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Anything is Negotiable

This post was sparked by an event that took place the other day. I have an HSA (health savings account), and therefore I have to pay the full bill for any expenses I incur until I meet the deductible for the calendar year. Well I’m a fairly young and healthy guy (knock on wood) so usually when I get a bill from the doctor, I’m paying the full amount since I’m no where near my deductible.

As I discussed in Managing Your Float I tend to not rush to pay bills that have no consequences for paying late such as interest or late fees. This includes medical bills. I put paying these off for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I think the cost of health care is insane (in the United States at least) and I try to put off paying them while I can think of a way to reduce the bill.

Back in January I thought I had a sinus infection and went to the local walk-in clinic in Manhattan and they ended up billing me $215 for a 5 minute appointment! Well when I got the bill, I tucked it away and thought “this is outrageous, I’ll deal with it later.” Well I finally got around to the bill last week. I decided to negotiate how much they were charging me, because I’ve learned everything is negotiable. I called the number on the bill twice, but due to call volume my call was sent to voice mail. So then I shot them an email explaining how I didn’t think the $215 bill was the fair value of the care I received. I described how I felt I waited too long in the waiting room and how they didn’t answer the phone the two times I called them during normal business operating hours. I received a response within 24 hours which said they were working on my request, and within 48 hours I received the following email:

Thank you for contacting the billing department. I apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused you. I have reviewed your account. Based on the information that was provided to me, I have reduced your balance down to $125.00. I hope that you find this reduction satisfactory. Should you need further assistance, please contact the billing department at XXX-XXX-XXXX. Our hours of operations are Monday-Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM.

SHABOOM! Factoring in the two calls I made at about two minutes each, plus the three minutes it took me to draft my email, I saved $90 for seven minutes of work. I’d trade my seven minutes for $90 any day of the week.

Anything is negotiable when it comes down to it, especially if you feel it was not worth what you are being charged for it. Below is a list of examples of things I’ve negotiated over the years successfully:

  • Medical bills – see above
  • Cell phone – Luckily my work now pays for my cell phone bill, but in the past I’ve called with success. I’ve just asked for current deals they are running and if they can help me lower my bill. Usually they oblige as they don’t want to lose you as a customer. Never hurts to threaten to move to another carrier as well.
  • Cable / Internet – I usually call my cable and internet provider every six months or so to see if they have any new deals. This usually lowers my bill a little bit, and then you’re never blindly rolled into a standard contract where the rates are outrageous once the promotional rate ends. Like with the cell phone bill, saying “I’m not really happy with the service I’ve been receiving and have contemplated switching to XYZ” never hurts.
  • Satellite radio – I used to have satellite radio in my car when I had one. The base price that XM would bill me was pretty high. But every six months or so I’d call and threaten to cancel and they’d cut my bill in half after a 10 minute or so phone call.
  • Used cars – When I purchased a used car after college, I mentioned that CarMax had a better deal when I was there earlier in the day. As soon as I said that the used car salesman said “we’ll never lose a sale to them, how’s $1,500 off sound?”
  • Salary / Sign-on bonus – These are always negotiable, especially if you convey that you are qualified and would be a great asset to the organization.
  • Gym membership – I offered to prepay for 12 months and got an additional 6 months free for doing this.
  • Flights – This one can be done after the fact, but if you get delayed or your flight gets canceled, and you email the airline explaining how their delays or cancellations messed up your trip, they might give you a credit towards your next flight. This is not a 100% effective as it depends a lot on the reason for the cancellation or delay. I recently just used a $75 credit from United that I got from doing this.
  • Items and services in foreign countries – I went to Mexico quite a few years back on vacation and we negotiated everything from cab rides to cigars. In the touristy area the local businessmen tried to take advantage of our ignorance and charge us $20 for a $5 cab ride, or $80 for a box of cigars that should retail for $20. We learned quick not to let them take advantage of us (I’m sure this happens to foreigners in other countries as well, including the United States).

What have you negotiated? Anything out of the ordinary?

40 thoughts on “Anything is Negotiable

    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Agreed – those are almost a gimme if you’re willing to put in a 10 to 15 minute phone call.

      Reply
    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Some things I’ve failed at as well. Such as the annual fee on my Barclays Arrival Plus card. I called on two different occasions and neither time they would wave the fee 🙁 So I researched it some more and it appears they really cut back on granting that in the past 8 months or so.

      I’ve never had to deal with a garbage vendor, but I would use the ole “My service isn’t up to par for the price” and “I’m thinking about switching to your competitor XYZ.” Sometimes they just don’t give, but at least you know you tried!

      Reply
  1. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply

    Like you said…pretty much everything is negotiable. I’ve definitely called to get my cable, cellphone, etc reduced. The threatening to cancel part is generally a winner…they transfer you to the retentions department where they have the authority to give you a break. And I’ve found that you can negotiate at stores to…I did for furniture and a rug. I generally find that paying with cash almost always gives you a discount. It might be tougher at a big name store because the salesperson may not have the authority but sometimes they may give you some kind of discount.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Does What School you go to Determine What You Can Achieve?My Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      So true! I had a friend who would make Best Buy and Circuit City (when they weren’t bankrupt) bid each other down. He would go to Best Buy and say I want to buy XYZ, give me your best offer. Then he would go to Circuit City and say Best Buy offered me X, can you beat it? And he would repeat until he had a winner. Obviously this isn’t going to work when buying a Blu-ray player most likely, but worth trying with bigger purchases.

      Reply
    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Yeah I was quite frustrated that they charged me $215, especially since I spent 5 minutes in the exam room and an hour sitting in the waiting room!

      Reply
  2. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    Before his Medicare kicked in, my husband didn’t have insurance. The first ER visit was discounted by 70% due to our income. But the second time around, they told me the program had been terminated. They could give us something like 20% off. The bill was $6,000.

