Guests Juggle Wedding Boom, Rising Costs and COVID Concerns

A new survey reveals how Americans decide which weddings to attend and how they handle covering the costs involved.
May 10, 2022

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It’s going to be a big year for weddings — and wedding guests. After more than two years of cancellations and rebookings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, couples are ready to tie the knot surrounded by their family and friends.

Over 2.5 million weddings — a 40-year high — are projected to take place in the U.S. this year, according to the Wedding Report, a research company that collects wedding industry data. For many Americans, this means a flood of invitations will hit mailboxes.

Half (50%) of Americans say they plan to attend a wedding as a guest in 2022, but less than a third of Americans (31%) have built wedding attendance into their budgets, according to a new NerdWallet survey conducted online by The Harris Poll.

In the survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, we asked Americans how much they expect to spend to attend weddings this year, how they plan to pay for those costs and the biggest factors in deciding whether they will attend, including concerns about COVID-19 and rising costs due to inflation.

Key findings

  • Many Americans, especially millennials, will RSVP “Yes” to a wedding this year. Half (50%) of Americans say they plan to attend a wedding as a guest this year, and 28% say they plan on attending more than one wedding, according to the survey. Millennials (ages 26-41) have a particularly busy year, with 47% planning to attend more than one wedding as a guest.

  • People weigh a variety of factors when deciding whether to attend a wedding as a guest. The three biggest factors cited in choosing whether to attend a wedding are the closeness of their relationship with the couple (51%), how far the wedding is from home (47%), and the cost of travel and lodging (43%), the survey found.

  • Guests are nearly split on whether wedding attendance will cost them more than $500 this year. Half of wedding guests (50%) anticipate spending $500 or more on all weddings they will attend this year combined, and nearly 1 in 5 (19%) think they will spend $2,000 or more, according to the survey.

  • Cash and credit cards are the two most popular ways wedding guests pay for costs. More than 2 in 5 Americans (43%) say they typically pay for costs associated with attending a wedding using a credit card, the survey found. A similar share (44%) say they typically pay using cash or money from their checking account.

  • Americans are split on COVID concerns. In the survey, a quarter (25%) of Americans say having COVID-related safety measures in place — protocols like mask requirements and proof of vaccination — are a big factor in deciding whether to attend a wedding as a guest. Meanwhile, 22% of Americans say the opposite: Not having any COVID-related restrictions is a big factor.

Half of Americans say they plan to be guests at a wedding in 2022

Half (50%) of Americans surveyed say they plan to attend a wedding as a guest this year, and 28% say they plan to attend more than one wedding. Smaller shares say they plan to attend two (15%) or three (5%) weddings, and less than 1 in 10 (8%) say they plan to attend four or more weddings.

A generational analysis of the survey data shows that millennials have a busy wedding season ahead. Millennials are more likely than Generation X (ages 42-57) and baby boomers (ages 58-76) to say they plan to attend more than one wedding this year — 47% of millennials say this, which is significantly higher than Gen X (29%) and baby boomers (9%). Millennials are also far more likely to say they will attend four or more weddings than all other generations: 20% of millennials compared with 7% of Generation Z (ages 18-25), 6% of Gen X and 1% of baby boomers.

“Millennials are currently at a time in life that is traditionally filled with weddings — their own as well as those of friends. At the same time, they are often juggling responsibilities such as young children and mortgages, which can make it harder to find the extra funds to pay for all of those celebrations,” says Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.

Concerns about the pandemic have made Americans less willing to attend weddings, especially parents

More than half (56%) of Americans say they have been less willing to attend weddings because of concerns related to COVID-19, such as worries about contracting the virus or passing on the virus to vulnerable friends and family members, according to the survey.

This is especially true when kids are involved. About 6 in 10 (61%) parents with children under 18 say they have been less willing to attend weddings out of COVID-19 concerns (compared with 54% of those who are not parents of children under 18).

"With couples eager to make up for lost time, we’re seeing an unprecedented wedding boom, which is also triggering a wave of wedding-related expenses for guests. People’s reluctance to travel during the pandemic has disrupted and delayed so many wedding plans over the last two-plus years," Palmer says.

