You're Probably Overpaying for These Five Things


When you think “negotiation,” you probably envision asking for a raise or haggling with a car salesman—but stop there, and you’ll miss out on other great, everyday deals.

“It’s always surprising to find out how many contracts and fees are open to negotiation,” says professional mediator Ed Wertheim. “This doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you want, but often the service provider has options if asked.”

If asked are the operative words here. “We’re often afraid that if we make requests we think are out of the ordinary, we’ll be seen as rude, pushy, and unlikeable,” Wertheim says. “Similarly, many of us hate rejection: We don’t like to hear the word no, and avoid scenarios where that might be the response.”

Yet stepping out of your comfort zone could result in hundreds more in your pocket each month—if you apply the following tricks to re-negotiate the price of these common services.

1. Gym Membership

Want to work off those holiday pounds without forking over big bucks? Tell the gym manager you’ll buddy up with a friend.

“Gyms make much of their profit through add-ons, like personal training sessions, classes, and clothing,” says Marty Finkle, director of the global negotiation company Scotwork North America. Their main goal is getting you in the door so they can then sell other services at full price.

“So promise you’ll both sign up if they wipe out the initiation fee or give you the first three months for free,” Finkle suggests.

A manager’s authority to adjust rates varies, but they tend to be granted extra this time of year. “A large percentage of people who join in January end up not sticking with it, so they’re hoping to get new members to sign contracts they won’t make use of,” Finkle says.

That said, the front desk manager is usually given limited leeway. “If they say, ‘I can’t go lower than $X,’ the implication is that someone else could,” Finkle says. Try replying, “If you can’t do it, who can?”

2. Cable

If you can’t live without your HGTV fix, give your cable company something they want in exchange for lower rates, such as a signed two-year contract. (Just make sure there’s an out clause for losing your job or moving. Otherwise, be fairly certain you’ll remain in an area the provider covers for the contract length, lest you pay a cancellation fee.)

“Then ask them to throw in six months of free service or a premium upgrade, like HBO,” says Finkle, who once successfully negotiated half a year of unbilled service, plus complimentary Internet. Since cable is hurting right now—thanks to cord-cutters moving to online or a la carte options—they’re eager to make deals.

3. Other Subscriptions

Many entertainment services—think: magazines, newspapers, and satellite radio—offer big discounts to new people that aren’t advertised to existing customers. “If you have a long-term contract, that usually means you’re paying a higher rate than someone else,” Finkle says.

Reverse course by researching current specials, and asking for the same. If you’re turned down, try: “But if I leave and come back, you’ll give me that 40 percent off, won’t you? How about I save you the hassle of disconnecting and reconnecting my service, and make sure you don’t have a discontented client on your hands?”

Or, say you’re a new client who scored a terrific first-time deal, but the fees will spike once your initial grace period expires. Bill Garcia, co-founder of the negotiation training and consulting firm TableForce, suggests telling the company, “I’m willing to renew, but only at last year’s rate.” Chances are good they’ll extend the offer.

4. Medical Procedures

If you’re paying out of pocket for a medical procedure, most doctors will work with you to reduce your portion. Begin by arming yourself with info about the average procedure price from a resource like Healthcare Bluebook or ClearHealthCosts.

Next, appeal to your M.D.’s sense of empathy by explaining you can’t afford to pay $X, and make a counter-offer. If they’re overcharging you, follow that up with: “I learned that most local doctors only charge $Y.” Or if they’re in the ballpark range, but you still want to go lower, say, “I know you negotiate with health care companies. Is it possible for me to pay $Z instead?”

Another strategy is to inquire about discounts for paying in full upfront. “The cost of business increases when they carry someone’s unpaid bill on their books for months. It takes manpower to keep sending out bills and chase after you,” Finkle says. “Plus, there’s always the risk you won’t pay at all.” So offer to fork over the entire fee immediately—for 30 percent off.

5. Cell Phone

Most people assume mobile phone rates are pretty much non-negotiable, but that is so not the case. “There’s a lot of competition in the cell phone market, [and] companies are very open to working with you,” Finkle says.

If your carrier has a local outpost, stop by in person. It sends a more powerful message and is likelier to get you results. Say, “I’ve had this service for X years. Do I have the best rate?” Finkle got his bill lowered from $200 to $99 a month this way.

He also urges people to write out a wish list of things they’d like to have before going in to negotiate. “These add-ons probably mean little to them, but a lot to you,” Finkle says.

Proof? He scored a headset, waterproof cover, and MOFI router from his cellular provider—just by asking.