Since 1934, Brides has been your one-stop resource for all things wedding-related. (We mean, where else can you score real-world inspiration, registry pointers, and budget-friendly advice?) But, while the act of getting married is older than your “something old” and “something borrowed” combined, its place in modern society changes faster than you can say, “I do.”
That’s exactly why we kicked off our Weddings & Money 2021: A Brides & Investopedia Study comes in. We teamed up with Investopedia to offer an in-depth look at the industry from the couples who are planning their big days. Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic halted many wedding plans right in their tracks. Yet, as the world continues to crawl back to some semblance of normalcy, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves, where do we go from here? To better understand, we surveyed 1,000 adults varying across different races, ages, income brackets, geographical locations, and sexual orientations, all of whom are swapping vows within the next two years.
After a year of lockdown and saving dream dates, wedding season is back in full swing. In fact, half of the participants surveyed will be attending at least one other wedding this calendar year. (Translation? Welcome to the wedding boom.) However, the planning process continues to look different than it did a few years ago. While many couples have had to change their date and venue at least once, others are curbing super-spreader events by requesting guests wear masks, get tested, or show proof of vaccination. Plus, many couples are reconsidering their wedding budgets. Keep reading for an in-depth look at our findings. With any luck, these key takeaways will help you make the most of your own planning process.
When lockdown orders went into effect in March 2020, many couples debated on whether they should reschedule their nuptials. Now, over a year later, couples are still seeing the effects of the pandemic seep into their timelines. According to our survey, 41 percent of participants had to change their date, while over one in four couples (29 percent) postponed their wedding day.
Couples Are Planning Weddings With the Pandemic in Mind
Take Erin Knapp, for example, who was excited to marry her now-husband Sean in September 2020. However, when the stay-at-home orders showed no signs of slowing down by June, the couple was faced with a difficult decision: to rebook or not to rebook?
“Regulations kept changing and it was unclear which way Covid-19 was going to go,” Erin shares. “Half of our friends and family were sure it would be better and encouraged us to keep the wedding on, but we felt immense pressure to predict the future while keeping all of our guests safe.” Fortunately, the couple was able to push back their Vermont nuptials to September 2021, giving them a huge sense of relief in the process.
“The stress of the pandemic was enough without worrying about who could come or if we could keep everyone healthy,” Erin explains. “In the end, it was such a great experience, waiting allowed us more time to relax and enjoy putting more time into the details of the wedding.”
As if rescheduling a wedding once wasn’t stressful enough, 41 percent of those who have postponed their special day had to do so multiple times. Rachel Leslie was eager to marry her fiancé Andrew in Inverness, Scotland on May 5, 2020. Little did the couple know, the global pandemic would throw a major wrench into their happily ever after.
“With travel bans beginning to take shape, we quickly realized the day we had planned for us and our 150 guests wasn’t going to happen; it just wasn’t possible,” Rachel recalls. “We were one of the first couples to raise this with our wedding venue. It was a difficult conversation to have but they agreed to move our date out—with a change fee, of course.”
The couple pushed back their big reception to December 2020—which is when they got legally married in a courthouse—and then once again to July 2021. But, since Scotland had strict limitations this summer, the couple decided to postpone their party once again—this time, to April 6, 2022.
“If we were going to go ahead in July, we would’ve been faced with quarantine upon arrival, social distancing at the ceremony and reception, no music, and a handful of guests who couldn't go because of travel restrictions,” Rachel shares. “It just wasn’t going to be the wedding we wanted. We had waited so long already, we knew it’d be worth the wait to postpone again.”
Unfortunately, the pushed-back plans come at a price. Similar to Rachel’s experience, 38 percent of couples who postponed lost money when they had to postpone.
But, Couples Are Implementing Covid-19 Rules
With the rise of Covid-19 variants, the ongoing pandemic continues to play a major role in the wedding planning process. However, couples are taking extra steps to ensure their special day doesn’t turn into a "superspreader" event. According to our survey, the most common measures couples are taking include implementing a mask requirement (44 percent), encouraging social distancing (40 percent), and gravitating toward outdoor venues (43 percent). That said, approximately a third of participants will require guests to get tested or vaccinated prior to the big day.
