A version of this article originally appeared on Learnvest.com.
Most of us know we’re supposed to negotiate when it comes to buying a house or a car, but how about at the dry cleaner? Or when we’re on the phone with our cell phone provider? Hesitate no longer. Here’s when and how to negotiate better deals on five everyday items.
1. Cable and Cell Phone Bills
When to negotiate: You’ll be most successful if you try to negotiate with your current carrier near the end of your contract, when they’re more desperate to keep you. Remember: It’s far harder for a company to acquire new customers than to keep the ones it has. Go into the negotiation after doing competitive research on sites like Billshrink and Lowermybills to know what they’re offering new customers, versus what they’re offering with the plan you have.
How: Here is a nine-step process for negotiating your phone bill, including a sample script for your phone call–all the same principles apply to negotiating your cable bill. If the first rep you speak with says she can’t do anything for you, ask to speak to someone in the customer cancellation department. That’s where the customer service agents have real power. If they transfer you to a “retention department,” know you’ve got the upper hand, since that’s the department trained to offer deals to keep you.
2. Furniture and Mattresses
When to negotiate: When it comes to mattresses, always try. Don’t be shy about asking for special deals, like a price reduction, free shipping or a complimentary box spring. Mattress manufactures set minimum prices that they allow retailers to sell their mattresses at, so a store either has to price them at that minimum or overprice them and negotiate. Most of the larger chains price them at the minimum, so if a store is willing to negotiate, odds are they’re overpriced.
When it comes to other types of furniture, you’ll often have more luck when you can pay in cash, or when you’re at a family-owned shop rather than a big chain. Smaller shops mean you can negotiate straight with the owners, rather than dealing with a salesperson who doesn’t have much power to budge.
How: Furniture is often sold at 80% markup, letting stores give the impression that they’re selling cheaply when they host sales—but even during a sale, they’re still usually making a huge margin. So, try to negotiate past the discounted price. If all else fails, SmartMoney suggests, write down the product number: “You might be able to search online for other retailers who sell the same piece at a lower price.”
3. Medical Bills
When to negotiate: When you receive a bill from your doctor or the hospital that doesn’t look quite right, or seems much higher than you expected. Did you get charged for something your insurance was supposed to cover? Don’t waste your time if you’re only facing a $25 copay—but if you are looking at a steep bill, it’s worth negotiating. Some doctors will even provide reduced rates if you fill out a hardship waiver—to learn more, ask the billing person at the hospital or your doctor’s office.
How: You can have a go at it yourself by calling your doctor or the hospital directly, though this may be time-consuming and you may have to persevere through apologies about set-in-stone payment rates, when in fact many rates are flexible. If you call up on your own, just hold firm and explain why you either deserve to pay a lower rate (the billing person messed up, the doctor’s office didn’t sufficiently explain the fees), or why you can’t.
Another option is to use a medical negotiation service, which does all that for you. Generally, these services charge a percentage of your savings, so you don’t have to pay if they don’t get you anything back.