Practically everything costs more now than it did 30 or 50 years ago, from cost of living and material purchases to preparing for life events like marriage and retirement. With the collective costs of weddings, engagement rings and other marriage-related expenses now in the tens of thousands, the nature of such inflation has factored immensely in the declining rate of marriages that has occurred in the United States over the past few decades.1
To put this notion in perspective, three-quarters of adults were married in 1960, whereas just half are married today. Research further backs the belief that financial concerns are behind the increase in people who have never married in recent years. Among adults making less than $30,000 who have never been married, nearly half cite financial insecurity as a major reason.2
Today, 26 percent of poor, 39 percent of working-class and 56 percent of middle and upper-class adults ages 18-55 are married, whereas back in 1990, 51 percent, 57 percent and 65 percent of those respective income groups were married. This trend has also spanned to affect people with or without college degrees, according to analysis by the Pew Research Center. In 2015, 65 percent of college graduates over 25 were married, compared to just 50 percent of respondents with only a high school diploma. In 1990, the rate was over 60 percent for each group.2
To reiterate, this doesn’t necessarily indicate an overall lack of desire for people to get married so much as these figures seem to reflect that people are being more financially wary before making such a commitment.
While the idea of getting married is certainly appealing, it comes with its fair share of rude awakenings and essential (if not inevitable) reality checks anyone looking to tie the knot ought to consider before making such a groundbreaking decision. There certainly are notable lifestyle-related factors like compatibility and communication to consider when determining your readiness for marriage, but in terms of your financial condition, these three key components are pivotal indicators of your financial preparedness for taking such a big step in your life.
The path to marriage contains a swath of lifestyle changes that will inevitably impact your spending habits, which is why it’s so important to review how and where you allocate your money. Providing a thorough review of your monthly expenses enables you to identify ways you can save more, while adjusting for any new or increased areas of spending. Namely, in terms of costs like groceries, utilities and insurance premiums, updating your monthly budget allows you to pre-spend and prepare ahead of time. Some areas you can identify savings opportunities are insurance policies, transportation and food expenses.
The average household currently carries more than $16,000 in credit card debt,1 which could complicate matters in a marriage, especially if the debt primarily comes from one individual. It might be smart to reevaluate your readiness for marriage if your debt balance exceeds $16,000-20,000 until it’s reduced to a more manageable level. Debt (especially balances with five or more figures) may seem overwhelming to some, but any exorbitant number can be managed by making smaller goals for yourself so you can reduce your balance to that aforementioned manageable figure. If you have debt under $16,000-$20,000,1 you could be capable of both eliminating your balance, while planning your marriage around that temporary hurdle.
The two previous points I just discussed tie into this section, as finding ways to mitigate debt and expenses translate to more money you can store away for retirement or a rainy day. In terms of retirement savings, most people in their 20s currently brandish an average balance of about $16,000, which is decent but improvable. Investments like IRAs or a 401(k) with a company match are ways to build a growing nest egg for retirement, as long as you avoid dipping into these accounts to pay for any marriage-related expenses. In terms of emergency funds, almost 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 stored away for such instances, while 34 percent have nothing.1 As previously mentioned, engagement marks the beginning of countless incoming expenses like your wedding, purchasing a house, children, etc., so establishing or adding more to an emergency savings account will reduce your concerns should an unprecedented incident or scenario occur. The ideal amount to aim for in an emergency fund should equate to at least six months worth of monthly expenses. If that isn’t realistic, aim for three months and build off that moving forward.
1 Muller, C. (2019, March 19). Are You Financially Ready To Get Engaged? Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www.moneyunder30.com/are-you-financially-ready-to-get-engaged
2 Rock, L. (2017, October 7). Can you afford to get married? In the US, it's increasingly the privilege of the rich. Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/07/marriage-america-privilege-rich