‘I wanted to look and feel expensive’: four couples on why they took on wedding debt

<span>‘Planning a wedding really skews your sense of what is or isn’t affordable.’</span><span>Photograph: Gorlov/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
‘Planning a wedding really skews your sense of what is or isn’t affordable.’Photograph: Gorlov/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cale Weissman, 35, and his partner didn’t have an exact budget for their 2018 wedding, but they knew they couldn’t afford to spend more than $10,000 (£8,000).

“We thought in terms of, what do we want from the experience, and what are the ways we can make it feasible without putting us in dire financial straits,” he says.

Their ceremony took place at New York City Hall in April. A few months later, they hosted a celebration at an Airbnb in Brooklyn. (Airbnb has since instituted a ban on all parties and events at its listings.) The couple found creative ways to cut down on expenses. Instead of hiring a caterer, they prepared the food themselves (bánh mì sandwiches). They stocked up on beverages in New Hampshire, where alcohol is tax-free, and hired two friends to bartend.

Even with all the cost cutting, charges crept up. Weissman and his partner ended up opening a joint credit card that they used to purchase the alcohol and food, and rent chairs. Weissman estimates that they put between $3,000 and $4,000 (£2,400-£3,200) on the card.

He “didn’t love” taking on debt for the wedding, he admits. At the same time, keeping the charged amount under $5,000 (£4,000) felt manageable and “did not make it seem like we were living out of our means”, he says.

Accruing debt for a wedding is common for couples. A recent survey from US News found that 56% of newlyweds go into debt for their nuptials. Usually the debt goes on to credit cards, though some couples take on bank loans, family loans or a combination.

Weddings are expensive. In 2023, the average cost of a wedding in the US was $35,000, according to the industry website the Knot. That’s up from an average cost of $26,800 in 2015. In the UK, the average cost of a wedding in 2023 was £20,700.

In March, the Guardian asked readers how they were able to afford their weddings. Of the 291 respondents, 20 said they went into debt. The amounts varied: some charged small amounts to credit cards that they quickly paid off, while others took out second mortgages on their homes.

Some respondents noted that wedding planning could distort your typical view of money. Some mentioned the pressure to create an event that is appropriately Instagrammable, which means seeking out lush, photogenic touches that will attract likes, but add to the cost.

Planning a wedding really skews your sense of what is or isn’t affordable


When there is a present need, but not enough money for it, “we spend our future money,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and host of the Audible series Emotional Investment.

Several factors can lead to wedding debt, she explains. First, while many people may have envisioned their wedding for years, few actually start saving for it until it’s imminent. By then, Clayman says, there may not be enough time to save the necessary funds.

Second, people planning a wedding often think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime event, and therefore worth splurging on. After all, most couples imagine their next wedding will be their last.

“We are often going into this event feeling like we’ve got one chance,” Clayman says.

Finally, Clayman says, weddings tend to be social, public events. “We feel very exposed in terms of what people are going to see,” she explains. Conversely, debt can be invisible to others, so it can be tempting to take on that financial burden.


For some, debt is simply a part of life – and wedding debt is no different.

Debt “seems unavoidable these days”, says Susie, 37 (a pseudonym). Susie, an office worker, and her husband, who works part-time in education, maxed out their credit cards for their 2019 wedding in the UK.

Like Weissman, Susie and her husband didn’t have a set budget. Though they had savings set aside, those were quickly eaten up by the initial deposit for their venue.

“It was a conscious choice in order to mark the day as important as we felt it to be,” she says of taking on debt for the event. “We talked very briefly about a more DIY wedding or a less formal venue, but we considered the day worth it – a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Even so, it wasn’t a free-for-all. To save money, they decided to get married during the wedding off-season, in October, and to forgo a wedding planner and live musicians. Susie’s parents paid for her dress, and her wedding shoes were only £30 ($38).

In the end, the wedding cost about £25,000 ($31,000). The couple was about £17,000 ($21,000) in debt, which included some pre-payments for their honeymoon. They had agreed upon a repayment schedule beforehand, and Susie says they were able to pay off most of the debt within two years.

Still, they haven’t been able to build back up their savings to pre-wedding levels. “I am worried we’ve ‘got used’ to being in debt,” she says.

“Planning a wedding really skews your sense of what is or isn’t affordable,” says Elizabeth, 29 (a pseudonym), who lives in the UK.

Elizabeth and her husband saved up for their 2023 wedding for two years, and had some help from family. The total cost ended up being about £32,000 ($40,000). The only debt they accrued was for Elizabeth’s wedding dress. “I just wanted a really expensive wedding dress,” Elizabeth says. “It sounds quite silly on reflection!”

For the dress, she had her heart set on a specific bridal shop. As a plus-size bride, Elizabeth felt her options elsewhere were limited. Her first-choice boutique was quite inclusive, while other stores, she says, “either had me segregated to certain styles or areas of the shop”.

She ended up putting half of the cost of the dress – £2,100 ($2,600) – on a credit card, which didn’t bother her too much as she’d been able to pay debt off before. Additionally, she’d already sunk so much money into the wedding that she wanted to “look and feel expensive on the day”.

Venus Muscat Craig, 56, says that when she was putting together her 2024 wedding at a Scottish castle, she avoided online wedding forums where users post about their planning processes.

“There are things on there you never thought about and really don’t need to think about. Then you can’t help it and start thinking, ‘Is that something I should be doing or buying?’” she says.

For their wedding, Craig and her husband included plenty of DIY touches – homemade invitations and table runners, and jams and chilli sauce for favors.

Overall, the wedding cost roughly £25,000 ($31,000), and Craig says she put about £8,000 ($10,000) on credit cards. This included her dress, bridesmaids’ outfits and half of the venue cost. In the wake of Covid, she wanted to show her guests a good time.

“Getting married once in my life and giving my loved ones a brilliant time far outweighed the cons of getting into debt,” she said.

Weissman was also thrilled with how his celebration turned out, and happy with what he and his husband were able to accomplish financially.

“I feel very proud that, in New York City, we were able to pull off what we did,” says Weissman.

Still, if he were to do it again, he wouldn’t prepare the food himself. “That was so stressful,” he says. But there was an upside: “People did say it was the best food they ever had at a wedding.”