Are smaller weddings here to stay?

Reduced guest lists, first adopted in response to COVID, can come with big benefits.

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Key takeaways

  • While many couples had no choice but to reduce their wedding size in response to COVID-19 restrictions, the smaller wedding trend could be here to stay.
  • Cutting down your guest list can help you save money and may come with added benefits—like a more intimate ceremony and maybe even a better menu.
  • Saving 3 to 6 months' worth of essential expenses for emergencies before planning your wedding can help you budget with less risk.

Anne Auerbach had to reschedule her wedding not just once, but twice.

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Originally scheduled for June 2020 at an indoor venue in Hamburg, New Jersey, Auerbach and her then-fiancé, Jordan Auerbach, first pushed their wedding to November 2020, hoping that COVID-19 risks and restrictions would ease. But as fall approached, it became clear the pandemic was accelerating—not slowing down. They decided to move the wedding up, to October 2020, switch it to an outdoor venue, and cut the guest list down by more than half, from 185 to 90 people.

The multiple changes created stress for the couple. Yet it also allowed them to focus on what mattered most to them, like better food, made possible with the money they saved by reducing the number of guests. Cutting down the guest list also came with unexpected benefits. After receiving generous financial gifts despite not being able to host the entire original guest list, Auerbach and her now-husband are saving their wedding money to put a down payment on a home.

"If I had to go and replan the wedding with the same knowledge I have now, I would go with the smaller guest list," Auerbach said.

The benefits of going small

Closed venues, limits on in-person gatherings, and restrictions on out-of-state travel due to COVID-19 have forced many couples to suddenly narrow their wedding ambitions (and slash their guest lists). But the pandemic may have merely accelerated an existing trend of spouses-to-be questioning the need to live up to social norms of large, extravagant, picture-perfect weddings.

"Everyone pushes this idea on you that you need to have a huge wedding with the best flowers and best this and that," said Auerbach. "At the end of the day what matters is you're getting married to the person you love, your friends and family are going to be there, and you don't have the financial burden that comes with a large wedding."

Average wedding sizes had already been declining consistently for more than a decade before the pandemic, from a peak of 153 people in 2007 to 131 in 2019.1 But they plummeted in 2020 to an average of just 66 people, and the concept of a micro wedding—intimate ceremonies with no more than 50 guests—became mainstream.

Similarly, while COVID put a big dent in what couples were willing to spend on a wedding, it may have hastened another existing trend. The average cost of a wedding plummeted from $28,000 in 2019 to $19,000 in 2020. But it had already been declining for several years, from an all-time high in 2016.2

Smaller weddings can come with financial benefits, letting couples and families save more money to put toward other goals, like buying a house and saving for education. They can also give couples the resources and freedom to focus on the few details that really matter to them for their wedding, whether expensive food, a nicer venue, or more decorations.

Put financial wellness first

If you're planning a wedding, evaluating financial goals in other aspects of your life can help you decide how much to spend on the wedding in total. If a larger or more extravagant event is important to you and your significant other, more funding will have to be put toward the wedding itself. If not, funds can support and facilitate other life goals you may have.

It's also important to make sure that your financial wellness and basic financial needs are taken care of before you start cutting checks to caterers, so you can plan for your wedding under less risk. A simple rule when organizing your finances is to have 3 to 6 months' worth of essential expenses saved for emergencies.

In addition to emergency savings, paying off any high interest credit card debt and saving enough for retirement will ideally be squared away before determining your wedding budget. If you cannot pin down those financial wellness basics completely, it is important to ensure the wedding will not impede your progress toward reaching those financial pillars. Neglecting financial basics can have greater consequences, so it is important to be on top of your budget.

If parents, or other family or friends will help pay for the event, make sure to have any necessary conversations and agree on a set of expectations. No matter how the budget is split among parties, ensuring that everyone is on the same page is important—even if it's a slightly uncomfortable conversation.

Finally, if you and your significant other really need cash more than you need flatware and other traditional registry items, don't feel bad about requesting it (there are even so-called "cash registries" you can sign up for, to take some of the potential awkwardness out of the situation).

Keeping a focus on family

With restrictions on gatherings and travel now easing, couples are again free to choose for themselves whether to go with an intimate affair or 3-figure guest list. Yet some are still opting to choose a small, family event, even though they don't necessarily have to.

Annie Knoff, who recently got engaged and will host her wedding with her fiancé in September 2021, opted to plan a smaller wedding, with only 20 guests, for a more intimate experience. The couple decided to rent out neighboring houses that can host all guests over the course of one weekend.

Knoff felt that a smaller wedding eliminated stress from planning and made the event more accessible. She also hopes it will foster an environment for both sides of the family to connect more deeply than they would with a "brief, 2- or 3-hour event where people are just meeting and having surface-level conversation."

Like many couples who choose to go small, Knoff found it gave her the chance to focus more on what really mattered to her. Said Knoff, "Family is so important to me."

Whether you and your significant other are looking for an extravagant day or want an intimate ceremony, Fidelity is here for you to help navigate this exciting stage of life. Read more about marriage and partnering, check out our Fidelity Spire® app, or visit the Planning & Guidance Center to set your own specific savings goals.

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