‘A Diamond is Forever’ and other fairy tales

‘A Diamond is Forever’ and other fairy tales

The more a couple spends on their wedding and engagement ring, the less likely they are to stay together, according to a new study out of Emory University aptly entitled ” ‘A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: the Relationship Between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration.”

De Beers famous slogan “A Diamond is Forever” was coined in the late 1930s, when only 10% of engagement rings (in the Western world) held a diamond. The campaign linking the dazzling, durable gemstones to the promise of marital stability became the most successful advertising slogan of the century: by 1999, over 80% of engagement rings contained a diamond.

The diamond engagement ring is just one example of the flurry of spending that surrounds marriage. We’re all familiar with the industry that sprang up to capture those dollars. These researchers examined the relationship between wedding expenses and marriage duration.

It’s no surprise that an expensive fairy-tale wedding does not contribute to a marriage’s long-term success, but I was surprised that relatively high wedding expenses negatively correlated with marital duration. Relatively high spending on an engagement ring likewise is inversely related to the length of the marriage.

In hard numbers, they found that spending $2,000 or more on the engagement ring, or $20,000 or more on the wedding, is significantly associated with a higher rate of divorce. (Among the female survey respondents, the rate of divorce was 3.5 times higher for women who spent $20,000 on their wedding vs. couples who spent $5,000-$10,000.)

(For comparison’s sake, The Knot says the average couple now spends $28,858.)

Spending less than $1000 on the wedding significantly decreased the divorce rate, although inexpensive isn’t always better: spending less than $500 on the engagement ring was associated with an increase in women’s divorce rates.

"A Diamond is Forever" and other fairy tales | Modern Mrs Darcy

Of course, a study like this quantifies correlation, not causation, and we can only speculate about the “why.”

According to the recent MMD reader survey, a whopping 85% of you are married. You’ve already made these choices. (I’d love to hear what they were, incidentally.)

But I think it’s still worth speculating about causation, for the singles and the married among you.

The study also found that spending correlated with an 82 to 93% decrease in the odds of being “stressed-out about wedding related debt” compared to couples who spent $5,000-10,000. It’s been well-documented that financial stress is a significant factor in divorce rates, and stress resulting from heavy wedding spending is certainly one reason for the negative correlation.

But there’s more, and it’s not about the money.

The study also found two significant factors correlated with decreased rates of divorce: couples who had a relatively high number of guests at their weddings and couples who went on a honeymoon (though it didn’t matter how much or little it cost) were much more likely to stay together.

We’re in a stage of life where we go to a lot of weddings. We’ve been to lavish affairs, the sort that skew The Knot’s average upward: country club events with hundreds of guests, open bars, and sit-down dinners.

We’ve also been to potluck celebrations that were done on a budget, but still must have come in over the study’s $1,000 limit for significant divorce prevention, despite the fact that at several of these events we personally—as friends of the bride and groom—made Costco runs for cheese tray goodies, bound up farmers’ market flowers into bouquets, and baked wedding day brownies for the reception on various couples’ wedding mornings.

Based on the data and our (possibly misleading) personal experience, I’m going to speculate about three key factors: financial stress, priorities, and community.

Financial stress is bad for relationships, period. There are amazing stories of couples who struggled through financial crisis only to emerge stronger on the other side: they are amazing because they are rare. If debt often causes stress, and expensive weddings are often financed, then there’s a Latin phrase that says it’s not going to end well.

In relationships as in the rest of life: priorities matter. I’m fascinated by the study’s finding that there’s a sweet spot for engagement ring spending: an expensive ring predicts a short marriage, but so does a gumball-machine quality one (or no ring at all). The marriage isn’t about the ring, but human nature is to spend our money on the things we care about. The purchase of a ring speaks to our good intentions; the purchase of an affordable one speaks to wisdom.

Likewise, marriages that last begin with honeymoons, because the couples prioritize taking the time for themselves and their new relationship—whether it’s for a month or more or just for a night. It’s not the trip itself that’s important. I know couples who have been married decades who honeymooned in Europe; I know couples who have been married for just as long who honeymooned at the local state park, and just for a night or two.

Finally, the people who join us on the journey matter. The study found that successful marriages have relatively large numbers of wedding guests. I would like to think its because couples who have a solid future ahead of them deliberately chose to make their family (and they would have family, be they biological, borrowed, or otherwise appropriated) and their friends (and they would have friends) a part of their special day.

They would believe the day was special enough to include the people they loved, and they would have people they loved to include in their special day. Marriages are private affairs, but they’re not conducted in isolation. People require friendship and support and community in all their relationships; marriage is no exception.

Will and I have been married for fourteen years. According to the study, we’re not in the sweet spot, and we can’t do anything about that. But what we can do is focus, every day, on the things we have control over: our finances. Our priorities. And our support network.

Money is just a tool; these are the things that lie beneath the surface.

I’d love to hear your thoughtful commentary about weddings and engagement rings, lavish affairs and potluck gatherings, and the finances/priorities/community trio in comments.

Recommended reading: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan weaves together stories of four unique marriages, plus the true story of the single woman who created the De Beers’ “A Diamond is Forever” campaign. Laura Vanderkam’s All the Money in the World examines how we can thoughtfully use money as a tool to serve our greater purposes. My favorite chapter is the first, entitled “What Else Could That Ring Buy?”, and I thought of it as I read through each and every page of the Emory University study cited above.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someonePrint this page

Tagged .

90 comments

  1. I considered using one of those correlations on my midterm for correlation is not causation, but opted for an easier example. Anyway, I would think about SES , the type of people who opt for over the top expensive things, the kind of people who stay in miserable marriages, etc, and how these all relate to expense, longevity, # people at a ceremony and so on. If conservatively religious people have big, relatively inexpensive weddings and never divorce even if miserable, then that correlation says very little about policy recommendations.

