Cash is king for America’s pandemic newlyweds

About 80% of couples on wedding registry and planning website Zola receive money, according to the company. Meanwhile, roughly 30% more cash gifts were created and given via the online platform The Knot between January and July, compared to the same period two years ago, the company said. (Dreamstime/TNS)
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Daniela Sirtori-Cortina Bloomberg News (TNS)

After the first year of the pandemic put many nuptials on ice, Americans started getting married with a vengeance when summer arrived. Even now, couples are still rushing to tie the knot — albeit with additional precautions given the latest infection wave.

Were it any other time, this matrimonial flood would have family and friends scrambling to buy gifts, a prospect made worse this year due to supply-constrained retailers and pumped-up prices.

But there’s a silver lining to this race to the altar that may make your task a little easier: All newlyweds seem to want is cash.

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About 80% of couples on wedding registry and planning website Zola receive money, according to the company. Meanwhile, roughly 30% more cash gifts were created and given via the online platform The Knot between January and July, compared to the same period two years ago, the company said. Honeymoon funds are the most popular ask, but virus-weary couples are also requesting money to pay for romantic dinners, massages and even fertility treatments.

“The pandemic has made society in general rethink priorities,” said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, vice president at The Knot. An experiences-over-material-things mentality is “resonating with more and more people.”

COVID-19 helped accelerate the adoption of cash gifts, which were already gaining popularity as people became more comfortable with asking for money. After all, millennials and Generation Z came of age in the GoFundMe era, and thus are less likely than their elders to see crowdfunding as unseemly.

There’s also the fact that Americans are getting married older, which often means couples already have enough of the household items that typically fill a wedding registry.

Moreover, Americans in their 20s and 30s are grappling with ever-larger student loans as salaries fail to keep pace with the skyrocketing tuition charged for higher education. Finding ways to shave off some of that debt is exceptionally important to couples hoping to get a mortgage with favorable terms.

“As we see couples think about their financial goals and think about their future together, they see cash as a more enticing, pragmatic option,” Maxwell Cooper said. “They may not need wedding China. They made not need new sheets. But they have student loan debt.”

Some are using cash gifts to pay for the wedding itself, a trend that was taking shape before anyone heard of the novel coronavirus. Back in 2019, Jenn and Jillian DeSimone of New York City essentially crowdsourced their nuptials. Friends and family chipped in to offset the cost of items ranging from the wedding dress to ice cream served for dessert. The couple also set up a student loan fund.

The contributions helped smooth the way for their first years of marriage. The couple received a total of $10,000 in cash gifts, of which about half went to student loans, helping Jenn pay off all of her debt. Now they own a house and are expecting a baby.

“We didn’t need anything for our home or for ourselves, so cash was the best gift we could get,” Jillian said. “We were so moved by all the support. Way more meaningful than a set of dishes.”

As partners hunkered down during the pandemic, requests to pay for lockdown-related goods and services proved popular, with couples creating funds for meal-delivery kits and renovation projects. Lowe’s Home Improvement gift cards were among the most-requested items on that front, according to wedding website Joy.

Newlyweds saw “the importance of making their homes a functional space for working, living and relaxing in,” Joy communications and marketing director Katie Brownstein said.

Overall, wedding guests are proving receptive to cash registries because gift-givers want to ensure their presents will be put to good use, etiquette consultant Elaine Swann said. That, as any couple who’s been married for decades can attest, isn’t always the case for silver tea sets or Margarita makers. Still, asking for and granting money involves a delicate social dance.

For starters, couples should consider making the request via an online platform such as a wedding website, Swann said, rather than “tarnish the imagery of the physical invitation with an ask for money.” It’s also key to provide an electronic way to submit the contribution, as securing checks during a reception can quickly turn into a nightmare.

She also suggests outlining a specific amount and purpose for the gift, and sharing why it carries significance. Swann recalls attending a wedding in which the groom was headed to a doctoral program. In that case, an ask for his educational fund “was well received.”

Emily Forrest, communications director at Zola, echoed Swann’s sentiment. “We’ve found that guests are also most likely to contribute to cash funds when there’s a very specific purpose designated,” Forrest said. “So it’s a smart move all around.”

The average size of cash gifts hovers around $150, according to Joy, though the amount declines when it’s a destination wedding. No matter the amount, Swann added, “not only will your gift be enjoyed, but it will be used.”

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