For couples embarking on a marital commitment, becoming engaged and planning their wedding is an exhilarating time. Surrounded by loving families and friends, the happy pair is apt to be swept up in a whirlwind of parties and the myriad details of the wedding celebration and honeymoon trip.

Forget about all that for a second: head out of the clouds, feet on the ground.

With all the excitement and festivities, it’s easy to forget about other certainties like death, taxes, insurance, etc.

It is no secret that many couples are marrying later in life. While the average age of marriage four decades ago was 20 for females and 22 for males, it is now five years older for both.

Today’s couples are more educated, more established, and therefore have more complex financial and insurance needs. They are finding that financial preparation must go hand in hand with starting a new life together.

Since the average length of an engagement is about eighteen months (it might be cynical to cite the average length of an average marriage), couples have ample time to consider such important dollar-and-cents details concerning their future.

Here are a few items for your checklist:

Insure the Engagement Ring—Ask your agent whether your current renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy, carried by either or both parties, covers the loss or theft of the engagement ring. If not, additional coverage may be needed.

Review Coverage for the Place you Live—This is a good time for you to review the combined value of your possessions to help you determine whether the assessed value of your total property is up-to-date. It is important that your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy provides a sufficient amount of protection for the increase in your belongings when you combine households.

Automobile Coverage—Most insurers provide discounts for married couples — something about all that bliss must lead to lower actuarial risk. Many couples find that being covered under one policy is less expensive. Check out possible safe-driver discounts as well as multi-line discounts, which often apply when you have more than one insurance product with a company. For example, you may qualify for a discount by insuring your cars and residence with the same company.

After the wedding festivities, ongoing financial and insurance requirements will continue to change. As a newlywed couple you should talk to an insurance agent or financial professional about your overall situation and as circumstances change in your life. Examples include:

Life Insurance Needs—While it is difficult to think about as wedding bells are still jingling in your heads, death and taxes remain inevitable. Plan accordingly. If you’ve bought a house that depends on two incomes, your insurance needs should accommodate that.

Saving for Retirement—Early planning can help make sure you will have adequate resources for your golden years together and possibly even the retirement of your dreams. Spouses should work jointly and with a financial professional to establish retirement savings tools that fit their needs, such as employer sponsored 401(k) plans, IRAs and annuities.

College Savings—Unless your wedding was a shotgun affair, children may seem like a distant prospect. But after they arrive, saving is going to become an integral part of your life — particularly when it comes to their education. Once you have children, consider setting up a Qualified Tuition Program, often referred to as “Section 529 plans” to begin preparing for the cost of higher education.

Arranging for adequate insurance and constructing a financial road map as couples plan to wed may seem like a daunting task, but it can help you to understand how to help protect yourself with insurance and financial savings tools and ensure they keep up with your changing lives. An established and reputable company can help identify and set priorities for any newly engaged or newly married couple’s insurance and financial needs. Partnering with a financial professional can help you better protect what you have as a couple and prepare for the future.

Why fight it?
Engaged individuals take note: Did you know that 43% of all married couples argue over money issues, making it the major reason couples fight? If you and your prospective spouse handle money differently, now is the time to talk, establish expectations and draw up a financial plan.

Money is a very big part of a marriage. Having enough to spend and to do the things each wants to do is important to both parties. When couples are not able to do that, then other issues pop up in the relationship. If a husband and wife are not on the same page as far as family finances go, other difficulties inevitably arise.

According to Cynthia Cooper, Ph.D., co-author of The Marriage Medics, effective communication often emerges as the most difficult obstacle to establishing goals and expectations and developing a financial plan. Many of us have been taught during childhood that discussing money is somehow inappropriate.

And it is — if you’re talking about a cocktail party or social setting.

Among couples, it’s a necessity.

Newlyweds must understand that discussion (and confession) is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary to managing finances in a marriage. Just as finances must be planned in a business, they must also be planned in a marriage. You must communicate in spite of difficulties.