    I basically just explained our financial situation, that we thought the program was in place when we went (they didn’t need to know it was the ambulance’s default) and that the bill itself was three times what the previous one had been.

    I also tried to argue that increase, but they claimed the issue was the level of care. Which seemed completely identical (even the same room) to the previous visit — and both visits were for a severe asthma attack. But I guess ya win some and ya lose some.
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…What could go wrong?My Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      I’m sorry to hear that Abigail. I’m not too familiar with your scenario but I have heard of people working out payment plans with hospitals. Or is there a not-for-profit in your area that might have resources to help someone in your situation? I’m sure you’ve tried everything, but I would hope the outcome is not paying that full bill! Take care.

      Reply
  3. TheMoneyMine

    You can also add insurance (car, house,…) and rents.
    I’ve found that with the rents, it can be quite easy to significantly reduce the yearly increase just by being insistent and nice. For insurance, we just switch every 6-12 months. With all others, it seems that the only way to get a reasonable discount (fair price?) is when you have the cancellation department on the phone.
    But your medical bill negotiation, that’s impressive. And somewhat puzzling: if they can offer this kind of discount, how much are they overcharging this country every year?
    TheMoneyMine recently posted…Financial Independence DayMy Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Good additions TMM! I think the rent one is dependent on the location. Here in NYC, I’ve heard of lots of people try and fail since apartment demand is ridiculous. But as you said the worst they can say is no. I wonder how much of my medical bill reduction was the fact that I was already 3 months late and they just wanted it paid vs. them actually wanting their business known for their great service and catering to me since I had a bad experience.

      Reply
      1. Hannah

        As a landlord, I usually offer good renters a second year at the same price but I would even consider a 5% discount if I were asked. Much more than that, I wouldn’t accept. I am definitely not in NYC though.

        Reply
  4. DivHut

    Though a hassle I negotiate my internet bill every 6 – 12 months. It’s all part of the game consumers have to play with the mega-corps. The bottom line as the title suggests is that everything is negotiable and the worst that can happen is that you get a ‘no’ response. I think too many fail to even ask for a discount or want to bother to negotiate.
    DivHut recently posted…Recent Stock Purchase – April 2015My Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      It’s crazy how many people don’t want to invest the time for a couple 10 minute phone calls that could end up saving them hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.

      Reply
  5. Mr. SSC

    I definitely negotiate satellite radio whenever their renewal comes up and I always get it reduced. The one time it didn’t happen I cancelled and it was a year or more before I got it again. It just took a longer commute, and a “please come back for cheap!” offer.
    Also, I got our ADT monitoring cut in half just by asking.
    I keep trying our internet provider but to no avail.
    Mr. SSC recently posted…Taking advantage of employer programs for free money!My Profile

    Reply
    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Mr. SSC. When I had a car I ended up canceling satellite because I didn’t think the value was there. I was more interested in the radio and free podcasts.

      ADT monitoring is a service you don’t really hear about in this community. I’ve never had it, and haven’t really thought about it really. What made you chose to get that?

      Reply
      1. Mr. SSC

        Good point. And to answer that, ummm, well…. Mainly it was already installed in our home when we moved in. Our community is stellar and sometimes bat sh!t crazy with their crime watch page, but there seemed to be enough break-ins around we thought, “why not?”. After a year of using it, we thought, “Why the hell do we have this stupid monthly bill? We have two 30-40 lb dogs?” When I called to cancel, they said we can cut it in half. So we figured $15/month, “sure, that seems reasonable.”
        As far as satellite radio. I went years without it, but when I went from commuting with Mrs. SSC to a solo commute, I found it was worth it. Since it comes from allowances anyway, it was easy to justify from my end. I went a few months listening to cd’s and what not, but I just got lazy swapping them and my ipod out to be honest. Plus, I love listening to comedy on the way home. It literally keeps me laughing in some horrid traffic situations. Yikes, that was a long reply. 🙂
        Mr. SSC recently posted…Taking advantage of employer programs for free money!My Profile

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        1. Fervent Finance Post author

          I had no idea the price point of ADT, so $15/month definitely seems reasonable. If I had to guess I thought you would have been paying $100/month but that would be a shot in the dark. Sounds like satellite radio could be classified as therapy and therefore a medical expense if it keeps you sane in traffic 🙂

          Reply
    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      That’s definitely the one thing I want everyone to take away from this post is that the worst that comes from negotiating is the other party says no. Thanks for stopping by EL.

      Reply
    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Good luck on your negotiations. Go into the phone call with a plan on why you deserve a discount. Maybe it’s your financial situation, maybe something didn’t go according to plan, and definitely use the fact that you have to pay the whole bill out of pocket. I know people who have also been put on payment plans with 0% interest with big medical bills. Let me know how it goes!

      Reply
    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Wow wouldn’t have thought of that. Good work! From what I’ve learned, anything is possible when you negotiate.

      Reply
  6. Mike

    Appliances. I recently went shopping around for a fridge and was able to get a great deal by talking directly with the manager of a small appliance store. He gave me a much better deal than Lowes or Home Depot were offering.
    Mike recently posted…Verizon FiOS Promo CodesMy Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Nice job! A manager at a small store probably has a lot more authority to grant discounts than those big box stores.

      Reply
  7. DC @ Young Adult Money

    Nice job! Only a few minutes of work saved you over $100! I think this is the most important thing to be on top of -> “Salary / Sign-on bonus – These are always negotiable, especially if you convey that you are qualified and would be a great asset to the organization.” I’m writing a post about this very topic because it can have huge implications on your finances (for better or for worse).
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…5 Reasons I decided to get my MBAMy Profile

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