    • Interesting! I find this whole study fascinating, but I love your perspective that certain types of people are more inclined to stay in a marriage, certain types are more inclined to over-the-top rings, etc.

    • Jen says:

      They did control for many of these factors. It wasn’t a randomized control study (THAT would be interesting!) but they had many controls including income, religious attendance, and the value they put on money . . .

      • Ok, I downloaded it. The religion variable is pretty crude– it’s just do you attend never, sometimes, or frequently. A practicing Episcopalian may answer the question the same way as a fundamentalist Christian (Regularly), but the two churches have very different beliefs about divorce and the parishioners the same. Only 5% of the sample says that “partner wealth” is important (which I assume is the “value of money” variable you’re talking about?), which I’m guessing is an under-count, given these are self-reported and recall data. (Only 25% say the partner’s looks are important!)

  2. I have a $500 engagement ring, we had a fairly large number of people at our wedding, but it was $5000 total, including my dress. And we went on a (very inexpensive) honeymoon for a week.

    So, I guess the predictors say we’re set up for a long and happy marriage. 😉

    (We just had our 17th anniversary)

  3. Courtney says:

    I picked out my ring before we got engaged so the poor boy would have a clue. It was beautiful and simple but what caught my eye was that it was under a $1000. He wanted to get me something bigger (and therefore more expensive). I’m excited to show him that study now;maybe he will appreciate my choice then!

  4. Jennifer H says:

    Expensive weddings have long bothered me, unless I know the couple (or the parents) can afford that kind of celebration. I never really thought about it in correlation to longevity of marriages though; my thoughts are that spending so much on “the day” leads to unrealistic expectations for “the day-to-day”. Of course, my frugal nature led me to a $150 dress, a $175 ceremony (in Vegas). My wedding dinner for 9 (at the Stratosphere Top of the Tower) I think might have been $900, which my parents paid for and could afford. Our honeymoon was a budget expedia package (in fact, all 7 of our wedding guests opted for more high end lodgings). We’ve been married 13 years.

  5. Ana says:

    How interesting! We had a DIY wedding–I wanted it to be unique, so we got married on the porch of my grandmother’s farm house, with lots of family and friends watching. We DIY’d the dresses, some of the flowers, food and decorations ourselves, so we saved money on a lot of things, but I spent more on areas that really mattered to me–pictures and the honeymoon. I also wanted a unique ring–I wanted a sapphire instead of a diamond–like (the other) Anne, diamond’s never really were my thing. 🙂

  6. Courtney says:

    According to these factors, I guess we’re somewhere in the middle! We spent nothing at all on our wedding except the license fee (got married at city hall in dress clothes we already owned), and less than $20 on our wedding rings (I inherited mine, and we bought his on Amazon). We chose to spend a fair bit more on our honeymoon as a result; around $7000 on a month-long Route 66 road trip from Chicago to LA, which included renewing our vows on our one-year anniversary at a drive-thru chapel in Vegas (with Elvis officiating, of course).

    Neither one of us wanted a ceremony – too expensive and too stressful – so we’re extremely happy with how we spent our money. We have no debt, no dresses or suits we’ll never wear again, and had an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon instead. I have no doubt we’ll be together for many years to come. 🙂

  7. Kristen says:

    so very interesting. we spent less than $800 on my wedding set (engagement ring & band) but we probably spent $10-15k on the wedding, unfortunately. we wanted something super small, courthouse and dinner but my mother in law really, really, really wanted a big wedding (she never had one) so we ‘compromised’. and she paid for it, so it doesnt count, right?

  8. Kris K says:

    I’ve had two weddings (one a 300 plus person 20,000 wedding) with a wedding ring $2000 about that one ended in divorce but it had nothing to do with finances. We were young.

    My current marriage our wedding was planned in two weeks (we had known each other for 15 years) and cost less than 500.00 for 100 people and my wedding ring is a mismatch of old and new (my Gmas gold from her wedding ring and diamonds from one of her rings) and a new diamond from my husband. We are older.

    I don’t know that the money in either case makes a difference or the ring, but contentment with each other and life in our case.

    • Love your story, Kris K!

      Full disclosure here — I used to blog for Brides, and blog/write currently for some big wedding designers and brands. So I write about the wedding “bliss” industry all the time. What I find most interesting is how we all respond to the language surrounding weddings — the Forever Factor. It’s a response I play on and use every single day in my work. True love, deepening romance after the wedding, foreverablilty and the touch of the sacred in our workaday existence — we all long for this! And a diamond’s clarity and indestructible nature tie into that. In other words, I think DeBeers took these diamond traits (which are quite dull in themselves), paired them with our natural desires, and added an amazing tagline. (Dorothy Sayers did this for Guinness as well!)

      Enter modern forces of war, widespread use of contraception, and no-fault divorce, which can be either terrible or amazing or everything in between, depending on whom you ask. Add in the big dip in age at marriage for first weddings — we had much younger brides and grooms in the 1950s than a half-century earlier! — and now you get kids born in 1930 or just before, going through WW2 and marrying in their late teens or early twenties. Possibly too early for many, who eventually divorced in the 60s and 70s. And there are so many studies that show that divorce is “catching” in the sense that if a friend divorces, you and others around that couple are far more likely to split up.

      What I see in modern weddings is a desperate desire for that forever factor, which is part of our very nature, but because it’s not seen in their own histories, couples are trying to buy it. Possibly thinking that if they spend X amount of money, they *can’t* go back. Think of how thoroughly *designed* weddings are now, compared to just a dozen or so years back — the themes are like the intertwining of ducal houses or minor royalty would have been ages ago! It’s another form of using design to create a depth of history that a couple may not own themselves.

