Should We Buy a House or Have a Wedding?

Young couple embracing in garden during wedding reception

In the popular Netflix show "Marriage or Mortgage," a wedding planner and a real estate agent vie for the favor (and the $30,000-ish budget) of a couple trying to decide between the wedding of their dreams and a home to call their own. The show is a tribute to savvy event planning and salesmanship: Most of us can only wish to have this level of expert help.

But being faced with a tough money dilemma is something we all can relate to. If you had $30,000 hard-earned dollars to spend on a wedding or a home, which one would be the smarter choice? Read on for the pros and cons of Team Marriage, Team Mortgage and—inevitably—Team Having It All.

Get Married and Wait on the House

Why choose a wedding over an investment in your future as foundational as a home? Here are just a few valid reasons to consider:

  • You want to avoid years of resentment. Some people dream of the perfect wedding for decades—a dream that can persist, grow old and fester if the opportunity passes.
  • You don't want to buy a home together without getting married. You certainly can buy a home without getting married first, but married couples enjoy some legal protections that unmarried couples do not.
  • You invested 14 months in "at home" time during the pandemic. Now you're ready to spend on socializing at a swanky wedding ceremony.
  • You're in a good position to keep saving. Even if you opt for the wedding now, you will probably want a home at some point. If you're gainfully employed, living below your means and not going to overspend on your wedding, you may be able to build up the additional savings you'll need for a down payment over the years to come.
  • Your finances and credit need time to recover. Unlike a wedding, a home purchase isn't solely about spending. You need good credit, financial reserves and a stable, adequate income to qualify for a mortgage. If your finances took a hit during the pandemic, it might take a few years to rebuild your credit and maintain a steady income so you can qualify for a loan to buy the house you really want.
  • Your local housing market is on fire. In some areas, home shopping has become high intensity. If you're not ready for bidding wars and purchasing property as-is, you may want to wait until the market cools off.
  • You want to keep your options open. Maybe you're new in town and you haven't found your perfect neighborhood. Or you'd like to see if remote work will continue over the long term, enabling you to hunt for a home farther away from the office. If you're feeling unsettled for whatever reason, you might be happier not committing to a new home at this time.

Buy the House and Skip the Wedding

And yet, buying a house is an appealing option. Although no one can predict how the housing market will go in the future, the difference between spending on a wedding and spending on a home is tangible: In one case you get a beautiful day and a meaningful rite of passage, but in the other you get real property you can live in for years. A home of your own is also an investment that can pay off down the road if its value grows.

Before you choose buying a house over paying for a wedding, make sure you're prepared for the long-term financial commitment. No question about it, getting married is also a massive commitment—one that's practical, spiritual and ideally lifelong. But buying a home is likely to be a decadeslong investment, and there can be real financial consequences if you don't pay your mortgage on time or you decide to sell before you've had a chance to build equity. You'll also be managing the costs of owning a home, which means paying for upgrades or repairs, insurance, maintenance and more. Maintaining a healthy emergency fund is just the first step in preparing for the financial unknowns that can come with home ownership.

And though you aren't required to splurge on a fairytale wedding, if you forgo a big celebration in favor of putting down roots in a new home, you should have a wedding alternative that makes you both happy. That could mean putting off your wedding for a few years, going off to a romantic location and eloping, or staging a small but beautiful event with just a few close friends and family.

Can You Have Both?

Of course, nothing sounds better than having it all. There's only one way to know if you can realistically afford both a home and a wedding: Create some real-life scenarios. Here's where the genius of "Marriage or Mortgage" can help. Instead of spending time debating which of these life events has greater value, flex your project management and budgeting skills and develop some actual alternatives, just as they do on the show. It's the only way to know whether you'll be happy with either option—or both.

How Low Can You Go on a Home Purchase?

It's possible to buy a home with little or no money down, but most buyers need to figure around 10%—or, if you want to avoid mortgage insurance and get the best rates, the gold standard of 20% down. Build out a scenario and see how it fits:

  • Create a monthly budget that takes into account your income and monthly debt payments. Lenders would like to see your mortgage weigh in at no more than 36% of your monthly income—43% at the outside. Estimate your total monthly debt payments, including car payments, credit card payments, student loans or personal loans. Then multiply your income by 0.36. Subtract your total monthly debt from this figure (36% of your income) to get your target mortgage payment. Based on this calculation, how much mortgage can you afford each month?
  • Now use a mortgage calculator to figure out how much money you can borrow, based on your projected monthly payment. Add a minimum down payment to your mortgage amount and you have a potential purchase price.
  • Check out Zillow or to see what your purchase price will buy you.
  • If possible, consult with loan officers, real estate agents or mortgage brokers to get expert opinions about your prospects.
  • Check your credit scores and credit report on Experian to make sure your credit will qualify you for the loan you want.

What Kind of Wedding Can You Afford?

While it's important to honor your lifelong wedding dreams, you don't have to feel constrained by traditions—especially now, after COVID-19 forced couples everywhere to postpone or creatively reimagine their weddings. According to Brides, several COVID-inspired adaptations may be here to stay, including:

  • Pop-up weddings
  • Midweek weddings
  • Micro-weddings
  • Curated guest lists
  • Live-streaming (instead of or in addition to in-person gatherings)
  • More fun, less fuss over fashion
  • Outdoor and backyard venues

If you pare things back to what's really important to you and your partner, can you style a wedding that leaves room for a down payment? Only you can decide what works for you.

Don't Do It All at Once

Helping couples get married and buy a home eventually isn't a very snappy TV show premise, but it might be a workable strategy for you. Have your wedding, but set aside some of the available money toward a down payment: You'll get to that next step faster with some seed money. Or, buy a home and plan to stage your wedding in the backyard, surrounded by the people who will help fill your home with happy memories for years to come. In real life, you don't have to choose all or nothing. You could choose both, no matter how long it takes.

Say "I Do" to a Lifetime of Partnership

Meanwhile, don't miss the opportunity to ratchet up your joint financial planning skills while you work through your choices. Saving toward a common goal (or goals), creating a monthly budget, making joint decisions and dreaming about the future are critical building blocks for a lifetime of partnership. These skills will serve you well in almost any scenario, whether staged for TV or happily ever after.