Jonathan B. Gilbert and Leslie Ann Byers look forward to their wedding in June with romance tempered by realism about the state of the economy.
Ahead of them lies a stripped-down financial future, the product of hard times growing harder that already have had an impact on the couple's wedding plans.
Among other things, it means choosing a pattern in silver plate instead of silver, shopping for the best deal of an engagement ring and writing off the notion of home ownership and kids for the near future.
"I've never been so money-conscious in my life," said Byers, going over plans for the wedding.
Byers and Gilbert are typical of hundreds of thousands of other Americans who have come to understand the state of the economy in terms more meaningful than figures on changes in the wholesale price index or the Federal Reserve discount rate.
For them, the combination of grinding inflation and shrinking credit means smaller wedding bouquets, higher-priced photos and delight in being able to save enough for an off-season honeymoon on an island near Barbados. For the future it means a strict commitment to living within their means -- approximately $25,000 a year -- rather than on credit.
"You just learn to live with what you have -- especially each other," said Gilbert. "That sounds like such mush, but it's true."
Gilbert and Byers are in their early 20s, not freshly minted adults blundering into a world they don't understand but professionals with some experience of the problems money can cause.
Gilbert, 24, who grew up in Montgomery County, is a civil engineer with Arthur Beard Engineers, Inc. Byers, 23, who studied social work and psychology, works for the Mt. Vernon Community Mental Health Center.
With costs skyrocketing, planning their traditional wedding at times sounds as much like a financial enterprise out of Fortune as a fantasy out of Modern Bride.
One of the first things they encountered, said Byers, was the cost of silver. The silver pattern that her mother was given at her wedding now costs approximately $1,400 a place setting. Byers and Gilbert chose silver plate for about a tenth the cost instead, as a number of other couples have done recently.
In fact, noted Byers, when she walked through a bridal display of china, crystal and flatware at Neiman-Marcus, a luxury department store, only silver plate and not sterling was on display.
Then there was the wedding dress. "The $300 ones are awful. They don't even have finished seams," said Byers. "The ones I like are $800 and up." The cost of wedding gowns is only one of the ways merchants exploit the specialness of weddings, she complained.
The cost of wedding photographs has risen with the increase in the price of silver. Receptions are expensive and so are flowers and invitations. "I've tried to overbudget everything" rather than end up short, Byers explained.
"But a wedding cake cost $200," she added. "That's a lot of money for a cake that's going to last one night."
The invitations are being engraved by a firm in North Carolina that Byer's mother found, and a friend of the family who is a florist is helping with the flowers.
"I want to make the bouquets small but pretty," said Byers. "They're going to wilt and die and I don't want to waste a lot of money."
The couple also shopped to find the store with the best prices on the china and flatware they have chosen. It was Bloomindale's.
In everything, the desire to save money is tempered with a wish to make the wedding special and memorable. "We're trying to cut angles and corners wherever we can," Gilbert said. Even so, the wedding will probably cost about $5,000.
The point is not that Gilbert and Byers face a completely bleak finanical future. As middle-income professionals they are better off than many families. But they have had to pare down their expectations about the state of the economy.
Once the wedding is past, Gilbert and Byers face the rising cost of housing, food and transportation.
They have no plans now to buy a house. "There are several reasons why we couldn't invest,' said Gilbert. "One thing is money. The other thing is we're not sure where we want to live."
On the one hand, cheaper cities beckon. "But none of them are any fun," said Byers. In addition, Byers believes she would have a hard time finding a job if they moved because her profession is vulnerable to budget cutbacks.
The couple will live in Gilbert's efficieny apartment on Route 1, until the lease runs out.
"After that, we're discussing what we'll do," said Gilbert. "This economy has eaten away our options, so we're trying to create other ones."
The couple describes Byers as the fiscally conservative one. They say they have arrived at an early understanding about how to handle their money to protect both their credit and their relationship from fights over money.
Last summer Gilber got overextended on credit, going over his credit line on a Visa card by $200 during an expensive camping trip. He was able to resolve it and restore his credit but learned how quickly credit can get out of hand, he said.
"I've gotten it out of the way. I've learned all about plastic," he declared. "I'm much more careful now. I think people our age who have goals have to be careful," said Gilbert.