      Despite writing for some high-end brands, I think it’s not the label of exclusivity or luxury per se that gets people buying. It’s the emphasis on a communion of souls, on “forever,” on true love, and even on uniting families. What’s been lost, I think, is the underlying morality of sacrificial love that underpinned so many of those lasting marriages of the past — a movement toward Eros as the primary factor in marriage that some might remember taking place at a high public level right around 1930. (I’m looking at you, Wallis Simpson.)

      TL: DR? To sum up: I think the great tagline captured a cultural uneasiness and turned “forever” into something you could buy, and wear.

      -Melissa

      • Libby says:

        You won my heart forever with the Wallis Simpson shoutout. Speaking of royal families and weddings, you sound like someone who would enjoy a book called “Imperial Requiem”. It follows the last four Empresses (Mary of Great Britain, Dona of Germany/Prussia, Zita of Austria-Hungary, and Alice of Russia) of Europe before, during, and after WWI. Lots of personal correspondence excerpted, which I loved.

  9. This is definitely interesting. I think your observations are spot on. My husband and I had a pretty inexpensive wedding and ring / a weekend honeymoon 45 minutes away from home. We’re 8+ years strong and I think a lot of that is thinking like a team and maintaining common sense financially and otherwise. But everyone’s story is different at the end of the day!

  10. Annaleah says:

    I guess I can expect a long marriage (which is good, since divorce isn’t an option to me); we’ve been married eight years so far. My ring cost less than $1000, and our wedding, which was small but included our closest family and friends, was very inexpensive as well (probably around $1000 or so all total). We did most things ourselves, including me making my wedding dress, and family and friends helped with other things like photography and flowers. Even though it was simple and inexpensive, it was lovely (one of my uncles says it’s his favorite wedding of all the ones he’s been to). I love that this proves that expensive isn’t always better!

  11. Nichole says:

    -Married 18 years
    -$4,000 ring (because of how clear the diamond is, not the size). As a side note, I think sometimes there are regional differences in rings. For example, my ring was a lovely and normal size in Nebraska, where we grew up. It is on the small side here in Texas. “Everything is bigger in Texas” is definitely true when is comes to diamond rings!
    -$8 to 10k wedding with 300 guests. Most was paid for by the parents, but we forgot to budget for things like the photo album. Whoops!

    I think the study leaves out the main factors (which are pretty elusive in a scientific sense): maturity and faith. A big, expensive ring and wedding could indicate a lack of realization on the part of the couple as to the holy union they are entering into and what is really important: your relationship with God and each other, not the party. I was definitely guilty of this a little bit. Lack of maturity = too much focus on the party and not enough on the relationship. Luckily, I was not a lost cause and we have grown up together. Still are!

  12. Corby says:

    As I always tell young ladies who are wanting a huge lavish event, remember it is only 1 day and your focus should be setting yourself up for all your years together. At the end of the wedding day you’ll look back and realize you hardly remember any of the day you were so busy. What good is the stress over a lavish event if you don’t enjoy it.

    We’re going on 23 years this year

  13. Thanks for mentioning All the Money in the World. I was partly inspired to write that chapter (which was based on a previous USA Today column) by a few things, one of which was a tale of a young couple deciding to put off the wedding basically so he could work longer and afford a bigger ring. Really? At that point, is it about spending your lives together or is it about the ring itself? What’s funny about rings is that they can also be a false symbol. The size (in our minds, at least) indicates that the gentleman can afford to take good care of you. But if he’s spent all his money on the ring, that may not be the case!
    The one strange thing about those predictors is that having a lot of guests would generally correlate with spending more. In general, if you’re throwing a party, the more people you invite the more you’re going to spend. I’m sure there are ways around this (pot luck, holding it at someone’s house rather than renting a venue) but in general those two things go together, so it’s interesting that they predict in opposite directions.

    • We had a big fun wedding with lots of guests. My husband comes from Irish Catholic stock so he has, I think, 49 first cousins! So in our case our guests were 99% loving family (or church family) celebrating with us, with a few coworkers sprinkled in. We also paid for it ourselves, in cash. (So, basically: the anti-Kardashians.)

      I would think paying for the wedding yourself or your wedding indebtedness, are better indicators of responsibility than mere wedding size, wouldn’t you? I wonder how those factor in to promote longevity.

      • Kelly N. says:

        YES- BIG yes to your second point.

        My ring was about $6,500 and I had no say in it- my husband and I wanted that whole aspect to be a surprise so we never went shopping together. I’d pinned the ring I ended up getting on Pinterest (and before anyone thinks it, I’m aware this makes me look like one of those ‘planning for a wedding not a marriage’ women- I judge me too a little bit BUT Pinterest is a vortex and I totally wasn’t “that girl”). SO, that was entirely his prerogative- and he didn’t go into debt to do it.

        Our wedding was about $25,000-$30,000 for 220 guests but we held it in a major metropolitan area (Minneapolis/St. Paul) where, if you plan on inviting any number of people to the wedding, it’s honestly hard to get it below that. Not to mention his parents had 14 total siblings, mine had 8, which jacked numbers up.

        The thing is, we had an 18 month engagement and paid for all of it ourselves (minus a small gift from my dad, and his parents paying for a big-ish portion of the rehearsal)- and we paid as we went. We honeymooned at an all inclusive resort in Mexico for a week and we walked away with ZERO wedding debt, aside from settling our final bar tab of a couple hundred bucks at the venue.

        All that is a long winded way of saying I think honestly, the manner in which you choose to pay for it says more about the longevity than the cost of the ring and the wedding. Sure there were tiny “budget spats” as we went, but we haven’t thought about it once now that it’s over. We already had a house, we both had good jobs and were a little older when we ended up getting married (26 and 29 respectively) and having a nice party was our way of showing our family and friends how much we value them.

