With the cost of a wedding ceremony and reception at an average $31,213 nationwide, according to The Knot’s recent Real Weddings Study, being silver-tongued and using sneaky savings tactics might seem like the only way to come in under budget. Charisma certainly goes a long way, but even if you’re not a smooth talker, there are negotiating strategies that can get wedding costs down to a reasonable price.
Before signing a vendor contract, read these eight tips. With careful negotiating, you can save money on your wedding — perhaps even thousands of dollars.
1. See If You Can Pay in Full
Getting your paycheck sooner than later is an ideal scenario for anyone, including vendors. Wedding professionals often provide installment plans for their clients, for convenience and as an added benefit. But doing your part to make the arrangement advantageous for the vendor is another way to negotiate lower rates.
Paying your bill in full might give your vendor the opportunity to use the income sooner on business costs, equipment maintenance and more, which could potentially give you more sway to ask for a price adjustment that better suits your budget.
2. Offer to Pay in Cash
It’s important to realize that many wedding vendors are small business owners and hate incurring extra fees as much as you do. Give them more incentive to cut you a better deal by offering to make payments in cash. This can help you and the vendors avoid credit card processing fees and save money.
Valerie Fishbain, owner of Spread The Love, was a bride who knew the importance of flaunting paper instead of plastic. “We were never afraid to ask for discounts and even more [of a] discount if we offered to pay with cash,” she said. “We knew that wedding vendors were used to bargaining.”
Fishbain also suggested working with vendors on the lowest price they’re willing to offer first, then inquiring about an additional discount for cash payments.
3. Share Their Competitors’ Offers
Cash certainly talks, but another way to encourage vendors to bring down their prices is to be honest about the competition’s quote.
“[For] every vendor I ended up with, I did research beforehand with a few other vendors and was open about what pricing others gave me,” Isabella Svenson, a recent Los Angeles bride, said. “Vendors always went lower [than their competition’s offer].”
Remember, when being candid about other offers, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples — the services provided by one vendor should be identical to another’s so your negotiation is seriously considered, instead of disregarded.
4. Tread Carefully With the Word “Wedding”
When it comes to booking rooms and event spaces at a hotel, some couples notice a considerable price disparity between a standard special event, like a family reunion or business meeting, and a wedding. Anne Murlowski said that for her wedding, she received a bid of about $500 when she requested rates for “a meeting space, set up theater style.”
“At this time, we also requested a quote for a locked price on a room block [and] received a nightly rate that was 50 percent less that of a typical stay at that hotel,” she said.
Once rates were locked with a contract, she revealed the intent of the event. “We shared that the event was a wedding when it became time to finalize the details outlined on our online hotel block reservation page for our guests,” said Murlowski.
But use this approach carefully. Many vendors and venues don’t appreciate sudden event type switches, and you might sour your relationship with the vendor. Murlowski said the hotel was very displeased to find that the meeting room was really for a wedding celebration. Hotel staff admitted that, due to the “high touch” nature of wedding clients, disclosing the event was for a wedding would have cost her more money from the get go.
“In hindsight, that probably was not the wisest choice to wait as long as we did, because it created some bad blood between us and the hotel,” Murlowski said. “As a result, they tried to nickel and dime the rest of the booking … In the end, I’m confident that we still locked the entire ceremony in at a lower rate than if we had shared from the beginning that we were planning to host a wedding. But we might have been better off disclosing our purpose immediately prior to signing the contract.”
5. Create a Custom Package for Yourself
If you’re smitten with a particular vendor and haven’t comparison shopped, do what Ashley Feinstein — a certified money coach and February 2015 bride — did. Using the vendor’s existing package as a starting point, she took the reins in the conversation by creating her own customized package, proposing a total price and sending it back to the vendor.
“In some cases we didn’t need everything that the packages had to offer, so we printed out the contract and crossed out everything we didn’t need and sent it back with a revised price within our budget,” Feinstein explained. “The vendor didn’t have to do as much, and we didn’t have to pay as much, so it was a win-win.”
6. Find a Middle Ground
When haggling for a more agreeable price, keep in mind that the chances of getting a fully decked photography package at 85 percent off just because you’re a fan of the photographer’s work is unlikely. It’s important to keep your expectations reasonable when negotiating for a discount. After all, vendors need to pay bills, too.
Tim Halberg, a professional photographer based in Northern California, said one mother of the bride insisted that he should give her a discount because of the city he lived in.
“Somehow, because they paid another vendor the same price who lived in a more expensive town, I shouldn’t charge as much,” he said. “In negotiating for services, ‘reasons’ for a discount don’t apply the same way they do when shopping a used car. Start telling a wedding vendor that their service or product is less than perfect, and you’re likely to offend them.”
So instead of being firm on an 85 percent discount, start there, and see where you and the vendor can compromise. Perhaps you don’t need a professional wedding album in your package, and you prefer to only have a select few images edited instead. Approaching the negotiation ready to compromise, rather than throwing a tantrum, might merit a discount from the vendor’s perspective.
7. Offer Your Services in Exchange for Discounts
A little ingenuity goes a long way when saving money on wedding costs — and so do specialized skills. If you have a specific skill or service to offer your vendor, consider bartering your time and knowledge in exchange for a considerable discount. Murlowski did just this when she offered her professional marketing skills for a huge wedding vendor markdown.
“The trade agreement was for digital marketing consulting, specifically search engine optimization,” she said. “Obviously, this isn’t a skill that everyone has, but in this instance, my expertise was something of value that I could sell to the vendor.”
Murlowski added, “The end difference in out-of-pocket cost came to about 80 percent of the cost of the service.” With that said, it definitely doesn’t hurt to offer your services to your vendor if it can help you lower the overall price of your wedding.
8. Be Honest About Your Budget
At the end of the day, wedding vendors aren’t mind readers. They won’t be able to work with you on executing your dream wedding if you’re not transparent when it comes to your budget.
“The problem that arises is when someone won’t tell the vendor what they want to spend,” said Halberg. “That’s my biggest piece of advice to anyone negotiating — being transparent about budget. It’s the couples who won’t tell me — even after I’ve given them my pricing — that frustrates me to the point that I often decide I’d rather work with a client who is able to talk through the process.”
Securing a great rate from each of your wedding vendors ultimately requires tact and honesty. Without these elements, you’ve already lost footing in the negotiation process.
Keep reading: 8 Money Issues to Resolve Before Walking Down the Aisle