Mortgages before marriage: meet the couples who put off their dream weddings to buy their first homes
Victoria and James Moy had originally planned a big wedding in Edinburgh, after moving there from London so James, a pilot, could take a new job with Flybe.
“We were going to have 200 people, bespoke cocktails, an external caterer and a live folk band,” says Victoria, 31, who is, helpfully, an events planner. “I wanted it to be the day of a lifetime and for me, the flowers were just as important as the venue, so they were costing a lot of money, between £3,000 and £5,000.” Then the pandemic struck. “We were sat in a pub watching Sky News and saw that Flybe had folded overnight.”
Following this, the couple decided to move back south, finding themselves renting a home in Sussex where James retrained as a firefighter to have a steady income.
“We were then faced with a difficult decision: do we have this massive wedding that I had meticulously planned and we had saved up £15,000 for, or do we use that money towards a deposit? With the cost-of-living crisis, we didn’t feel like the wedding was viable any more so we started viewing flats.”
The couple still wanted to make things official so got married in November 2021 at a register office for less than £1,000. “We did it on a shoestring budget. I got my dress for £90 and we only had two mutual witnesses. It was really hard to explain this to our original guests as the invites had been sent out for the first wedding. We had to say ‘no’ to everyone: our parents, grandparents and siblings. It was a really difficult decision.” The couple, who also had a baby shortly after getting married, plan to do a big five-year vow renewal instead. “We wanted something simple, and it was the right choice for us,” says Victoria. “That moment has gone.”
With the money that they saved from the wedding, the couple bought a two-bedroom flat in Lewes and moved in last December. Victoria commutes up to her office in London, but they love where they live: “I feel like buying this property has relieved a lot of anxiety and given us the stability we craved after many years of (expensive) uncertainty in the rental market. We have previously encountered many issues with rental properties, including black mould and flooding due to botched conversions, and a landlord looking to turn a property back into their family home. There is an enormous sense of relief that comes with owning a home.”
Victoria and James are not alone. With the average deposit for a first-time buyer in the capital hitting more than £115,000 and the cost of a wedding averaging £18,000, it’s no surprise that many Londoners are having smaller weddings or putting off heading down the aisle, to prioritise buying their own home. It may not be the devil-may-care attitude of our most romantic Valentine’s Day dreams, but buying property with a partner is certainly a mark of commitment, and one that chimes more with the current economic climate than expensive set menus and extravagant floral arrangements.
According to Halifax, three in five engaged couples are reallocating wedding budget to a house deposit and two-thirds say owning their home is a bigger priority than getting married.
Rising mortgage rates and more stringent affordability criteria mean the bigger your deposit, the better, as Paul Blakeley is aware. The 34-year-old life science policy worker proposed to his now-wife, Victoria Sampson, who works for the NHS, on the day they got the keys to their four-bedroom townhouse in Upton Park. Despite being together for two years, they had lived separately in shared, privately rented accommodation. “It felt like the proper start of a new chapter,” says Blakeley. “Buying a house together is even more of a commitment than marriage.”
He had been saving towards a deposit for 10 years and the couple also got a little bit of help from family, too. The developer of their home then helped Blakeley set the scene for a grand proposal, letting him into the house five hours earlier than Sampson, 33, thought they were due to get the keys. “I bought champagne and put rose petals in the master bedroom. It was a nice surprise for her when she walked in,” he says.
The couple have since got married. “We have friends who are having ceremonies outside or in marquees rather than a venue to keep the costs down, so they have more money for a deposit. We didn’t scale back on our wedding because we had bought a house, but we were sensible.”
Blakeley flagged that there are more restrictions when it comes to buying a house, for example where you work, whereas marriage is something that can happen anywhere and at any time. “In modern society it doesn’t matter if you’re married or not but it’s good to have an asset that you can make feel like your own. It’s becoming harder and harder to buy so owning a home is more important for economic security and your life together. Marriage is always possible.”
Indeed, there has been a notable reduction in the number of couples getting married over the past 50 years. In 1971, there were more than 480,000 weddings, compared with 270,000 in 2017, and the cost-of-living crisis is likely to reduce this further. But even couples who still want a wedding are prioritising getting on the property ladder first.
Architect Anna Tyszkiewicz, 40, and project manager Jiannis Georgiadis, 42, chose head over heart when they bought a one-bedroom flat near Canning Town in 2020 after seven years of saving and five years of renting together. “It made sense financially to own something and is a great investment,” they explain. Unlike Blakeley, who feels buying a house together is the bigger commitment, Tyszkiewicz says: “[It] was a small commitment that we wanted to spend more time together, before making a bigger commitment that we want to spend our life together.”
The couple got engaged last year and plan to have a smaller wedding with just close family on a Greek island in June. They have no regrets about making home-ownership their number-one goal. “Both of us were moving around Europe for many years and wanted our own space,” says Tyszkiewicz. “Owning a home makes you feel more independent because you can furnish the space how you want to — we couldn’t do this for many years as we were renting.”
Kizzie Budd, 22, and Charlie Moss, 26, had a strict budget for their wedding so they were able to put more money towards the deposit of the three-bedroom semi-detached house they bought in East Sussex before Christmas.
“We would always have put more money into getting a bigger house and a better location than having a big, expensive wedding,” says Budd, who is training to be a perfumier. She and fiancé Moss, who works for the Environment Agency in London and the South-East, have been saving for a house deposit for over three years. The couple got engaged last summer after five years together and are marrying near their new home at the end of May.
“We did loads of calculations of what to set aside for the wedding and what we could afford for the house deposit.” So they could get the best property possible, the couple decided to get married on a Thursday outside of the peak summer season. “We thought the people who are really close to us wouldn’t mind taking a day’s holiday and it means we’re paying £10,000 for our wedding as opposed to £30,000, even though we’re still having 90 people.”
They also made savvy wedding savings in other areas: “My dress is off the rail and one of my mum’s friends is adjusting it for free, the cake is being made by a friend and we’re having jars of cut flowers on the tables instead of a bouquet,” says Budd, who has no regrets about prioritising a house over her wedding day. “It’s amazing having your own home. We lived with my fiancé’s parents while we saved up and, though we get on well with them, it’s nice to have your own independence.” They’re also finding many of their friends in rented accommodation are taking a similar approach and holding off getting married until they’ve bought a house.
In today’s world, it seems that the biggest show of commitment a couple can make is not hosting an enormous white wedding but signing up for a joint mortgage together. While this might be altogether less romantic, with spiralling rents and property continuing to be a savvy investment in the medium and long term, it’s a sensible choice. As Budd puts it: “It’s one day as opposed to years and years.”