Are you up for a good haggle? You’re probably well aware that when it comes to buying a used car or an antique gewgaw at the local flea market, the best way to get a killer deal is to negotiate. You start low, they start high and, hopefully, you end up somewhere in the middle.
But haggling skills can win you more than just a ’70s marble ashtray or five-year-old Honda Accord (a great car, by the way). Believe this: Spending a little time on negotiation can lower many of your household bills, in the process saving you hundreds of dollars, possibly even thousands. A few years ago, a friend advised me to give it a try haggling over my cable bill; to my (pleasantly) shocked astonishment, it worked. Now, with a few successes under my belt, I’ve become a firm believer in the modern-day bill haggle.
Better still, just about anyone can negotiate. It does take confidence and a certain amount of brashness, but the core components are actually time and research, and the ability to say “no.” Here are five business-and-bills areas for you to try out the art of the barter.
If you’re like me and you love your TV/PVR combo, you don’t have a lot of choice about which company is your provider. Unless you want to ditch cable entirely and go with Netflix, or buy an antenna and watch “over-the-air,” your options are limited to a couple of big, monolithic competitors. And they are not cheap. Still, it’s not as hard as you might think to get a better rate. Simply call up your cable provider and state outright that you want to pay less. If you have a competitor’s lower offer in hand (sometimes, a simple rate card dropped in your mailbox along with other “junk”), you have automatic leverage. Be prepared for the customer service agent to say no — at first. Your job here is to be polite and persistent, and keep the conversation going. Tell the agent you are considering going with another company; repeat it if necessary. If that doesn’t get you anywhere, ask for the retention department. (I halved my rate this way!) But be sure to check back in regularly, too — you may only get one year of discounting, so you’ll have to go through it all again once that bill starts to creep up.
In my experience, getting a break on your phone bill can be a bit trickier than cable. Just my opinion, but I don’t find they are as desperate to keep your business. Regardless, the principles here are the same: Call customer service, preferably with a competitor’s price; say you’re thinking of cancelling; ask to speak with customer retention. As well, you can also offer them more of your business. “Bundling” home and mobile phone with internet and cable can sometimes win you a great all-in-one price. One place you probably won’t be able to negotiate? Cancellation fees. I vigorously tried to get my own fee waived when I wanted to upgrade to a newer phone, but my cell company wouldn’t budge. (I’ll be taking my business elsewhere in about three months. So there.)
In order to get a better deal on your internet service, check first to see if you are using all of your data. (For example, if you’re only using 35 or 50 percent of your monthly allotment, it’s probably time to change your plan.) Again, check your mailbox for junk mail you probably toss in the recycling daily — good chance there’s an internet offer. For every offer you find, wherever you find it, study the details and services, and do website comparison checks to see if there’s an offer out there that’s better than the one you’re getting. (No surprise: this goes for cable and phone, too). Another helpful phone tip: check your current provider to see what price they are offering for new customers. Even if you’ve been with your provider for years, you might be able to get them to give you that special rate. As well, calling in the morning might help your cause, because you will get agents who are fresh and perhaps more likely to deal.
When mortgage-renewal time rolls around, instead of just accepting your lender’s offer, do a little legwork first. See what kind of rates are being offered elsewhere, and then directly ask if your lender can match it. Make a point of going beyond the usual big banks; check out what’s on offer from credit unions, specialty lenders and mortgage brokers. You can also offer to consolidate your assets with your lender (like RRSPs or bank accounts) in order to get a better rate.
Once again, it’s about research, research, research. Get quotes from a number of companies, and see if your insurance provider will match the price. Some companies may also offer discounts if you bundle home, car and life insurance in one policy. See if paying annually versus monthly might lower the price. As well, find out why you’re getting your current rate, and whether you can do anything to improve it. For example, when it comes to home insurance, installing a security system or doing repairs can lead to lower your rates.
What are your tips for negotiating and lowering your bills?
Shelley White is a Canadian freelance writer, editor and TV producer who contributes regularly to The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, The Grid and Spinner.com. Shelley is also a mother of two who aspires to never again carry a credit card balance.