The Big Splurge

How to satisfy bridal desires without breaking the bank

By now you've probably seen the standard budget guidelines experts suggest for divvying up wedding expenses: 50 percent for the reception, ten percent for flowers, ten percent for your wedding attire, ten percent for music, and so on.

Seems pretty simple—and certainly, if you just followed the guidelines, it would be. However, in matters of the heart, things are often not that simple. And because weddings fall into that category, you—like many brides—may find that you crave one special thing for your wedding that completely upsets that oh-so-rational distribution of percentages. Maybe it's a dazzling dress that bears a hefty price tag, or artfully engraved wedding invitations that lend the perfect touch to a formal event. The all-important question is: Should you indulge the urge to splurge?

Do you really think we're going to say no? Of course not, but there are a few things to keep in mind. "The impulse to splurge is understandable," says Steven Pybrum, a financial planner and author of Money and Marriage for Engaged Couples (Abundance Publishing). "And in one sense it's good to respond to this need to have the day of your life. The trouble is that wedding planning is emotionally charged. If you aren't careful, you could end up spending way beyond what is reasonable for one item."

So you need to splurge carefully. Jennifer White Karp, 32, who was married last August at the George Washington Manor in Roslyn, New York, says that music was the most splurge-worthy element for her and her fiancé, Howard. "There are a lot of musicians on both sides of the family, and my husband is a drummer," she says. "We were on a tight budget, but we knew we wanted the best music we could afford." So the couple hired not one, but two bands. The first played klezmer, a festive, traditional music played at Jewish weddings. These musicians provided the background for the cocktail party and ceremony that followed. For the reception, the couple went all-out with an eight-piece band, including three singers and a trumpet. "They were amazing," says Jennifer. "It was like being at our own concert, that's how good they were. They played everything from funk to R&B to rock to swing. Everyone was on the dance floor."

Jennifer ended up paying a little more than $5,000 for the two bands, which was about 25 percent of her wedding budget. How did she make it work? "I looked everywhere to cut costs," Jennifer says. "It helped to hold the wedding on Sunday instead of Saturday, and we got married in August. The manager at our reception site said that August was a slow month for them, so we got a discounted rate." Jennifer bought her dress at a place that sells designer samples, borrowed jewelry, and used an antique purse she already owned. She also pared down her guest list as much as possible, holding it to 93 people. The wedding party consisted of the bride, groom, maid of honor, and best man only. Was it worth it? "Absolutely," she says. "I have no regrets whatsoever. We just had so much fun."

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