For example, how do you get your spouse-to-be to understand—especially during all the excitement surrounding your wedding plans—that he or she will need to curb their spending habits so that you both can begin putting money away?

There’s got to be a viable agreement, though, because most couples discover that a lack of money, a lack of spending control or a lack of fall-back savings eventually causes other problems in a marriage. Little things grow into much bigger things. However, as emphasized by Cooper, future arguments over finances can be avoided by simply communicating, creating an understanding of expectations, setting objectives, and agreeing on a financial roadmap.

The Marriage Medic recommends this ‘plan of attack’. (Most applies to singletons as well as the affianced and newlywed):
1. Stop living beyond your means.
2. Treat the household like a business.
3. Create an income and expense statement.
4. Create a balance sheet.
5. Create a budget.
6. Figure out how to pay down your debt. Agree on a plan of action in which you both share equally in cutbacks.
7. Find ways to cut expenses.
8. Go on a debt diet––starting with the little stuff.
9. Have only one credit card for your entire family.
10. Celebrate when you pay off a debt.

There are many resources for help in creating family budgets and living within them.

For instance, Suze Orman, a financial advisor who has written several books and hosts an advice show on NBC, is an inexpensive source. However, there’s no substitute for sitting down with a financial professional and outlining longterm and short term needs and goals.

In short, newlyweds or those about to tie the knot have an important opportunity to plant the seeds for a healthy marriage by simply talking with each other, being realistic about expectations and making that financial plan.

Money matters!

Sign and Be Mine: Prenups
Throughout man’s time on earth, marriage has been entered into for financial reasons as well as social. You all watched Dynasty at some point, so you know this already.

Prenuptial agreements are generally entered into by betrothed individuals in an attempt to resolve issues of support, distribution of wealth, and division of property in the event of death or the failure of the proposed marriage resulting in either separation or divorce.

A prenuptial agreement can make a subsequent divorce a much simpler and cheaper process because it states clearly what each partner is bringing to the marriage, thus making it easier to decide what each partner is taking from it. The couple is free to set whatever terms they wish.

But, as with brain surgery, this is a job best left to professionals.

If you wouldn’t remove your own kidney, you probably shouldn’t write your own prenup.

Call a lawyer.

Actually, you’ll want to call two — to avoid conflicts of interest.

The terms of a prenup usually include the promise to transfer wealth from one spouse to the other with the receiving spouse foregoing any future claims against the transferring spouse for additional support. This clause is usually phrased as a substitute for alimony or “maintenance” as few states recognize contracts that expressly limit or forbid alimony. Talk to your lawyer.

Prenuptial agreements generally provide who will pay for what and for how long. These contracts generally stand up in court as long as both spouses were open and honest about their assets and liabilities and had access to separate legal advice.

One area of trouble suggesting duress is the pressure of time. Last minute “Sign this, honey, on the way to the church” prenuptials are a probable candidate for being overturned.

These contracts are especially valuable where one spouse is much wealthier than the other or where there are children from previous marriages.

Prenuptials can be effective to sort out tricky estate planning problems and ensure provisions are made for the children. Future spouses might want to consider using some form of trust arrangement when structuring these agreements. Making the transfer irrevocable also removes the property from the donor’s estate.

Qualified terminal interest property trusts (QTIPs), which are a tax-motivated form of a living trust, are often useful in many of these situations by providing an income stream and access to the principal if necessary for the recipient spouse. (Here, you might talk to a Certified Financial Planner, a CPA, an MBA, and an attorney. Just to be on the safe side.)

These are merely some of the considerations to keep in mind when contemplating these arrangements. These agreements should also have some provision for who is responsible for paying various taxes. When contemplating dividing property, prenuptials should consider the cost basis of the particular asset and who might get left with a large capital gain upon eventual sale. Titling of property is always important to avoid ownership disputes when marital trouble arises.

Post-marital agreements are also possible and may work where the spouses are amicable. (But how often does that happen? Really.)

