Say no to a red wedding

You don't need to go into debt to get married
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The Independent Online
LAST weekend I came over all funny, in the bridal department of a famous store. No blushing bride's tender turn, this; rather the dawning realisation of how much the whole marriage thing was going to cost. I was trying to picture myself in this splendidly camp Elizabethan number, when the assistant pointed out that it was designed by the Emanuelles and would set me back pounds 10,000. The cheapest creation was around pounds 500 - without the trimmings.

Add to this sum the catering for our enormous families, the photographer (OK, and the video man, as a concession to my in-laws), flowers, cars, synagogue fees, stationery and the like, and it looks as if someone is going to have to take out a second mortgage to pay for it all.

The average cost of a British wedding is between pounds 8,000 and pounds 9,000. Most couples nowadays split the bill 50-50 with their parents, according to the latest survey by Wedding and Home magazine. But it is a bad move, says Helen Bath of independent financial adviser Womanwise, for newly- weds to gear themselves up with debt, when there are so many other financial challenges ahead. Loans can take five years to pay off, and in some cases you still have to pay interest until the end of the term, even if you've paid back the capital early. Interest rates are still high on unsecured loans, reaching 20 per cent or more on credit cards,notwithstanding this week's base rate cut.

In a few years you may need to survive on one salary for a period, so it's probably better to start off with a clean slate. Moreover, mortgage lenders take loan repayments into account when you apply for a mortgage, and may reduce the amount they are prepared to lend.

Wedding and Home editor Debbie Djordjevic says couples should set a budget they can afford and stick to it, even if this means a small but cheerful reception at home. Womanwise's Ms Bath suggests eloping. Another alternative is to wait a year or so, and save up for something a bit grander.

The best way of saving for this sort of period is in notice or postal accounts with building societies or banks, which offer higher rates of interest in return for withdrawal notice periods of 30, 60 or 90 days (see Your Money's table of best savings rates on page 16).

On the auspicious occasion, each parent can give the marrying child pounds 5,000 tax-free, and each grandparent can give pounds 2,500. These are on top of the annual pounds 3,000 gifting allowance per individual.

Guests may decide to donate money to charity instead buying of a present. The Giftaid scheme enables higher rate tax-payers particularly to maximise the value of their gift with amounts over pounds 250. If the tax-payer gives, say, pounds 750, the charity will actually receive pounds 1,000, and the individual will get pounds 150 in relief. For Giftaid forms, talk to the charity involved or a solicitor.

Many women deliberate long and hard about changing their names. Some need to keep their maiden name for professional reasons. Ironically, says Ms Bath, from a financial point of view, being a Mrs can help. Bank managers, not always known for their liberal views, are often more willing to lend businesswomen money if they are someone's wife, and therefore seen as "less flighty". As someone's spouse, you will probably have joint liability for loans.

Whatever you decide about your name, make sure you let the branch where your account is held know of your marriage. Ask them to keep a note in your file, so that cheques made out to either your single or married name are cashed without any problems.

Now the fun bits. You may be considering a wedding list at a particular store. If so, check for any add-ons such as delivery charges paid for by the guest. Marks & Spencer, for example, has a policy of charging pounds 3.50 for each delivery.

If you think your friends and family can afford it, Harrods has a nifty little scheme where, instead of sending you the items nominated on the list, all the money can be put on a charge card. That way you can spend the money how and when you like, for example, during the sales. Harrods will also give you an extra present - an additional percentage on your card, according to how much has been given. If your nearest and dearest gave you more than pounds 10,000 of goods - bless them - Harrods will give you a further 7.5 per cent of the total.

Make sure your house contents insurance covers the extra value from presents, and try not to leave presents unguarded at home when you are away on honeymoon. Both Norwich Union and Touchstone boost cover by pounds 3,000 for free, 30 days either side of a wedding.

People with valuable single items, such as rock-sized diamond rings, should check the upper limit for single items on their policy and insure the piece separately ifnecessary. Norwich Union's maximum is pounds 1,500. If planning to wear the ring out and about, you will probably need to extend the range of your contents cover outside the home. This could cost 30 per cent more, depending on where you live.

In case your big day goes horribly wrong, you can insure against that too. EIG, Cornhill and Expo-Sure cover all sorts of disasters, from the mother-in-law's outfit (damage to it, that is) to cancellation. If your fiance walks out on you, however, cover is null and void.