It’s wedding season, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, as the months get warmer the Facebook feeds of countless 18- to 34-year-olds begin to look like an advertisement for Bride magazine, flooded by wedding selfies and breathless honeymoon statuses.
As a self-identifying millennial, my fridge, too, is cluttered with a flowery collage of save-the-date magnets and exquisitely lettered invitations. But while there is nothing I love more than celebrating my friends’ nuptials (really, I do!), I also know it will be a long time before I take that ceremonial walk down the aisle—if ever. While there are several reasons for this, the biggest is also the most obvious: Weddings can be stupidly expensive.
My marital misgivings were validated in May 2015 when Slate’s Chris Kirk published a handy wedding calculator, designed to estimate just how much money you would have made if you invested your wedding budget in stocks, instead of candles and centerpieces. According to Slate:
The calculator is based on moneychimp.com’s Compound Annual Growth Rate calculator and uses annual return rates with dividends included to calculate the growth of your investment. It assumes you invested the cost of your wedding on Jan. 1 of your wedding year, and it returns the value of your investment as of Jan. 1, 2015. It does not make any adjustments for tax or inflation, and it does not factor in the cost of your kids or your divorce.
Online wedding site The Knot reports that the average wedding in the US costs a whopping $31,213 in 2014, not including the honeymoon. According to the Slate calculator, eloping with an equivalent investment instead would have practically doubled that sum in five years, to $63,911.
Don’t have $30,000 lying around? You’re not alone. Slate’s Will Oremus shrewdly points out that selection bias seems to have inflated The Knot’s average significantly. According to Oremus, the median cost of weddings—a better indicator for those of us not living in a Manhattan penthouse—is actually closer to $15,000. But even that chunk of change, five years later, still sees high dividends, doubling to $30,714.
To put that number in a little perspective, the average American graduate from the class of 2014 leaves with some $33,000 in student loans, according to The Wall Street Journal. While there is certainly an argument to be made that marriage can be financially beneficial for some couples, it’s not surprising that many young people are holding off on tying the knot. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2014, census data showed the age at which Americans are saying “I do” (for the first time) climbed to its highest peak since 1890: 29.0 years for men and 26.6 for women.
It is hard for millennials—many of whom still work part-time, consider themselves underemployed, or report feeling “overwhelmed by debt”—to think about saving any money, let along opening a long-term retirement account like an IRA. But thinking critically about whether or not a lavish wedding makes sense is a good start.