Although these agreements, both pre- and post-nuptial, are fairly common and can be straightforward, they should be negotiated with the counsel of an attorney for each side.

A consultation with a few legal bulldogs and a financial planner in addition to the florist and caterer may be a wise move for many who have marriage in their future.

Gifts from the Bride and Groom: The Personal Touch
From shower presents to registry items, your wedding will undoubtedly bring a deluge of gifts. However, the most memorable and special gifts you’ll receive will not arrive wrapped in boxes. The members of your wedding party will give you the most valuable gift of all—the gift of their time and support.

In return, it is important to present each of your attendants with a token of your gratitude.

Your bridesmaids’ and groomsmen’s gifts should be carefully selected to show the depth of your appreciation. However, gifts for your wedding party do not have to be wildly extravagant.

A small gift that is thoughtfully chosen can eloquently express how much their support has meant to you just much as a large, expensive one. These may be presented to your attendants as a group at the rehearsal dinner or separately at the bachelor’s dinner or bridesmaids’ luncheon.

There are no set rules regarding whether you should buy the same gift for all of your attendants or a different one for each. Whether you opt for uniformity or find the perfect gift to suit each attendant’s individual personality, engraving a name or a personal message on each item is an easy way to turn your gift into a treasured keepsake.

There’s quite a variety of appropriate choices. For example, jewelry has always been a favorite thank-you gift for bridesmaids and will be worn and appreciated for a lifetime.

Engraving your bridesmaids’ initials on bracelets or necklaces leaves them with a precious reminder of their cherished friendship. Other special mementos such as silver jewelry boxes, compact mirrors, candle holders, picture frames and charming lace trimmed hankies can also be inscribed with a bridesmaid’s name or monogram or a brief, personal note of thanks.

Be sure to go with something age-appropriate and reflective of your attendants’ lifestyle — not every bridesmaid these days is a 21-year-old sorority girl.

If your flower girl has been thrilled by the experience of dressing up in frilly formal wear, chances are she, too, will delight in a coordinating piece of jewelry with her name on it.

And a personalized picture frame or bank is a great gift idea for any youngster in your wedding party,regardless of gender. They’ll ignore it anyway, and their parents will be the ones writing the Thank You notes. (They may appreciate the sentimentality of it as they age.)

Groomsmen’s gifts can also be personalized: cufflinks, money clips, pens, pewter steins and flasks can all be enhanced with the addition of a monogram.

Once you’ve selected and personalized the gifts you’ll give those who will stand beside you on your big day, you’ll want to devote some time to selecting a gift for the one you’re about to marry.

(Yes, as if the wedding itself isn’t enough to worry about, you do have to consider the prospective spouse’s present — and it can’t be anything off the Registry. That’s cheating.)

While tradition regards wedding bands as the primary gift a bride and groom give one another, it has also become customary for couples to present each other with another gift, such as a wristwatch, clock, or picture frame, at the rehearsal dinner or shortly after the ceremony. (If you give it to the fiance at the rehearsal dinner and they don’t have something for you, it does give them one last charitable chance to make a last ditch effort.)

Whatever choices you make, your gifts will serve as valued memories of one of life’s most meaningful occasions. Personalizing each piece is a simple way of ensuring that the gifts you give to your attendants as well as to each other will add a special touch of endearment.

Weddings (like funerals) allow for overdoses of sentimentality.

Six Rules for a Memorable Wedding Reception
By the turn of the 20th century, the social setting for weddings outgrew the intimacy of private homes and moved into hotels, a trend that the wealthy Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families popularized.

“As hotels became more opulent, so did the desire to entertain in them,” says Judith Ann Graham, author of My Bride Guide. “A hotel wedding reception began as a luxury reserved for the wealthy, but as banquet facilities cropped up in less expensive hotels, it became the standard for entertaining that we see today.”

Here are six guidelines that Graham says will help ensure a memorable reception.

