When brainstorming how to set more money aside, most people think about ways to cut back, like brewing your own coffee or relocating to the ’burbs. Others focus on increasing their income by starting a side business or asking for a raise.
But there’s also a third strategy that can improve your bottom line: negotiation. “It’s the fastest, best money you can make, because it’s non-taxable,” says negotiation pro and author Linda Swindling, “yet most people don’t even think to ask for discounts.”
It turns out you can talk your way into a better bargain on a whole slew of things you might not have guessed—from rent to groceries to tax prep—and save a major chunk of cash along the way.
Whether you’re hiring an accountant or contractor, your negotiation tactic depends on how in-demand they are. “Some firms are very busy and rarely, if ever, offer discounts. On the other hand, if they’re twiddling their thumbs, they may readily provide you with a lower price,” says Martin Latz, founder of the Latz Negotiation Institute and author of “Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want.”
To find out how sought-after someone is, ask, “If I were ready to commit, when is the soonest you could start?” If they’re free immediately, that’s a sign there’s wiggle room with the fee, especially if you offer to write a positive review or refer them to friends.
For popular providers, you’ll have more leverage if you’re already a client, Latz says. You could propose a multi-year commitment for a better rate, or, if the service is seasonal, see if they’ll slash their prices during slow season—e.g., having a tax accountant prepare your returns in January instead of April.
Chatting up a reservation agent can make your vacay as good for your wallet as your well-being. “But it’s often hard to negotiate with the national reservation desk,” Swindling says. “So call the hotel directly when booking, rather than the 800 number.”
One idea is to mention your gold or platinum status with a different hotel chain. For instance, if you’re a Starwood member, ask Marriott if you can get similar benefits. “Some hotels want you to change brands, especially if you are a frequent traveler,” Swindling says. “If you are treated with the same special amenities, they hope you will jump ship and start staying with them.”
During check-in, remember the front desk clerk usually has the power to upgrade your room or send complimentary gifts—so turn on the charm. “Then ask something like, ‘Will I like this room? Does it have a good view? Would you want to stay there?’” Swindling says. “About half the time, the clerk comes up with a better option.” She’s used this technique to land free breakfast, gourmet food baskets, upgrades and happy hour coupons.
You probably knew that farmers’ market prices are negotiable, but grocery stores? Oh, yes. If a product is nearing its expiration date, ask a clerk to knock back the price. Got a weakness for LaCroix seltzer? Inquire about a case discount for a bulk order (around 10 percent is typical). Swindling has also scored discounts when one item is marked down, but a related product isn’t—in other words, if that blueberry yogurt is 25 percent off, request the same deal on the vanilla flavor you’re craving.
Restaurants, too, can be bargain hot spots. “If anything goes wrong—the food comes out late, the salad arrives after your main course—say, ‘What can you do to make it right?’ or suggest a free glass of wine, side of fries or dessert,” Swindling says. “Servers have a vested interest in keeping you happy because their tip is on the line.”
One way to score a good deal: If you know a floor model at a certain furniture store has been around for a long time or has some minor, but visible damage, suggest a price cut. Or propose waiving the free delivery in exchange for a reduction.
Some retailers also have a policy that if customers spend over a certain threshold (say, $10,000), salespeople are granted leeway to give discounts (generally 5 to 20 percent, depending on how much the furniture is marked up). “Volume discounts like this make strategic sense, given that the higher the amount spent, the more overall profit,” Latz says. “Plus, it builds customer loyalty, leading to return business.”
“Some stores keep current coupons behind the counter,” Swindling says. So it’s worth asking the salesperson if he has extras lying around. Doing a quick online search can also be helpful—if you find the item for a lower price, ask him to match it.
Or inquire whether the piece will be on sale soon—and if so, whether it’s possible to purchase it at that price right now. “They may honor the discount ahead of time,” Swindling says, “especially if you explain that you’re going out of town during the sale.”
It pays (literally) to do your homework before shelling out for an LED TV or Sonos sound system. “Search online to see whether people have successfully bargained for a lower price at a particular store,” Latz says. If you read a Yelp comment from someone who got 15 percent off, you now have a precedent to draw from when making your case to the salesperson.
You’ll also have an edge if you offer to buy last year’s model. “Manufacturers offer stores financial incentives to sell off older merchandise,” Latz says. The same goes for floor models. Latz suggests saying, “I’m willing to purchase this television floor model, but only at a discount. What do you think would be a fair price, considering the wear and tear from having it on in the store for hours a day?”
Whatever your approach, “you’ll have greater leverage with mom-and-pop shops than with big-box stores like Costco that have a rigid pricing structure,” Latz says.
Timing is everything when you’re buying bling: Since the holidays and Valentine’s Day trigger shopping sprees, spring and summer tend to be ideal for wheeling and dealing.
Once you’re in the store, try saying, “I see this necklace is on sale. Can you do any better on the price?” or “I like this setting, but what can we do to put it in my price range?” The salesperson’s reaction will show you how invested he is in making a deal, Swindling says.
Stores might also cut you a deal in exchange for your old arm candy. How much depends on the piece’s purity and quality (will they melt it down, or is it an antique or designer item they can resell?). Or they could repurpose your old jewelry to create a new custom piece. Swindling’ once saved money by asking a jeweler to use a diamond she received for her 16th birthday to make an anniversary ring.
But the most effective technique is a trusted customer referral. Ask your connection to call the jeweler and make a soft introduction by saying, “A friend of mine is coming in, and she doesn’t have a huge budget—is there anything you can do to help her out? Perhaps there’s a friends and family discount?”
Who knew you could haggle your way to a better deal—or at least a few perks—at the cleaners? First, establish a friendly relationship with the owner. Then, once you’ve become a regular customer, it’s easier to ask about perks like free laundry pickups or complimentary tailoring for simple jobs like hemming and replacing buttons, Swindling suggests.
“Your ability to negotiate is somewhat dependent upon your leverage,” says Latz. For example, if the property has been vacant for months with no nibbles, and you’re currently renting a decent place, you’ve got the upper hand.
“If they won’t drop the price, suggest one month for free,” Latz says. “You could also offer to have electronic payments automatically transferred every month, which reduces the landlord’s likelihood of having to hound you for a check. They might give you a 2 to 3 percent discount.”
Love your current living situation? Try to negotiate between leases. To avoid the hassle of advertising the apartment to new tenants, your landlord might agree to a couple weeks of free rent or to invest in property improvements.