    • They ran a regression so they had both variables in the regression at the same time– they’re finding that conditional on having an expensive wedding, more guests help, or conditional on having more guests, a less expensive wedding helps. They’re not going in opposite directions, but for two weddings that cost the same amount, the wedding with more guests is correlated with a longer marriage. They don’t show a regression with one variable but not the other (that I saw– I didn’t read the paper very carefully, just flipped to the tables in the back).

    • Anne says:

      I thought so, too. We’ve been to several weddings that I’m sure came in at $1000 or less—but they also had a dozen or fewer people in attendance.

  14. A friend and I were recently talking about what we’d do differently if we could do our weddings over again. My husband and I were both young (I was 20, he was 23), and we were still in school. His parents gave us a certain amount of money (and I honestly can’t remember how much that was), and they told us we could keep whatever we didn’t use. Of course, being poor college students, we tried to do everything as cheaply as possible so we could use the money for tuition, rent, etc. But now, looking back, I wish we had spent a little more of it on the actual wedding. I wish we’d rented a reception center instead of trying to do everything on our own in a church gym. And I wish we’d gone somewhere a little more exciting for our honeymoon (we just rented a cabin for a few days).

    That said, we’ve been happily married for almost ten years, and doing things the cheap way for the first few years helped us stay out of debt which has definitely cut down on a lot of the stress we would have otherwise experienced. So maybe it was the better way after all?

  15. Nancy says:

    Hubby and I celebrated #23 just last month. We spent about $2000 on engagement and wedding rings (both his & mine). The wedding affair was less than $5000 (my folks said, “you can have $5k and no more so spend it wisely). Looking back now, we wish we would have had a smaller affair – think married at the courthouse. We got engaged in November 1990 knowing that my soon to be husband was going to be deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. My mother even encouraged us to “march down to the courthouse and tie the knot” but I didn’t listen (typical, heh?). When he returned home 6 mos. later, we were wishing that we had done just what my mother suggested. Live and learn, right?

  16. Polly says:

    I love your point about the role of community in a marriage. I’m Quaker, and in our tradition, weddings are pretty simple. The highlight is a beautiful certificate, usually with calligraphy, that every person in attendance signs, down to the smallest child who can barely hold a pen. The couple then hangs the certificate in a prominent place in their house as a reminder of the community that is there to love and bless and help the marriage.

  17. Miriam B. says:

    My husband and I did most of the wedding planning/preparation ourselves and out of our own pockets. We also inherited an engagement ring and wedding bands from my husband’s parents (his father had passed away about year before we met). My then-fiance just opted to buy a new diamond for me and keep the same engagement band. I don’t really know what the grand total was in terms of our wedding expenses but it was definitely under $2000. We had close to 250 people at our wedding and my mother-in-law paid for a 4-night cruise for our honeymoon. Based on what I read in Anne’s latest post, I think we are off to a fairly good start. 🙂

  18. Anita says:

    I had the “over-the-top” wedding. My husband and I met at church in Chicago. We were in the same new member class at 4th Presbyterian Church. 4th is right in the middle of the Magnificient Mile ($$), but it was important for us to be married in our church. Downtown parking is a nightmare, so wanted a reception within walking distance. Hello Drake Hotel. We had a morning wedding and a brunch reception. (No way we could have afforded a dinner reception there!) Dress, flowers, tuxes, reception, music, photographer, hotel room etc…. I’m pretty sure we spent between $20,000 and $25,000. It was absolutely fabulous and I wouldn’t change a thing! I should mention that we were in our late 30s when we married. We did get a little money from our parents, and we did not go into debt. We just celebrated our 11th year anniversary. To be completely honest, our marriage has not been one happy bed of roses. In fact, sometimes its hard to remember why I married him. Your post today has really helped to bring back those happy memories, and for that I am very grateful.

    • Anne says:

      I love Chicago (the Drake! I have been to just one swanky dinner event there, once upon a time). Your wedding sounds delightful. Glad that thinking back on it today brought back happy memories.

  19. Ellen says:

    Married 13 years, wedding on my parent’s property with a picnic catered by a church lady’s group, bluegrass band for the reception, engagement ring about $1,000. We fall in the sweet spot, and we have a wonderful marriage. We both feel blessed. Now, we’re on the same page financially, drive old cars, don’t have credit card debt. BUT this year my husband gave me a very nice new diamond ring as a anniversary gift. It cost far more than the original, and he gave it to me because he wanted to do something to show me he loved me extravagantly for just me, not for what I do, not for what I do for the kids, etc. I wonder what the study authors would say about that. It has made me feel very loved by him because it’s something that he sacrificed to get me and showed me that he valued me more than any tightwad tendencies we both have.

    • Katherine says:

      I remember a lot of my friends’ moms getting new diamond rings sometime around when I was in high school. “A lot” meaning maybe three or four different moms? Anyway- sometime around the 20 year mark, husbands were buying their wives a slightly bigger diamond than what they had orginally gotten years before. I remember thinking that that sort of made sense. Especially when friends of mine got engaged a few years later (after I graduated from college) and their rings were huge! I always thought that these moms I grew up under should have the big old rings, not the young 20-somethings:)

  20. Kristin says:

    What fascinating information! We definitely kept to a more reasonable budget – I think we spent about $8,000 on our wedding, including my dress, his suit, the photographer, caterer, location rental, etc. for about 60 guests, most of whom were family. I did a lot myself (flowers, decor) and a good friend made our wedding cakes for us as her gift… my husband’s top priority was good food (and making sure we were able to eat it!), and mine was good pictures. I think we got both! We did have to be creative with some things, like getting married on an “off” day (Thursday!), and using vendors like our DJ who was working it as a side job and still establishing himself. It was important to us that we be able to pay for everything, with a little help from both our parents, without any debt. My engagement ring was right at the bottom of that “danger zone”, but not anything that put my husband into debt, either, or that is outrageously big! We did take about a week for a honeymoon, and did a lower cost road trip through part of Mexico and south Texas. We’re 8.5 years in, and very happy!