Millennials hit hardest by pandemic-related wedding cancellations and postponements

The pandemic hit the wedding industry hard, in part because many couples were forced to reschedule, downsize or cancel their wedding. Since the World Health Organization declared the start of the pandemic in March 2020, nearly half (49%) of all Americans surveyed say that they were invited to a wedding that was postponed or canceled, and nearly a third (31%) say more than one wedding was postponed or canceled.

Among millennials, the share who say they were invited to a wedding that was postponed or canceled is much higher than their Gen X and baby boomer counterparts. Half (50%) of millennials say more than one wedding they were invited to since the beginning of the pandemic was postponed or canceled (vs. 29% of Gen X and 15% of baby boomers). A striking 1 in 5 (21%) millennials say that four or more weddings they were invited to were canceled or postponed since the start of the pandemic.

Closeness to the couple, distance from home and travel costs are three common deciding factors

For Americans, the three most commonly cited factors in deciding whether they will attend a wedding are the closeness of their relationship to the couple (51%), how far the wedding is from home (47%), and the cost of travel and lodging (43%), according to the survey.

Of Americans who have attended or will attend one or more weddings in 2022, 66% say at least one of those weddings will be within 100 miles of their home, while 39% will attend at least one wedding more than 100 miles away, but still within the continental U.S. Roughly 1 in 10 (11%) say they will travel outside the continental U.S. to attend a wedding this year, while 7% of Americans will attend or have already attended weddings where no travel is necessary (i.e., virtual wedding via Zoom, Facebook Live, FaceTime, etc.).

Other less-common factors Americans consider when deciding to attend a wedding include the cost of wedding attire (30%) and how much they think they should spend on wedding gifts (28%).

Additional concerns include making sure their children and pets are cared for while they are away. Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) Americans say that finding or paying for pet care is a big factor when deciding to attend a wedding. And 1 in 10 (10%) Americans say finding or paying for child care is among the biggest factors.

Americans split on the COVID factor

When it comes to COVID as a deciding factor in whether they will attend a wedding as a guest this year, Americans are fairly split.

In the survey, a quarter (25%) of Americans say that having COVID-related safety measures in place — things like requiring a negative test to attend, mask requirements and proof of vaccination — is one of the biggest factors.

In contrast, 22% of Americans say that not having any COVID-related restrictions (for example, not requiring proof of vaccination or guests to wear masks) is one of the biggest factors in deciding whether they will attend.

Half of Americans plan to spend $500 or more to attend weddings this year; they’ll turn to cash or credit cards to cover costs

Among those who have attended or plan to attend at least one wedding this year, half (50%) say they plan to spend $500 or more, and 19% say they plan to spend $2,000 or more, according to the survey.

While there are many ways to cover the costs associated with attending a wedding as a guest, a few options rise to the top. More than 2 in 5 Americans (43%) say they typically pay for costs associated with attending a wedding using a credit card. A similar share (44%) says they typically pay using cash/money from their checking account. Nearly a quarter (23%) of Americans say they typically use money from their savings account.

Millennials are more likely than members of all other generations to say they typically pay for wedding attendance costs using cash/money from checking (51%) or money from their savings account (37%). Millennials are also more likely than Gen Xers and baby boomers to say they typically pay by splitting costs with their significant other (22%) and by using buy now, pay later or point-of-sale loans (21%).

“While using money out of a savings account is generally the cheapest way to pay for weddings because doing so allows you to avoid paying interest, there are other options available to those who need more flexibility. Buy now, pay later allows you to pay in installments over time, and credit cards can also fund a longer payment period, although generally with a high interest rate attached,” Palmer says.

Roughly 6 in 10 Americans who plan to use a credit card or loan to cover wedding guest costs will pay it off immediately

About 6 in 10 (61%) Americans who will pay for wedding guest expenses using a credit card or loan this year say they will pay it off immediately. About a quarter (26%) say they will pay it off within a few months. And roughly 1 in 10 (11%) Americans say they will pay it off within a year, the survey found.

There are some generational differences in how long people say it will take them to pay off wedding guest expenses. Of those who will pay for 2022 wedding guest expenses using credit cards or loans, baby boomers are more likely than millennials to say they will pay those expenses off immediately (71% vs. 59% of millennials). On the other hand, millennials are more likely than their baby boomer counterparts to say they will pay them off within a few months (27% vs. 15%).

