Due Diligence

Staying blissfully on budget is easier than you think

A towering fondant cake, customized CD invitations, and an expensive designer dress: These are the dreams of many a bride-to-be—even when she knows the cost is well beyond her reach! But rather than reaching for the plastic, applying for a loan or borrowing from family, why not rethink your wants? Having a more modest wedding is far better than beginning married life with a big debt.

To consultants like JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions in Manhattan, what makes otherwise sensible women go haywire on spending is easy to explain. "Brides view the day as a once-in-a-lifetime party in a dream setting," she says. "So whatever it takes to have the best is what they ask for—no matter the price tag."

Opulent weddings on television can also send brides on a shopping spree. One planner reports that scores of young women wanted the "dripping roses" shown in the prime-time nuptials of The Bachelorette couple Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter. The blooms were beautiful to be sure, but they reportedly cost $500,000—not practical for the average bride, by any stretch of the imagination. Competition to have a better wedding than everyone else is yet another reason bridal planning goes awry. In fact, say many consultants we talked to, if the whole process were an Olympic event, there would be numerous contenders for the gold. "Brides don't come out and say they want their weddings to be impressive, they just say they want to make the day 'memorable,'" notes Gregoli. "But what they really hope is that guests will walk into the reception and say, 'Wow!'"

Yet despite the many temptations to splurge beyond their means, couples are well advised to spend no more than they can afford. The best strategy, of course, is to save the full amount necessary to finance the celebration. "These days, the average engagement lasts 16 months," notes Howard Dvorkin, founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, FL, a service that often helps newlyweds overwhelmed by bills. "That gives a couple plenty of time to save—and shop for bargains." To help them create a budget, he recommends checking the company's Web site, debtfree.com. (Click on the Learning Center link; you'll find comprehensive information and an online calculator to help you figure costs, down to the last detail.)

Once you have made a plan, it's crucial you stick to it. As Kyle Brown of the Bridal Association of America points out, "Brides often head to a store with every intention of buying the $99 dress they saw advertised, but once there, decide they'd rather have the $2,500 design instead." Not only that, says Brown, they don't keep track of outlay each time they shop. "I have seen women buy boxes for the favors one month, the chocolates three months later, and then the ribbon after that. Before they know it, they've shelled out more than $18 just for one favor."

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