  21. Ana says:

    In my experience, wedding size/expense is also related to culture. Certain cultures tend towards bigger/smaller/lavish/simple weddings. I’m sure something about those cultures also tend towards/against divorce.

    We are somewhere in the middle—moderately priced ring, BIG wedding, but because big, also expensive (unless you really do a DYI job, more people=more cost in a linear relationship).
    Maybe being more skilled at DYI predicts longer unions?

  22. Alicia says:

    This is a really interesting post! My fiance and I got engaged last Christmas, and we are just now beginning to plan our wedding. I think that these numbers are probably more flexible than the article says depending on income and cost of living. I think it’s a matter of sticking to your own budget, not the arbitrary budget that the article has decided. For us living in San Diego, our wedding will probably not be that cheap (especially with about 100 guests), and we’re very lucky in that our parents will help us quite a bit. We’re both on the same page in terms of spending and we don’t want to go into debt for one day.

    My ring does have diamonds (it is my birthstone after all) and I have no idea what it cost, but I do know that my fiance saved up and did not go into debt to buy it, which again is the important part.

    We will go on a honeymoon, but likely about 6-8 months after the wedding. Hopefully we’ll get to use some gift money to help pay for it 🙂

  23. Dorothy K says:

    What fun to read the experiences of your readers and their responses to your query!!
    I am probably not the typical reader, but will share my story anyway. Happily married 29 years to my delightful hubby! Our wedding was a labor of love for many people in our very small church as they were delighted that my “close to 30” husband had finally found a wife-hahaha. So, our beautiful (unaffordable to us) cake was lovingly made for free, my charming dress was borrowed, our memorable photos were snapped twice (long story) for free, and the church cost $25 to rent! We bought plain matching wedding bands, simple food for the outdoor reception, taped the ceremony on a cassette recorder, splurged on flowers and greenery to decorate the church and paid for all the wedding attendants’ apparel. Our total wedding expenses plus unforgettable 5-day honeymoon costs were $1,800. I have no idea how much my husband spent on the engagement ring, but it is a modest and lovely size, I still love it! We did contemplate eloping to avoid any potential family conflict (religious differences, divorce issues, etc.), but wanted to share our special day with everyone we loved My personal observation is that our wedding in 1985 was definitely on the “budget” side compared to friends who were marrying during that same era, but in the last 10 – 15 years, television has really upped the ante in the wedding department. My sons are now attending weddings and have some decided opinions about how un-extravagant they would like their own weddings to be when the time comes.

  24. Dana says:

    Interesting study! My husband and I got married on a shoestring…no flowers ( we got married the day after Christmas and the church had candles, poinsettias, and a Christmas tree already), I bought a dress for less than 100 dollars, my diamond was tiny (not sure how much it cost) and we had 11 guests (just immediate family). We did go on a 2 night weekend honeymoon because I had to be back in grad school on Monday. In full disclosure we took a longer honeymoon the following summer after school was out. Also he got me a larger ring on our tenth anniversary. We struggled financially the first few years…me in school and working 3 part-time jobs, he worked in straight commission sales and bounced around in jobs for a while. The struggles did make us careful with our money and also thankful for learning how to enjoy time together without spending a lot. We will celebrate our 28th year of marriage this year. We have both recently retired from good careers and are happy beyond measure! Our house is paid for, we have good savings and retirement plans and are having the time of our lives!

  25. Kara says:

    This is very interesting, Anne! I’ve thought about this subject a lot and could comment on several aspects of this post. This may inspire a post of my own, as a matter of fact. 🙂

    I remember feeling sorry for myself for about 2 seconds that my fiance couldn’t afford a bigger, better quality diamond. He was a student when we got married. Then I remembered how blessed I was that I found such an amazing man and that I did not say yes to his proposal because of what he could provide for me materially. He got me a beautiful ring that was the most he could reasonably afford at the time. He has since asked if I would like to upgrade the diamond, and I told him that it would be hard to part with this one. Maybe to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, but I think I’d wear the original as a necklace. 🙂 We’re coming up on three years this December.

    I agree with your observations about priorities and community. Honeymoons don’t have to be fancy–it’s about that quality time together as you start your new life. We had 175 loved ones at our wedding and got married at our church building (which, thankfully, happens to be beautiful and free for church members). My parents paid for a sit down dinner at the reception, the flowers and decorations (minimal) and for my beautiful dress. We paid for the photography and our honeymoon. No one went into debt, and it was a great day. Was it pinterest perfect? No. Was it beautiful and special? Absolutely. What works will look different for everyone, of course, but I don’t have any big regrets.

  26. Jenn says:

    Well, I am in the sweet spot, barely. I never dreamed of my wedding as a little girl so it was no big deal to me. He bought me a nice ring and his Mom handled the wedding. Because I said “court house, here we come” but she wouldn’t stand for it. So I told her to take care of it.
    We had a one or two night honeymoon in a city 45 minutes away. We’ve been married 12 years now.

    I do wish I had handled the wedding and made it a little more special. When my daughter who is 9 asks about it I don’t have a whole lot to say. When she gets married I will remind her that it’s more important to focus on the marriage, but she needs to make the wedding special too.

  27. My husband is a New York City wedding photographer so weddings are on the mind A LOT in our house.

    One story I like to tell is about the most lavish, expensive weddings my husband ever shot. It was gorgeous and pricey, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent. My husband worked as part of a photography team shooting the event. And well, the couple got divorced BEFORE the wedding pictures had even been delivered to them. Within six months of the wedding! I just find it unbelievable and completely believable all at once.

