The Royal Wedding may have seemed beautifully modern. But it was out of sync with gen Y’s attitudes towards relationships, weddings, independence and money. We need a new, more liberating paradigm to embody our financial and personal lives
Did you watch the Royal Wedding on Saturday? If so, what was your reaction? Teary-eyed joy at two people obviously in love? Pride in your country, coming together to celebrate a fairy-tale romance? Bemusement that such a private moment was being broadcast all over the world, like a very expensive mash-up of Suits and The Crown?
Or were you like me…a bit exasperated by it all? Hey, it’s okay to admit it. You’re not dead inside, a shrivelled-up prune bereft of feeling. You’re not an unpatriotic monster. You’re just a perceptive, objective individual who understands there is ALWAYS more to these occasions than meets the eye.
Saturday’s ceremony served a constitutional purpose – pure and simple. The sixth in line to the throne has to play his part in protecting and securing the survival of The Firm. Getting married not only allows for a public display of unity and commitment that further enshrines this system, but gives the public a chance to feel they have ownership of it.
The Queen does, after all, serve at the pleasure of her people, and so people-pleasing is the order of the day.
And nothing is more people-pleasing than a wedding. It is largely a symbolic gesture today. More people in the UK identify as non-religious than Christian. The choices, freedom and longevity we enjoy today have moved on from the central wedding act of fathers passing their daughters as chattel onto husbands and men dying at 50 (the average life expectancy just 100 years ago).
Chelsy, summing up my reaction to the occasion…
SHOULD WE MARRY LIKE HARRY?
One of the most logical arguments for marriage that exists today (at least if you’re not a committed Christian) relates to children. Statistics show that parents who choose to co-habit are more likely to break up than those who get married. And while cohabiting couples have no legal obligation to support each other financially, married partners do. But it’s not known how things shake out for childless couples – or indeed whether children from “broken” homes really are worse off than those from supposedly stable “happy” family units in the long term. That is a subject of intense debate, but my experience tells me there is no absolutely guarantee that married couples bring up their children with any more love, attention and wisdom than separated parents.
No, the real stakes lie elsewhere. Bar the rather agreeable tax breaks granted to married couples, the single most logical reason to think twice about marriage is the other M word – money. None of us need to get married as a matter of economic necessity. Cohabiting, on the other hand, presents an understandable solution for millennials struggling to pay rent on their own and desperate to combine their house saving deposit with someone else, but unsure that a costly ceremony will do their relationship, finances or sanity much good.
Furthermore, cohabiting couples may miss out on tax breaks, state pension perks and automatic inheritance rights, but this is more than compensated by the ability to keep finances separate and split cleanly if need be.
Millennials are not weighed down with the assets that assumed greater importance for previous generations (perhaps because the material trappings of a marital home – a new car, kitchen or ludicrously big telly – would sometimes act as compensation prizes for rather stifling and boring suburban lives.)
Gen Y is also more financially independent by default. More than half of millennials have never been married. Instead, they get on with their career, dating as they go along and (sometimes) finding longer-term relationships. When they do find themselves in such arrangements (for that is what they are), it tends to be at a later age. So gen Y has a more mature, balanced and (dare I say) clear-eyed outlook on relationships. They have their own earnings and savings they want to protect. They’re far less likely to tie up their money with someone else purely because that’s “the done thing”. They’re more questioning of tradition and ceremony for its own sake, and we’ve all seen our fair share of baby-boomers and gen-Xers go through costly divorces, ruing the day they left objectivity at the door in favour of blind optimism.
Yes, the law financially penalises co-habiting couples who separate, putting even more pressure on couples to tie the knot to obtain legal protection. Around two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe they are subject to common-law marriage rules and can draw from their spouse’s pension and bank account should they die. A watertight legal agreement should rectify this, but unfortunately, it is often the last issue on cohabiting couples’ minds.
THE FINANCIAL STIGMA AROUND WEDDINGS
Still, from my standpoint, there are lots of logical reasons why half of millennials will never get married (according to the Marriage Foundation). I say “logical” but of course, weddings defy logic. Indeed, the greatest success of the wedding-industrial complex (up to now, anyway) has been to make money a totally taboo subject in relation to marriage.
To even raise the small matter of what things cost, how people save up for weddings, why suppliers for weddings automatically double their costs, whether families pile on the pressure to spend more…it’s seen as terribly unromantic. So we self-censor any critical thoughts and shame people for calling out the spending involved, depicting them as cranky old grouch-bags who don’t believe in the magic of love.
It is totally maddening.
Far from Saturday’s wedding being in tune with the public mood, I would argue it was completely out of step with the younger generations’ prevailing attitudes towards relationships, weddings, marriage, individual responsibility and independence. Setting aside its obvious constitutional importance, economic benefits and personal significance for the couple, this wedding had no relevance whatsoever for gen Y, which is establishing a completely new way of doing things and teaching the rest of society that things can (and should) move on.
