If you’re wondering how to save money, try a simple strategy: negotiation.
While everyone knows you can negotiate the price of a car, lots of other bills are negotiable, too. You can negotiate all kinds of expenses you run into every day. Companies want to earn or keep your business, and the smart ones are willing to work with you to make that happen.
Here are five bills you didn’t know you could negotiate, plus my tips to help you get the best deal. By using these strategies, I estimate my family has saved at least $5,000 over the past year.
1. Realtor Commissions
Realtor commissions are negotiable, and not just by going the for-sale-by-owner route. The realtor commission is something that you should discuss before signing a contract. When we sold our house last year, our realtor volunteered a discount without us having to ask. If yours doesn’t do offer, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask the question.
The typical realtor commission in most markets is 6%. If you can bring the rate down to 5.5% or even 5%, you will save thousands of dollars when you sell your home. But be aware that a lower commission may mean that your realtor doesn’t work as hard to sell your home or to get you the best price. Make sure you understand what the realtor will do for you before signing a contract.
When we sold our house, we ended up with a commission of 4.5% because our realtor represented both us and the buyer. This rate was listed in our contract and helped us save $4,500 compared to what we would have paid with a typical rate of 6%.
2. Cell Phone Plans
Cheap cell phone plans are so numerous, there’s no need to pay full price anymore. My smartphone plan is a meager $10 a month! Cell phone companies know you’ve got plenty of choices, and they’ll bend over backwards to keep your business.
Use this competition to your advantage if you really want to stay with your current carrier. Do some shopping around, then call your carrier and ask for a discount based on the other offers you’ve seen. If you do decide to switch, you can probably keep your phone number.
3. Electric, Gas and Propane Bills
Yes, you may even be able to negotiate your electric bill! Many states have what’s called “energy choice.” This means consumers can choose another supplier for their electricity or gas. We recently switched providers and are saving $75-100 a month on our electric bill.
Similarly, rates for propane can vary greatly by supplier. Spend a few minutes calling several local suppliers and you might discover a great savings. If you can’t negotiate your electric bill, be sure to look into other easy ways to save electricity.
4. Medical Bills
A stay in the hospital can quickly run up many thousands of dollars in medical bills. You might get an automatic discount by talking with the hospital’s billing office — if possible, call them before the hospitalization. Some hospitals offer an immediate 10-20% off your bill if you pay upfront.
Another way to keep medical bills down is to get a second opinion — that procedure might not even be necessary.
If paying upfront isn’t possible, talk with the hospital’s billing office and the individual doctors’ offices about payment arrangements. They may be willing to negotiate the amount that’s left after the insurance company pays its portion. Stay organized and keep meticulous records of your procedures in case the hospital overcharges you.
5. Mortgage Interest Rates and Fees
Mortgages are big business and if you’ve got good credit, you have a great bargaining chip.
The key here is to shop around quite a bit before picking a mortgage lender. Make sure to include both fees and interest rates in your comparison. I collected five different quotes before picking a lender for our recent home purchase. Plus, the one I chose was willing to lower the application fee to secure my business.
If you’re planning to refinance, your existing lender may have a program in place that allows you to avoid lots of paperwork and additional fees.
Make the most of your money by negotiating as much as possible, whether for one-time costs or monthly bills. If you spend a couple of hours shopping around and negotiating your bills, you could save thousands of dollars!
Your Turn: Have you ever negotiated one of these bills?
Sarah Mueller is work-at-home mom to four rambunctious boys, wife to Juergen, and the creator of Early Bird Mom, a popular mom blog focusing on organizing, budgeting, parenting and more. She loves to encourage other busy moms with simple, practical strategies and tips. Connect with her at Early Bird Mom.