Marriage or Mortgage? – Millennial Agony Aunt 35

I want to keep saving for a house, and my boyfriend thinks we should get married and have a blow out wedding. Who’s right? How do we decide?

maa marriage or mortgage

Emily Watkins is a professional Millennial (read: precariously employed twenty-something). Each week, she will answer a generation-specific query from the depths of her on-brand existential crisis. This week, our Aunt gives advice on how to spend money – which isn’t a bad problem to have, right? Right!?

Please send any quandaries, issues, troubles or thoughts to for a good dose of aunt-ing.

Me and my boyfriend saved a chunk of money over the last couple of years (lockdown helped) but now we can’t agree on what to do with it. I want to keep saving for a house, and he thinks we should get married and have a blow out wedding. Who’s right? How do we decide?

Please sir, can I have some more? How dare you be so presumptuous as to expect a place to live, or the normal milestone of marriage? Who do you think you are, some kind of baby boomer? While it’s easy to dismiss the institutions of marriage and homeownership as belonging in the past, they’re still high on lots of people’s lists of priorities – but with the average house deposit and the average wedding each costing more than £20k, one generally has to trump the other. 

Coming of age in the economic and existential wasteland that is post-pandemic Brexit Britain, millennials are finding themselves forced to choose ‘or’ where their parents could expect ‘and’ (that is, if they get to choose at all). Children or holidays? Avocado toast or savings? Of all the choices facing young(ish) people today, yours – wedding or a house? – is a quandary that afflicts your peers most starkly. It’s so relevant, in fact, that there’s a whole Netflix show about it, Marriage or Mortgage. I recommend a watch, if you can stomach it; certainly, there’s a lot to be learnt from the show’s arbitrary binary. 

maa marriage

Courted by a wedding planner and an estate agent, each episode follows a couple in their twenties as they try to decide whether to spend their savings on (you guessed it) a house or a wedding. The wedding planner shows them a donut wall; you could eat this at your wedding, they say. Donuts are yummy, and also, quirky. Then the estate agent shows them a charming ranch home; you could live here forever; your children could play in this garden. Here you could grow old together; under the apple tree, the light is so golden. Then, the couple have to choose – and they almost always choose donuts. Crazy, right? I thought so too – but once I’d calmed down and stopped yelling at the TV, I began to understand the reasoning. Hold my hand, because it’s getting dark. 

As a generation, we’re getting conflicting messages – on the one hand, our parents and grandparents are full of infuriating little stories about buying their first house for some ridiculous sum: inference being, this should be easy, what’s wrong with you? On the other, we’re standing at the foot of a housing market that seems totally unscalable; since 1980, house prices have increased by 1010%, a full 24 times the rate of salaries; ergo, this is impossible, not even worth thinking about. And with that cognitive dissonance in mind, is it any wonder that some of us would rather throw our hands up and opt for a bit of a party instead? 

Marriage or Mortgage might seem peppy, but beneath that shiny veneer we glimpse unfettered nihilism: if there is no reward for working dutifully, no fix for a broken system, then why not have a knees up? To zoom back in to you and your girlfriend: this is a decision that you can only make together (especially because it will probably involve clearing both your savings accounts). That said, I have it on good authority that it’s easier to sell a flat than a wedding if you were to go your separate ways. 

If a flat is within your reach, Mrs Sensible over here would counsel you to keep pushing for it; a home lasts forever, a wedding is just one day, blah blah. But if scraping together a deposit is impossible, or if it would require saving for 80 years, or cutting back everything pleasurable from your life, I say forget it. Life is short – have the biggest party you can afford, wedding or otherwise, and keep right on renting. You’ve inherited a pretty barren field, and you’ve every right to dance all over it. Cheers!

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