This is your honeymoon. If you're a normal, red-blooded American male or female, money is the last thing on your mind.
That’s your first mistake. If you're planning a trip for the ages, one in which you and your significant other will start your new life together by visiting an exotic destination, this is likely an opportunity fraught with the potential for financial blunders. If you aren’t careful, your honeymoon will not be memorable in the way you intended. So if you're planning a post-nuptials vacation, avoid the following money missteps.
Failing to budget. Before the big day, couples are often consumed with wedding planning and might not be thinking too deeply about the details surrounding the honeymoon, which should include contingency planning. After all, the last thing you want is to be on your honeymoon in another country and suddenly realize your credit cards are maxed out and your checking account is overdrawn. Trust me on this.
Even if you don't end up using your debit card to fund the remaining two days of your honeymoon, praying it isn't declined, other problems can arise.
Dan Sondhelm, a partner and senior vice president at a marketing and public relations firm in Alexandria, Va., spent his honeymoon with his wife in Tahiti seven years ago. While it went very well, there are some things he says he would have done differently.
"Most stores at the time didn't accept American Express, my primary credit card," Sondhelm says. His backup credit card charged an international transaction fee of 3 percent, and as it turned out, there were very few ATMs in Tahiti.
"We really had to plan accordingly. It took a lot of time to drive to the closest ATM," Sondhelm says.
Not that anyone feels sorry for them. After all, they were in Tahiti.
Not going big enough. There are a lot of great arguments for taking a modest, fiscally responsible honeymoon, and no one’s suggesting you start your marriage by going tens of thousands of dollars into debt to fund a trip around the world. But if you can swing it, consider vacationing somewhere you normally wouldn't go.
"It's the trip of a lifetime, and my recommendation is to go big," says Sarah Evans, co-owner of J Public Relations in New York City who also runs a travel website, GlamGlobetrotter.com. "It's one of those times where maybe even if you feel you can't, you should."
Evans adds that it will also be easier to take a generous amount of time off work. "It's one of those crazy things about our culture, but your honeymoon is the one time where it's acceptable to take two full weeks off. People expect it," she says.
Going too big. Don't think about the amount of money for this point – instead, consider what you're each getting for your money. After all, you aren't getting much bang for your buck if one of you doesn't enjoy your honeymoon. If one spouse loves to travel and the other doesn't, have a lengthy discussion about that before you both, say, embark on a trip that will take you to eight hotels in England and Scotland via numerous rental cars and trains. Ask your spouse if she really wants to pack all that, and if she's OK with lugging your four oversized suitcases to these eight hotels. You might want to discuss whether this sounds romantic or like an exhausting beginning to a marriage. Trust me on this.
Strategies for a Successful Honeymoon
There are plenty of ways to prevent your honeymoon from becoming a disastrous moneymoon. Tales abound of grooms and brides oversleeping and missing their flight, losing passports, getting food poisoning, having valuables stolen and winding up with severe sunburn. The list goes on and on.
For starters, you might want to consider honeymoon insurance, which is really just a form of travel insurance; costs range from about 5 to 7 percent of the trip's total budgeted cost.
[Read: How to Save on Your Hotel Stay.]
Even if you don't buy insurance, you’ll save yourself some headaches – and probably some money – by planning early. "Ideally, you should book your honeymoon eight to 12 months before the wedding," suggests Ann Ronan, a destination wedding and honeymoon specialist for Expedia CruiseShipCenters. "You'll get the best selection of hotels or cruise cabins, best pricing and airfare."
Another way to rein in your honeymoon budget is to ask your wedding guests to pay for part of your honeymoon, Evans says.
It’s not as awkward as it sounds. She points to websites, such as HoneymoonWishes.com and HoneyFund.com, where guests can buy you products and services for your honeymoon. Evans used a honeymoon registry when she and her groom went to the Caribbean islands of Anguilla and Nevis about seven years ago. "It worked really well. I remember we got a spa treatment almost every day on our 12-day honeymoon," she says.
You could even put off the honeymoon. Yes, it's a beloved tradition for it to follow the wedding. But by delaying it even for a few days, you may avoid a disaster, since many mistakes occur simply because couples are exhausted after the wedding and are then in a rush to get to their honeymoon destination.
Unless you're taking a staycation, your honeymoon will probably be a big expense that follows an extremely expensive day, especially if you and your spouse paid for it. An estimated 25 percent of weddings are financed by the bride and groom, according to David Wood, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants.
Distancing the honeymoon a bit was the approach Jamie Law, a marketing professional in San Francisco, took with her husband, Hiland Hall. "We had just spent a considerable amount of money on our wedding and wanted to wait at least a few months to re-evaluate finances and to really determine what type of trip we could take," she says.
This helped the couple – both in their mid-30s – appreciate both the wedding and honeymoon more, adds Law, who got married in November 2013. She and Hall went to Italy several months later.
"We were so focused on the wedding, there couldn’t have been any way for us to also focus on the honeymoon planning as well. Since the honeymoon planning came after the wedding, we could give it all of our attention," Law says. "It also gave us something to look forward to months after we had already gotten married. I don’t know about other brides, but personally, after the wedding, there was a bit of sadness. All of the hard work and planning had paid off, but now the fun was over."
Except that it wasn't, and because they waited a few months, the couple was able to spend credit card points they earned paying for their wedding on plane tickets and hotel rooms.
And because they budgeted and planned their honeymoon together, it likely strengthened their marital bonds. While a disastrous honeymoon can bring a couple even closer, it may just be the spark that lights a long, tumultuous fuse that brings down a marriage.
Again, trust me on this.