can’t make it to every event.

Keep things local

The main reason people were able to avoid going into debt to attend a wedding was because the wedding was local (55%), meaning there would be fewer costs around things like hotels and plane tickets. So when planning your own wedding or thinking about which weddings to attend, keep in mind that the shorter distance that guests have to travel, the more budget-friendly the event will likely be.

Keep costs low for big-ticket items

Wedding gifts, travel and lodging were all big expenses causing people to go into debt to attend a wedding. While 7% of those who didn’t go into debt to attend a wedding said they avoided debt by not giving a wedding gift, this isn’t the only way to help cut back on expenses. You can also think about ways you can lower the costs of these big-ticket items ahead of time. Choose a wedding gift that you can afford, or consider making a gift. Another idea could be staying with a few people in a shared homestay or staying with family to lower lodging costs.


Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in April 2019 of 1,039 Americans ages 18 and up to learn about their spending habits related to attending or planning weddings and wedding-related activities. All percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole.