NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The engagement ring is on, the date's been set, the venue is selected and now you think you're ready to have a wedding. You're so not.
Just because a couple has decided to share one of the most important moments of their lives with a few dozen or hundred friends doesn't mean they've become professional event planners. In many cases, they're just fortunate to get through the whole experience with finances and sanity intact.
Couples responding to TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com's Real Wedding Survey last year spent an average of nearly $27,000 on their wedding ceremonies, receptions, engagement rings, attire and everything else surrounding the big day. Of those, 42% went over budget and 16% dodged that disappointment by not setting a budget at all.
"The biggest mistake that every couple makes when they first get engaged is making purchases without having a really solid budget," says Anja Winikka, site editor for TheKnot.com. "Then they're shocked to find out that they've spent all their money and don't have enough for half the things they need. You have to be open and honest about your budget at the beginning of the process."
The unfortunate reality of every wedding day is that problems and unpleasant surprises have a way of cropping up no matter how much you try to beat them back. Even brides who dodge the reality TV drama of shows such as TLC's Say Yes To The Dress and pick out their gowns without grief can experience heart palpitations when they see the final price tag. Brides paid an average of $1,099 for their wedding gowns alone in 2010 -- the last year for which complete data were available -- but accessories for that dress tacked on another $254. Kim Forrest, editor of WeddingWire, warns brides that dress alterations can drive the price up even further.
"Brides often focus on the amount their actual wedding gown costs, but they don't always factor in the alterations, which can tack on hundreds of dollars to a gown's final tab," she says. "Sometimes, if a bride purchases a relatively inexpensive gown at a sample sale, the cost of the alterations can come close to or exceed the price of the dress."
Asking about the alteration costs upfront and taking the dress to an independent tailor afterward can save couples some big bucks before the big day, but covering other details can save them some gray hairs and friendships as well. Sharon Naylor, the author of more than 35 wedding books, including The Smart Guide to Wedding Weekend Events, says harried couples can help themselves by keeping older guests and babies sit away from the DJ or band speakers, keeping gifts away from the entrance and out of thieves' hands and keeping diners from getting queasy by balancing out fried cocktail-hour snacks with lighter fare.
Though it may not occur to brides or grooms when they're writing out a $3,000 check to the reception band, couples will also want to make sure that the band's microphone gets nowhere near their table of college friends who came for the open bar.
"Tell your entertainer that your rule is this: No one gets the microphone if they're not on your list of sanctioned speakers," Naylor says. "This prevents guests from seeking attention and avoids the dreaded drunken tirade or goofiness on stage."
With help from Naylor, Forrest and Winikka, we looked past the big wedding checklist items and got into the minutiae many couples overlook before their big day: