“You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”
Many of us have heard the phrase, but most of us never think to ask for a price break while shopping.
According to a 2013 Consumer Reports study, only 48% of people even attempt to bargain for a better deal on the products and services they buy every day — even though a whopping 89% of those who said they did haggle were able to nab a discount at least once.
So why are we so hesitant to even ask? For starters, “many people think that negotiation is reserved for the big boardroom-type deals and don’t realize how many day-to-day things, such as retail [items], groceries and medical bills, they could negotiate,” says Eldonna Lewis Fernandez, a corporate trainer and author of “Think Like a Negotiator: 50 Ways to Create Win-Win Results by Understanding the Pitfalls to Avoid.”
Additionally, the mere thought of haggling can feel intimidating to many people, notes Ed Brodow, a negotiation-skills trainer and author of “Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals.”
“People are either afraid to ask for a better deal or are convinced it can’t happen,” he says. “They become their own worst enemy if they don’t try. You have to have the ‘negotiation consciousness’: [the willingness] to challenge everything, be assertive and say, ‘This is too much,’ or ‘This is not reasonable,’ or ‘Can you help me out?’”
Of course, your chances of success will be helped if you know what surprising products or services are actually negotiable. So we rounded up five things you may not have realized you could haggle over, along with some insider tips that could help you move from too-scared-to-ask to negotiating-ninja status.
1. Appliances and Electronics
Missed the big-box sale on that washer-dryer set, or need a new big-screen TV for the rec room but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg? One smart tactic is to ask about floor models, returns and overstocks, says Kyle James, owner and founder of coupon and bargain-hunting site Rather-Be-Shopping.com.
“Store managers typically want them sold immediately so they don’t take up valuable real estate,” he says. “These items will typically be marked with a special tag. Start the negotiating at 20% off the asking price and be prepared to meet in the middle.” While you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they can throw in an extended warranty or delivery for free.
And if you’re in the market for more than one big-ticket item, bundling those purchases may help you gain even more leverage.
James discovered the lure of the bundled sale when he was in the market for a new HDTV and DVD player a few years ago. He walked into a major electronics chain and asked the salesperson to knock off $100 if he bought both right then and there.
“He went and asked his manager, and within a minute, he came back and said they could reduce the overall price by $75,” James says.
2. Interest Rates
We’ve all felt the pinch of interest rates, whether on our credit cards, auto loans, mortgages or student debt — but how much leeway do you actually have to negotiate for a lower one?
One of the biggest factors, of course, is your credit rating and history. “If you’ve made late payments or have a bad credit score, you’re more of a credit risk, so the lender may not lower the rate,” says Priyanka Prakash, a finance specialist for FitBiz Loans, an online platform that helps business owners find financing. On the flip side, having a high credit score and a positive payment history only works in your favor.
Additionally, the kind of borrowing you’re dealing with is important; the more regulated a particular type of loan or line of credit tends to be, the less likely you’ll be able to negotiate the interest rate. “Credit card rates are relatively easy to negotiate compared to rates on other [types of] debt,” Prakash says. “Student loans are difficult to negotiate because the rates are set at the federal level.” Business loans, home loans and auto loans probably fall somewhere in between, she adds.
Showing that you’ve been shopping around also helps prove how serious you are about finding a lower interest rate. For instance, you could tell your credit card issuer that you’re thinking of taking advantage of another company’s 0% balance-transfer offer. Or perhaps you have a quote from a lender for a personal loan that you’re hoping another bank matches. “Having the quote in writing shows you’re serious,” Prakash says. Additionally, if there’s a timely reason why you’re trying to lower your interest rate — maybe a job loss or medical crisis means finances are tight — she recommends having that documentation on hand.
Still unsuccessful? Then try your hand at getting loan fees reduced. Prakash says you’ll have more leeway with fees that are charged directly by the lender, such as origination fees, application fees and closing costs, rather than those charged by a third party, such as appraisal fees or credit-report fees.
Maybe you’re already a master coupon clipper — but it’s always a win when you can pay even less at checkout, right?
James highlights the deli and meat counters as great places to haggle. “In particular, look for hams and roasts that are less than a pound in size and politely ask for a discount,” he says. That’s because they may be too small to slice and sell, so the store may be willing to sell them for much less. “Start by asking for 50% off and negotiate from there.”
James adds that meats nearing their sell-by date are potentially another good bet, since the store will lose money on them once they expire. “This works best if you’re buying more than one cut, so stock up and take it all off their hands for a discount,” he says. “Then you can freeze what you can’t use in the next day or two.”
If your neighborhood has a local farmers market, you’re in luck: They’re ripe for heavy discounts if you buy toward the end of the day, says John Vespasian, the author of “The 10 Principles of Rational Living.”
“Farmers much prefer to get rid of any remaining vegetables or fruit at a low price, rather than having to haul them back,” he says. “This is the perfect opportunity not only to save money by negotiating but also to purchase healthy food.”
4. Moving Services
When you start seeking quotes for movers, the shock can often be enough to make you think twice about relocating. But most people don’t realize how much negotiating power they have, regardless of whether they’re dealing with big or small moving companies, says Jacob Beckstead, marketing manager at Bailey’s Moving & Storage in the Denver area.
Moving companies use different variables to come up with their quotes, but often this is more of an art than a science, says Beckstead. “Moving and storage services can often be negotiated in order to fit your particular budget — especially on such a major purchase,” he says. “Even the major carriers with more scientific approaches wouldn’t want to lose a sale over 5%.”
The services most likely to be negotiable? When a salesperson comes to visit, Beckstead suggests haggling on the packing rates, box rates or hourly loading rates.
5. Medical Costs
You’ve gotten over an ailment, and just as you’re feeling better, you get your doctor’s bill — and it nearly sends you back to the emergency room. Often, consumers feel obligated to pay the bill as is, without realizing that the cost for many types of medical services or procedures isn’t set in stone.
First, check that bill carefully — were you billed twice for the same procedure? Were your medical services improperly coded? Ferreting out billing errors could help lower your bill quickly. But if you’re sure there are no mistakes, asking your doctor or hospital nicely for a discount could go a long way.
There are a “certain number of patients who never pay their bill, so they’d rather get something than nothing,” Brodow says. When he was recently billed $1,800 for a minor lab test, he explained that his insurance wouldn’t cover it and that he was older and semi-retired, and then asked if they could adjust the cost. Sure enough, he was able to lower it to $500.
Fernandez says that the billing department can be your ally since they routinely deal with hostile customers. “You will stand out if you leave emotion out and you are kind and cooperative,” she says. Fernandez also suggests starting your request with, “Is there any reason you can’t … ?” For example: “Is there any reason you can’t delay sending this to collections for a month so I can work on getting it paid?”
“You’re not asking, ‘Why can’t you?’ or ‘Will you?’ You’re changing the language of the question to invoke a positive response,” Fernandez says. The billing specialists likely won’t have a good reason why they can’t help fulfill your request. “That interruption [from a typical ‘no’ response] may be just enough to get the person on the other end to feel a little of the human element, versus the mentality of you just being another cog in the wheel of their job.”