Location, Location, Location
Have your reception within a reasonable distance of your ceremony (i.e., the church, synagogue, temple or so on). The chances are great there is a catering facility close to your wedding site. Is it an acceptable location for your reception? Try to keep the ceremony and reception within a 25-minute drive of each another.

One bride wanted to get married at her childhood church, located 40 miles from her home. She selected a reception site near her home so she could extend the partying. As her wedding day approached, the weather forecast called for heavy rain. Unwilling and unable to change her plans, the bride showed up at the church in a torrential downpour. As the ceremony commenced, the rain worsened. By the time she and the groom got to the reception, roads were flooded. The storm escalated to near hurricane proportions. Needless to say, the reception was a huge disappointment because many guests never made it.

Book Immediately
Choose your reception site early. Many couples determine their wedding date based on the availability of the reception site. Because so many couples marry on a weekend, facilities can be booked more than a year in advance. If you have your heart set on a specific reception site, book it immediately upon your engagement. Another option is to marry during the week. Wednesday or Thursday are favored days.

Accommodate Your Guests
If you have 125 guests, it is unwise to choose a place the size of a football stadium. On the other hand, if you have 250 guests, don’t stuff them into a room that has a capacity of 200. It’s against the fire laws anyway!

Understand Your Contract
Get a contract that spells out exactly what you have agreed to with the catering facility. Make sure you have a breakdown of each service you are contracting. For instance, if your caterer supplies linens and floral arrangements, get those quotes itemized in the contract. Find out the deposit required to reserve the space—(usually about 50 percent).

Read the cancellation clause in the contract. Find out about the refund policy of your deposit.

Get All the Facts
Qualify your reception site with the local chamber of commerce or the Better Business Bureau. The chances are your site is familiar to you, or it was personally recommended. In any case, review the contract thoroughly. Before you sign it, have all your questions answered.

Stay Within Your Budget
The average cost of a U.S. wedding is $22,000. Most couples contribute between 10 percent to 50 percent of the cost. The most expensive part of the wedding is the reception. If it looks like you are going over your budget, work with your caterer to come up with revisions before you sign the contract.

Just as a wedding dress is probably the most expensive dress a woman will own, your wedding reception is probably the most expensive party you will ever host. Weddings are special, so afford yourself the time necessary to make your day memorable. These tips apply to any reception, not just large receptions thrown in hotels. A small wedding does not necessarily mean a casual reception. Even if you opt for a sailboat with two guests, make it memorable.

Graham, author of “My Bride Guide,” has been a bridal consultant for over 15 years. The creator of Bridal Beauti Cosmetics, this professional makeup artist and stylist was Miss New York State and a finalist in the Miss America Pageant. “Extra,” “Inside Edition” and other national shows regularly rely on Graham as their image expert, trend analyst and advisor on celebrity images.

Visit for your free report “The Top 10 List of the Latest Wedding Crazes” and discover more ways to create your unique wedding. n

January 7
Karen Bussen signs Simple Stunning Weddings, Friday, at 7pm at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. Planning a wedding in 2005? Then join us tonight as we welcome one of New York’s most exciting wedding designers, Karen Bussen. Her work has been featured in such magazines as Modern Bride, Martha Stewart Weddings, Home, Food & Wine, and Interior Design. Karen will discuss her three basic steps to planning your Simple Stunning Weddings. 1) Identify your Wedding Style and Priorities 2) Five tips for Staying on Budget (and where to splurge/save) and 3) Designing your Celebration with the Simple Stunning Principles. After her talk Karen will sign books and be available to answer your individual questions on planning the wedding of your dreams!

January 8
Lexington Convention Center Kentucky Bride

Noon to 5pm. Advance Tickets: $6; door admission: $8. Call 859.233.4567, or check

January 23
Lexington Convention Center Special Occasions Bridal Show

11am to 5pm. Fashion shows at 1 and 3pm. Admission: brides can pre-register for free admission ticket at, or $5 at the door.