TIP CONTENT PROVIDED BY: CYNTHIA MEYER AT FINANCIAL FINESSE
Is everything negotiable? It’s not a part of the American culture to negotiate much, but you’d be astonished at what you can bargain for if you think outside the box. Negotiating prices is both an art and a learned skill. Those who do it the best often pay less than the rest of us for typical expenses.
Recently Katie Warren, a reporter for INSIDER, asked me for some ideas on costs you can negotiate, and I crowd-sourced responses from our team of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS™. I was floored by what they suggested: who knew you could negotiate so many things? Read Katie’s article for Nine Surprising Things You Can Negotiate To A Much Lower Price, and check out these amazing money-saving tips from our planner team:
When our blog/content editor and planner, Kelley Long, recently learned she needed a new hose for her beloved MINI’s air conditioning, she debated making the repair versus trading in the car. When she took it in for the repair, before signing the estimate she decided to risk asking, “is that the best you can do on price?” “I was pleasantly surprised when the manager stepped right in, played with some numbers and came back at about 75% of the previous estimate,” observed Kelley.
“I was at a dealership service center too, not a mom-and-pop place. I will never again pay the first price I’m quoted!”
“Mechanics regularly markup parts costs from 10% to 100%. Challenge them on this mark up,” suggested fellow planner Teig Stanley. Stanley, who is a world-class negotiator, recommended, “If you do some research and find the same quality part elsewhere for less, offer to purchase it and have it shipped directly to the mechanic. Be sure the mechanic still honors their labor warranty, and that the part still comes with a warranty as well.”
Larger home projects are almost always negotiable, such as a bathroom or kitchen renovation, painting, landscaping work or building a deck. Make sure to get three quotes on any project.
If your preferred contractor has a higher bid on the project, see if you can negotiate with them by sharing competitor’s bids. Once you collect bids, let your decision wait for a week or two if you can. A contractor who is really interested in the work may come back to you with a lower bid. Don’t lower your overall budget, though, since you’ll need to create some wiggle room for contingencies. We’ve done several projects on our home and each one has had unexpected expenses.
Are you willing to sign a multi-year lease? As a landlord, I’ve occasionally accepted negotiated offers from tenants who offer a rent lower than the listing, in return for signing a 3-year lease. Keep your offer reasonable (5-10 percent below listing).
Another alternative would be to propose a lower rent in the first year, with rent increases in year 2 and 3. If you’re in a rental unit which doesn’t accept pets but you really, really want that dog or cat, consider trying to negotiate with your landlord by offering to pay a non-refundable cleaning deposit (typically $250-350) and a slightly higher monthly rent ($50-75).
Elective Medical Procedures
Kelley wrote a moving blog post last year, Should You Go Into Debt To Get Pregnant? about how she and her husband made financial decisions around pursuing IVF. “It’s big business and everything is negotiable – the cost of the procedure, the meds, and even refunds in certain cases when the procedure doesn’t result in the wished-for outcome,” she shared. “It took tenacity, but we ended up being compensated not only for unused services when IVF failed, but we also got our clinic to reimburse us for meds they had us order that we never needed.”
Teig insisted medical and dental expenses are always negotiable. “I may not know the going market rate, but I start by offering up either a ‘here’s what I’ll pay for that,’ and/or request a long-term 0% interest payment plan.” Teig added, “Remember, in the U.S., medical care is a business. It’s not rude to ask a business owner (usually the doctor or dentist in this case) what their cost is before profit and then offer a reasonable premium over cost.” He said he’s paid a lot less than others for medical and dental services over the years with this strategy.
Cell Phone Plan
Carriers are competitive and most of the representatives at the local store are on commission, so asking for everything the competitor is offering at a lower price is a good way to start, noted Teig. If your carrier can’t at least meet it, consider heading to the other carrier. That’s what our Think Tank Director, Greg Ward, does.
He negotiated his family’s satellite TV bill. “Basically, I called and asked to “cancel” my service,” he explained. “The customer rep transferred me to an accounts specialist who actually has the power to negotiate fees and expenses. I said I’d like to stay (having been a loyal customer for several years), but other service providers were offering me better deals. I gave them a choice: either decrease my bill, increase my level of service, or terminate my contract. They offered me more services at a reduced price to keep me loyal.”
One hiccup, he added, is that he must call every 3 to 6 months to request the same discounts. Greg said that’s a small price to pay for his $360 annual savings.
Credit Card Fees
Teig offered he has yet to pay an annual fee on the points cards he uses for travel. “I call a month before the annual fee comes around and ask the company to waive it,” he described. “As long as I’ve been using the card and paying on-time (these are the reasons they give) I save myself at least a $100 per year per card.”
Big Ticket Purchases
“Always ask for at least 10% off at a “big-box” store whenever you shop there. It’ll take a few more minutes because a manager has to approve, but this approach never fails me and sometimes leads to even bigger discounts when I uncover hidden manufacturer incentives,” advised Teig. My husband, Steve, impressed me early in our relationship when he walked into a car dealer with a cashier’s check and announced that’s how much he was willing to pay for the make and model of car he wanted to buy. It worked.
Lessons and Personal Services
I’ve negotiated 10-20% discounts on personal training, language learning, and sports lessons by being willing to pay upfront for a package of multiple lessons. Teig says he does the same thing. “It annoys my wife sometimes, but I always offer to pay less when I’m buying products or services. For example: My wife and I are ballroom dancers and occasionally engage in expensive coaching for competition. We recently bought a coaching package of lessons through a world-renowned studio system, and I offered to pay the company 20% less than they requested. They negotiated to 10% down, which saved me hundreds of dollars just because I asked!”
Give Negotiating a Try
What’s the worst that could happen? The person with whom you are negotiating could say, “no.” However, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know! For more tips on how to bargain, see this article.