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Your wedding -- fall more deeply in love, not debt

It will be a day you won't forget -- especially if you're still paying for it five years later.

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Next to buying a house and raising a family, a wedding is one of the priciest milestones in a couple's life. The average cost of tying the knot is $27,852, according to a 2006 survey conducted for The Conde Nast Bridal Group.

Because couples are making more money and marrying later, the tradition of parents picking up the entire tab is dying. With the average couple raking in $74,000 annually and nearing 30 years of age, the survey also states that 32 percent of them will cover their own wedding expenses.

If someone else is paying for your nuptials, congratulations, what a wedding gift! But for those of you who'll foot the bill yourselves, there are ways to make sure drastic debt doesn't go on honeymoon with you.

And the single biggest key to containing those expenses is, surprisingly, not accounting advice. It is this: Talk to each other, honestly, openly, candidly, about the money that your wedding will cost.

The basic fiscal rule of thumb involved is this: Don't spend more on nuptials and a honeymoon that you can repay in 24 months, three years tops.

Think houses and babies
"You don't want it to overlap with the cost of children and buying a house," says Sharon Rich, a Massachusetts financial planner. "You will have other goals you want to achieve."

Say you spend the average $27,852 for your wedding. To pay it off in one year at 12 percent interest would cost $2475 a month; to pay it over two years would cost $1311 a month. Stretch it over three years and the payment is $925.

That's too much debt for anybody, much less young couples who are starting a life together. So before the first penny is spent, couples need to have an open, honest discussion about money, with each partner disclosing what they make, what they owe and how they spend discretionary funds.

"How much you borrow," says Rich, "depends on your spending habits and what you can afford to pay off each month. Plan to pay off your wedding in a year or two." Take the time to calculate how much you can realistically afford, or meet with a financial planner if you're unable to determine this amount on your own, recommends Rich.

"You're going to be talking about finances for the rest of your lives, so you might as well start here," says New York financial adviser Nancy Dunnan. "You can learn a lot about each other and shake out extreme differences by having a little business meeting."

Presuming you haven't called off the engagement after that, determine how much the two of you can afford to get hitched, take a hayride and how you will pay for it. "You want forward planning, not reactive payment," says Rich. "To have a plan to pay this off is going to be crucial."

Next: "A marriage is till death -- not debt -- do you part."
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