The (new) rules of engagement

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It's the season for family gatherings, holiday shopping, and for some, marriage proposals. According to a survey by the Fairchild Bridal Group, which publishes Modern Bride magazine, 26 percent of marriage proposals happen in November and December.

Whether you're planning to pop the question or be surprised by your other half, the purchases made in the coming months – from the engagement ring to the reception and honeymoon – will be some of the biggest you will make together.

Depending on whom you're asking, the average cost of a wedding in Australia this year is between $36,700 (IBISWorld), and $48,296 (Bride To Be Magazine).

"It’s a bloody expensive day," writes Scott Pape, financial commentator and groom-to-be, in his blog for The Barefoot Investor.

"I've interviewed a woman whose $40,000 wedding debt lasted longer than her marriage, and I've reprimanded Bridezillas who spent a house deposit getting hitched."

With that in mind, here are a few simple rules to ensure you get the best value for your hard-earned money, while still having the day you both cherish for years to come.

The engagement ring

If you believe the experts, the ring will cost about 10 percent of the wedding bill.

But as priorities shift, that rule has fallen out of favour, according to Kit Yarrow, a former jewellery dealer-turned-consumer psychologist.

"A lot of women wouldn't want their fiancé to spend that much on a ring," she told men's website

Research supports this view; Australian women are thinking more about their financial future and less about the diamond.

One study by online retailer found that 70 percent of Australian women would like a great-looking engagement ring, but would prefer guys not to splash out on a really expensive piece of jewellery and instead use the money to save for a house deposit or honeymoon.

"If you can do without the famous blue Tiffany's box, you can save a fortune. I bought my rock online," writes Pape.

The wedding fund

"The bride industry is bigger than the beer industry – and with good reason: slap "wedding" in front of anything and it costs double or more," he added.

From the cost of flowers and cake to the photographer and venue, it’s easy to get carried away and justify huge costs with reasoning such as, "it's a once in a lifetime event" or "that's just how much it costs to get married".

Pape advises couples to ask themselves what's important for their day and then write it down.

"Once we had our list, we hired our wedding planner – but not one of those spendthrift fairies you see in the movies. We gave her our budget and paid her an hourly fee to arrange and negotiate everything – and, importantly, to bring it all in under budget," he said.

Then it's time to start saving, because there's perhaps nothing worse than whacking the day on a credit card and starting married life in debt, said Michelle Hutchison, spokeswoman for RateCity.

"If you've got a small amount to start with and are disciplined enough to add to your savings pile every month, then an online savings account can be a great option," she said.

Depositing $1000 into a high interest savings account at a rate of say 5.5 percent, adding $250 per month, within three years the final balance will have grown to over $10,000.

"If guys can afford to save a bit more in the lead up to the proposal, say $500 each month, you'll have your ring fund in less than two years," she said.

LBW (life beyond wedding)

According to Pape, an engagement marks the start of a five-year period known as the "triple Ms": first the marriage, then the mortgage, then the midgets.

"So think of your wedding as costing you a third of the entire transaction – and spend accordingly," he said.

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