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Setting aside money for out-of-the-blue expenses is also important when figuring overall cost. When Michele Hess was making arrangements for her Fort Worth, TX, nuptials in September 2002, she had no way of knowing her fiancé would unexpectedly be laid off from his job. Instead of postponing the event or scaling back, they decided to go forward, which meant charging thousands of dollars they're still paying off—something Michele regrets. "It is the intimacy between the two of you that matters," she says. "After all, you don't take home the cake and the flowers."
If assuming some debt is inevitable, what is the best approach? "Tally how much money you have saved and how much of the wedding you still have to finance," advises certified financial planner Jill Gianola of Gianola Financial Planning in Columbus, OH, and author of The Young Couple's Guide to Growing Rich Together (McGraw-Hill). "Put together an after-marriage budget and calculate what can be set aside for wedding bills each month, after taking into account existing loans and obligations."
Money advisers agree that it's best not to take on liabilities you can't pay off within a year. If you are using an existing credit card to fill the money gap, call the credit-card company and ask them to lower your interest rate. (But keep in mind this will only work if you always meet your due date.) If you're opening a new account, look for a card that offers either zero or low interest during an introductory period and try to get the balance paid off during that time. Check out cardratings.org, or go to cardweb.com or bankrate.com, for cards with competitive rates.
Another strategy is to take out an installment loan. The benefit here is that the credit isn't revolving (you can't continue to borrow), and according to the contract, you're committed to getting squared away within a certain number of months.While these approaches can make debt manageable, think twice before you take it on. You surely don't want to start your married life with undue stress, which "a giant tab can create," says Gianola. When you feel crazily caught up in the moment and are tempted to go on a buying binge, take a deep breath and consider what is truly important: celebrating your love and the beginning of your lives together. "If I had to do it over, I would have had something smaller and more intimate so that we're not still paying for it," says Michele Hess, the Fort Worth bride. Her advice to others in a similar situation? "Be careful," she says. "Focus on what is meaningful for you and your spouse, not just doing something for show."