Don't bet the farm on your wedding day


While some couples take a sober look at wedding costs and factor them into their overall financial plan, most do not, financial planners and wedding consultants said.

How to decide on a budget that reflects what you truly value about the big day?

Talk to the major players, such as immediate family members, and communicate what's most important about the event, said Sandra Bragar, a certified financial planner in San Francisco.

"Whether it's a wedding, a new child or any big life event, I always try to have clients sit down and figure out the objectives before we set any budgets," Bragar said.

Among her upper-class clientele, Bragar typically sees parents paying the wedding bills and setting aside $100,000 or more.

No matter who pays, dealing with the emotional control issues surrounding the event is vital, Bragar said.

"You have the couple, both sets of parents and, maybe, stepparents, so all these very emotional relationships and competing views of what's right to spend come out," she said.

Planner Elaine Parker typically starts clients out with $10,000 and tells them the amenities to expect for that price. From there, clients indicate whether they want a more extravagant affair, she said.

Cate Williams, a credit counselor in Chicago, suggests tying the overall budget to the household income of the principal host of the event, whether it's a parent or the bride and groom.

"I know it sounds low, but I would recommend not spending more than 5 percent of gross annual income," said Williams.

For a household earning $100,000 annually, that's a mere $5,000, well below most estimates of what weddings cost.

"You have to look at the lost opportunity here and see how long it's going to take you to recoup the money you spend on an event," Williams said.

"I had a credit-counseling client years ago who was a postal worker. He took out a second mortgage on his home to give his beloved daughter a $28,000 wedding. Then the health problems came, and he ended up on our doorstep."

Janet Kidd Stewart writes for Tribune Media Services.

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