Whether we like it, some of the best ways to get — and keep — money in our pockets is through negotiation. By now we know to haggle when we start a new job or are up for a raise. We also know we should never purchase a home or a car at sticker price — there’s always wiggle room, where we can save some significant cash. But what about the myriad of other bills and fees you pay throughout a lifetime?
As my husband once told me when we were discussing a gym membership, “Everything is negotiable.” We might prefer to take a quoted price as is, but if you’re looking to save money, starting a negotiation can yield surprising results. You might think there isn’t room for any back-and-forth on price, but in most cases you can get a better deal than is advertised — as long as you have the right leverage.
And no, you don’t need to possess the questionable tactics of mob boss and Godfather Don Vito Corleone to “make a deal they can’t refuse.” All you need to do is know how, and when, to ask for a better bargain. Most industries are in steep competition with other companies, and you might be pleasantly surprised by how much they’re willing to barter for your business.
Why negotiate at all?
Before going into a negotiation of any sort, however, it’s important to think of your end goal, as well as the goal of the person on the other end of the deal. If you can establish a give and take, you’re more likely to reach an agreement that benefits both of you, writes expert negotiator Gavin Kennedy in his book, Everything is Negotiable. “We negotiate with partners to obtain the joint decision we seek because we need their cooperation to find the best deal for both of us,” he begins. “If each of us only thinks of the best deal for ourselves it’s going to be a long fight to no solution, unless we both change our attitudes.”
In most cases, we negotiate on price because we need (or at least would like) to pay less. Retaining you as a customer is important for the business, because in most cases they need to make money from you — even if it’s a bit less than the sticker price they’re charging. By realizing that, it becomes possible to see the leverage we have as consumers.
Across the board, local businesses will typically have more leeway to negotiate prices and services than big chains. However, there are certain cases where calling up a national brand can still lead to savings on your bills. Aside from the obvious car and home negotiations, here are nine other things that you can typically negotiate for a lower price.
1. Mortgage rates
If you and your realtor were able to purchase your home for less than the asking price, congratulations! However, that’s not the only expense that’s negotiable when purchasing a home. The Federal Trade Commission strongly advises shopping around at different lenders to find out what your rates will be on the mortgage. While your credit picture will be the same, lenders can vary by a surprising amount. You’ll often find the best deal with a bank you’ve been loyal to in the past, but you can sometimes find better deals elsewhere.
If you’d like to stay with your bank but find a better deal elsewhere, you might be able to secure a similar deal at your bank if you ask. Lenders can also negotiate some of the fees they charge during the loan process, depending on how much money you put in a down payment, along with the terms of your loan. Knowing what other lenders are charging will give you leverage to get the best deal possible.
2. Your cable/internet/cellphone bills
Nothing is more frustrating than enjoying a promotional rate for a year or so, only to find your fees for basic utilities skyrocket once that period is over. Pay attention to when your rate is scheduled to rise, and check out competitors’ promotional prices for new customers. A month or so before your plan will increase, call your provider and ask them to match or beat their competitor’s price. You might not get back to your original price, FOX Business reports, but you’re likely to get pretty close.
Cable companies in particular are notoriously difficult to deal with, but there are shortcuts when you call so you don’t have to wait for hours on hold. Tai McNeely, a money-saving expert and founder of the His & Her Money blog, told GO Banking Rates that she presses the option to “change or cancel your service” in the automated menu. “They won’t leave you on hold because they don’t want to lose you,” she said.
In addition, if you’ve experience poor service like fuzzy channels, dropped calls, or spotty internet availability, call and mention this as a reason you might shop around for a new provider. The blogger at ReadyForZero reports that doing so can get you breaks on your monthly bills, or even get extra services added at no charge to compensate for the inconvenience.
3. Medical bills
The cobweb of medical insurance and billing departments is daunting, especially if you’re facing a bill for major surgery. Experts across the board suggest familiarizing yourself with your insurance benefits, to know exactly what they do and do not cover. Billing errors do happen, and knowing the estimated tab for your insurance company can help you spot those issues quickly.
On top of that, there’s sometimes wiggle room even in what you’re charged for a procedure to begin with. If it’s elective surgery, GO Banking Rates suggests visiting sites like Healthcare Bluebook to research the typical price for a procedure in your area. If you’re armed with what procedures normally cost, you can make sure you’re not being grossly overcharged.
In addition, TIME suggests asking your doctor if they will accept the insurance company’s determination of “reasonable and customary costs” — a figure that can be dramatically different than what the doctor’s billing office would otherwise charge. On top of that, offering to pay up front with cash instead of credit can sometimes knock 10 to 50% off the bill, Adria Gross, CEO of MedWise Insurance Advocacy, told GO Banking Rates.
