The holy wedlock came to a knot when the pandemic began its reign in India last year. A year on, the second onslaught of the deadly virus made marriages a truly private affair, with the authorities slapping a ban on gathering of more than 20 people at the do. The restriction shuddered the $50-billion wedding industry thriving in India and sent a shocker to couples going for a nuptial bond.
The great Indian big-fat weddings thinned into history in the age of new normal with the events being shifted from grand venues like banquets and five-star hotels to homes. In the process, the newlyweds are left with more than half of their wedding budgets unspent.
“An intimate wedding gives couples time to innovate and save money on a lot of items like clothes and jewellery. They saved money on fixed costs like venue and catering,” says Chandni Kumar, Assistant Editor of ShaadiSaga, a popular platform for marriage planning.
The long lockdowns barred the bridegrooms from their ubiquitous shopping binge. Most brides chose legacy and opted for the dresses and jewelleries of their mothers. This added to their savings. “We had a private wedding in presence of only a few close relatives,” says Faridabad-based Meha Saluja, who got married in March at a Gurudwara, when the second wave of the pandemic had just broken out. “I had thought of buying 20-25 dresses for my marriage but I settled for seven-eight.”
Saluja saved around 60-65 per cent of her wedding budget. She had planned to use the unspent money on her trip to the US where her husband works but, eventually, she gave it all to the treatment of her ailing father-in-law.
There are many like Saluja who set aside their surplus funds to spend on travel – for necessity or for vacation once the Covid restrictions are lifted. More methodical financial planners like Vidushi Singh of Bangalore have allocated their unspent funds for investments.
Vidushi got married in December 2020 with just 50 people. “The first thing we did was to take a share out of the wedding savings and put it in a joint account. I used another part of the money to pay off my education loan. My partner and I believe in planning for the future, so we bucketed our savings in mutual funds, life insurance, national pension scheme, retirement plans and contingency funds,” she said.
But the investment plans went awry for youths like Rahul Singh of Patna. The 27-year-old had selected a host of mutual funds and shares to invest in when he had to cut down the invitee list from 400-odds to less than 150 in accordance with the Bihar government guidelines and shift his wedding venue from a plush rented property to their neighbourhood marriage hall. “Whatever I saved from a smaller wedding was spent on healthcare as my parents and I were diagnosed with Covid barely three days after the marriage,” he laments.
(Left) Rahul Singh, Patna “Whatever I saved from a smaller wedding was spent on healthcare as my parents and I were diagnosed with Covid barely three days after the marriage”; (Right) Nandita Mukherjee’s son and daughter-in-law Kolkata “The pandemic taught me to focus my money into personal savings, as uncertainty can strike anytime”
There was one satisfaction for Rahul – his savings and investments remained untouched despite the medical crisis at home. “The biggest learning for us from Covid is the importance of an emergency fund,” admits Nandita Mukherjee. She had scheduled her son’s wedding in May when most states were under lockdown but she could save only 15 per cent from her budget as some vendors cancelled at the last minute and she had to make alternate arrangements. “The pandemic taught me to focus my money into personal savings, as uncertainty can strike anytime,” says the woman from Kolkata.
Household net financial savings rose to 21 per cent of the GDP in the first quarter of 2020-21 and fell to 10.4 per cent in the second quarter, says the Reserve Bank of India’s monthly bulletin for March 2021. A report by Motilal Oswal in April says the household net financial savings fell to 8.4 per cent of the GDP in the third quarter last fiscal.
When the second wave broke out in the fourth quarter of 2020-21, the average Indian was more cautious about savings. Deposits with commercial scheduled banks grew 9.7 per cent per year to Rs 1.51 lakh crore for the fortnight ended May 21 as against a 9.9 per cent growth in the fortnight ended May 7.
The Covid-era uncertainties have fostered growth for an otherwise tepid market for wedding insurance in India. Uncertainties like venue closures and vendor cancellations prompted many couples to park a portion of their wedding budget into buying marriage covers. The insurance premiums range from Rs 15,000 plus taxes for a wedding worth Rs 10 lakh to Rs 10 lakh plus taxes for a wedding worth Rs 10 crore.
Wedding insurance covers accidental losses to your property or decorations, irrecoverable expenses like expenses on the wedding venue and photography. It also covers cancellation of the wedding because of a death in the family. “This kind of insurance allows couples to focus on their marriage planning in peace,” says Kunal Popat, Managing Director of Mumbai-based Shift Risk Insurance Brokers.
In the predominantly patriarchal lower strata of the society, the scaled - down affair might not have translated into savings for most, the lockdowns helped the bride’s family from bearing the traditional cost of entertaining an army accompanying the groom to the marriage. “We ended up saving money on gifts. Hardly 25 people turned up at our house for the wedding because of the Covid restrictions and the boy’s family refrained from asking us for gifts. We didn’t have to exceed our budget,” says Gul (name changed), citing the positive side of the pandemic. Gul is the breadwinner for the family of four and she had to bear the entire cost of marriage of her younger sister in May.
It’s not just personal finance, savings from the new-normal weddings have often been used for the people in need. Be it the Tamil Nadu couple who donated `37 lakh savings from their `50-lakh wedding budget to the state’s fight against Covid, or the Bollywood actor who pledged to give away her entire marriage kitty for the treatment of Covid patients – there are many instances of couples sacrificing their excess funds for a greater cause.
The writer is a financial journalist