Wedding bells can ring in life of debt


First of two parts The main cause of dissension in marriage is money. Yet, many the 2.4 million couples in the U.S. who exchange vows in 1991 will begin married life hampered by debts. Or they will clean out their savings in order to pay for a traditional wedding, costing on average $16,000.

Driven by tradition, young couples and their families will spend $30 billion in 1991. For the wedding industry, that represents growth in excess of 50 percent in just a decade, and costs are continuing upward.

Is it all right to spend less? You bet it is -- and the arbiters of wedding etiquette agree. Even though a large formal wedding still is the dream of brides-to-be, overspending is frowned upon increasingly.

Today's brides are more value conscious and more likely to look for ways to save. Still, they are more apt to trade in the BMW for a Hyundai, agree to postpone buying their first home or get a second job rather than forgo the pageantry of a traditional wedding.

"It doesn't matter what we say, brides are emotional and vulnerable consumers," says Kerin McKinnon of Dedham, Mass., professional bridal consultant. "They don't always make realistic or rational decisions."

Yet, she points out, today's bride is less likely to be the 21-year-old whose "mommy and daddy" are paying the bills. Brides tend to be older, better educated and bring into the marriage a second income. Couples are more apt to discuss finances while they are engaged. The groom and his family will share more of the cost -- the financial obligations now are becoming a joint undertaking.

As an example of a responsible approach to financial planning for a wedding, consultant Wilda Hyer, of Ceres, Calif., cites a couple of her clients. "They've been planning to get married for three years, and the wedding is not scheduled until 1992. The groom graduates from college this June, and they are determined to be financially secure from the first day," she reports.

The editor-in-chief of Bride's Magazine says that such planning can produce a budget-friendly wedding. "A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to invite the people you love from around the world to share a unique moment in your life," Barbara Tober notes. She adds, "The range of possibilities for a beautiful wedding has never been wider. A couple can be just as happily married at a simple back-yard ceremony as they are at an enormous gala. What counts is for couples to think flexibly and creatively, and to be smart consumers," she says.

"We encourage people here to decide what they can reasonably spend and to zero in on a budget," says consultant Mary A. Smith of Indianapolis, Ind.

You have to figure out what is important to you, establish priorities and make choices, bridal consultants say. "If you want an expensive dress, eliminate the band or the sit-down dinner. Or buy a less expensive dress and spend on a more expensive honeymoon," Smith advises.

Should you hire a bridal consultant? If both bride and groom are working, there may be no other way to manage. If you're new in town and not acquainted with local services, using a bridal consultant almost certainly would be wise. The consultants themselves say that they can save you at least as much as what they charge (usually 20 percent), assure that everything is proper and occurs as planned -- while eliminating the stress so you can relax on your wedding day.

Consumer activist Alan Fields claims that some consultants "double dip" -- charging the client a fee and taking kickbacks from suppliers. Bridal consultants are "quasi-financial planners," according to Fields, although they are neither licensed nor regulated. What defense do you have? Ask for references and check them. Your local Better Business Bureau may help. Discuss your financial concerns with the consultant and make certain you both understand the billing system. Ethical consultants will pass the discounts along to you. You also can contact the Association of Bridal Consultants to determine if the person you are considering is a member (200 Chestnutland Road, New Milford, Conn. 06776-25212; (203) 355-0464).

NEXT: Ways to cut down on costs

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