4. Various memberships
No matter which memberships you have, you can likely save money on the fees — especially if you’re renewing your membership for another term. As TIME points out, it’s always cheaper for the business to retain a customer than to secure a new one. In that case, know that you might be able to get out of paying another registration fee, or that annual cost you pay.
This is definitely true of most gyms, whose membership fees can often be quite costly. One site suggests approaching the manager on a weekday toward the end of the month. This is when they’ll be most sensitive about their membership quotas, but also have the time to sit with you and negotiate a monthly fee that works for both of you. If you don’t use certain pricey aspects like the pool or personal training time, WiseBread also suggests bartering for a lower price.
5. Insurance rates
As with cable and mortgage rates, this is another category where it pays to shop around. If there’s a company you would prefer to work with, tell them so — and then quote the lower price of a competitor. They’re more likely to work with you if you express your desire to give them your business. In addition, reporting the lowest rate quote to the next company you call can set the bar to your advantage, WiseBread reports.
FOX Business suggests asking how much you’ll save when you bundle insurances like your car, home, and life. If you’ve been a loyal customer and you notice the company is running a promotion you weren’t included in, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask about it. In some cases, they’ll add you simply because you picked up the phone.
6. Lease terms
Negotiation isn’t just for homebuyers. As with membership renewals, it will likely cost a landlord more money to prepare your rental for new tenants than it will to keep you on the lease. Use this to your advantage when you’re discussing the terms of a new lease. “If you pay on time every month, it’ll be worth it for your landlord to offer you a better rate than to take a gamble with a new tenant,” says HuffPost Money Editor Emily Cohn.
In all cases, it’s important to know the real estate market in which you live. If demand for housing is low in your area, you’re more likely to have better luck in getting a better lease renewal price. In those cases, you might even be able to negotiate the asking rent price when you move in for the first time. In addition, be prepared to haggle over who pays for utilities like electricity, water, and trash removal, along with whether you’re allowed to have pets. However, in high-demand areas, don’t expect the landlord to budge as much — or at all. Use a site like Rentometer to see if the rent price is reasonable for your location and type of rental.
7. Credit card fees
If you pay your credit card bills on time and have been a loyal customer, your bargaining leverage increases with the credit provider. FOX Business reports you can often negotiate for a higher credit limit, a lower interest rate, or even waive your annual fees.
If you normally pay on time but incur a late fee for one missed payment, call your issuer and explain the situation. Also mention your stellar track record. In most cases, a simple apology and request for a one-time waiver will make the fee disappear — all you have to do is ask. If you use the card frequently, it also doesn’t hurt to mention that as well, TIME points out. The company isn’t making money off of interest if you pay on time, but it still reaps the transactions fees from the stores where you purchase your items.
8. Mattresses and furniture
Outfitting your home for the first time with a new mattress, living room set, and dining room table can be a budget-buster, but making large purchases at once also gives you some bargaining power. “The best technique is to give the salesperson a reason to give you a discount. A customer offering to take the floor model or willing to wait for a special order or buying multiple pieces as a package deal are examples of reasons to request a discount,” Stephen Antisdel, a consultant who spent 20 years in the furniture business, told TIME.
In all cases, recognize that most furniture retailers mark up their prices significantly. Even sales prices can still net the store between 38% and 46% profits, Lifehacker reports. As with most things, paying up front in cash can give you an extra bargaining chip, and negotiating at smaller independent stores will yield bigger results than haggling at a national chain.
If a salesperson won’t meet you anywhere near the middle, ask to speak with a manager, FOX Business suggests. They often have more leeway on negotiating prices, or can at least knock off delivery fees or other costs you have.
9. Home services
Whether you’re hiring a contractor for a complete kitchen remodel or you’re just trying to get a few trees trimmed in your yard, there’s likely some room for negotiation. It won’t work the same as when you haggle over the price of a new car, Christian Science Monitor reports, but you might score a deal if you choose the right tactics.
For one, hiring for odd jobs over the winter might yield a lower price, since many contractors will be in a slower season. If they need the work, they might be willing to barter. Offering to pay cash up front can also slash the price a bit. If you’re starting a larger project, FOX Business advocates for getting at least three price quotes, then negotiating with the contractor you would prefer to work with. Promising to refer the company to neighbors and future customers can also score you a better deal, TIME says. If the price won’t come down, they might at least be willing to throw in extra services for no extra cost.
Whomever you choose, make sure you don’t get a bargain at the expense of shoddy workmanship or put yourself at risk of liability. Check to make sure the contractor you choose is certified, or at the very least properly insured against any accidents that would happen while they’re on your property. Angie’s List goes over the details of how to ensure you’re protected.