    I always think people spend wayyyy too much on the weddings these days and don’t invest enough in the marriage.

    • Anne says:

      Hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can’t even imagine what that must be like!

      I would expect your husband has some very interesting stories. 🙂

  28. Seana Turner says:

    I don’t think ring size is important at all, and I think entering married life without the burden of debt is the best way to start. I think the idea of making an investment in a piece of jewelry that represents some level of sacrifice shows a commitment to the relationship, but dollar amount is irrelevant outside of the context of income. If we look at celebrities, seems like your conclusions are right on – they have the biggest rings and the shortest marriages:)

  29. Laura says:

    Apparently, my husband and I did everything right. 🙂 It was reassuring to read all this, with our 8th wedding anniversary right around the corner.

  30. Rachel says:

    So interesting! It looks like my husband and I made the ‘right’ choices as far as engagement ring and wedding costs, and the ‘wrong’ choice as far as the honeymoon (we were students and got married during a 3-day weekend between semesters–no time!). If the occasion ever arises for me to give advice to a couple nearing engagement, I always say that I wish I hadn’t gotten a ‘real’ wedding ring, and had instead spent that money on a honeymoon. We spent something like $1600 on my ring, and to be honest, we only went with the traditional diamond engagement ring because we felt like we were supposed to (“well, we’re getting engaged, and this is what engaged people do.”). I don’t have a particularly strong sentimental attachment to it, and I think I would have been perfectly happy with any old ring at all. If I could go back, I would absolutely choose to spend that ring money on a honeymoon–we’re still looking forward to and saving for our honeymoon, 7.5 years and 2 kids later!

  31. Jillian Kay says:

    We had 65 people at our wedding and that felt huge to this introvert! I feel like my data should be weighted 🙂

    I wonder if the amount of money the bride and groom spent personally was taken into account. It seems like there would be a difference between a wedding that cost $28k and was paid for by the parents and a wedding that cost $10k and was paid for by the couple.

    10 years last week!

  32. 'Becca says:

    I’m happily unmarried, so we spent zero on a wedding but celebrated our 20th anniversary and paid off our house this month!

    Weddings in my family tend to be relatively modest, and marriages tend to be long and amicable. Both sets of grandparents eloped and were together more than 45 years before death did them part. My sister-in-law wore as her wedding dress a prom dress that she bought on clearance for $11–and although she and my brother spent a lot on their wedding rings, they chose sustainably made and meaningful rings (I forget the details) which reflect their shared values, so that seems like a good sign.

    Thanks for posting this interesting study!

  33. Sara K. says:

    From my own personal experience, most of those correlations don’t apply. I’ve been married (and divorced) twice. Wedding #1 was small with mostly family plus a few friends. My ring was maybe a few hundred dollars (don’t recall an exact amount), reception was catered, but nothing too fancy, and we did not have a honeymoon. That marriage lasted about 5 years.

    Wedding #2 was bigger. My engagement ring was about $3,000 and my wedding band $4,000 (both platinum hence the price tags). We spent a week honeymooning in Gatlinburg, TN. Marriage lasted 3 or 4 years.

    If I ever do have the privilege of getting married again I will do several things different.

    1. No diamond. It isn’t my favorite gemstone anyway. Maybe a nice sapphire or emerald. Or maybe not even an engagement ring at all! I watched a documentary about De Beers on Netflix, and they mentioned that the diamond was a relatively new trend for wedding jewelry. I like the idea of going against the trend back to the way things used to be 🙂

    2. Private ceremony. I’ve put my family through two weddings. Instead of focusing on a “special day”, I would much rather focus the energy on building a solid foundation for a lasting marriage. I don’t like the “it’s all about me” attitude either.

  34. Megan says:

    How interesting! I’m sending this to my husband and mother! My engagement ring was inherited, so free. My wedding band was $50 which felt like much more at the time. Our wedding was around $8000 and we had around 100 people there, maybe more. We did a weeklong cruise, debt free, for our honeymoon. Happily married 11 years!

  35. Anung says:

    I completely agree with this. My ring cost a little over a thousand, but we waited 2 years to save for it. Our wedding is in the $13,000 range, but thats mostly because I have a huge family. Both my parents have 7 brothers and sisters and all but one on each side have 2+ kids.

    We spent a little more then we initially thought we were gonna because we wanted someone else to take care of some of the details. I didn’t want to have to cook and decorate on top of everything else.

    I get tired at all these weddings when its “all about the bride”. This is supposed to be a celebration of two people’s union.

  36. K says:

    I’m not entirely sure where we’d sit in the scheme of things – our wedding cost about $15,000, but combined cost of wedding/engagement rings was about $600, because we were in a pretty tough place when he proposed and his sister offered him an engagement ring that she had from a failed engagement about 5 years earlier – so the ring is worth at least $3,000, but we didn’t spend that money… We’re planning on getting our wedding rings remade in white gold (they’re silver currently) when we are better able to afford it. We’re also thinking about getting a new engagement ring at the same time, and giving his sister back hers if she wants it.

    • K says:

      One thing I can’t help thinking as I look at this and the comments is… Everything was cheaper 20+ years ago. I’m assuming the study has adjusted for this (I haven’t read it yet), but there seems to be a lot of people who are at their 15+ wedding anniversaries saying they spent less than $10,000… which is probably closer to $25,000-$30,000 now, if you take into account how the costs of everything have increased… It would probably still be similar in comparison to the couple’s yearly income, but it’s still a thought…

      • K, I think this is more about “perceived costs” rather than truly comparable prices. A dozen years ago you could still have lovely invitations you printed yourself (or had printed fairly inexpensively). Now? Letterpress and/or hand calligraphy seems to be what everyone wants. (I adore LP and calligraphy.) A few things that have really changed the scene: the recent recession combined with the rise of Pinterest and the Maker movement. Handmade is big, but if you aren’t actually making it yourself, it costs quite a bit. So I think that perceptions are skewed at both ends of the scale, if that makes sense.

