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Here comes the ... bill!

Nuptial sticker shock is a sobering fact for brides and grooms as wedding bells produce ever-larger wedding bills.

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Brianne Della Rocca was determined to be a savvy bride, keeping wedding costs in check. Even when friends insisted that her $7,000 budget for 110 guests was impossible, she tried to hold firm.

"I said, 'I am not going to spend a fortune on one day,' " says Mrs. Della Rocca, a media-relations assistant in Bennington, Vt. "That's not what a wedding is about."

She read books about bridal bargains. She made the invitations herself. She bought supplies, dresses, and shoes on eBay at nominal cost. She did not hire a florist or a limousine. She didn't even order a wedding cake.

Even so, by the time she and her husband, Jared, said "I do" on Jan. 15, their expenses added up to $19,000. Despite help from parents, cash gifts at the reception, and money from savings, they faced debts of $9,000.

"That was the 'affordable' wedding on a shoestring budget," says a still-incredulous Della Rocca.

Nuptial sticker shock has become a sobering fact of life for many brides and grooms as wedding bells produce ever-larger wedding bills. More than a quarter of engaged couples now pay for everything themselves. With weddings averaging $23,000, some newlyweds remain indebted for years. Some must even seek credit counseling.

"There's a lot of pressure to do things in a very spectacular way," says Susan Schneider, executive editor of Bridal Guide magazine. "People get caught up in a momentum and end up spending more than they intended. You have to really keep your head on straight when you're a bride and groom these days."

In an informal poll by Bridal Guide, readers said they spent an average of $3,000 more than they had budgeted. Some overspent by $5,000 or $10,000.

Bridal experts offer a variety of reasons for the problem. Some parents simply can't afford to pay. In other cases, couples want control. Deborah McCoy, a wedding planner in Boca Raton, Fla., notes that many brides have told her, "If Mom and Dad pay for our wedding, we have to do things their way. We want to do things our way.' " So they spend, fueling a $120 billion-a-year industry.

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