A dream home, a vintage school bus and quirky roller skates: Here’s what couples are buying with their pandemic wedding funds
Jessica Menton, USA TODAY
Published 6:01 a.m. ET June 23, 2020 | Updated 5:30 p.m. ET June 23, 2020
Facing wedding cancelations and postponement, couples and vendors do their best to stay positive.
Andrew Harmon’s dream of a lavish wedding in Philadelphia was dashed when the coronavirus pandemic upended his plans for a November ceremony.
It would have been an elegant, black-tie affair with a red carpet at the entrance of The Lucy, a ballroom located in Philadelphia’s famous Avenue of the Arts cultural district.
“We were in a panic and sick to our stomachs,” says Harmon, 30, who works in regulatory operations at Vanguard. He and his fiance, Evan Garbayo, a 28-year-old recruiter at Insight Global, were just a week away from taking their save-the-date engagement pictures in March when their plans were turned upside down.
“Being gay was significant,” Harmon says. “We wanted to celebrate our unique love with our friends and family in a big, amazing way.”
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But their wedding vendor couldn’t guarantee that guests could dance or that they’d be free of face masks. It also planned to charge the couple an extra $5 for each of their 200-plus guests if they pushed their wedding to 2021. That fee was on top of the $185 they were already paying for each guest.
After much deliberation, they chose to forgo their $5,000 deposit for the venue and use the rest of the $40,000 they had budgeted for their big day for a down payment on their dream home.
They quickly realized they were lucky.
The new house, with a back yard, was a happy upgrade from their 700-square foot apartment, Harmon says, especially with COVID-19 forcing them to spend more time at home. They are also in the process of getting a Goldendoodle puppy.
“The pandemic really put everything into perspective for us,” Harmon says, adding that they plan to hold a small wedding at a later date once the pandemic subsides.
“We already had a chunk of money saved that we could have been putting toward building a home together, but we had been planning to use it for a one-day event that in the grand scheme of things isn’t that important.”
Andrew Harmon, left, with his fiance, Evan Garbayo, right. (Photo: Andrew Harmon)
Rethinking living spaces
Wedding bells won’t be ringing for many couples this summer after the pandemic forced Americans to cancel or postpone their nuptials. But some, like Harmon and Garbayo, who were able to preserve most of their wedding fund, are using the money to purchase a home, while others are applying it to alternative ways of living.
Emily Whalen, 29, and her fiance, Joe Duschinsky, 30, who reside in Chicago, also decided to pull the plug on their large wedding in September after the pandemic changed their priorities.
“We had this crazy moment where we just looked at each other when we realized the final cost of the wedding,” Whalen says, who had budgeted $50,000 for the event. “My fiance joked that we should just buy an RV instead.”
The couple, who had been planning their nuptials for a year, felt suffocated in a 600-square foot apartment in the city. After months of losing sleep over what to do, they planned to elope instead, but with a twist.
Emily Whalen, left, and her fiance, Joe Duschinsky, right. (Photo: Emily Whalen)
They pushed back the date with their venue until late 2021 because the couple would have lost their $4,500 deposit if they had canceled. Then they bought a vintage, 1990 school bus, also for $4,500, that they are currently converting into a solar-powered home on wheels.
The excursion allows Whalen to live out her dream of a nomadic life with her future husband and pets. The couple is planning to elope once the bus is ready and are keeping the option open to return home for a big party at the end of next year at the venue.
Whalen, an artist and a nutritional and wellness coach for her online business, Hive Holistic Health, plans to take a series of photos in her wedding dress at different places across North America. They plan to document their travels on Instagram.
“The wedding would have been just one day versus a life with experiences and adventure,” Whalen says.
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Wedding plans are evolving
About 93% of couples have either postponed their wedding or haven’t made any changes yet, according to a recent survey conducted by WeddingWire and The Knot of more than 2,000 U.S. couples with weddings scheduled between April and August. Among those postponing, 52% of couples are delaying to later this year and 33% to 2021.
“The majority of couples are not canceling their wedding, but rather evolving their planned celebrations to ensure the health and safety of all guests and vendors,” says Jeffra Trumpower, senior creative director at WeddingWire. “For many that means postponing their celebrations to a later date.”
Just 7% of engaged couples have canceled their plans, the study showed. One possible reason why: increased costs or no refunds. Some couples were less likely to recoup the majority of their wedding funds if they had already booked a venue, florist, caterer and photographer, experts say.
The global pandemic has affected weddings nationwide, with more than 1 million originally planned for March to August this year, according to WeddingWire. For those who had weddings lined upthis year, they’ve needed to shift their original plans.
Some couples opted to get legally married during the pandemic and postponed their religious nuptials for a later date. About 27% of couples have or plan to get legally married prior to their larger wedding celebrations, the study showed.
Whitney Jones, left, and her husband Christopher Jones, right. (Photo: Whitney Jones)
Whitney Jones, 34, and her husband Christopher Jones, 34, of Atlanta, Georgia, are one of those couples. They postponed eloping to Scotland in April after the pandemic hit. They still got a marriage license and held a small wedding this spring, but plan to have a religious ceremony later this fall or next year in Scotland.
Although her husband was laid off during COVID-19 from his IT job at a law firm, the couple has enjoyed spending time at home during their unintended coronavirus honeymoon. Their extra savings during the pandemic has allowed her to enjoy new, quirky hobbies.
“The pandemic has been a time of introspection for everyone and personal exploration,” says Jones, who splurged on a pair of bright colored Moxi skates. “It’s a blast. It’s so liberating and it’s like being a kid again.”
Whitney Jones, 34, in her Moxi roller skates. (Photo: Whitney Jones)
They budgeted about $5,000 for their wedding costs including flights and hotels with airline miles. Their flights and hotels were refunded in full, and their venue, photographer, florist and hair & makeup have worked with them to roll over their dates, Jones says, who works as a marketing and communications manager at It’s The Journey, a breast cancer charity.