A few weeks ago, I logged on to my friend Megan's wedding website, expecting to find a link to a registry from Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn. Instead, there were two options: The first was indeed a traditional wedding registry, where I could gift a blender, or maybe a wine carafe if I was feeling feisty. The other link, though, took me to a site called Zola. There, Megan and her fiancée had created a honeymoon registry filled with experiences I could buy them instead of things — an afternoon catamaran cruise, a private beachside dinner, and so on.
Non-traditional wedding gifts like this are all the rage, spawning a ton of sites similar to Zola, where couples can essentially crowdfund everything from a cruise to a mortgage. And while foregoing the wedding china of generations past may seem odd to the older set, millennials may be onto something. Here's why:
Millennials are all about experiences, anyway
Haven't you heard? We're the generation that eschews materialism for living in the moment — albeit with smartphones out to capture the memories. A 2014 study conducted by Harris for Eventbrite found a whopping 78 percent of millennials would choose to spend money on an experience over a tangible purchase. What's more, we really believe in the power of a good bonding experience: The same study found 79 percent of millennials felt that experiences shared with family or friends could deepen those relationships. What better way to kick off "'til death do us part," then, but with a honeymoon that goes beyond the typical beach-and-dinners-out formula?
The average marriage age is going up — so the need for home goods is going down
Over the last century, the median age of Americans' first marriage has ticked up — and over the last several decades, it has risen even more steeply. You might chalk that change up to dating apps, the sexual revolution, our sputtering economy, or the fact that more women are entering the workforce and thus sometimes choosing to have children later. Most likely, it's a combination of all those factors and more. But whatever the reason, the average age for women's first marriage is 27; for men it's 29 (and the average ages go up for people living in urban areas).
What does that mean when it comes time to celebrate the happy couple? Each person has been out on his or her own for at least half a decade, and possibly already cohabiting with the soon-to-be spouse for several years. When you're 22, you might still need expensive knives and a comfortable couch. When you're 30, not so much. Do you really need new pots and pans when the ones you bought after landing that first big promotion still work really well? Wouldn't you rather go to Thailand?
Apartment-size kitchens can only hold so many well-meaning gifts
When my boyfriend moved in with me earlier this year, we didn't argue much about what artwork he wanted to hang or who should sleep closest to the drafty window. What did require an actual Excel spreadsheet on which to compromise was whose stuff we would keep in our teensy Manhattan apartment. We didn't have enough room for an extra IKEA chair, extra kitchenware, or extra anything.
Millennials are already considered the "sit-it-out" generation in many respects, from marrying to having kids. Buying a home has been no different, and for those in the generation who are tying the knot, plenty are choosing to spend the first few years renting an apartment or smaller home instead of staring down a 30-year mortgage straightaway. Don't have room for that fancy Le Creuset cookware? Go to Aruba instead.
Now look, I know that not everyone wants to park their wedding loot in a jungle safari or Trans-Siberian Railway trip. That's why I come bearing a non-experiential alternative to getting toasters and napkin rings from 17 different cousins.
I'm talking about cold, hard cash. Think about it ...
Two words: Student loans
Nothing says "I love you" like getting ahead on those payments — and the domino effect is enormous. Forty-one percent of millennials say they'll put off buying a house because of student loan debt, and 31 percent say they'll put off having children. Writing a check may not feel as fun as picking out a set of tumblers, but it can give a couple the ability to consider some big life decisions that they might otherwise feel they need to put on hold.
Weddings are expensive!
In 2016, the average cost of a wedding hit $35,329, according to The Knot's annual survey of more than 13,000 couples. In the past, those costs were traditionally covered by the bride's parents. While the survey found that the bride's parents still contribute 44 percent of the overall wedding budget, the bride and groom together now contribute another 42 percent, on average.
Starting married life with credit cards to pay off or a big loan to pay back is neither romantic nor financially savvy, but for some couples, steep wedding and reception costs are a harsh reality. Asking friends and family to write a check might seem crass at first glance, but hey: Guests can pat themselves on the back for helping make that open bar a reality as they toast the happy couple.