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Getting hitched, not scammed

Sociologist Angela Thompson offers her expertise on avoiding wedding pitfalls.

By Rick Waters '95

Beware, brides and grooms! Your hearts may be blissfully aflutter and your heads full of wedding day dreams, but your big moment is just another business transaction for some wedding pros, says TCU sociologist Angela L. Thompson, author of Unveiled: Secrets of the Wedding Industry.

"Many people don't approach wedding planning the way they would buying a car or buying clothes. They're being happy and wrapped up in it. Often that can blind them to scams and pitfalls," says Thompson, who began studying the industry in 1994 after canceling her own wedding three weeks before aisle time and getting back most (but not all) of her deposits.

Thompson has since married, but the wedding that didn't happen became a dandy topic for her dissertation. Almost nine years later, she's now exploring the religious ritual side of nuptials, but she continues to act as a consumer watchdog.

She urges couples to start by following shopping's Golden Rule: When dealing with vendors, everything should be in writing.

With the average wedding today pricing out around $19,000, getting hitched is big business and couples can avoid many financial entanglements by knowing their shopping styles.

Do you shop to excess, buying three pairs of wedding shoes instead of one? You might be a compulsive shopper. Make a list and stick to it, Thompson says, or scout out what you want to buy and wait a day before buying it to make sure that the purchase is a smart move.

If you occasionally spend more than you can afford and accrue debt, draw up a budget and make it firm, she says. Don't let sales people push you into bad choices.

Comparison shopping is a great skill, but a dozen quotes on caterers is going overboard. Three or four reputable vendors should be plenty.

"Another big scam is 'add-ons,' " Thompson says. "Watch out for these cute little extras that are presented as personal touches. Usually, they come with huge price tags."

Other common pitfalls include the "wedding expo deal" requiring shoppers to sign on the spot, or bogus photographers passing off someone else's images as their own and demanding large deposits right away.

Thompson recommends recommendations. "Get a reference. If they're unable to give one, contact the Better Business Bureau or a professional organization in their field."

Pay with a credit card whenever possible, as it is easier to cancel charges when a vendor doesn't deliver.

Also consider a wedding consultant. A good one, even for an hourlong appointment, can save hassles in the long run. And often they can get bargains a shopper cannot.

"It's really the bride and groom's responsibility to protect themselves on their wedding day because some merchants will not," Thompson says. "Common sense and good judgment always works. And don't be afraid to ask questions."

Contact Thompson at a.thompson2@tcu.edu.