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Smart Wedding Financing

Wouldn't it be nice to have the day of your dreams and stay on budget? Take some time and plan it right.

He finally popped the question and now your dreams are focused on planning the big day, your day, the day you have been waiting for all your life. Little girls dream of prince charming and fairy tale weddings and now it's all coming true, but hold on a minute.... you're not a little girl anymore and fairy tale weddings cost real money. Don't just start reaching for the plastic, applying for a loan or borrowing from family; why not rethink your wants. Having a more realistic wedding you can afford is far better than beginning married life with a big debt. The smart bride can have her cake and eat it too, with a well thought out budget and plan for her perfect day. Start with this Wedding Planning Checklist.

According to many wedding consultants, what makes otherwise sensible women go over the top on spending is easy to explain. "Brides view the day as a once-in-a-lifetime party in a dream setting." So whatever it takes to have the best is what they ask for-no matter the price tag.

Celebrity weddings and extravagant 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 primetime 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. A fabulous wedding in a castle is surly a fantasy come true, but Katy Holmes and Tom Cruise are not your average bride and groom either. A bride must know here budget and limitations. Less extravagant is not less beautiful or memorable.

For some brides, competition to have a better wedding than everyone else is yet another reason bridal planning goes awry. In fact, say many consultants, "brides don't come out and say they want their weddings to be the best, they just say they want to make the day 'memorable,' but what they really hope is that guests will walk into the reception and say, 'Wow!'" It's difficult not to get caught up in the "materialistic" hype with all the marketing images we see, but a bride should remember the day is about the uniting of two souls, till death. It's your day with your man; the only ones you need to impress are yourselves.

Thus 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. According to current statistics, the average engagement lasts sixteen months. That gives a couple plenty of time to create a wedding plan and set a budget, and then save-and shop for bargains. To help create a budget, we recommend this wedding budget checklist and planning worksheet..

Once you have made a plan, it's crucial you stick to it. "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, they don't keep track of expenses as they shop. For example, you may find ribbon you like for your favors at one store, baskets at another and later purchase the candy/trinkets for favors and then after final calculations find that your favors ended up costing $12 each and your budget may have been $4 or $5, times 100 favors, that's $700 to $800 over budget. If you do go over budget, you should try to trim someplace else to maintain the overall spending limit.

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, Texas, nuptials in September 2002, she had no way of knowing her fiancÚ 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. It is 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, Ohio, 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 this 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 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."

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