I can’t believe it’s December already! I think the warm weather we’ve had in DC has been playing tricks on me, because I could have sworn fall just started. Nevertheless, I’m excited for the new month and looking forward to holiday celebrations. But before all of that, the beginning of the month holds excitement too – a new edition of the Simple Saver Series! This month I’m sharing tested ways to negotiate discounts on your bills. I’ve used them all to save significant money over the years, and now I’m passing them on to you so you have more to spend on holiday fun, and less to spend on boring bills.
For those of you who are new to the blog, the Simple Saver Series is a monthly post where I share simple tips to cut back on your expenses without much effort (please forgive the self-explanatory naming). Each month is a new suggestion for a small habit change that adds up more than you’d think. Since this is my last tip of the year, I’ll be back in a few weeks with a roundup, and a total of how much you could have saved over the year (hint: it’s BIG $$$).
For now, here are a few ways you can save on your bills before the holidays:
- Pay in cash
How many of you use cash? Probably not many. I personally only have to hit the ATM once as season because I use cash so infrequently. I really only started carrying cash at all in the past couple of years, and to be totally honest, it’s mostly due to the fact that my neighborhood bagel place only accepts cash.
Though you’re hooked on credit, most retailers prefer cash. Not only do credit cards extend the time until retailers have money in the bank, but they have to pay a fee to the credit card companies every time you swipe.
Because of that, some of these retailers will offer you a discount on your bill if you pay up front in cash. This is particularly true for large bills, like car repairs or hospital bills. When I bought my car, I was given a lower interest rate after I offered to pay more cash up front on the down payment.
This could come up on smaller, recurring bills too. Check your bills very carefully. You may not realize that surcharges are being tacked on for more convenient payment methods. For example, it turns out I was spending $5 extra a month on my car insurance just to put my insurance payment on my credit card. I didn’t even realize I had signed up for this; it was the default option. As soon as I noticed, I switched my payment method to checking account withdrawals – saving about $60 in a few minutes.
- Check your employee discounts
Many employers will offer discounts as a perk for their employees – giving your company’s name might net discounts at hotels, gyms and even at cell phone carriers like Verizon. You might not know about all of the discounts you have available to you so check with HR.
No longer work at the company that was netting you discounts? The retailer may be willing to continue granting you the same discount even after you leave – just ask. And if you have a friend or family member who gets a discount you don’t, mention it and see if the retailer will match it. These two requests work better with places that want to keep your membership active, like gyms. I’ve used both successfully to continue getting a discount I know my old employer had at a local gym
- Use the magic word: “customer retention”
Did you know that just about every recurring payment you make is negotiable? If a company is getting money automatically from you every month, you’re extremely valuable to it. If however you cancel your membership, the company not only loses your monthly payments, but it has to spend money to acquire a new customer to replace you.
The key to negotiating your bills is to align your goals with the company’s – you want a lower bill, and they want to keep you as a customer.
For any recurring monthly bill, try calling up and mentioning that you are unhappy with your current situation – either because of the service or the payments. What you really want is to be connected to the “customer retention” department. You can even ask for this group directly; most companies with recurring models will have one.
This is the group that can offer you discounts or freebies in exchange for staying on board. Most groups are trained to keep you from leaving, and are authorized to sweeten the deal to make sure you don’t. It’s even better if you know of a deal a competitor is offering, or a deal someone you know has already gotten. It’s much easier to match a deal than to offer a brand new one.
My dad just used this method last week – he thought his newspaper subscription was too expensive so he called up, asked for customer retention, told them about a great deal his friend got, and saved $325 on his annual subscription! Not too shabby for a 10 minute phone call.
Bills that you can try this negotiation tactic with include:
- Phone service
- Newspaper subscriptions
- Annual credit card fees
Bottom line? Don’t be afraid to ask. And don’t be too concerned that they’ll call your bluff and cancel your service either. Again, that’s working against their own best interest. Plus, it’s pretty hard to cancel a service on you with you going through a lengthy confirmation process.
So when you have some free time this December, give one of these ideas a try. And if you know of a great bill-cutting tip that I forgot, shout it out below!