Sunday, April 26, 2009

Negotiating A Better Price Or The Art of Haggling to Make Ends Meet

In these tough financial times, it is helpful to remember that prices are not necessarily fixed. You can often bargain a better price if you have the nerve to try. I’ve been doing it for years. In fact, it’s one of the ways that I managed to provide for my family over the course of many years of low-income living. For instance? Back in 1993 or thereabouts there was a metal watering can at the grocery store that I coveted. It cost $25 and I couldn’t justify buying it at that price when I was trying to keep my grocery bill to $100 a week. I looked every week and waited until there was only one left on the shelf. Then I took it to the cashier and told her it was the last one and asked if I could have it at half price. “Look,” I pointed out, “it’s a little dented.” She called the manager for permission. I wound up buying it for $10. As the bagger helped me out to the car with my cart, he exclaimed, “I’ve never seen anyone bargain for something in the grocery store. I didn’t know you could do that.” I still have that watering can.

Recently, I called our natural gas provider and said, “We are paying too much for our propane. I called other propane providers to ask their price per gallon and it’s much lower than yours. We have been your customer for 17 years. What price can you offer me to keep me as a customer?” The manager looked at our account and explained that gas providers offer a low rate to hook customers. After the first fill, they jack up the rate. “That’s not fair. I’ve been a loyal customer for 17 years and you’re charging me more than you do a new customer.” He agreed. He knocked our rate down, and did it retroactively. Saved us over $300 on our last fill and will save us more in the future.

A few years ago I called all our credit card companies and pointed out that we have an excellent credit rating score. Then I asked them to lower our percentage rates. Almost all of them did. I cancelled the one that wouldn’t. One of them lowered our rate from 24% to 11%. Another from 19% to 8%. I keep a sharp eye on the rates on the statements and if they ever try to raise them, I call and complain. They usually put them back down.

A couple of years ago Ron went to the Sleep Center to be assessed for sleep apnea, which he has. When we got the bill for the assessment I nearly had a heart attack. It was $1,300 and the insurance wouldn’t pay any of it. I called the Sleep Center accounting department and said we couldn’t pay this bill. I asked if we could set up payments for the next two years. (By-the-way, I will not go to a doctor that refuses to allow us to make monthly payments to pay off our bills.) The lady in accounting asked incredulously, “Your insurance won’t cover this?” I answered, “No, go figure. What could be better preventative medicine than addressing sleep apnea.” She then informed me that if we were “private pay” (out of our own pockets) then she could lower our bill to $280!!! Since Ron had already paid $200 up front when he went to the clinic, we only owed another $80. What if I hadn’t called and asked? We would have coughed up over $1,000. I’ve bargained medical bills down at the hospital, the surgery center, doctor’s offices, radiology, etc., for years. Sometimes I have to write a formal letter or statement, but that’s fine with me if it will save me money. If I can’t bargain them down low enough, I set up payments over time (they are almost always interest-free).

Most recently, Sudi was offered a substantial tuition scholarship to California College of the Arts, a private college. The scholarship was not a full tuition scholarship and the cost is going to be a stretch for us. I called the financial aid department and asked if we could request more aid. She said we could petition for more assistance if we sent a copy of our taxes for 2008. Not a problem. I sent the taxes and petitioned. They gave us more money. (Still not a full scholarship, but every little bit helps, right?) How many families with children attending private schools realize that they can ask for more aid after they receive their award? Pass the word.

I’m not too proud to beg. I’m not too meek to bargain. One of my best buys was my wooden kitchen chairs, which I’ve had for 20 years. I bought them for a quarter each in a yard sale and Ron refinished them for me. The point of this discussion is to remind you that you might be able to save yourself some money if you ask. Don’t accept costs, prices, and bills at face value. Ask, ask, ask! The dollar you save may be your own.

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