In the new Netflix show “Marriage or Mortgage,” a wedding planner and a real estate agent go head-to-head to persuade engaged couples to do one of two things: toss a sizable chunk of change toward getting hitched or buying a home. If you’ve seen the show, it might seem passionless and unromantic to choose a practical investment over a picture-perfect wedding, but more couples are recognizing there’s a compelling case to be made for the former.

First comes love, then comes house

These days, getting married isn’t necessarily a stepping stone to buying a home with your significant other. In fact, millennials aged 22 to 29 made up the largest share of unmarried couples buying homes in 2020, at 21 percent, according to a National Association of Realtors (NAR) report.

Millennials also aren’t forming families — typically a catalyst for purchasing a home — as soon as previous generations. A smaller percentage of millennials are living with a family of their own (either a spouse, child or both) compared to prior generations, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2019, 55 percent of millennials were doing so, compared to 66 percent of Gen Xers in 2003, 69 percent of baby boomers in 1987 and 85 percent of the Silent Generation in 1968. Further, only about 30 percent of millennials lived with a spouse and child, compared to 40 percent of Gen Xers, 46 percent of baby boomers and 70 percent of the Silent Generation.

Marriage or mortgage?

To buy a home, you have to have enough funds for a down payment and closing costs. The average closing costs were roughly $6,000 in 2020, ClosingCorp data shows, and the typical down payment for a first-time homebuyer as of 2019 was 6 percent, NAR reports. For a $340,000 home — about the median price today — that equates to $20,400.

In 2019, the average cost of a wedding was $28,000, according to The Knot.

So, with both milestones similar in terms of cost, which is the better investment? Here’s why buying a house instead of paying for a wedding wins out:

You’d build equity. A home is an asset that generally appreciates over time, and as you continue to pay down your mortgage, you’ll accumulate equity you can use for other goals. While the experience of a fairytale wedding is enough return on investment for some, financially, it’ll leave you with less savings. If you have enough for a down payment and can afford the monthly mortgage payment, it makes more sense to invest in your and your soon-to-be spouse’s financial future.

You wouldn’t be renting. While renting has its benefits, you’re ultimately helping your landlord, not yourself, get ahead financially.

It could cost less than your nuptials. There’s no shortage of home financing options out there, including low- and no-down payment mortgages. If your credit is in good shape and you have savings and a steady income, you could get into a home for much less than you’d spend on a wedding.

Tips to save for a down payment

  1. Come up with a number. You might not have an exact idea of the kind of home you both want to buy or where, but you can create a goal and work toward it. Research current home prices across different locations and property types to get a sense of how much down payment you’ll need. Remember the down payment doesn’t include closing costs, which can be anywhere from 3 percent to 6 percent of the home’s price.
  2. Know your loan options. Conventional loans can require as little as 3 percent or 5 percent down, while FHA loans only require 3.5 percent if your credit score is at least 580. If you’re eligible, VA and USDA loans don’t have a down payment requirement at all. There are also many first-time homebuyer programs that couple a mortgage with down payment assistance.
  3. Find ways to cut back or earn more. Consider ways to earn more — such as hopping on a project at work that can net you a bonus or taking on a side hustle — and cut back on expenses. Start with easy wins, such as dialing back on subscriptions or nixing them entirely, or trimming your monthly food bill. If doable, you could also go from being a two-car to one-car couple to save even more.

Tips to save on your wedding

  1. Keep things small and simple. As with any event, you can hold your wedding reception for a lot less money if you don’t go all out with the venue, food and other expenses, and cut back on the guest list.
  2. Hold off until next year. If you’re set on a wedding with a high price tag, consider waiting — as many couples have in the past year — so you have more time to save.
  3. Take advantage of other ways to save. One easy way to save is to get hitched in the off-season or on an off-peak day. Go the DIY route on hair and makeup, and enlist the help of friends and family or tap your network. If your aunt has a home catering business, for instance, see if she might be open to offering a discount.

Bottom line 

Buying a home and getting married are both major milestones, and it can be challenging to decide which to prioritize. By buying a home, you’re investing in your financial future as a couple, setting the foundation to build equity and wealth over time. What’s more romantic than growing old — and growing your money — together? 

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