No, we DON’T have to spend the annual GDP of a small African country to show that we love someone. No, we don’t have to borrow money from the bank or pop it on the never-ending credit card or beg Daddy for a few extra grand to show our commitment to another person. No, we don’t have to fall out with our friends, infuriate our bridesmaids or even have a massive drama over whether our dad will walk us down the aisle or not. It’s all so…well, unfeminist!
Countless magazines, blogs, fairs and shops are devoted to promoting the expensive services and products all needed for a ‘perfect’ wedding day – and it’s all aimed at women. The typical cost breakdown, which can be easily found online, is scary stuff. The wedding venue – £4,000. The evening reception – £1,700. The Bride’s outfit, hair and beauty – £1,760. You apparently won’t get much change out of a thousand pounds for photography, and the same goes for a DVD you might hardly watch after the wedding. More than £500 goes on flowers and even the ‘balloons and decorations’ will set you back £460. (Makes it sound like a five year’s party with a clown rather than an elegant exchange of vows).
Research from HSBC shows that the typical wedding now costs £20,273, and it has become the number one expense for parents still supporting their children into adulthood, according to Standard Life. More than one in three parents – 38% – say they have paid or expect to pay towards their child’s wedding, compared to just a quarter who want to help their offspring get on the housing ladder.
Furthermore, HSBC says parents and children alike are ‘underestimating’ the cost of a wedding by around £12,000. That’s because too many people feel they have no choice but conform to the Disney production values once the big day looms on the horizon, and the cultural stigma surrounding cheap weddings has ever more entrenched, particularly in Asian communities. An Indian friend tells me of parents who borrow and spend furiously on their daughters’ nuptials just so they can maintain standing among their peers.
This may have all seemed viable, if not terribly healthy, in better economic times. If people wanted to spend that much money on a wedding, it was their choice, so long as they had the money – or credit – for it. However, times have changed. We all have less disposable income and we have to prioritise what we really want over what would be a fantastical ideal. That’s no bad thing. Necessity is the mother of invention. And boy, some couples are proving to be inventive.
A BETTER WAY FORWARD?
I think young couples are starting to realise there are so many wonderful, unique and thrifty alternatives to the big white wedding. If you do decide to get hitched, you don’t need to spend anywhere near £20,000 or even half that to have a lovely day, and there is obviously no evidence that such an investment will secure a long and happy marriage either.
Now, some ingenious couples are employing a wartime trick of posing by a “dummy” wedding cake in official photographs, which then gets whisked off into the kitchen while slices from another, less grand confection are brought out for guests. Teams of flower arrangers are being deployed at churches to bypass expensive bouquets. Instant cameras are making a comeback, and are a way more fun, spontaneous alternative to a pricey photographer. Mothers and grandmothers are even passing down their wedding dresses, with the frocks becoming fashionable vintage heirlooms.
Here are some other cheap wedding hacks I want to flag up:
- Have a midweek or Sunday ceremony. Some pubs and restaurants will let you hire them out for free during these periods if your guests spend a certain amount behind the bar.
- Make your own cake or table decorations. Pinterest is a constant source of inspo in this area, and even if you’re not handy with a baking tray, one of your friends will almost certainly be a Cake Supremo (maybe that can be their wedding gift to you?)
- VINTAGE, VINTAGE, VINTAGE…it’s so much classier than first-hand I think. Lots of blogs focus celebrate gorgeous vintage gowns to give brides some retro inspiration – two of my favourites are Chic Vintage Brides and Whimsical Wonderland Weddings.
- More couples are getting married in November to lift the spirits during that dreary time of year, and many venues caterers and bands offer a cost saving of 15%. AA Financial Services reckons an autumn wedding will chop £2000 off the total cost.
Lisa Conway Hughes, financial adviser and founder of the website Miss Lolly, said: “The most common mistake is that people ask me ‘how can I afford everything?’ The right question to ask is ‘what can I realistically afford to spend?’ Then you have to budget accordingly.”
Ms Hughes said couples should calculate how much an expensive wedding will set back their other financial goals, such as saving for their first home. A survey by Topcashback found that 85 per cent of us would rather save for “secure life essentials” first and then get married. Lisa said:
“Young people especially are under pressure to get on the property ladder. Working out what is needed for a deposit, if you are not already on the property ladder when you get married, is an important part of the ‘what can I afford’ calculation “It is important to make an informed choice and knowing the numbers can make this a little simpler. So if you know that blowing the budget on your wedding will derail your house purchase plans by five years, perhaps this would put you off. If it would only hold you back six months, perhaps this is something that you are willing to do.”
She added that couples should spend their wedding budget on what really mattered and dispense with everything else. “When I got married it was important that there was enough alcohol and everyone had a great time. I therefore focused on things that would achieve my ideal day and cut back on things that weren’t important to me such as a wedding video, canapes and transport.”
If you decide that getting married is the right decision for you, then good for you – I wish you a lifetime of happiness!