MP Dunleavey

The Basics

Your fantasy wedding for less cash

Feel free to spend everything necessary to have a dream wedding; just make sure it's your dream, not someone else's. You can create lasting memories for less than you think.

By MP Dunleavey

If you have ever planned a wedding, or know someone who has, you probably have experienced more than a few moments of financial shock and awe:

  • How in the world can a wedding possibly cost this much?
  • Since when does the happiest day of my life have to be the most expensive?
  • Do I really have to spend $300 on napkins?

With the average cost of an American wedding rocketing toward $30,000 -- within striking distance of the median American income -- it's a smart idea to have misgivings about those nuptial expenses.

According to Rebecca Mead's "One Perfect Day," a book about how the multibillion-dollar bridal industry bamboozles couples into overspending on their weddings, it's no surprise that brides and grooms feel so much emotional and financial pressure.

On the one hand, it's a very special day. On the other: "People in the wedding business are in it to make money," Mead says. "Your fantasy day is their commercial opportunity."

The trick is learning to see through the three biggest industry ploys -- and letting go of some of your Cinderella dreams -- in order to enjoy a wedding you'll always remember (without five years of Visa bills to remind you).

Keep a clear head

As Mead is quick to point out, there's nothing wrong with wanting, planning or even paying for a big, white wedding.

"I don't want to disparage anyone's choices," she says. "The point is really to understand the way 'tradition' is used to get people to spend money on things they would never normally spend money on."

Tradition, perfection and good old-fashioned emotion are the three biggest levers the wedding industry employs to hoist the cash out of your pocket, Mead says.

For example:

Beware the "traditional-esque." In her travels through various bridal industry trade shows, Mead marveled at the many products marketed to couples as traditional. "One of my favorites was the 'heirloom ornament'," she says, describing little pewter disks that could be personalized for each member of the wedding party.

Obviously heirlooms are handed down from previous generations, not bought at a bridal counter. If you're tempted to spend on something that seems traditional but isn't, just remember two words: yard sale.

Perfection comes at a price. Few people would mind having a flawless wedding, but Mead noted that wedding marketers try to make couples feel like their marriage hangs on the perfection of that Big Day. "One of the things the wedding industry is selling is the dream, the hope, that if you create this perfect day, you'll go on to have a perfect marriage."

One wedding DVD Mead saw featured an interview with a "bride" who said that if her marriage went through rocky times, she could always turn to the video of her beautiful wedding to get her through.

Hint: If you think spending $3,000 on a wedding video might someday save your marriage, consider investing the money in couples therapy instead.

Don't let your emotions empty your wallet. Then, of course, there is the financial hazard of planning an occasion when everyone's emotions are flying high -- and wedding specialists know when to pounce.

Video on MSN Money

Married © Stockbyte/SuperStock
Environmentally sound weddings
Tips for keeping down costs -- and thinking green -- on your wedding.

Take the "Oh Mommy Moment." That's when a woman first tries on the dress of her dreams and sighs with rapture at her princess-like reflection. Here is a passage Mead read to me from a bridal trade magazine, instructing salespeople on how to handle that moment:

"You celebrate the fact that you've helped her finally commit to one magical gown, a pair of delicate pumps, an angelic veil and a sparkling tiara that solidifies her brideliness. But . . . hang onto that celebratory enthusiasm, and stay focused just a bit longer. It's time to sell some jewelry."

Dump fantasy for reality

I vividly recall that moment when I tried on the right wedding dress: Standing before the full-length mirror in a simple ivory linen-and-silk sheath, I thought I looked like a movie star.

And poof! As if reading my mind, the woman helping me (who actually designed the dress) draped a $400 faux fur stole around my shoulders! Now I really looked like a stah -- but fortunately for me, I held on to my cash and didn't buy it.

As Tressa Bleheim, a Princeton Review instructor in Santa Barbara, Calif., can attest: The path to planning your wedding is fraught with countless moments when you must either dodge the fantasy or break your budget.

Continued: Set financial boundaries

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