Get engaged today? Swoon. Savor every moment. And then steel yourself against the wedding-industrial complex, with its fantasy expectations and outrageous prices, which will try to steamroll you into white-satin submission as soon as you change your Facebook status.
So before any of that: Sign up for premarital counseling and financial advice.
Then, memorize the three B's. Breathe. Budget. Burn the bridal magazines.
I'm no finance guru, but I am one frugal bride, engaged at Thanksgiving, marrying in March and planning an Ohio wedding and lunch for about 90 people, with a picnic in Minnesota in the spring.
And with some negotiating and a lot of creativity, our wedding is coming in under budget.
I'm an expert bridesmaid and shower-giver, coming from a family of all sisters. And I'm careful with my cash.
Depending on your life stage, consider a short engagement. More time to plan means more opportunities to spend.
As unromantic as it sounds, be shrewd about this blessed event. Vendors love brides. But it's your money. Know what your priorities are and exactly where the cash is going. Avoid wedding debt. It adds up to major regret.
Negotiate with vendors. (It helped me to think of them as contractors bidding on a project in my house.)
One of my sisters found a fabulous historic hall in my hometown. The quote made me queasy. Sister was determined. She found out that on Sundays in March there was no minimum food bill. (Minimum bills are often a racket.) When the contract quote came in twice what we expected, she combed through it, crossing out a cheese tray that we didn't request, a menu mistake that included two entrees for every plate, and extra banquet rooms. My sister's eagle eye cut the cost in half.
Be prepared to hear that the cake is the most important thing. No, the rings and flowers. The music. No, it's the dress. It's the invitations ... AND the postage stamps. The food ... no, really, it's the carpet in the church. (And if someone tells you it's all about the gifts, walk away, gagging.)
Stop. Breathe. The important "thing" is up to you. If you want a cake modeled after the new Twins ballpark, go for it. But then compromise everywhere else. Remember that this isn't about things. It's about family and friends and celebrating a life milestone. Despite what you hear, brides are not fairy princesses. If we were, fairy godmothers would be footing the bill.
If you don't want to be a cookie-cutter bride, be brave. One of the most memorable weddings I ever attended was a carnival-style picnic with party games, a barn dance and a pig roast, all on a strict budget.
Get married on a Thursday. Or in mid-January. You won't have garden photos, but you'll have more negotiating power and little competition for vendors. My fiancé, Mr. W., has his great-grandparents' wedding invitation. It was for a dinner at home on a Wednesday. It misspelled the groom's name. They were married 64 years.
Be imaginative. Instead of a diamond, I have a sapphire. Wear a blue dress. Or fuchsia. Wear cowboy boots.
Beware of boutiques. Shop used. Think green. Check Craigslist and closeout stores.
Our wedding bands came from an estate jewelry and coin exchange. (My 14k gold band: $49.) The wedding stationery is from Ollie's Bargain Outlet store in Ohio. Ollie's isn't bridal chic, but the paper was stunning and vastly cheaper than a DIY version. Alas, there is no Ollie's in the Twin Cities. And my dad's pal is a printer who made the invitations beautiful. Not every bride is so fortunate.
Another reminder: If you have friends who are florists or photographers, ask for help, but for goodness' sake, pay a fair price, unless they are bestest of friends and want to offer services as a wedding gift. Frugality knows better than to ask your sister's friend's cousin to book her mother's string quartet and then cough up a couple of twenties.
Hold the ceremony and reception at the same site. You'll save money, and out-of-town guests will be grateful.
Make a veil or headpiece. (I had every intention of doing this, but I saved so much on my off-the-rack dress that I just bought it, and, yes, veils are highly inflated.) One sister bought a simple First Communion style for $7.
Order wrist corsages instead of bridesmaids' bouquets. They are convenient and much less expensive.
Know that centerpieces can blow the budget. This was my chance to get creative. I love words, and I wrote a story from our courtship for every table.
A graphic designer friend turned those stories into table-tent works of art. The whole centerpiece tab was less than one floral arrangement.
We bought pens and deep-discount stationery and put them in fabric-covered boxes from a Tuesday Morning store. We're inviting guests to write notes for our wedding time capsule -- a box built by a carpenter relative. Mr. W. wants us to open it in five years. I say Year 1. Either way, it will be full of memories.
And memories, unlike ice sculptures and cascading bouquets, are priceless.
Guest columnist Holly Collier's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Regular Pay Dirt columnist Kara McGuire returns next Sunday.