NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Forget about pinching pennies. When it comes to planning weddings, even the most conservative bride and groom throw budgets out the window.
According to Bride's magazine, the average wedding costs nearly $19,000 nationwide, thousands more in high-priced cities. In New York, for example, it can hit $30,000 in a hurry. That's equivalent to a new car or the down payment on a house, items you'd insure without a second thought.
So why not cover your walk down the aisle?
Wedding insurance is not for everyone, but experts admit it does have its place.
"We don't think it's necessary for the vast majority of people," said Robert Hunter, director of insurance at Consumer Federation of America. "The deposit on the place is the only thing you really have to think about. On the other hand, some people are very, very nervous, and if you're having a lot of sleepless nights and spending a lot of money, you might want to consider it."
Indeed, it's saved the day for some; Kay Wagner of Columbia, Md., among them.
Wagner's daughter, Kara, was scheduled to marry Benjamin Pavloski on Sept. 22. But Benjamin is in the U.S. Navy, and when the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked on Sept. 11, his leave home from Pearl Harbor was abruptly canceled.
"The caterer had been paid. The tuxedos. People were ready to pack and come," recalled Wagner, who had purchased insurance from WedSafe Inc. One week before the exchange of vows was to take place, she called the company to file a claim. She recovered $11,000.
What's at stake?
The concept of wedding insurance is simple. For a few hundred dollars -- typically $200 to $400 -- families can purchase coverage that reimburses them if a wedding is canceled or postponed.
It also will replace lost, stolen or damaged items, such as wedding bands and gifts. But many families also include personal liability riders so they're protected in the event of property damage or an accident by one of their guests. Some reception sites even require it.
Still, there are things insurance won't cover. Most notably, you aren't covered if the bride skips town with the best man.
"Insurance is based on the law of large numbers, but there's no mathematician in the world who can get a handle on the human heart. So we don't insure Cupid's arrows," said John Kozero, a spokesman for Fireman's Fund, which has sold wedding insurance since 1993.
You're also out of luck if it rains on your big day. But you're protected if there's a hurricane, tornado or some other unforeseeable weather condition that prevents the wedding from taking place. Ditto for any other non-voluntary cancelations.
Some policies will even pay the cost to re-shoot wedding photos if yours are damaged, but you may not be paid for losses if photographs are simply over- or under-exposed.
Keep in mind that coverage often is limited to just a few days before, and up through, the wedding day. You also may be required to pay a deductible before making a claim.
The bottom line? Read your policy carefully to know what's covered.
Kozero said wedding insurance makes the most sense for couples with big bucks on the line in non-refundable deposits. "The primary rationale is to reimburse you for a substantial outlay of non-refundable deposits," he said.
Look at your existing coverage
Before you pay for extra coverage, however, look closely at what your wedding policy will cover. Match benefits against any existing insurance you already have. Don't forget that most homeowner's and renter's insurance already cover the loss of gifts and rings. Plus they offer liability protection. Check with your insurer to find out what coverage you already have.
Also, talk with your caterer, photographer, reception hall coordinator and any other service provider you've booked for the big day. They may have insurance coverage that protects you as well. If a tuxedo is damaged, for example, a dry cleaner should pay for it.
Wedding insurance may also offer liability coverage to protect the bride and groom if there's an accident or someone's hurt. But Hunter, with the CFA, said reception sites that push couples to purchase liability coverage use "classic insurance fear tactics."
"No reputable hall or restaurant won't have their own liability insurance, and it makes sense for them to have it," said Hunter. "It covers them if someone gets drunk and crashes into something. And when you pay for the liquor, part of what you're paying for is the insurance."
Of course, if a banquet hall goes bankrupt or the florist leaves town with your deposit, you'll have to sue to get your money back -- and there's no guarantee you'll collect when you need the cash. That's where wedding insurance comes in. But be aware that if you file a claim at the last minute, there is still no guarantee that your claim will be paid before you say, "I do." Like other insurance policies, claims must be confirmed before benefits are approved.
Keep good records
One way to accelerate insurance reimbursements is to keep careful records of what you've spent. When Wagner contacted WedSafe, she mailed the insurer a package of receipts, complete with explanations of what they were for. She included a letter from Benjamin's commanding officer, confirming that her future son-in-law could not return home to get married.
She was able to recoup losses for the non-refundable airline tickets that Kara and Benjamin had planned to use to return to Pearl Harbor together. WedSafe also paid for items that were now useless -- including 80 linen napkins that Wagner had painstakingly monogrammed with the wedding date and Kara and Ben's initials.
Wagner will monogram 80 more napkins for a new wedding, once the date is set. But she's grateful that her only loss is time. "For $250, the insurance certainly saved [my daughter's] wedding when the time comes," Wagner said.