Now more than ever, brides can get great deals on goods like flowers and photos. With the right strategy and some key language, both you and your vendor will leave the table happy. But unless you're a professional arbitrator, chances are you're not comfortable negotiating. Having a well-thought-out plan will make it easier.
Know your budget: "It may sound obvious, but figure out what you can spend before bargaining," says Jean Chatzky, author of The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper Even in the Toughest Times (Crown Business). Knowing your numbers will boost your confidence.
Get an itemized cost list from each vendor: This way, you'll know where every dollar is allocated. "Don't start discussing discounts until you've taken time to review the list on your own and can suggest tweaks," says Chatzky.
Always ask: Approach the planning process with the mind-set that all prices are flexible. If you don't ask for a discount, you'll never get one.
Be flexible: Negotiating requires give-and-take; the most successful deals happen when both parties are willing to find a sweet spot that works for them. Maybe it's having a shorter reception or marrying on a Friday. Compromising may get you closer to the right price.
Know your value: Joyce Scardina Becker, president of the Wedding Industry Professionals Association, says that a couple who have blocked guest rooms and planned multiple events (rehearsal dinner, reception, brunch) at a single hotel will have more bargaining power than a couple who are hosting just one event. Consider this when planning, and don't be afraid to remind the vendor of what Becker, who's also a wedding planner, calls "the total impact of your business."
Watch Your Language
It's not just what you say; it's how you say it. Phrasing your request politely is the key to success.
Instead of saying… "The sushi station is too expensive."
Try…"I see that the sushi station is going to add thirty dollars per person. Would you be able to tweak it and charge twenty dollars per head instead?"
Instead of saying… "Do you have any cheaper flowers?"
Try… "We love your ideas, but the bill would be $500 more than we budgeted. Can you do any better on the price while keeping the look and feel we want?
Instead of saying… "This is twice as much as we can spend on a location."
Try… "The space is fabulous, but we were hoping to spend about $2,000. Do you have any quiet weekends when you'd consider giving us a lower rate?"
Vendors Weigh In
We asked the pros how brides can get on their good side.
The Wedding Planner "It's always nice to hear that someone really wants to work with you," says Heather Canada, of First Coast Weddings and Events in Jacksonville, Florida. "If it seems like they're just looking for deals, I'm unlikely to discount." Canada doesn't slash prices, but she'll throw in extra services or create custom packages for couples with modest means.
The Site Manager "Be honest and nice. I probably won't bargain if someone is aggressive," says Cathy Reynolds of the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa, California.
The Baker "Couples should say which means more—the cake's look or taste," says Cheryl Lew of Montclair Baking in Oakland, California. She'll then adjust the concept, perhaps by using less expensive flavor combinations (if the look is the priority) or simplifying the design (if the couple wants pricey ingredients like Tahitian vanilla).
The Photographer "Flexibility helps," says Sarma Ozols of Sara and Sarma Photography in New York. "For example, we're willing to book a shorter day." Paying for six hours vs. the standard eight can save big-time.