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Wearing white doesn’t have to cost you a lot of green. That is, if you schedule your wedding ceremony, reception and honeymoon during the off-season.
During off-peak months, wedding vendors hunger for business. This opens the door for couples to negotiate better pricing and save on such big ticket expenses as the reception site and catering fees. The drawback? Off-season often means less-favorable weather conditions.
“The most popular marrying months are May through October,” says Joyce Scardina Becker, wedding designer, president of Events of Distinction and author of “Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding.” Weddings can be celebrated any time of the year, but if you set your big date in a less-popular month or during off-season, the savings can be significant.
Just like buying a car, however, you won’t know if you’re getting a good deal unless you’ve done your homework and approach vendors with an understanding of prices and demand for the product or service.
We spoke with wedding service providers, vendors, authors and wedding industry experts about the hidden financial savings of an off-peak wedding. Passing on their industry advice, here are seven tips that will save you money on your uniquely timed nuptials.
7 tips for an off-season wedding
- The wedding off-season varies by weather.
- Hotels and resorts have off-seasons, too.
- Comparison-shop online before shopping in person.
- Service providers want business during off-peak months.
- Buy local, in-season flowers — if you can.
- Just say no to inflated prices — nicely.
- Shop year-round for bargains on wedding gowns and rings.
1. The wedding off-season varies by the weather.
Generally, weddings occur less often December through April, says Marilyn Oliveira, editor of WeddingChannel.com.
However, off-peak wedding months vary according to regional climate and the desirability of the weather.
“In warm-weather states, the off-season takes place during summer months, while in colder climates, off-season prices go into effect during the winter,” says Phyllis Cambria, wedding book author and wedding coach with WeddingCoachPlus.com. “The only time it’s consistent that prices go up or off-season rates don’t apply is during the busy December holiday season.”
Of course, while a wedding costs less during off-peak times, consider the practicality of where and when it takes place. A winter outdoor wedding in freezing temperatures or a Southern wedding during hurricane season makes for an impractical ceremony, says Cambria.
“Since weather is often a factor in off-season weddings, be sure that your site offers a Plan B for that outdoor terrace you wish to use for the cocktail party,” says Sharon Naylor, author of “1,000 Best Secrets for your Perfect Wedding.”
Securing a separate party room or backup transportation in case of inclement weather makes for smart planning. “It’s within bounds to ask the florist if their delivery truck is reliable if it snows,” says Naylor.
For brides-to-be planning a wedding in an unfamiliar town, Naylor recommends discussing off-season weather planning with a wedding coordinator through the Association of Bridal Consultants.
2. Hotels and resorts have off-seasons, too.
If you are planning a wedding during peak season at a hotel or resort, which attracts convention business, you’ll be competing with business travelers, says Becker. The weekends may also be untouchable, unless you are willing to pay top dollar.
Couples who desire a destination wedding during peak season and are budget-conscious might consider moving the wedding date itself from the weekend to a weekday. “If you’re pondering the idea of a destination wedding and your guests are ready, willing and able to travel, does it matter to them if it’s a Wednesday night wedding instead of a Saturday?” says Becker.
If you can wait until the best weather passes, you might be able to get off-season prices while the weather is still fair. Becker suggests calling the convention and visitors bureau in that city and asking when their business-travel slow season starts.
You could also look in travel magazines or ask hotels in the area when their slow season begins, says Andrew Ward, co-author with Shirit Kronzon of ” The Bargaining Bride: How to Have the Wedding of Your Dreams without Paying the Bills of Your Nightmares.”
Above all, seek seasoned advice before you book. Low prices sound great, but you won’t enjoy yourself, for example, if you find everything shut down on the island upon arriving. During off-season you might face bad service, few restaurant choices and fewer tours, says Naylor.
Besides talking to a travel agent, she recommends a visit to travelandleisure.com for destination reviews and advice on determining the “shoulder season” — that period of time right after the in-season ends, when everything is still well-staffed and open in the area. And of course, talk to people you know who travel a lot. “They can tell you if April is bug season in Bermuda,” says Naylor.
If your reception takes place inside of a hotel and you plan on booking rooms there for incoming guests, point this out to the hotel and ask for a reduction on the total price. By booking rooms, you’re bringing more business to them, and they’ll be more likely to give you a discount, says Becker.
3. Comparison-shop online before shopping in person.
Research, research, research. Think of car shopping: Recognizing a good deal can prove to be difficult if you have no numbers to compare. Check local vendors’ Web sites or call their stores, to make sure you’re comparing apples with apples, note prices and head to your vendor of choice with a price list in hand.
“Preparation is key,” says Ward. “Service providers can manipulate the reference point, so it’s good to bring in your own numbers — that way you can tell them what the store down the street is charging for the same product or service.”
4. Service providers want business during off-peak months.
“All vendors are open to negotiation, but you’ll find increased opportunities with photographers, videographers and limousine companies,” says Naylor. Weddings make up a greater percentage of their overall business, so during off-season they actively seek out wedding couples, unlike hoteliers and florists, who have plenty of business in other areas.
Some vendors might not advertise their discounts, Cambria says, but you’ll have more room to negotiate with them because they want to fill those gaps in their schedule.
When it comes negotiating a discount, it helps to understand the vendor’s perspective. People in the hospitality industry make their living on their services, so they’re not in a position to just give things away, nor is anyone rightfully due a discount, says Becker. That said, vendors might have months when their time is not so demanding, and if you approach them with respect and knowledge of their work, they might be willing to give you a price cut. “Don’t call them saying, ‘I’m booking a wedding in the off-season, what’s my discount?'” says Becker. Tell them you’ve heard of their work and admire their talent but that you’re stuck with a small budget.
