Last week, Emily Torres woke up to find an extra $1,200 in her bank account. The much-awaited Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) check had been deposited. Torres, who is 26 and lives in San Diego, had a plan on how to spend it.
“I realized it could go straight into my wedding fund,” she told The Daily Beast.
Torres and her fiancé Justin planned to tie the knot in front of 65 close friends and family on the sandy beachfront of Mission Bay in late April. But after California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order on March 19, the big day was pushed back to the end of August.
“Hopefully, everything will be fine by then,” the bride-to-be said. “It has been incredibly stressful just because there is no answer, and I personally don’t handle a lack of answers well.”
Torres began budgeting after her engagement last June. But some unexpected dental work done at the beginning of the year already forced her to cut into some of those savings, and she overdrafted on catering and a Hawaii honeymoon. With the pay at her public relations job down “a little bit” and her usual gig as a freelance writer scaled back, the stimulus money has helped ease the burden.
As the Washington Post reported when the checks began trickling to 80 million Americans last week, data suggested many used the funds on basics like groceries, gas, or cash withdrawals from ATMs. Anyone spending it on something other than the most basic of necessities was subject to some finger-wagging on social media, especially as the national unemployment rate swells. (The online retailer Fashion Nova seemed to hit a nerve when it sent a text to shoppers suggesting they use the $1200 during its sale.)
But some brides-to-be feel perfectly responsible in allocating the payout for their weddings. “I have absolutely seen [the chatter on social media], but with my lack of freelance work right now, this is making up for a deficit,” Torres said. “I’m paying vendors who are local, who I feel personally connected with and care about. This money is going to people I know and trust, and people who are currently out of work.”
Samantha Sleeper is a Brooklyn-based wedding dress designer whose custom pieces start at $3,000. She has not heard of brides using their stimulus check on her pieces, but she said she “usually doesn’t inquire about the source of funding.”
“I have had multiple clients reach out to me whose budgets have changed due to the coronavirus,” Sleeper said. “They want to reassess what we originally designed and see if there’s ways to alleviate some of the price tag. But no one has said, ‘I got $1,200, so throw those crystals on.”
Still, Sleeper sees no harm in that approach, especially if the money helps revive the currently lifeless event industry. “It’s a really amazing way to vote for your values with money,” she said. “[Weddings] support an entire creative community. Behind a gorgeous gown and venue are people who have dedicated their lives to making art. The wedding industry is one of the very few outlets for people to actually get compensated for those gifts.”
“The government gave out these checks to encourage spending,” one 24 year-old New Yorker who works as a financial analyst said. The woman, who asked not to be named, isn’t engaged yet. Still, she and her partner are saving up for their big day, which will probably happen in 2021.
“When I do get the money, it will go straight into my wedding savings fund,” she said. “I’m excited because that’ll be an extra $1,200 I wasn’t expecting to have.”
Some online have suggested people who don’t need their personal bailout give it to coronavirus relief efforts. “It’s very thoughtful for others to donate money, but I’m not rich enough to donate $1,200,” the soon-to-be fiancée said.
Ashleigh Whitby, 32, lives in Atlanta and plans to marry her fiancé Edwin on Oct. 10, at an art gallery in front of 225 guests. They chose the date because it’s her grandparents’ anniversary. (Whitby hosts Hue I Do, a podcast that spotlights wedding vendors of color.) The pandemic has pushed back her bachelorette party and bridal shower plans.
“We’re still going ahead with the wedding date as planned, but I am nervous,” Whitby said. “I have moments where emotional waves just kind of hit me. This is that moment where people really show you how much they love you and are excited for you, and I feel like I’m getting robbed of that a little bit.”
As Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allows businesses to reopen this week and next, Whitby’s anxieties grow. “They just announced that we can start to go back to normal, basically, and I’m afraid of a second wave or possibly even a third wave appearing in the fall that will make us have to postpone our wedding,” she said. “I have a thousand thoughts, but I try not to let my mind go there.”
So Whitby controls the very few things she can—including her finances. “I had a conversation with someone the other day who basically said they thought stimulus checks shouldn’t go to everyone, only people who contracted the disease or were laid off due to it,” she said. “But so many lives have been affected in some form of fashion that in the very least, this money is something that can help. Some of us are not just throwing it away. It has some sort of special meaning. A wedding is a very expensive thing.”
According to The Knot, Americans spend an average of $33,900 on the big day. It can pay fees for photographers, musicians, DJs, caterers—industries all hit hard by state shutdowns. Brides who spoke to The Daily Beast want to give back however they can. “Whether it’s paying for our floral designer or paying the makeup artist, we are still putting money back into the economy,” Whitby explained. “It’s not just like the money goes one place and then dies.”
“What’s going on with business? Nothing,” Tiffanie McCoy, a Baltimore-based wedding planner who runs Birds of Paradise Events, bluntly put it. She said she’s applied for a small business relief loan and is “patiently waiting” to see if she receives it.
For now, McCoy meets with other wedding professionals every Wednesday night for a Zoom happy hour to trade industry tips for the new normal. “We talk about what we’re going through, how to handle clients, the thread of postponing weddings,” she said. “We talk about post-COVID. What does this mean for floor plans? Do we need extra spacing now to social distance? What’s the budget for that going to be?”
Until that day, McCoy hopes brides can use their stimulus cash free from judgment. “Spend it how you want to spend it,” McCoy said. “If your big day was canceled and you want to splurge on champagne to feel better, so be it.”