No matter what measures they’re putting into place, couples know that the ongoing pandemic can change their special day in the blink of an eye—and are planning accordingly. For Lauren Macmullen’s upcoming nuptials to her fiancé, Sean, she made it a point to plan her wedding with these uncertain times in mind.
“We decided to book October 2022 with the hope that we would be able to safely have all of our loved ones celebrate with us in one place,” the bride-to-be shares. “After seeing some of the horror stories my friends experienced when having to push back their weddings due to Covid, I was sure to discuss every vendor’s postponement policies. I wanted to make sure that I was smart in choosing my vendors given the uncertainty of this pandemic.”
Smaller Weddings Are Here to Stay
According to Chanda Daniels, founder of A Monique Affair and Chanda Daniels Planning, couples are gravitating toward smaller, more intimate ceremonies. “Due to Covid-19 a lot of our couples are now seeking venues where everything can take place outside with a more intimate guest count, [usually] under 100,” she shares.
Of course, Chanda’ clients aren’t the only ones who are keeping their guest lists to a minimum. Our survey suggests that 35 percent of participants plan to invite fewer people, while eight percent are adding more to their guest lists. But, just because smaller weddings are trending doesn’t mean you have to put a cap on your celebration. Nowadays, it’s more acceptable for a couple’s outer circle to tune into a ceremony from the comfort of their couch.
The guest list isn’t the only thing that’s getting smaller. While 16 percent of participants are planning to spend more on their wedding due to Covid-19, nearly one in four (23 percent) couples have chosen to pull back financially. “Based on the last year and the idea that most folks were reduced to limited resources, I feel for some, tapping into the savings happened,” Chanda explains. “So, replenishing those savings is the top priority.”
But, whether or not the pandemic has impacted their budget, 70 percent of couples feel that their wedding services cost the most because…well, it’s a wedding. As a result, many couples are choosing to spend wisely on their big day.
“Weddings in general are expensive affairs,” shares Max. “This is our one chance to have our dream wedding, and for that, we are not planning to hold back from what we would like to do. Our vibe is going to be more Tulum and less Versailles, and hopefully that will result in a less-than-Louis XIV-sized bill.”
Weddings Have Changed Couples’ Views on Spending
Speaking of money, half of our survey’s participants claim that their future nuptials have changed their financial habits as a whole. Fifty-six percent credit their wedding to prioritizing their expenses, budgeting more, or splitting bills based on income. Plus, a whopping 87 percent of couples who are planning their wedding have put off at least one of their financial priorities such as saving up for a house or paying off debt.
However, not everyone has prioritized their wedding above other financial milestones. After marrying to her husband David in a civil ceremony and micro wedding in April 2021, Ariana Levy Stern chose to put the money they would’ve spent on a larger party toward a house in the Catskills.
“I thought I would feel a longing for the big lavish affair after having to change the plans so drastically which is why we initially just postponed instead of cancelled,” Ariana shares. “But, we realized we didn't need to spend so much money on a venue and that we’d rather start our next adventure together.” Instead of throwing an over-the-top wedding, the couple is now planning to host a big party at their new abode.
Still, 74 percent of participants believe it’s well worth the investment. For Lauren, it’s all about splurging and saving wisely to create the most memorable day possible. “We’re working to be fiscally responsible when it comes to planning the wedding, but also want to put enough money into making the day and weekend one that us and our loved ones can enjoy to the fullest and never forget,” she says. “My fiancé and I are just so excited to be getting married and start that next chapter of our lives.”
But, while many couples believe weddings are worth the sticker shock, Daniels encourages couples to spend within their means. “My advice, do what feels most comfortable to you, while being realistic,” she shares. “Work with a creative who is within your price budget, as creatives are getting back on their feet as well, the pandemic affected everyone.”