On the other hand, a polite request doesn’t necessarily have to have a reason behind it, says Ward. The seven little words “‘Can you offer me any additional discount?” can sometimes strike a bargain, he says. If this somehow insults the vendor or ruins the relationship, you’ve learned something: You don’t want to work with that person anyway.
If the price applies to a wedding package from a caterer, you can customize it, says Becker. Let the vendor know what your needs are and what you can do without, and they can usually draw up a proposal for you.
5. Buy local, in-season flowers — if you can.
Choose flowers that are local and seasonal to your area, says Cambria. “These are always more affordable than selecting flowers which have to be shipped in from other areas or even other countries.”
If you have no idea when different blossoms blossom, find out when your petals of preference are in season, and then check with your florist about their availability. Kronzon and Ward delineate which flowers bloom seasonally and which flowers blossom all year round in their book “The Bargaining Bride,” but some bridal Web sites also include such information.
One site, Blissweddings.com, offers a wedding floral chart in which you can search for flowers by selecting the season and region from a drop-down menu. WeddingChannel.com lists the top 10 flowers for each season. If your florist tells you your flower will cost you big bucks, check that against a list of expensive flowers on WeddingChannel.com.
“Of course, after consulting such sites, you might decide you still want an out-of-season flower,” says Ward. In that case, he recommends negotiating: Say “you’ll pay for a more expensive flower if the florist will offer a discount on a bulk order of said flower.” He suggests using if-then statements when negotiating with the florist, such as “If I am going to buy X flower, then I’d appreciate a discount on the vases.”
Also check your calendar: If your wedding falls close to Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Christmas, busy florists might charge you more, says Becker.
6. Just say no to inflated prices — nicely.
After snagging the bargain price, you whip out your checkbook to make the deposit. As you write in the amount, the vendor casually mentions (for the first time) the small booking fee of $50 you must include with the deposit, the little booking fee something everyone must pay up front.
Just say no, say the experts.
Referred to as “nibbling” in “The Bargaining Bride,” these little add-ons bite the money out of you right at the end. Vendors will use this pressure technique after the buyer commits to a price and falls in love with the product or service. Even though the vendor fails to mention the “little” charge beforehand, the product sometimes appeals so much that the buyer shrugs off additional fees and agrees to this new overblown total.
“If you are faced with an inflated charge, the first thing to do is just to refuse to pay it. Be positive but firm,” say Ward and Kronzon in their book.
Try asking them to take the charge off, and say it’s fine if they can’t. Or you should ask them to take the charge off, offer them a legitimate reason to take the charge off, or rephrase the request to make it sound like a reason, such as “‘Could you take this charge off because I would like it removed?”
The authors say that sometimes, “you don’t need a real reason — just phrasing your request in a format that seems to suggest a legitimate reason can be sufficient to get a positive response.”
The bottom line on getting rock-bottom prices: Giving any reason, even a placebo one, proves more effective than a plain request for a price cut, says Kronzon.
7. Shop year-round for bargains on wedding gowns and rings.
While bridal gown sales don’t hinge around wedding off-seasons, they do go on sale during certain times of the year. When new arrivals come in, for instance, some bridal salons put their sample gowns on sale to make room for the latest styles. To get a piece of the bargain pie, call the bridal salons in your area and ask when the next end-of-season sale commences, says Cambria. “Many places will send you a postcard or e-mail to alert you of their upcoming special sales events.”
Also think outside the bridal shop. Hit the department stores in January through March for discounts on dresses, holiday gowns and prom dresses that work as both bridal and bridesmaid dresses, says Naylor.
“The complex process of buying wedding and engagement rings goes more smoothly when there’s less of a frenzy,” says John Dickinson, a market expert for online diamond retailer James Allen. For less stress, shop during the off-season. The demand for rings soars during the holiday months of October, November and December, when engagement and bridal jewelry sales peak for James Allen. While price remains a consideration, “You want to be able to sit down and talk with someone.”
Since ring prices fluctuate year-round with the market, take your time ring shopping at different retailers and comparing diamond grading, he says. When deciding on a diamond ring, use magnification to better see it, have all grading specifics typed or written down when you make the purchase (if there’s no grading report), and inquire about the ring’s return policy. If the retailer becomes evasive or refuses you at any time, “then it’s not a place you want to be doing business with.”
Ladies wedding rings retail for $200 to $4,300 at James Allen, while men’s wedding bands retail for $500 to $16,000.
A real wedding story
Aside from saving money, the real concern remains: Can you have your dream wedding in the off-season?
According to Aimee Bennett, who wed her husband in January 2004 in Denver, you certainly can. A mere $10,000 bought the couple a formal church wedding and golf club dinner reception for 160 guests — a sum that at half the national average for weddings, covered everything from the apparel and alterations to the cleanup and thank-you cards.
While January might sound to some like a chilly time for a wedding, Bennett said their wedding day occurred during a pretty mild month in terms of weather. The wedding party wore coats and shawls when walking outside, “but nothing special.” In case of a snowstorm, the couple arranged for the priest to get there a few days early. “We took our chances, of course, because you could have a snowstorm at any time. But since it’s so dry here, things melt (or evaporate) quickly, and generally, snow one day is gone the next. Between that, snow removal, and a great airport that can handle all kinds of conditions, we felt OK about the nearly 50 people who traveled from out of town to be here.”
Asked whether she was satisfied with her off-season wedding, she raved about her timely choice. Business-deprived vendors gave her more attention and served her faster. The slower season also resulted in a more exclusive anniversary date.
“January is actually an ideal time of the year because nothing else is going on. Our anniversary never competes with other holidays, summer busyness, or other events. During what can often be a ‘down’ time of the year, we can focus on ourselves and our marriage, and have a wonderful reason to celebrate.”