We often talk about negotiating through the lens of work and career, but you can save more money every month on other expenses with a few simple phone calls.
While it’s critical to learn how to negotiate your salary — which starts by finding out if you’re underpaid — learning how to ask for discounts can also do wonders for your household budget. Your internet bill, medical bill, even your rent are all up for negotiation. Arm yourself with the right approach and the most useful scripts to give yourself the best chance of saving.
Here are the stories of three people who successfully negotiated their payments to save hundreds of dollars, and the tools they used to make it happen.
When you’re negotiating medical bills or any other major charges, protect yourself by asking to get those updates in writing so you have a record of the changes.
What she negotiated: Internet bill
How much she saved: $50 per month
Shang Saavedra, the blogger behind SaveMyCents.com, routinely negotiates on her internet bill.
“It’s very common for internet providers to give you an introductory rate and then raise the prices after a year or two,” explains Saavedra. Instead of just accepting the rate hike, Saavedra does her research to see which other providers could provide a lower rate. Of course, it’s critical to have leverage in this situation. If a particular provider has a monopoly on your neighborhood or apartment building, this might not be an effective strategy.
“When I call, I tell them that I would like to cancel my service and move to another provider who is giving me a better introductory rate,” says Saavedra. “They pretty much always then price match me back to the original introductory offer. If the first associate doesn’t work, sometimes I hang up and try again.”
There is one rarely discussed negotiation tactic Saavedra always uses: Kindness.
“Stay positive and nice on the phones, the customer service associate is not the one responsible for raising your rates,” says Saavedra. “Being nice to them can help.”
What he negotiated: Rent
How much he saved: $100 per month
When James Dennin and his wife signed the lease on their Manhattan apartment in 2019, the couple felt they were getting a deal at $2,200 per month, which was a few hundred dollars cheaper than the apartment above theirs. Then the pandemic began, and rent prices plummeted all over New York City. When their lease renewal came up, they felt like it was an opportunity to try to save even more.
“We didn’t give up any leverage at the start by assuming the rent was going to stay the same or go up in the first place,” says Dennin, chief storyteller at IBM. “We simply wrote to the landlord about six weeks before the renewal was up and said, ‘Can you please let us know what you think the rent would be if we decide to renew next month?’”
The landlord responded immediately and said he planned to keep their rent the same. Dennin waited one day before responding. His landlord called and the dialogue went like this:
Dennin: Can you lower the rent? The market has definitely changed since we signed this lease, and similar apartments [we had exact units pulled off Streeteasy] are renting for $200 to $300 less than we are paying right now.
Landlord: Well, those apartments are slightly smaller than yours and you get much better light.
Dennin: That may be the case, but with the market as is, we expect to either save some money or get more space.
Landlord: I guess I can reduce the rent by $100 per month, but only on a one-year lease since I think the market will bounce back.
At the end of the call, Dennin and his wife made sure to pivot the conversation back to a cordial, non-negotiating tone and made small talk about theater and other mutual interests before saying goodbye. All that and a little bit of legwork saved them $1,200 per year.
What she negotiated: Medical bill
How much she saved: $350
Medical bills are a source of frustration for many people. You go to doctor’s appointments or get procedures done because it’s important, but often without knowing the full, potential cost. And those costs can be a rude awakening.
Chloe Elise, CEO of Deeper Than Money, recently received a medical bill three months after her visit. “For most of us, when we get that bill, it can be a surprise since there isn’t a list of prices next to procedures you are going to get,” says Elise. “And for so long, I was under the impression that once you received the bill, it was final. But over the years, I’ve learned that you can always call and ask questions to see if the bill can be lowered.”
Elise called the doctor’s office and requested an itemized bill, which she received via email while on the phone. She proceeded to go line-by-line through the bill to ask for clarification.
“There were multiple line items that were billed as the ‘standard of care,’ but I didn’t actually need or use,” explains Elise. “For example, on my bill, one of the things I was billed for was 2.5 hours of care, when I was only in the clinic for 45 minutes. She was able to look that up and change it for me.”
In the past, Elise has been billed for services that she didn’t use, like a wheelchair rental or an amount of anesthesia that was considered “normal” for a procedure, when she was actually given less. Paying attention to the details can pay off.
Ready to call and negotiate your own medical bill? Elise recommends following this script:
Start with an easy intro:
“I have a few questions about my recent bill. Would you have a moment to walk through my bill with me?”
Don’t be afraid to get clarification if you are confused. You can continue your conversation by saying:
“Thank you for working through this with me so I can understand. Would you be able to send me an itemized list that we can walk through?”
If there are any changes, make sure you ask for the bill to be updated.
“Would you be able to remove the particular charges on my bill that I didn’t use in my visit?”
Thank them again.
“Thank you so much for helping me out today. Would you email me a copy of that now, before I receive an updated bill in the mail?”
“When I first started negotiating medical bills, I would make one phone call and if I didn’t hear back or it didn’t go well, I wouldn’t try again,” says Elise. “Over time, I realized that persistence, while staying kind to whoever is helping you, can truly make the difference.”
No matter what you’re negotiating, it’s important to be clear on what you want and to stay kind throughout the process.