Couples Are Mixing Classic and Unconventional
After a year and a half of great uncertainty, many couples are becoming more adaptable, teetering nicely between tradition and innovation. Forty-two percent of couples are planning a “traditional” wedding, while 41 percent of participants are incorporating classic and unconventional elements. Whether swapping vows at an untraditional venue (36 percent), having a loved one officiate the ceremony (35 percent), or ditching the classic white dress and suit for an atypical alternative (28 percent), couples are ready to make their day feel more like them.
On the flip side, many twosomes are doing away with more conventional parts of the wedding ceremony. For example, 49 percent of participants plan to have a wedding party, and only 37 percent will have a religious ceremony. And, why limit your big day to the weekend? Twenty nine percent of our respondents are planning to get married during the week.
But, They’re Still Hiring Planners
No matter what the big day looks like, 76 percent of couples are planning to hire either a wedding planner (64 percent) or day-of coordinator (41 percent). “Within this current climate, couples make sure all of the behind-the-scenes details and Covid-19 protocols are being followed,” Daniels shares. “They are wanting to make sure they are doing what's needed to make sure all guests and creatives are being taken care of. Having a planner will not only elevate your planning experience, but now it's a matter of making sure those important measures are followed.”
Couples say they expect to spend $2,000 on a wedding planner—but their investment will be well worth it. According to our survey, 66 percent of those enlisting planners do so to lead them through the process and help keep them on track. For Max, it’s important that he and his fiancé can have a worry-free wedding.
“A planner [or] coordinator will allow for someone else to be making sure everything runs in a smoothly, timely, manner as planned and that way neither my fiancé nor myself will have to worry about logistics on our special day,” he shares. “We can just sail on our cloud of happiness and love, and leave the details to the pros.”
However, there’s more to hiring a wedding planner than streamlining the logistics. Forty-eight percent of participants hiring a planner hope their professional can help them snag discounts on products or services.
As the world collectively hits the resume button on those once-postponed weddings, many couples will be both planning their own nuptials and attending a loved one’s special day. “During the shutdown, couples had a whole year to research and mentally plan their own weddings,” Daniels explains. “And, once the CDC said things were okay for weddings, boom! Everybody was ready to put their plans into action.”
According to a survey Verywell conducted on vaccine and post-pandemic sentiments in August 2021, a quarter of Americans are planning to attend at least one wedding in the next 12 months. In our study, 49 percent of couples who are currently planning a wedding will also be guests at another. And, as Daniels puts it, the wedding boom isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“Some couples had two to three years to ‘plan,’ [and] then the ones who got engaged during the pandemic [who] are ready to plan, too,” she adds. “Keep in mind, we haven't experienced [all of the] 2021-2022 engagement season yet, so this boom is not over yet!”
So, what does the ongoing boom mean for you as a guest? We’re glad you asked.
Your Schedule Is Going to be Packed
Chances are, your schedule is starting to get filled with engagement parties, rehearsal dinners, and, yes, your loved one’s weddings. Turns out, you’re not the only one who is feeling the effects of the wedding boom. According to our survey, the majority of participants will be attending two other weddings within the year.
Caitlin Pilgrim and her fiancé, Jake Stoiber, are gearing up for their September 2022 wedding in southwest Michigan. But, before they swap vows, the couple will be attending two other weddings. For Caitlin, the key to balancing her own wedding and other nuptials is having a laser focus on her priorities.
“We usually try to decide upfront when we receive the invite if it’s something we want to make work in our schedule, physically and financially. Family is always a priority and a lot of our close friends have announced their engagements recently so our priorities are starting to fill up more,” she shares.
When social distancing orders went into effect in 2021, many couples chose to postpone their nuptials for a safer date. So, it’s not too surprising that the wedding boom will fill up your social calendar. If you have many weddings to RSVP to, it’s likely you might need to get selective about your attendance. But, according to Juls Sharpley, it’s important to give yourself some grace.