        I should add generally that it’s easy to start comparing our own numbers here and feeling weird. My personal belief is that if you can afford it, or if your parents are dying to afford it on your behalf, you can do whatever you want. No Brownie points for doing X for the least amount. We splurged on flowers and calligraphy and a full bar, and a big rehearsal dinner to include the 80 out-of-towners, not just the wedding party. Again, we paid for it all ourselves, and I’m happy to have done that because we had no financial burdens whatsoever after the wedding. But some families may not swing that way, and that’s fine. I do feel apprehensive about going into debt for what’s essentially a big party, or when a wedding becomes a spectacle rather than a celebration.

        I write for Vera Wang but found my dress at a David’s Bridal sale for $250. It doesn’t mean that I’m “keepin’ it real” but just…that I found a dress I liked that fit my budget, and I was SO happy to cross that one item off my list so I could throw money at the florist. And when I suggested to my now-husband that he didn’t need to get me a ring, he was offended and horrified. It meant a lot to him.

        My only regret is that I didn’t see what a gem my husband was when we met 5 years earlier — evidently I blew him off big-time. I would have had 5 more years with him and probably 4 or 5 kids instead of the 3 we have now.

        12 years and counting,
        M

  37. Amanda says:

    I actually read about this study the other day and joked to my husband that we must be doomed because my ring was $4,000 and our wedding was about $25,000.

    Even so, I like the way you took a look at what the findings actually mean and why they probably came out the way they did. Based on the aspects of financial stress, priorities, and community, our situation really doesn’t fit the profile of being doomed even though our ring and wedding costs seem to indicate otherwise. For instance, nothing about our wedding created financial stress. My husband saved up for a ring he knew I would love and was able to pay for it in full without credit. (I’ve had it for 3 years and I’ve still not managed to see another ring that I thought was more beautiful, and I mean that with no sentimentality; he just got me something that suited my taste perfectly.) And as for the wedding, we were lucky enough that my parents wanted to pay and that they could easily afford to pay for everything with cash, and that was the budget they gave us to work with. So, no financial stress because no one went into any kind of debt over anything. We invited about 180 and around 120 people attended. That’s not a huge wedding by any means, but I wouldn’t consider it small. And every person we invited was someone we truly cared about and wanted there; no one was invited out of social obligation and neither of our parents invited their own guests unless they were people my husband and I were also close to. We both feel that weddings are intimate, and we only wanted people who were special to us to be there. So I would say that there was a definite sense of community.

    Yes, I can admit that our wedding was a bit over the top compared to most, but I think what makes us different than those in this study is that we went into our wedding with the attitude that marriage is forever. We both agreed we are staying together through thick and thin and this will be the only wedding we have (unless one of us dies and the other remarries, of course) so we wanted it to be our dream wedding. Over two years later, we both agree that the entire day was the most fun we’ve ever had and we have great memories of it and wouldn’t change a thing. So looking at it all from that angle, I’m not at all concerned about what the study says; I know we are outliers.

    We did, however, go on a honeymoon, so I guess we get study points for that. Ten absolutely amazing days in Paris, which was about $10,000, but we paid for it ourselves in cash. So again, no financial stress required. Once again, we had the mindset of “we’ll only go on a honeymoon once, so let’s plan our dream trip.” And so we did.

    So again, I don’t think it’s actually the amount of money you spend but your intentions behind spending it.

    • Anne says:

      Your wedding sounds lovely. And I’m drooling over ten days in Paris!

      “I don’t think it’s actually the amount of money you spend but your intentions behind spending it.” Well put.

    • Mary K says:

      Amanda, I really appreciate your comments. I am planning our wedding right now, and am in a similar situation. My fiance and I are older (I’m 35, he’s 41), neither of us has ever been married, and we are both in solid financial positions, as are our extremely supportive and excited parents. We are not going into any debt at all for our wedding, but we are planning a big celebration. Reading this post (and similar articles) makes me feel anxious and guilty, and I appreciate your perspective. Thank you for sharing!

  38. Dori says:

    We actually chose a sapphire stone for my engagement ring. It had significance for us for a number of reasons, and I have never once regretted our choice. We made a lot of choices like that when planning our wedding – doing/buying things that were meaningful rather than making choices that held no significance for us. I’d do it all over again!

  39. Nolo says:

    I read a study that analyzed the rise in the use of diamond engagement rings. The author concluded that it was as a result of the end of the “Breach of Promise to Marry” laws that existed in many states prior to WWII. Under that law, a woman could sue a man for ending an engagement but, once those laws were rescinded, there wasn’t anything to prevent a man from entering into an engagement and then ending it to the detriment of the woman’s reputation. Enter the diamond engagement ring – a significant investment for the man that would (in theory) limit the likelihood he would end an engagement! It’s the less romantic view of engagement rings….

  40. Nikki says:

    On our first date, I learned it would be Dave Ramsey’s way or not with this guy, so the financial stress has been minimal, with the questions clearly answered for us. He spent about $1200 on the engagement ring (3 months prior to getting out of debt), then we spent about $8000 on wedding and honeymoon about a year later, with a little over 100 guests (and he got back into debt, with what I brought to our marriage). Six years later, we only owe on our house (our second) and are expecting baby #2 any day now. We aren’t perfect, but all our budget talks about the wedding helped prepare us for budget talks of our marriage, which prepared us (more and more) for other talks. Communication is key in marriage, and we are still finding out just how important it is!

  41. Claire says:

    We’re having a lot of guests – grateful for strong ties to family and friends – but that has inherently made it cost a lot more, primarily due to catering for that number of people. It seems a catch 22! Interesting study less than a week out from our wedding.

