With a bit of friendly haggling, it's easier than you may think to save money (and even score some great extras!) on your wedding day.

By Benice Atufunwa
Updated April 25, 2014
Wedding cake and wine glasses
Credit: WhitneyLewisPhotography/Getty Images

Catering, seating arrangements, invitations! The long list of to-do’s on your wedding planning checklist is enough to drive even the toughest bride-to-be crazy. But, by far, the most stressful part of planning that dream wedding is making it happen on a real-life budget.

The good news? One simple word is key to getting what you want: Negotiate. With a little back and forth, savvy couples can save hundreds (even thousands) of dollars and score amenities that are otherwise unaffordable.

1. Set a Budget

When negotiating with your wedding vendors, the first and most important step takes place well before the first meeting. Simon Tai, a member of The Remixologist, a New York City-based wedding deejay collective, advises brides to come prepared with a firm grasp of how much she’s willing and able to spend. That way, both parties are better equipped to strike a deal. “Most brides have a budget that they need to stick with. Rank what’s most important. From there you can tell where you want to put your money.”

2. Do Your Homework

Planning a wedding isn’t all fun and games: You won’t get far without doing adequate research. If you’re looking for a florist, find out what your dream florist and their competitors would charge for those peonies you covet. With a solid idea of what things will cost, you’ll be better equipped to negotiate a fair price.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Now that you’ve prepared, it’s time to meet with prospective vendors to discuss specifics. Most vendors recommend being forward during the initial meeting. “Clients should never be afraid to ask for more,” says an anonymous business manager for a major hotel chain. “I don't always share what additional perks or concessions I can give unless they ask. Why give something away for free if they don't even ask for it?”

Speak up if you’re presented with various packages but want to mix and match. If the package you want doesn’t include cake cutting but another does, see if you can swap something out. Or, if think you'll need the deejay to stay for an extra hour, ask if they can offer a discounted rate in the event that additional time is needed. Since vendors raise their prices each year to keep up with inflation and the increased costs of running their businesses, some may even be willing to give you the previous year’s rate. Remember, it’s always easier to negotiate and ask for extras when time is on your side. “Book early to get a good price; the earlier you book the better chance you have of getting a good rate,” says Tai.

4. Ask for More Than a Discount

Focusing solely on the overall price when negotiating can put you at a serious disadvantage. Potential clients get stuck on whittling down the cost per room, says the anonymous hotel business manager. “Some clients forget that hotels are businesses too and we have to be able to reach a healthy average daily rate.” Asking for a 50 percent discount on catering services will only sour your relationship with a vendor. Instead, ask the catering manager to include an extra passed hors d’oeuvre or a champagne toast. When you compromise, your vendor’s profit margin will be enough to provide a quality service and you’ll get more for your money. That’s a win-win.

5. Read Contracts Thoroughly

Contracts tend to be lengthy and—frankly—no fun to review, but it’s important to read each and every word carefully. Some vendors will tack on extras, like cake cutting, that can add up if you aren’t careful. Voice your concerns if you notice something in the contract that seems unreasonable. By removing unnecessary services from the contract, you may be able to lower the overall cost (or swap it out for something you do find necessary).

6. Mind Your Ps and Qs

While it’s important to speak up and ask for what you want, the most important tactic to have in your negotiating arsenal is good manners. Some brides think being firm will get them what they want, but it can actually have the opposite effect, says Anna Spraungel, catering manager at McCalls Catering & Events in San Francisco. Vendors are more likely to be generous when clients are polite and respectful. “Treat people the way you would like to be treated and they will go the extra mile,” says Spraungel.

At the end of the day, you may save a lot of money—or you may get nowhere—but you should always try to negotiate with your wedding vendors. The very worst they can say is no.