On a recent trip to Los Angeles, as my fiancé and I were exploring the Venice Canal Historic District with friends, I realized how much we both wanted to move to the West Coast. He wanted warm weather, I wanted to have more opportunities as a full-time freelance writer, and we were both frustrated by the lack of fun culture in our current suburban Florida location. Plus, after the election in 2016, we realized that our very red county in our red state just wasn’t for us anymore. We were ready to pack up and move, but there was one catch: Money was tight, and we'd already started planning a wedding.
The idea of moving to California together had come up shortly after we began dating almost two years ago. I had recently left New York City, my home of 12 years, to relocate back to Florida temporarily, and he had moved from Chicago to our suburban town a few years earlier for a job opportunity. After our first moving talk, we set our sights on relocating permanently by mid-2017. But as the year began to draw to a close during our October visit, and a job that would pay to relocate us seemed more and more out of reach, we realized that we needed to rethink our strategy. We quizzed friends who had recently moved to California, and their success stories had one thing in common: They made the move on their own dime, typically after already connecting with companies and recruiters on the West Coast, and were all able to find jobs within a couple of months.
We realized we needed to move across the country on our own, but there were still those pesky wedding plans to think about. And weddings, just like moving, are expensive.
On the plane back home, we started to discuss the difficult question: How would we afford to move to California and plan a wedding? Although our parents are very supportive of our union, we had decided to pay for our nuptials on our own. It was going to be a small, intimate affair, but even the smallest of weddings (ours would be no more than 50 people) can still cost thousands of dollars.
According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was $35,329. Our budget was a third of that number, and even that isn’t cheap. I couldn’t wrap my head around how we could be considering spending $10,000 or more on a one-day affair when we had the rest of our lives to worry about. I estimated that we would need about twice that amount in order to take the risk and move to L.A. without jobs secured.
It quickly became clear that the math just wasn’t in our favor, so we had a choice to make: wedding or marriage? And by marriage, I mean eloping.
It’s maybe unsurprising—what with student debt at a record high and wages surprisingly low, among other factors—that other millennial brides have faced this dilemma. According to Tracy Brisson, owner of Savannah Custom Weddings & Elopements, she saw “an extraordinary amount of cancelations in 2017.”
“Even after a non-refundable retainer was submitted, couples decided that they just needed to put off getting married for a while because of health or work or other personal reasons,” she told Glamour.com. “This never happened in past years.” Because she works primarily with elopers and small weddings, she saw a fair share of people who “abandoned their bigger plans in their hometown and ran to me in Savannah!”
But the biggest reason for canceled weddings appears to be financial.
“Being completely free of all debt is something that really matters to us,” says Stepfanie R. “We couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars of our savings on a party or a piece of jewelry. All told, between a bottle of wine and a meal for our witnesses, new clothes, and a round of drinks for friends, we spent less than $500.”
While some couples decide to cancel their big wedding plans in order to save money, others simply decide that they want to spend money elsewhere—like buying a house. “Once we went through buying the house, I just couldn’t understand how spending money that would otherwise be spent updating our home for years to come on one day made any sense,” says Brittney C. “We’re in our 30s, we want to have kids—we didn’t want to wait and save money until we ‘had enough’ for a ‘dream wedding.’ So we said, ‘Screw it! Let’s elope!’”
For Lauren L., she and her partner realized only after booking a venue that they didn’t want a big wedding after all—nor the pressure that came with it. “We don’t have large families, and we were having a really hard time meeting the 120 guest limit [at our venue],” she says. “We were adding people from work, friends of friends that we had hung out with a few times, et cetera. Eventually, we questioned why: Why are we doing this huge thing with people we know we probably won’t talk to in a few years?” Instead, they cut down their guest list, picked a nearby destination, and put the money they‘d saved on foregoing a big wedding toward “our dream honeymoon to Africa for three weeks, which became a huge priority for us.”
Prioritizing travel over a big wedding isn’t unusual, says Monique Wilber, owner of Sierra & Sky Weddings in Shingle Springs, California. “Couples I work with have ditched plans for a big traditional wedding,” she said. “The main reason they’ve given has been the expense, that they could use the money to pay off student loans and bills or to travel instead.”
Case in point: Anja and her fiancé decided to take a 10-month honeymoon rather than plan a wedding. “We are focusing on the long-term investment of getting on the right track together through 10 months of quality time,” she says. “We will never have such an amazing opportunity to bond and take time off.”
Even if almost a year of travel isn’t your thing, it’s not hard to understand where they’re coming from. By my current estimate, it will take Adam and me about that long to save up the money we’ll need to make the cross-country move from Florida to California. And since that’s our priority, the choice, for us, was clear: We had to cancel our wedding.
So on a Friday night just before Thanksgiving, we called our family and told them the news. We would be canceling our plans to get married in April 2018 in Chicago and, instead, eloping at the end of 2017 in our current hometown in Florida. A few days later, we sent a big “Un-Save-the-Date” email to all 50 people on our guest list who had already received notice that we were getting married a few months earlier.
It took a few weeks to get used to the idea, but like when we met each other, when we knew, we knew.
At first, I battled feelings of guilt over disappointing friends and family that were already excitedly telling me they couldn’t wait for my “big day.” But I knew we were making the right decision for our marriage. We were starting our lives together in the place we truly want to live, we weren’t putting ourselves into debt, and we realized that one special day couldn’t possibly mean as much as the countless special days we would have in our new hometown.
Although none of the brides I spoke with regretted canceling their wedding, Stepfanie R. said it best: “My wedding day was a loving and joyful one, but honestly it’s not one of our favorite days together. It’s not the wedding that matters; it’s the marriage. We reminisce about our first international trip to Spain, where we skinny-dipped on New Year’s Day in the Mediterranean. We talk about our honeymoon in Vancouver, the long hikes in the mountains, and the antics of our three cats. We have never regretted eloping.”
As I look through photos of how our life in California has been so far, I know that we won’t either.
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