Budgeting tips to tackle the wedding boom

About 4 in 10 Americans in the survey (39%) say they have skipped or considered skipping a wedding because they could not afford to attend. But, with some strategic planning and saving, you won’t have to miss out on a friend’s or loved one’s wedding because you don’t have room in your budget.

Before you pull out your dancing shoes, consider these budgeting and saving strategies to prepare for upcoming weddings.

Build wedding guest expenses into your budget with sinking funds

If you have enough lead time, putting money in a sinking fund can help you prepare for the costs upfront. A sinking fund is a savings account dedicated to a planned expense — in this case, the costs to attend a wedding — that you fund gradually through regular payments. By saving money in smaller chunks over time, it’s less likely you’ll have to draw down your checking account balance or go into debt to attend a wedding.

Calculating how much to put in your wedding guest sinking fund is straightforward: Add up estimated costs (for things like a flight or gas, hotel rooms and a wedding gift), then divide that number by the weeks or months you have until the event. This simple math can give you a baseline of the amount to save from each paycheck. Even if you put wedding expenses on a credit card to take advantage of rewards and other benefits, you will have the money to start paying off those expenses right away.

Plan to spend a little more because of inflation

Some 46% of Americans say they are likely to spend more money on wedding gifts this year due to inflation, or the rising cost of goods and services. Jumping 8.5% in the past 12 months, inflation rates hit a 40-year high in March 2022 — and many Americans are feeling their budgets quickly tightening as everyday expenses surge.

While rising costs might seem out of your control, there are ways to offset inflation through your personal spending habits:

  • Shop strategically: Don’t hesitate to swap brand names for store brands and use store membership or loyalty programs to save money. For example, using a grocery store loyalty card could help save you money when filling your gas tank.

  • Trim discretionary spending: Cutting back on how much you spend on categories like eating out or entertainment could bring back a little wiggle room in your budget.

  • Renegotiate bills or cancel subscriptions: Now might be the time to examine your subscriptions or check bills for any sneaky price hikes. A quick call to customer service might even lead to a better or cheaper plan than you had previously.

Have a payoff plan for credit card expenses

There are lots of good reasons to put your costs to attend a wedding on a credit card: You can earn points, miles or rewards that you can use to offset expenses, not to mention that many cards offer benefits — like trip insurance and purchase protection — that can ease your mind.

But if you can’t pay for those expenses in full when the statement arrives, it could lead to debt that’s difficult to pay off. Before you swipe your credit card, having a plan to pay the debt should be top of mind.

  • Use credit cards strategically: There are two potential options. Qualify for a card with an introductory 0% APR to put those costs on, which requires some advanced planning. Or move the charges to a balance transfer card with a low or 0% APR for transfers. Note that you likely will need a good or excellent credit score to qualify for either type of card.

  • Pick a paydown strategy: Consider using the debt avalanche or snowball payoff methods. They are popular for good reason: These plans offer the flexibility to prioritize debt based on highest to lowest interest rates or largest to smallest debts.

  • Consolidate debt: You can consolidate your debt by rolling multiple high-interest credit card debts into a single payment. This process streamlines a number of due dates and interest rates, providing a singular focus for debt paydown.

  • Buy now, pay later, or BNPL, could be an option — but check the terms closely: Offered by many online retailers, BNPL is one way to get your purchases now and pay in installments over time. This may even be offered when buying airline tickets. Before you agree, be sure to check the terms, such as whether interest will be charged. Then, make a plan to get your payment in on time to avoid late fees.

Don’t forget to cash in travel miles, points or redeem credits

When booking wedding travel flights, hotels or rental cars, don’t forget about any miles or points you’ve earned, especially if you’ve been putting expenses on rewards credit cards. Even if you can’t pay for your full trip in miles or points, you can use them to cut spending and make costs more manageable.

Another option: Use flight credits from previously postponed weddings. Or tap into unused miles or rewards that accrued after the suspension of nonessential travel at the beginning of the pandemic.

Methodology

​​This online survey of 2,054 U.S. adults ages 18 and older was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from March 15-17, 2022. Respondents included 961 who will attend at least one wedding in 2022. The sampling precision of Harris Poll online surveys is measured using a Bayesian credible interval. For this survey, the sample data is accurate to within +2.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, contact Sarah Borland at [email protected]

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