7 rules for negotiating with wedding vendors - save thousands! (Updated for 2020)
I have to admit that the timing when we had to negotiate with wedding vendors in the area could not have been better for us. Having just completed a full year of professional-level negotiation training as part of our graduate school curriculum, we had a wide range of negotiation tactics fresh in our minds. Hunting for wedding vendors provided the perfect opportunity to practice our newfound skills. We were trained by the best of the best, so perhaps these notes will help you get the most oomph out of your own negotiations. Let us know how these work for you!
Below are the top 5 techniques we employed (that were most successful) together with some specific examples. These are basic principles - if you want more details, check out our advanced negotiating tactics article. We also recommend some reading. We found these negotiations books most valuable:
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, around $24
- Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People, ~$16
Think of it this way - if you save, say, 10% on average on most things, on a wedding that costs $28,000 (average wedding cost), the savings of almost $3,000 could give you a pretty good boost to your honeymoon budget!
Most people hear the "don't judge the book by its cover" idiom since early childhood, yet very few actually heed the wisdom of those words. This is especially true for wedding vendors who actually often use the appearance of their prospective clients to set the initial price for their services. Yes, different people walking through the door of, say, the same wedding photographer will get a completely different quote for the same services provided. Our finance and micro-economics professor in the grad school called this same principle, the "price-elasticity jacket" implying that the more modest your jacket looked when you walked through the door of any given salesman, the more flexible, or elastic, the price would become and the lower you could push it.
As you would negotiate when buying a car in two steps, you negotiate with anyone in this world in two steps.
The first step is to make sure they want to do business with you. Dress well, be on time, have an expensive leather binder with you. Wedding vendors want to remember you as someone they want to do business with. They will more eagerly answer your questions, explain things and spend time with you. You will make an impression of a "payable" client.
If you particularly like one vendor and want to choose them, the time comes to settle on a price. For this meeting, wear what Ed Rice used to call "high price elasticity jacket" in his wardrobe - a simple, old jacket:
- For example, drive an old Toyota Camry to the meeting
- dress modestly (modest does not mean stinky or dirty... think "Wal-Mart" vs. designer brands )
- If you've recently graduated (within, say 5 years), do not fail to mention that you are a recent graduate (and let vendors draw the stereotypical conclusions from that fact)
The above technique never failed us and got us the immediate price cut (compared to the prices that our friends got for comparable services in some cases).
One thing to note is that your price-elasticity jacket has to be real :) (yes, we were both part-time grad school students at the time while we continued to work full-time). Vendors, as someone who has to deal with people a lot, would easily sense any outright lies you told them.
"He, who speaks first, loses"
What we mean by that is that you never want to let the wedding vendors know how much you can afford to pay them. Very often a vendor would start the conversation (or ask very early on) something along the lines of "So, how much are you looking to spend on this?"
Say, you've talked to your friends, and they told you to expect to spend on average a thousand bucks on something. But the wedding vendor is running a promotion on their site right now and is offering their services for, say, eight hundred dollars.
You never want to answer their question with "a thousand bucks" as it will give away your cards right away without giving you any information about what the fair price for the service is (the quote will never be lower than the price you name). Instead, you want to ask the vendor what options they have to offer you (what their basic package would be). When they answer that question, remember that the initial price they give you is the maximum price they are thinking about (so negotiate down from there).
Of course, keep in mind that vendors do tend to read these pages too. Nonetheless, keep the entire price frame of reference low.
Bring comparable offers from competition
Before meeting with the wedding vendor face-to-face, research other vendors in the same category to see the services and prices they offer. Sometimes the prices would be advertised on the website, but more often you would need to email each vendor to get the price of a particular package you want.
To make this process easy, we created the "Let vendors bid on your wedding" feature on this site where you select the vendors you are interested in and have them submit their offers for your review. Print out the bids/offers you receive and take them with you to the meeting with a prospective vendor. If (or should we say when) the vendor you are talking to hands you a proposal that is too high, don't be shy about giving them a surprised look and showing them the supporting documentation you collected from the other vendors. In most cases, the vendor will try to keep you as a customer at least match the other offers you received.
Deal with time pressure
Time pressure is actually a technique that wedding vendors often use against you and is something you need to learn to recognize in order to avoid making rush decisions. Quite often a vendor will give you "a special discount" (of, say, 5%) if you sign the contract with them right now (this is really the same technique that infomercials use when they announce their "limited time offers").
If you don't feel you have done enough research to understand what the fair price for the service would be (maybe this is the first or second vendor you are talking to), don't be afraid to firmly tell the vendor you must first discuss this with your fiancée/parents/etc. before signing anything.
If having done the research, you decide that you really liked the vendor's offer best after all (this is not common), contact the vendor and tell them you will be ready to sign the contract given the services are offered at the earlier discounted price (watch the "limited time offer" be miraculously extended to you again, but only because they "really liked you").
Don't be afraid to leave
If the negotiation is not going anywhere and the wedding vendor is not willing to come down in price, don't be afraid to leave. Quite often the vendor will stop you at the door and offer a lower price after all. This is true because the vendor feels they already invested so much time into meeting with you that unless they strike up a deal, all this time would have been a waste (just basic human nature).
In general, the more time the vendor spends negotiating with you, the more willing they will be to give you a discount. This is why if you are serious about getting a particular vendor, don't just limit your conversations to phone and email (those don't take up much time), but make sure to arrange one or more face-to-face meetings as well. In the end, if the vendor is still not willing to compromise, don't be afraid to walk out. There are PLENTY of wedding vendors out there who will offer you comparable to better quality service for less.
Division is your friend
Two ways to approach the same price - from above or from below. For example, I need a wedding photographer for 4 hours or food for 50 people. One option is to check the price from above: for example - how much is it to get you for 4 hours/cater for 50 people? We'd get a price of $1000 dollars.
Another way is to ask for double the amount. How much for 8 hours / 100 people? Usually, you'd get a price that's about $1200-$1400, while the amount that you get doubles - that makes sense.
But if you started by asking for double the amount right away, ask now to take half off - from 8 hours or 100 people, drop a half. People naturally tend to think that for half of the services, you get half the price. The price won't drop full half, but it's more likely to drop to slightly more than that - half of $1200-1400 would go down to $800. That's much less than $1000 that you would have gotten originally.
Basically, ask for A LOT in the beginning and then take away pieces till you get to what you need - you are likely to get more and more chances for discounts by dropping slowly more and more unnecessary services that you do not need.