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Your wedding day is only going to happen once — at least that is the plan — so your instinct might be to ignore the costs and make everything just perfect. In fact, that seems to be what a lot of people are doing, as the average wedding in the United States reportedly costs $26,444. (Note: It is possible to budget and save for your wedding, and even have a debt-free wedding.) While stretching the budget might make sense for a special occasion, you likely don’t want to overspend or get scammed in the process.

General Advice

First is the old adage about things that seem too good to be true. You might think you’re going to save a few bucks with a “too good to be true” deal, but if the item ends up being low quality, or you don’t get it at all, you’ve likely cost yourself a lot more. To help avoid this, the Better Business Bureau advises you get everything in writing. Get signed contracts laying out exactly what you expect from each vendor. Many will have contracts pre-prepared that they use with every client. While these can be a good starting point, be sure to read the contracts carefully. Don’t be afraid to talk with the vendor about eliminating details you don’t agree with, or adding in things that are important to you — the vendors should be willing to negotiate to meet your needs.

You may also want to consider wedding insurance. If your baker flakes out and doesn’t bring the cake, there’s not much you can do to make one appear, but with the insurance in place, at least you may be able to get some of your money back. This can also help if there’s some kind of accident or act-of-God type event.

Beyond those, here are five wedding rip-offs to watch out for.

1. Counterfeit Dresses

According to The Wedding Report, the average bride spends more than $1,200 on her wedding dress, though that number can be much higher for brides wanting a designer label. If that’s what you’re interested in, just be sure the label is real. There are federal requirements about what needs to appear on a label, so that can be worth checking out, but that alone isn’t always enough. One common scam involves a dress (particularly one ordered online) being passed off as a high-quality designer product, but instead you get a knock-off made poorly and from inferior materials. To help avoid this, consider buying at a brick-and-mortar shop, and be sure of the return policy before you purchase anything.

That may not always be enough, either. There have been reports of bridal shops that were struggling financially and took money for a dress (often at a steep discount), then closed their doors before the bride got her dress. Using a credit card may help you get some of the money back, though it won’t get you a dress.

2. Vanishing Vendors

There are stories out there of people posing as DJs, photographers, florists — pretty much any of the outside contractors you might employ — who take a deposit and then vanish. Make sure you check on everyone you plan to do business with. Websites like TheKnot, Weddingwire and the Better Business Bureau offer vendor reviews that can help you find reputable businesses in your area.

Also, don’t forget word of mouth — if you loved the flowers at a friend’s wedding, ask them who they used and if they encountered any behind-the-scenes problems. Your venue may also have a list of vendors it often works with.

3. Bridal Show Shenanigans

Bridal shows can be overwhelming with the variety of different products and services available. Be wary of any giveaways you might sign up for, though. That honeymoon hotel stay might not cover taxes or the airfare to get you there and back. Always read the fine print, understand the privacy policies and be very careful about which businesses and people you share your information with.

4. Gift Theft

While you (hopefully) don’t have to worry about your friends and family walking off with a gift, you don’t want this to be a problem. Help reduce your chances of experiencing any losses by placing the gift table far from the doors, and deputizing a family member to keep an eye on it.

5. Home Burglary

Placing a wedding announcement in your local newspaper or on Facebook is a good way to let people know about your special day. It’s also a good way to broadcast that you won’t be home that day, and if you include the dates of your honeymoon, you’ve given burglars a nice window of opportunity. Make sure neighbors know you’ll be away and ask someone to keep an eye on your place for any signs of trouble (or you can even have a trusted friend or family member stay in the house, if you feel more comfortable with that). And before you head out on your honeymoon, remember to take security precautions beforehand, like stopping the mail, newspaper and other deliveries, as these items piling up can be a sign that no one is around. Also, let your credit card companies know when and where you’ll be traveling so your purchases from out-of-the-way places don’t prompt them to put a hold on your card.

[Editor’s Note: Carrying high levels of debt, whether from your wedding expenses or something else, may hurt your credit scores. You can see where your credit currently stands by taking a look at two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.]

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