Marriage vs. mortgage.
These days, many young couples put out so princely a sum for a wedding that there's little cash left to buy a home.
The average cost of the U.S. wedding -- which is now typically ultra-formal and involves 250 guests -- has risen to $17,000, notes Cele Lalli, editor-in-chief of Modern Bride magazine. And an increasing share of wedding costs are being borne by the bride and groom rather than their parents, she says.
It's not unusual for couples to get caught up in "wedding fever" and spend far more than they intended, says Kristina Garvin, a wedding consultant and author of "The Bride's Consumer Guide," a paperback published by Weatherford Publications.
Of course, an expensive wedding can be a wonderful, memorable way to celebrate the union of a man and woman. But all too often, the bride and groom look back with some remorse about the financial outlays, Ms. Garvin says.
"After it's all said and done and the bills come in, many people get the wind knocked out of them. They say, 'Gee, it was a wonderful occasion. But did we have to spend that much? We could have put a down payment on a house, paid off the car or done something else with all that money,' " Ms. Garvin recalls of conversations with her clients.
"After the marriage, a lot of people find themselves in a cash crunch when it comes to their housing plans," says Ted Payton, a sales associate in the Bowie office of RE/MAX 100.
Down payment and closing costs vary widely, depending on the property. But the average cost of a wedding could -- at the minimum -- provide a good beginning on a house purchase, realty specialists point out. And an increasing number of parents -- aware of the financial barriers to homeownership -- are as willing to help fund a home purchase as an extraordinary wedding.
Most young couples aren't willing to sacrifice a nice wedding simply to satisfy their housing objectives. Still, through careful planning, such couples can get the type of wedding they want and have thousands of dollars for the purchase of a home, wedding experts say.
"You can save a lot of money and still have a wonderful wedding if you sit down and set your budget and priorities in the beginning," Ms. Garvin says. "The people who have the most fun at their weddings are the ones who just go for it and don't become obsessed with expensive details."
If you want to save money on a wedding, consider these pointers:
* Keep your guest list under control.
"Reducing your guest count is the biggest area of saving," Ms. Garvin says. A "small" wedding involves 50 or fewer guests, while a "big" one involves 250 or more. Expect two-thirds of the people you invite to attend. Because the cost of feeding guests is high, you can save a bundle by scouring your guest list early.
* Time your wedding to save.
"Weddings are subject to the laws of supply and demand, so don't get married on a Saturday in June," advises Alan Fields, co-author of "Bridal Bargains," published by Windsor Peak Press. Couples willing to marry in one of the slowest months -- January, October or November -- can negotiate discounts with caterers, photographers and entertainers.
Other timing pointers: Avoid planning your wedding around Christmas, when you'll have to compete with corporations giving office parties for bookings. And choose a lunch over a dinner to save 15 to 20 percent on your food bill, Mr. Fields advises.
* Hold your reception where you're allowed to bring in an independent caterer.
If you pick a hotel or restaurant, you'll be captive to its in-house food and beverage services. But if you select a restored home, town building or similar facility, you can hire an outside caterer based on competitive bids. For still more drastic savings, hire a friend who is a gourmet cook.
By using your own caterer, you can save big money on your liquor bill. One option is to buy through the caterer's wholesaler. Another is to limit the liquor you serve and provide your own. As Mr. Fields notes, such buying strategies can easily save $1,000 on a liquor bill for an average wedding.
* Use inventive buying strategies for your invitations, gown and flowers.
Buy wedding invitation stationery from a local paper wholesaler and take the stock to a printer, counsels Ms. Garvin, the wedding consultant. By having your invitations run by an offset process, or by thermography -- a raised letter process almost indistinguishable from engraving -- you'll save 30 percent or more, she says.
Save 15 to 50 percent on your wedding gown by buying a sample off the rack or having a gown made by a seamstress with wedding gown experience.
Save 50 percent on your flower bill by eliminating costly bouquets and centerpieces. A bridesmaid carrying a single rose or three tulips tied with a bow has a better chance of showing off her dress. And a flower delicately laid on a table can be as artful as a huge flower arrangement.
* Resist pressure from others on your wedding plans.