5 Things You Didn't Know You Could Negotiate

You don't have to limit your bargain hunting to stores! Some bills are negotiable, too. (Photo: Thinkstock)Many people enjoy hunting for bargains, but when it comes to negotiating deep discounts, it just feels awkward. Anything you buy has the potential to be a better bargain—and that goes for things you might not think you can haggle over.

Related: Why Do Women Avoid Negotiating?

"Virtually anything that you can buy is negotiable," Herb Cohen, author of "You Can Negotiate Anything," told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. That means that while ethical, moral, and religious principals are off the table, pretty much anything with a price tag is up for grabs.

Related: Lessons From Extreme Cheapskates

"Sometimes it's hard to negotiate something because the amount of energy required is greater than the benefit you can obtain," Cohen says. So, haggling over a hotdog may not be worthwhile, but when it comes to a new car or a big hospital bill? A little effort can lead to big savings.

"Be tenacious," Cohen advises. "When you negotiate, aim high, be tenacious and persistent."

Related: How to Save Money at Target

Sometimes, it doesn't take much effort at all—just asking for a discount may be enough to get a couple of bucks shaved off your bill.

"First, you have to have the bravery to ask," Abdul-Salaam Mohammed, a cast member on TLC's "Extreme Cheapskates," told Yahoo! Shine. "Most people are too intimidated to even ask for a cheaper price."

Here are five things you didn't think you could negotiate.

1. Medical bills. “People often don’t realize medical bills tend to be eminently negotiable,” Andrew Cohen, a medical debt resolution program manager at The Access Project, told CBS News. The key is to find out the fair price of procedures and medications (Healthcare Blue Book is a good resource) and then meet with your doctor's or hospital's billing department before you have the procedure. Ask about financial assistance programs, offer to pay in cash, and if you don't have health insurance, don't be afraid to ask the hospital to lower its prices. (Cohen suggests starting with “If I pay you 30 percent of this bill right now, will you write off the rest?”) If you've already been treated and have received a huge bill, there's still a chance you can negotiate. "Errors are commonplace in hospital bills," writes Jane E. Brody at The New York Times. "A doctor may request a procedure or medication that is subsequently canceled or that the patient refuses, but it still goes on the bill. An entry error may result in a misplaced decimal point or an extra zero or two in the number of treatments, multiplying the cost 10 or 100 times." Take a close look at your bill. Were you over-charged or double-billed an item or procedure? Did your insurance company deny something that they were supposed to cover? Did they charge you for a test or medication that wasn't administered? Just don't bother trying to negotiate your co-payment—you knew about that before you sought medical treatment.

2. Cell phone bills. You'll have better luck trying to negotiate a lower cell phone bill at the end of your contract, experts point out, because that's when your carrier wants to keep you. If you know what your current carrier is offering new customers, you can request that they extend you the same great deal—as long as you're willing to sign a new contract.

3. Utility bills. Think your cable, phone, or electricity bill is non-negotiable? Think again. "I've called and had the electricity bill lowered," Mohammed told Yahoo! Shine. "I just called and asked." Of course, simply saying "I want to pay less" isn't necessarily enough. Try requesting free installation on a new service, asking the company to waive certain fees, or—especially when it comes to cable or satellite service—saying that you're considering switching to a competitor, G.E. Miller at 20somethingfinance.com points out (his tactics helped him cut his cable bill by about 30 percent).

4. Furniture and home appliances.
If you shop early in the morning or just before closing time, you're more likely to score a bargain on these big-ticket items. Saying "If you can give me a discount and free delivery, I'll buy this today" can work because managers know that a discounted sale is better than none, CBS News points out. Other options: Consider buying the floor model, a demo unit, or one that may have some dings or scratches (which can make them more difficult to sell).

5. Gym memberships. Pamela Kufalh, editor of "Club Industry" magazine, suggests visiting gyms in your area and asking for a free one- or two-week pass. Once you know which gym is right for you, ask around to figure out what prices people there are paying. When the membership reps quote you a price, you'll be in a better position to negotiate, she says. Also ask about upcoming promotional rates, whether fees can be waived, or whether they can throw in a personalized training session or two.

In general, when you're negotiating with anyone, for anything, you should keep these points in mind:

1. Do your research. It's not enough to know how much other companies are charging for the same service. Take a look at your own bills and figure out what you're really using.

2. Be polite. Customer service representatives have no incentive to help someone who is being rude to them (in fact, some companies train their reps to hang up at the first sign of conflict).

3. Be persistent. This is a lesson that expert negotiator Herb Cohen learned from his kids. "We think that 'No' means it's all over," the father of three and grandfather of 10 told Yahoo! Shine. "Kids understand that 'No' is an opening bargaining position. They know that 'No' means, "Well, it's negative at this point in time, but let me ask them again in 5 minutes, 7 minutes, and I'll wear them down."

4. Aim high. "Kids know if you expect more, you get more. So they make unreasonable requests of parents for gifts and things," Cohen explains. "It raises the parents expectations."

5. Make your request sound like a statement. A lot of people tilt their tone up at the end of a sentence as if it's a question, Jim Camp, author of Start with No: The Negotiating Tools that the Pros Don't Want You to Know, told Learnvest.com. That's called "upspeak," and it's enough to make someone less likely to consider your request. "It conveys that you're willing to move a lot if they don't like it," Camp explains. "When you make an offer on something, believe in it."

6. Don't ask "yes" or "no" questions. It's difficult to negotiate over the phone, Cohen says (email is even worse, because they can pretend they never received your note), but you can even out the playing field by asking asking open-ended questions and persuading the customer service representative to help you. "On the phone, try to personalize the situation," Cohen advises. Instead of pulling rank or making threats, "Be a decent human being with a problem."

7. Ask to speak to the manager. The first person you talk to may not actually have the authority to give you what you want. If they turn down your request, ask to speak to their supervisor, and keep going up the chain. Another option: Ask to speak to someone in the customer cancellation department. "'Customer cancellation' is a euphemism for the 'see what we can do to keep you'-department," personal finance expert Manisha Thakor tells Learnvest.com. The people there usually are able to cut you a deal.

8. Be willing to walk away. Sometimes, a company genuinely cannot lower your bill for you. If you've threatened to cancel, be prepared to go through with it—if you've done your research and there really is a better deal out there, then you should be prepared to take your business elsewhere.

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