“Most couples are checking in with their most important people and picking dates that work with a handful of VIP friends and family,” the Aspen-based planner explains. “If you weren’t a part of the group, forgive yourself a little bit if you choose not to attend that wedding. It’s not that you aren’t really wanted there—believe me! But, it does mean that they’re happy to have you, but understand if you cannot attend.”
There Are More Can’t-Miss Celebrations
Problem is, the weddings you are invited to are important. Our survey shows that 70 percent of participants who are attending a wedding will be in a wedding party or have a special role to play in someone else’s special day. As the guest lists are generally getting smaller, you might not be invited to your coworker or old roommate’s wedding. However, your schedule will be packed celebrating your family members or lifelong friends. Fortunately, this might make sending any reciprocal invites a lot easier.
You’ll Be Traveling More
Just because couples are choosing to keep their nuptials location doesn’t mean you’ll be a stone’s throw away from their big day. Instead, it’s likely you’ll be doubling down on your frequent flier status. According to Verywell’s August study, 64 percent of participants who are attending weddings will be traveling; 46 percent will travel out of state while 22 percent of respondents will cross international borders. In our survey, 79 percent of those who will be wedding guests themselves said they will be traveling to attend a wedding.
Lauren shares that she and her fiancé just traveled to Minnesota to celebrate her childhood friend’s special day. And, come the new year, the bride-to-be will be packing her bags for another friend’s nuptials. While Lauren is happy to travel for her loved one’s major milestones, she shares that she’s paying special attention to CDC recommendations. “We’re working to take the appropriate precautions,” she shares. “My fiancé and I both received the vaccine as soon as we could, and are wearing masks or getting tested when appropriate.”
But, It All Comes at a Price
Whether you’re in the bridal party or dancing by their side all night long, it is an honor to be part of someone else’s special day. The catch? It can get expensive. Fifty-five percent of our survey’s participants who will be guests themselves plan to spend over $1,000 on other weddings over the next 12 months.
Though Delia Carnero and her fiancé, Andrew, are in the midst of planning their July 2022 wedding in Napa Valley, they’ve already RSVP-ed to two weddings in Florida. To help keep costs down, they're making the most of their time away from their home in New York City. “We understand that we have a lot of expenses to think about for next year. We have decided to turn destination weddings into mini vacations, as a way to limit additional travel expenses.”
And, since Delia and Andrew are still working remotely, they can cut travel expenses without cutting into their vacation days. The bride-to-be shares that other trips—like their traditional two-week stay at the Jersey Shore and a European vacation—will be put on hold until after their nuptials.
If you are looking to cut down costs on your bottom line, savings and budget expert Andrea Woroch recommends renting your attire or swinging by the dollar store to pick up a budget-conscious card. Another tip? Double down on your payment plan. “Find a card that offers a sweet sign-up bonus like extra cash back or bonus airline miles for signing up and spending a certain amount of money within the first few months,” she shares. “Since you’re going to be spending more money ahead of the wedding on a dress, gifts, and travel, this is an easy way to get free money back to pay off some of the purchases.” Or, if the cost of being a guest is burning a hole in your savings, Andrea recommends politely declining the invitation.
Behind those planning and attending weddings this year, there is an entire industry and network of wedding planners working tirelessly (and overtime, we may add) to make these celebrations happen. (Reminder: 76 percent of our survey’s participants are hiring a wedding planner or coordinator.)
It’s important to note that this demand comes after 18 months of uncertainty and a global pandemic that, for much of that time, shut down or severely limited the entire event industry. The planners who have already pivoted and persevered to get to where they are today are in a new, uncharted territory with an emerging “wedding boom.”
To round out our study, we felt we needed to speak to them directly. So we called on 100-plus planners across the country, asking how they are coping, how they are seeing the industry change, and confirming, well, is this “wedding boom” even a thing? And, boy, did they answer (even in the midst of “the busiest season ever” with OOOs rolling in every time we sent an email).
