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Getting What You Want 

How to effectively use bridal registries

Amid all the plans for a wedding ceremony, reception, parties before, finding attire and rings and scheduling a honeymoon, engaged couples must also consider where they're going to live after the nuptials, which usually involves melding two established households into one.

Deciding how you want your new home to look and operate may take less time than the other plans, but the results will be evident for much longer. A well-thought-out plan is in order and bridal registries often can help tremendously in the organization and execution. They also are helpful to guests who may want to give the couple a nice gift, but don't know their specific needs or tastes.

Most department and jewelry stores and many furniture shops, home improvement outlets and even small boutiques offer bridal registries, some complete with online registration and shopping options as well. There also are online bridal registries that will link prospective shoppers with several retail outlets.

Before you decide where to register, there are a few things to consider. Many wedding consultants recommend couples choose a department store where they can register for all their household needs from china and crystal to towels and tools. Other couples find they prefer a large jewelry store for their china, crystal, flatware and hollowware, a bed and bath shop for linens and accessories, and still another store for furniture and decorative accents. In the end, it depends on where couples find what they want and who is getting the word out (tactfully) about where a couple is registered.

Ask a few key questions, such as how the registry works, test how easy it is to maneuver through, get in writing policies about returns and exchanges and whether there's an after-the-wedding discount, usually 10 percent to 20 percent, if a couple chooses to buy items on their registry that no one selected as gifts. Also endeavor to get in writing a guarantee that the prices for individual items will remain the same as were quoted when the registry was set up. You shouldn't expect to get a cash refund for items returned, but check beforehand that the store has an open exchange policy in case you need something that was not on the original registry list. You can always update the registry and add items as you go along.

Because the average age of brides and grooms these days is mid- to late-twenties, couples often already have many things people traditionally gave as wedding gifts, such as toasters, blenders and can openers. To establish a useful wedding registry, the bride and groom both should be involved in selecting items for the home. After all, some of these things will be around for years.

Pat Terranova, a bridal consultant at Dillard's at Lakeside Shopping Center (3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 833-1075, says it's best to make an appointment so a consultant can set aside plenty of time to help.

"Some places just give them a scanner and they're on their own," she says. "Here the bridal consultant walks around with them, gives them advice and points out things they might need. They really need a lot of help, and we're one of the few places that still gives that individual service."

Most consultants and bridal registry tips urge couples to select items in a range of prices to accommodate the budgets of all guests and to give gift-buyers a range of choices between traditional-type presents and more offbeat choices.

"I always advise them to put down practical things, elegant things and fun things," Terranova says. "They can register for china, crystal, glassware, housewares, luggage, bed and bath linens Š furniture, lingerie, anything pertaining to getting their home started and what they need. We have a huge selection Š and we're going to be expanding, too, getting in some more high-end merchandise."

The items couples choose are then entered into a database and gift-buyers can get a printout of the selections (minus any that have been purchased) and the prices of each item through a self-serve kiosk in the wedding department. The register also is available online at www.dillards.com.

Smaller stores and independent businesses may take a less formal approach, walking around a store with the bridal couple, making a list and then personally giving the list to friends and family who come in to purchase registered gifts.

"They can sign up for anything that's in the store," says Joan Beaulieu, co-owner of Cameron Jones for Your Home (2127 Magazine St., 524-3119). "It's more informal (than some places). For the last one we did, 13 or 14 guests came in to purchase gifts. It ran the gamut: lamps, chairs, artwork, glassware. We keep track of what has been purchased, and whenever a new customer comes in they know what's still on the list." Guests also can buy gift certificates that allow the bridal couple to shop for what they want after the wedding.

Registering at larger chain enterprises can be especially useful if many of your guests, friends and family are from out of town and will be shopping before they come to New Orleans for the wedding. Dillard's, for instance, has 300 stores nationwide and will gift-wrap and ship registry gifts to the bridal couple. Williams-Sonoma, another national chain with stores in New Orleans, has about 400 shops and specializes in cookware and other culinary needs. Many online registries, including Dillard's and Williams-Sonoma, also will wrap and ship the gifts.

Other helpful hints include making sure the register is updated the closer the wedding date comes. Check the online register often to make sure it corresponds with the items you've already received. It also can be useful in helping you keep up with thank-you notes, which etiquette dictates be written within two weeks of receiving a gift. Also, keep the registry open for a year after the wedding ceremony, as etiquette rules say guests, friends and family have up to a year to buy to a wedding gift, and some people also like to use the registry to select birthday, Christmas and anniversary gifts for the newlyweds.

Although stores will make available to wedding couples printed cards that state where you are registered, it is considered very tacky and tasteless to include such cards in your wedding invitations or announcements. Most times, word-of-mouth from family and friends is how gift-givers find out where a couple has registered. Other couples establish Web sites that detail their wedding and honeymoon plans and have links to or information about where they are registered. This also is considered gauche in some circles.

Another popular alternative to traditional gifts, especially among couples who already have established households and don't need the things commonly given as wedding gifts, is a honeymoon registry. This can be done through a travel agency, stores such as Dillard's (through a link on its Web site, www.dillards.com) or strictly online sites (a popular one is www.thebigday.com) and the information passed around by family and friends. The honeymoon registry allows guests to contribute to the cost of the honeymoon through airline tickets, accommodations or special attractions such as snorkeling, theater shows, helicopter rides or other excursions. Other couples will sign up at sporting goods or hardware stores for items that reflect their particular interests such as tents, other camping equipment, outdoor grills and even power saws.

Many registries and wedding consultants recommend a couple set up a "quickie" registry as soon as they are engaged so guests can take advantage of the list for early parties. A few of the online registry proponents we consulted say it isn't necessary because most people won't use it. The decision depends on what type of activities you have planned before the wedding and the nature of your family and friends. Some consultants also recommend that linens and towels be the last things selected, about three to six months before the wedding, because styles and availability of specific patterns change often. Even with a registry, couples sometimes will get duplicate gifts. The polite thing to do is to send a thank-you note for the gift you received, then exchange it without ever mentioning to the giver that it was a duplicate or that you returned it. Bridal registries originally started to make it easier on mothers and bridesmaids who traditionally made lists by hand of what a couple wanted and needed for those who inquired. They never were intended, however, to dictate what gift someone was to choose for a wedding and couples should make sure that information about where they are registered be delivered tastefully, usually in response to an inquiry.

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