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The $21,000 discount: How I saved a bundle on my wedding
And 10 tips so you can, too
 
If you splurge on that fancy vineyard venue, at least try printing your own programs.
If you splurge on that fancy vineyard venue, at least try printing your own programs. Thinkstock

Ever since I got engaged, planning my wedding has been a financial challenge — especially since I'm both a sentimental and a thrifty person.

On the one hand, I think: It's a special day — the one moment in my life when I'll be surrounded by all of my dearest family members and friends. So why not splurge and have my wedding at a spectacular vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island, N.Y.?

But I also think: I don't have a huge income. And my fiancé and I are saving for a house, so extravagance isn't necessary. I guess that I don't really need to tie the knot in wine country and pay $10,000 to $15,000 just for the "location fee," which doesn't even include the cost of tables, chairs, and linens.

Over the last year, I've learned the art of striking a balance between splurging on my priorities (a live band, a pretty dress) and resisting the urge to blow the bank on things that are less important to me, like fancy programs and escort cards.

But 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! For all those brides- and grooms-to-be who want in on my secrets, check out these 10 tricks that allowed me to cut corners… and still have a dream wedding.

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 okay. Mistakes happen. I totally understand." Instead, I told her politely (but firmly) that I was disappointed — and that I might take my business elsewhere.

Sensing that I was serious, and 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 the 229 guests I was inviting. In other words, she was offering me the most desirable day and time of the week for $11,450 less than it usually costs. Although I was nervous about making the deal, since the coordinator had already broken my trust, I decided that it was too good of an offer to pass up.

Wedding vendors juggle as many as four brides per weekend — especially between April and October — and errors aren't all that uncommon. So 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. Hesitate before moving forward with the vendor, and gently express the fact that you're dissatisfied. Then see if that person makes you a better offer. After all, you have nothing to lose.

2. Borrow instead of buy
Before you purchase something, think about weddings that you've been to recently. Is there an item that a past 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 said, "If that's what you're after, I should show you my original ring. I have a newer one, so I don't use it anymore." As it turned out, her band was perfect. I spent $40 getting it resized and polished, still saving roughly $60.

3. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
After I booked the venue, my next biggest priority was hiring musicians. 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 a total of $5,800. Bottom line: Never accept a vendor's first price without trying to negotiate. 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.

We have two other friends who are talented singer-songwriters, and they agreed to play music for free during the ceremony, which will make it much more meaningful. 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 you visit, calls you make, and meetings 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 gave me an estimate that was $1,100 higher!

I decided to email Florist A and say, "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 the quality that I wanted at a much more reasonable cost. A win-win!

7. Wait for sales
The earlier you start to plan, the more deals you're likely to snag — 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 members on TheKnot.com within a month of getting engaged. We knew that we had about a year to buy the items, so we held off on purchasing them — and signed up for The Knot's online newsletter. When December rolled around, we got an email that read: "Year-end clearance sale!" That savings: $120.

I was also patient when searching for a pair of bridal shoes. I eventually found a gorgeous, sparkly Badgley Mischka pair on sale at Bloomingdale's — marked down to $150 from $215. If you can, hold out for big holiday sales around Memorial Day, July Fourth, and Labor Day. 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 without fully focusing on what you're signing. Resist that urge and 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 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. D.I.Y.
Instead of asking a professional company to print out my ceremony programs and reception place cards, I saved money by printing them myself. The place cards would have cost about $175, and the programs would have been about $400.

And you can use other D.I.Y. skills to save money, like making your own bouquet out of 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.

It's easy to get sucked into a wedding spending vortex, especially when vendors prey on your emotions by saying things like, "We want to help you create memories that you'll carry with you for a lifetime." I had to keep reminding myself that how much I spent wasn't a reflection of how in love I was nor how strong my marriage would be. These were business transactions, and at the end of the day, all the vendors really wanted was my cash.

When I reflect on every wedding purchase I made over the past year, I can't believe that all of the small cuts add up to over $21,000. Crazy! And I'm thrilled that I can put that chunk of change toward something a lot less romantic but a lot more practical — a future mortgage.

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