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Planning my wedding over the last year, I've learned the art of striking a balance between sentimentality and practicality.
And no matter what I spent money on, I always found a way to get it for less than full price — whether that meant negotiating with a vendor, waiting for a sale or using “rewards” points — and I managed to save $21,485 in the process. Here are my 10 tricks.
1. Don’t Be Overly Accommodating
My wedding was originally supposed to be on a Friday evening. I signed a contract with my venue coordinator, and started to spread the exciting news. The next day, when she called to tell me that she had accidentally double-booked my date, I didn’t say, “Oh, that’s OK. Mistakes happen. I totally understand.” Instead, I told her politely (but firmly) that I was disappointed — and that I might take my business elsewhere.
Recognizing that she was in the wrong, she offered me a Saturday evening wedding at a Friday evening price. And that meant a savings of $50 for each of my 229 guests. That added up to $11,450. Although I was nervous about making the deal, since the coordinator had already broken my trust, I decided that it was too good to pass up.
If your vendor makes a mistake, remember that you have leverage. There’s no need to throw a tantrum, but don’t be a pushover either. Gently express the fact that you’re dissatisfied. Then see if that person makes you a better offer.
2. Borrow Instead of Buy
Before you purchase something, think about weddings that you’ve been to recently. Is there an item that the bride wore or used that you might be able to borrow?
For example, I always admired my sister-in-law’s veil — it was simple, elegant and just the right length. And since a veil is one-size-fits-all, it can be easily reworn. That saved me about $50.
And when I started ring shopping, I wanted a basic band. My mom offered me her original, and it was perfect. I spent $40 getting it resized and polished, still saving roughly $60.
3. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
My fiancé and I love live music, so we were willing to pay for a band instead of a less expensive DJ. I already had a band in mind that I was obsessed with — I'd seen them perform four times — but the bandleader charged a ton for a Saturday night.
I said to the bandleader, “We love you guys, but the price is steep. Is there any way you could cut it down a little?” She immediately slashed her price by $2,500. I told her that I’d think about it because it was still above our maximum. A few days later, I called back and asked, “Is that the very best price that you can give us?” She said that she could drop her price another $2,500, if we paid in cash — and she offered to throw in a cocktail hour duo for free, saving us another $800. My reply: “Deal!”
Negotiating was scary because I didn’t want to annoy the vendor and make her not want to work with me. But it was worth it, since I saved $5,800. Bottom line: Never accept a vendor’s first price. More often than not, there is wiggle room.
4. Work With Your Venue
The wedding business is filled with partnerships. Venues refer brides to certain clients, and clients refer brides to certain venues in return. So you should always ask if a venue has a list of “preferred vendors,” and if you like them, use them, because there’s a good chance you’ll get a deal. By using my venue’s preferred hair and makeup team, the total cost of the package for my bridesmaids and myself was $200 cheaper than normal.
5. Call on Talented Friends
My fiancé and I were hoping for a personal ceremony, and it occurred to us that one of our closest and wittiest friends is an ordained minister who had already officiated a few weddings. He agreed to marry us at no charge. We are giving him a gift worth $250, but we likely saved $250, since officiants charge around $500.
Two other friends who are talented singer-songwriters will play music for free during the ceremony. We’re also giving them gifts, but we likely saved about $750 by not hiring pros.
6. Shop Around
When you’re choosing a vendor, it helps to have context. The more websites that you visit, calls you make and meetings that you set up, the better sense you'll have of what prices are “low,” “average” and “high.”
I visited two florists before making a decision. I liked Florist A a lot more than Florist B. The only problem: Florist A's estimate was $1,100 higher.
I emailed Florist A and said, “I’d really love to work with your company, but I got an estimate from another florist that’s $1,100 less.” Guess what? Florist A matched that exact price, so I got what I wanted at a much more reasonable cost.
7. Wait for Sales
The earlier you start to plan, the better — because you’ll have more time to wait for sales.
My fiancé and I knew which gifts we wanted to buy for our bridal party on TheKnot.com within a month of getting engaged. We knew that we had about a year to buy them, so we held off and signed up for The Knot’s newsletter. In December, we got an email that read: “Year-end clearance sale!” That savings: $120.
I was also patient when searching for a pair of shoes. I eventually found a gorgeous Badgley Mischka pair on sale at Bloomingdale’s — marked down to $150 from $215. If you can, hold out for big holiday sales, and ask wedding gown salons for a list of their upcoming trunk shows or sample sales.
8. Pay Attention to the Fine Print
When you’re planning a wedding, you have to read and keep track of dozens of contracts — many of which are long and detailed. So it’s all too easy to skim them quickly. Carefully analyze what you’re agreeing to — and make sure to bring home a photocopy of the agreement, in case you need to refer to it later.
While tweaking invitation proofs, my vendor told me that it would cost an additional $180 to use two colors. I thought that sounded different from what the vendor had told me originally, and sure enough, the contract clearly stated that since my invitations were digital, I could use as many colors as I wanted at no additional charge. I pointed that out to the salesperson, who corrected the error. But if I hadn’t spoken up, odds are that I would have been charged extra.
9. Use Rewards Points
My fiancé is a Hilton HHonors member, thanks to business travel. So we were able to use 160,000 of his rewards points to get a free hotel room for two nights during our Hawaiian honeymoon. That saved us a total of $800. You should also think about using frequent flyer miles and credit card rewards points — you can also rack up a lot of the latter if you pay for all of your wedding-related stuff with your credit card.
10. DIY It
Instead of asking a professional company to print out my ceremony programs and reception place cards, I printed them myself. The place cards would have cost about $175, and the programs would have been about $400.
DIY your bouquet with antique jewelry or artificial flowers, or design your own party favors by baking your famous chocolate chip cookies or growing your own mini potted plants.
When I reflect on every wedding purchase I made, I can’t believe that all of the small cuts add up to over $21,000. And I’m thrilled that I can put that money toward something a lot less romantic but a lot more practical — a future mortgage.