  42. Idaho Jill says:

    Interesting article, and comments. We celebrated our 16th last week. We got married on a cruise. $1000 (included officiant, flowers, cake, photography) plus the cost of the 4 day cruise ($350 per person). I paid about $25 to upgrade to gardenias as my flowers, and $100 for a 1 hour open bar for our guests. 18 people came with us…they paid their own way. My dress was $300, 2 bridesmaid’s dresses were $45 each. Ring was under $2000. I had ZERO stress about my wedding because the cruise line took care of it all. It was perfect!

    We also got to get on the ship before everyone else (to get my hair done and dressed, etc – plus you still have to be attached to land to make it legal). People were boarding as we were getting married – it was awesome. My mom jokes that we had 18 people with us on our honeymoon :).

    I would love to have a vow renewal at 20 years…but I don’t want another ring. Hubs has said he would get me a new diamond, but I got married with this ring and it will be there forever! Funny aside: I had my rings attached because I was anal about them spinning separately and not lining up (!) but while they were in the shop, I bought a huge (very obviously) fake ring to wear so I wouldn’t feel naked…and I got SO many comments about what a beautiful ring that was! Just goes to show that you can spend $20 and people will never know it’s not real :).

  43. Mandi Richards says:

    My engagement right was my great grandmother’s. Interestingly enough it was a diamond ring (from the 1920s at latest – not sure if it was new or already a family ring at the time – I’ve been told it’s older because it doesn’t have the metal stamped on it) and we took out the center stone and my husband put in a sapphire instead. Not sure how much that cost, but probably not all that much. Our wedding was about 15K, so we’re right in the middle somewhere. My parents generously paid for it all though so it definitely wasn’t a cause of financial strife to my husband at all.

  44. Maggie says:

    Interesting points, but I don’t know. I have found there is a tendency in some Christian circles towards a kind of reverse snobbery whereby a bigger or more expensive wedding is looked down up on without regard to cultural issues, family expectations, and even age. We met “later in life” and married in our 30s, and I definitely think there were different expectations in terms of what kind of wedding reception we would have than if we had married 10 years earlier. What might come across as quaint with two 21-year-olds can look cheap when both partners are over 30 and working. We also had no family nearby to help and because we chose a short engagement and were both working full-time, very little time to DIY. That meant we had to spend a bit more and we are probably outside of the range for a healthy marriage, but we are still going strong. It’s just a bit hurtful when people talk as if we are less spiritual because we had a more expensive wedding and I have a rather large diamond.

    • Mary K says:

      Maggie,
      I appreciate your comments. I think I am in the same boat as a 35 year-old planning my wedding, and I have noticed the reverse snobbery you mention (and not just in Christian circles). We are planning and can afford a big, more expensive wedding, but I also feel judged for making that choice.

  45. Wow! That is all very interesting. We’ve been married for 10 years, and actually do fall in the sweet spot on rings and weddings and having a honeymoon. We had 125 people at our wedding. I am not sure if that is a lot or not! Granted, my husband was 21 when he financed my engagement ring … had we gotten married at 30, it might have looked differently.

  46. Jo says:

    Interesting stories 🙂

    We had the smallest ‘wedding’ (it was a Civil Partnership as that was the only thing available to us at that time in the UK) imaginable. I have no idea how much the engagement rings (two, yes!) were as my GF brought them back from Thailand and then we had the stones reset over here. We didn’t bother with new rings for the wedding as neither of us wear them much anyway. We had three friends with us, gave two weeks notice (legal requirement over here) and spent about £500 total on fees, food, champagne etc. I bought a new dress, my GF wore a suit she already had and we spent more money on dinner for five than anything else 🙂 We haven’t got around to a honeymoon yet, two years later. We have been together nearly 15 years though.

    Neither of us wanted a big wedding so this was good for us, though I think I wish I had invited a few more people. My family in particular felt a little left out which I do feel guilty about.

  47. Ana says:

    Hmmm… I have a different perspective you could say, because I sell engagement rings for a living! You could say I’ve “seen it all” because I have sold $100 engagement rings all the way to $30,000. And I will say this, both the $100 ring couple (who needed to marry quickly so he could legally move here from the UK, the couple is maybe 19-20 years old) and the $30k couple (who were celebrating their 25th anniversary and upgrading her engagement ring, he was extremely successful in business and paid cash for the ring) are very much in love. I have no problem with any couple or guy coming in with a limited budget, if they are basing it on financial prudence and what he can afford on his income. What I DO have a problem with is the guy who drives up in his tricked out brand new Ford F150 and saunters in, asking for “the cheapest ring we’ve got” because his gf is “nagging him for a ring.” He ended up with a $350 engagement ring that he spent about 5 minutes picking out. Versus the guy who was my first big sale, spent literally weeks agonizing over every detail of the $13k ring he purchased from me, he scoured her pinterest and described in detail her personality, style and the jewelry she wore to come up with the perfect ring for her, and this couple still periodically comes in to get her ring cleaned and say hi, holding hands and bringing us wedding pictures and baby pictures. Just thought I’d mention that perspective. Also, I do think that an engagement ring should be relative to someone’s income. So, if you have a lower income, you should get a modest ring and not go into debt. However, I have seen the other extreme, high-income men who could afford a nice ring if their finances were in order, but due to some vice like gambling or over-extending their lifestyle have tried to pass off large synthetic stones as diamonds or bought cheap, heavily included “big” diamonds. In our current culture, the engagement ring is a symbol of your marriage, and in my opinion buying it should “hurt” a little, as in the guy should be evaluating his finances for a few months and “tightening his belt” while saving up for it. While not going into debt. Sorry, that was long-winded, but just my opinion.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.