If you are anything like me, the prospect of having it out with a store clerk over a few bucks sets off your internal “fight or flight” response. My pulse quickens, my face gets hot and my brain goes fuzzy. If I were a Neanderthal, I’d be halfway across Eurasia by now. But instead of fleeing, I’m avoiding eye contact with the clerk at Macy’s and watching my credit card get swiped for the full price when I know I could have gotten 20% off if I’d Only. Just. Asked.
The good news is that a little preparation can steel your nerves, and if you’ve done your research, a few words may be all it takes to score a discount. Allan Stark, a bargaining guru who makes a living negotiating on other people’s behalf (www.negotiate4u.net), counsels consumers to keep it light -- and humorous -- to relax customer-service reps. If they aren't willing to budge, don't push them until they get hostile.
Once you’ve cut your haggling chops, watch out -- you’ll be asking for a deal when you buy toilet paper at the drugstore. For many of us, saving a few bucks here and there has become increasingly significant in the past few years. So let’s evolve, shall we?
Big-screen TV, small price tag
Big-ticket electronics and appliances offer fertile ground for bargain hunters. Okay, you probably won’t be able to talk down the price of the hottest gadgets, such as the new Kindle or iPhone, but everything from a flat-screen TV to a surround-sound system is negotiable.
Stark says that negotiating for electronics doesn’t mean you throw out one price, the clerk throws out another, and you meet in the middle. He once won a $1,000 concession off of the price of a big-screen TV by simply repeating phrases such as, “That’s way beyond my budget,” and, “I’m just not there,” to the sales rep, he says.
Try multiple stores so you can take yourself out of the hot seat and pit the stores against one another. “Never buy from the first store you visit,” Stark says. If you already know precisely what model you want before you head to the store, bring printouts of prices from the Web to get the ball rolling. Be prepared for a long pause after you tell the sales rep you’d like him or her to match a competitor’s price. “Silence is very uncomfortable,” Stark says. “But after a few seconds that person will invariably say, ‘Well, let me look into it further.’ ” That’s often code for “Let me check with my manager.”
How do you know when you’ve hit the right price? The sales rep will start to give shorter answers to your questions and may gaze around for the next customer, Stark says. However, if you’re shopping at one of the warehouse clubs, such as Costco or Sam’s Club, don’t waste your time with bargaining at all -- prices won’t go any lower.
Get ripped, not ripped off./h3>
The high price of gym memberships never fails to amaze me (after all, you can run outside for free). But fortunately, the advertised price is not, by any means, the final word on the cost of a membership.
As with purchasing electronics, shopping multiple gym memberships is important so you can get clubs to compete for your business. If you have your heart set on a given gym, ask its manager to match the lowest price you’ve found among competitors.
Many gyms have dropped their enrollment fees in response to the sluggish economy, so don’t agree to pay one. And don’t get locked into a one-year membership in exchange for a deal; however certain you may feel now that you’ll manage to go four times a week, your schedule or interests may change.
Sleep tight on the price you paid
Like shopping for a used car, when shopping for a mattress you should assume the sticker price is “pure fiction,” says Tod Marks, senior project editor for Consumer Reports. Markups in the industry are astronomical, he says, which is why mattress retailers frequently advertise discounts of as much as 50% (he also says a given store’s prices can vary widely from one day to the next).
In other words, just because a store is advertising a big sale doesn’t mean its prices are competitive. Furthermore, the mattress industry thwarts comparison shopping by stocking slightly different models, under completely different names, at different stores. The point of all of this is to reduce your leverage as a consumer.
Also keep in mind that mattress quality is almost entirely subjective. Marks advises you start with a store’s low-end models, spend a long time testing each mattress (he recommends about 15 minutes per mattress -- five on your back and five on each side), and work your way up to the pricier models until you find a few you like. If a sales rep starts singing you the benefits of a given model’s “coil counts” or another’s cashmere-blend cover, ignore the pitch. “Those are all marketing gimmicks,” Marks says.
Once it’s time to talk price, let the sales rep know you’re serious about buying but that the price is still above your budget. Ask how low the price has ever dropped on a given model. You can be pretty sure you’re getting a competitive price if you can negotiate a 50% to 60% discount off of the sticker price, Marks says -- an indicator of just how wacky mattress pricing is.
Before you pay, get a guarantee that if at any point in the next 30 days the model sells for a lower price than the one you’ve agreed upon, the store will refund you the difference. However, Marks says, the onus will be on you to watch the store’s prices, to ensure it makes good on your guarantee ( listen to our podcast for more tips on getting a bargain on a mattress).
Manage your spoils, for less
A financial adviser ought to be a careful steward of your assets, so a good one should be sympathetic to your concerns about saving money on his or her services. That said, it’s tough to put a price on the value of solid financial advice, so tread carefully when negotiating costs with a new adviser or one you already work with.
Sheryl Garrett, a financial planner and founder of the Garrett Planning Network, says that before you enter a relationship with any adviser, you should ask for his or her Form ADV Part Two. This explains the adviser’s compensation policy and should make it clear if fees are negotiable (if this form does not state that fees may be negotiated then your adviser is required by law to charge all clients according to the same fee schedule).
Garrett says that if your adviser charges an hourly fee, you can probably lower your total tab by offering to do more of the grunt work yourself, such as organizing your records and filling out paperwork. If your adviser’s fee is calculated as a percentage of your assets, ask him or her to break that down into a dollar figure, then talk about what services you are getting in return. “We always encourage folks to respectfully ask the question, What can we do to lower that price?” Garrett says.
Stand up to your landlord
Given the sorry state of the U.S. housing market, your landlord probably doesn’t have much of a case if he or she is trying to impose a significant rent hike. The consumer price index, which measures overall inflation in the U.S., gained just 1.1% over the past year, and the part of the CPI that measures changes in rents was flat.
In many parts of the country, median rents have been falling in recent years. Depending on where you live, if you’re penning a new lease with your landlord, you should be able to negotiate little or no increase in monthly rent. (See how your rent measures up at www.rentometer.com.)
If you’re in the market for a new place, it probably won’t hurt you to ask for a price concession -- as long as you don’t ask for such a huge discount that you insult your prospective landlord. I tried out my own haggling skills recently after falling in love with an apartment in Washington, D.C., that was slightly overpriced for its area.
The region’s housing market hasn’t been hit nearly as badly as other parts of the country, so I was concerned I might not have much leverage. But I knew that the landlord had more than one unit available, so he probably wanted to find someone quickly. Plus, I had good credit on my side.
When the landlord called to offer me the place, I politely told him that I loved the apartment but was concerned about the price and asked whether he would consider renting it out for $100 less per month. After several seconds of silence -- it felt like hours -- I finally heard him pipe up on the other end of the line: “$100? No. But $50? Okay.”