What we learned is that nearly every individual we spoke with—and we talked to 108!—said we are in, or are about to be in, a wedding boom—and, quite frankly, this demand may just be the “new normal” in the wedding world. Says one planner, “We have more inquiries coming in than ever! It seems like everyone is coming out of the woodworks to get married, find a date, and start planning.”
Yes, The Wedding Boom Is Happening
So, why is there such an increased demand? Our experts say there are a number of reasons, ranging from the obvious (one in four couples postponed their wedding due to the pandemic) to insightful. “Sure, I think there is a large backlog of couples who got engaged but have waited to plan their weddings, but I also think that people are ready to celebrate again and have large, stunning social gatherings,” one planner predicts. “They crave this and I think we are definitely entering a new "Roaring 20's!” Another planner adds, “Now, more than ever, people want to celebrate life after so many heavy things happened in the world.”
What This Increased Demand Means for the Industry Now
It’s part of a wedding planner’s job to answer texts, emails, and inquiries from clients and prospective clients. But, with the increased demand, we’re seeing the people whose job it is to respond in a timely manner put open boundaries in place. They are posting on Instagram stories with honest response times, deciding to prioritize clients marrying in certain months (i.e. this fall) over others, and working more hours simply to keep up.
“People are stretched to the max in terms of time, support, and resources,” one planner says. And, it’s not just planners coming back to weddings that were already scheduled. “We have more inquiries than we can keep up with—we closed out business earlier this year,” says one expert. “We are turning clients away!” writes another.
This isn’t a “right now” problem, either. “The inquiries are insane and the bookings are shocking. 2022 is about to be closed for us. That doesn’t usually happen until February in the year, so this is about four months early,” one planner shares. Overall, industry pros are seeing a trend of couples booking earlier. “We have never booked this far in advance, or seen so many qualified leads coming through in such high volumes,” says one. “I don’t think the wedding boom will be over until 2023 because availability is so limited,” another tells me. “My clients are willing to wait and spend more money to get the vendor team they want and the full guest experience they want.”
Perhaps, the Luxury Wedding Market Isn’t Affected
While a vast majority of planners we spoke to acknowledge the wedding boom many are feeling, some noted that the boom is not affecting everyone.
“I think the wedding boom seems to be more concentrated in those serving budget or more DIY weddings, less in the luxury wedding space,” one planner says, with another simply stating, “The wedding boom is happening for certain budgets, yes. For luxury, no.” A third adds, “I think there is a perceived wedding boom because of pent-up demand and postponed weddings finally executing,” one planner says. “I see the lower and mid-market weddings might have a boom, but the luxury level is either about the same or even a little lower because they are more cautious.”
Boom or Not, There Are Many More Weddings in Our Future
Some say the boom hasn’t fully started yet, predicting we’ll really start to feel it as soon as “restrictions are opened up.” Plus, we’re still weeks away from the 2021 engagement season, which typically begins around Thanksgiving and goes through Valentine’s Day.
“I think we were all maxed out in 2021, but 2022 is going to be even bigger,” one planner says. “We are also noticing people with longer planning timelines going into 2023 so that they can secure everything that they want. With COVID still being a subject matter in the wedding industry and the world, I think this 2021 engagement season is going to see a lot of people skipping right past 2022, and planning in 2023.”
“We are definitely not in the wedding boom yet!” another reiterates. “We’re prepared for the engagement season to be absolutely outrageous with new business inquiries and we are certain the influx in demand is going to reach far into 2023 if not beyond,” one expert explains. “It's an exciting time to be in our industry, after a year of no celebrations, everyone is ready to party!”
So, like any good party, is there a reason to put an end time on the wedding boom invite? Perhaps the best answer is “no,” with one planner perfectly summing up why: “We are, and forever will be, in a wedding boom! Love never stops.”
The Weddings & Money 2021: A Brides & Investopedia Study was fielded online to 1,000 U.S. adults between July 30 and September 14, 2021. Respondents are planning a wedding, have an event date within the next 24 months, and are involved in the wedding planning process. Quotas were used to ensure the survey sample represents the U.S. Census estimates for gender, race/ethnicity, and region.