Alas -- even as bells ring in joy and wedded bliss, so do cash registers often ring up wedding bill blues. Colorful flowers, beautiful dresses and elegant settings aside, the biggest day in your life may bring with it some of the biggest bills.
And this year, many couples (and their parents) may be weighing worries of economic recession against the joys of a new marriage. Or perhaps they've merely replaced the more devil-may-care, charge-it attitudes so prevalent in the '80s with more prudent '90s approaches.
"I suspect this June weddings may be slightly smaller, slightly less formal, given the current situation," says Elizabeth Post, author of several books on etiquette including "Emily Post's Complete Book of Wedding Etiquette."
Whatever your reasoning or motivation, planning a wedding with caution, care and a calculator may prevent surprises in the bills department later. Big surprises: The average cost of a wedding these days is $16,144, according to a Bride's magazine survey.
But, experts say, your wedding can be enjoyable, memorable -- even elegant -- for much less if you take the time and make the effort.
HAVE A PLAN
The first step toward a beautiful wedding that won't break your budget is, of course, to have a budget, says Andy Schiavone, director of catering at the Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn. When couples come into his office, "That's my first question -- do you have a budget? Do you know how many guests you want to invite? Once that's done, you're ready to begin."
After drawing up a budget, the next consideration for brides or grooms with an eye to saving money is what type or style of wedding to have. If you've lived for the day you march down the aisle preceded by 14 flower girls, naturally your wedding is going to be more formal and more expensive than others.
One suggested method is to draw up a trade-off list. On this list write what facets of a wedding are nearest and dearest your heart -- and what areas you may be willing to give up, or fudge on a little.
And these days, tradition may be gently manipulated to suit both personal tastes and budgets: Weddings have become increasingly personal, with many couples opting for garden weddings, weddings at home, short receptions followed by far less formal parties and other variations, says Ms. Post.
"Etiquette never said you had to have a huge, expensive wedding. What counts is that everyone enjoys themselves," she adds. "There's no rule that says you have to have a big reception at all. My family had a clambake when my son got married for the second time, and it was wonderful and everyone had a wonderful time."
Perhaps the most obvious way to limit the expense of a wedding is to limit the number of guests. But what if both bride and groom are from huge families? Relatives alone may fill a banquet hall.
Hordes of relatives descending upon you or not, there are ways to cut costs.
In an age of lessened formality, wedding couples can both negotiate with their prospective in-laws about who pays what. (No longer are the bride's parents absolutely obligated to pick up most of the tab.)
Or enlist the aid of friends, says Letitia Baldrige, Washington etiquette expert and author of "Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to the New Manners for the '90s."
If, for example, many of your colleagues are close enough friends so that you feel you simply must include them somehow, one option is not to ask any to the actual wedding. "But ask a friend to hold a cocktail party for the bride- and groom-to-be so they can all meet each other. It's amazing how much good will and fun can be had," she says.
GET MARRIED IN THE OFF-SEASON
Although limiting guests at a wedding may seem the easiest method of paring bills, according to experts, timing is of the utmost importance.
"Plan your wedding in the off-peak times," says Mr. Schiavone of the Marriott. Those in the business of renting halls for weddings often increase their charges during the months of May, June, September and October. During the off-seasons for weddings -- and sometimes on off days such as Sundays, he says, most establishments are willing to negotiate. "If it's 150 guests in July, there aren't many places that aren't going to do what it takes to get the business."
And while doing some of her own marketing research, Jane Fallon of Jane Fallon Catering of Kingsville found that menu prices also increase significantly during these more popular marrying months: She found a difference in the thousands of dollars while researching the pricing for one large, elegant event.
PICK THE RIGHT PLACE