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How to Haggle for Everything

Glamour logo Glamour 7/16/2014 Carmen Wong Ulrich
© Conde Nast Digital

Your cable and phone bills

True story: I just cut my cell phone bill by $100 a month! Which got me thinking about how we can all pay less for everyday expenses. Let's start with phone and cable: Check out billshrink.com and lowermybills.com to see what other companies are charging. Then call your provider, ask for the "customer retention" department (it's their job to keep your business), and request a lower rate. Don't be too aggressive; never bark that you deserve, say, free HBO. Instead try: "Do you have any offers or promotions?"— and you may get your True Blood fix gratis.

The interest rate on your credit card

If you're one of those savvy girls who never carry a balance, bravo! If not, listen up. The average yearly interest rate fluctuates, and it recently jumped from 11 percent to hover around 14.

But you may be eligible for a lower one if you have great credit. Find out what the competition is offering at sites like low cards.com and bankrate.com, then call your issuer and suggest you'll be transferring your balance. They should play ball. Just beware: Some companies offer "interest rebates," refunding you a portion of the interest charges for the month if you meet a monthly spending minimum. But those offers could entice you to spend more. Stick to low-fixed-rate cards, and say no to gimmicks.

A new car

Sad truth: We'll arm-wrestle over a Theory skirt at a sample sale, but sit us down with a car salesman and it's "um, well, er, OK." C'mon, ladies! If dealerships intimidate you, just take your haggling online: Sites like kbb.com and autotrader.com let you e-mail dealers directly for a quote so you can get them to compete for your business. But you don't have to borrow where you buy — shop around for your loan, too (try eloan.com or a credit union), and steer clear of dealers who mark up interest rates, especially if you have good credit. If you can't get a set of wheels that you and your wallet love, keep looking. There are plenty of cars on the lot!

Furniture and appliances

I know, I know, you need that espresso machine. So get it cheap! The best place to start haggling is at the store: Floor models get bumped around, sat on and fiddled with, and are often marked down as much as 20 percent.
Top that discount with models that are on sale already, and you could get a costly item for about half its original price. The best months to shop are July, early August and January, when retailers need to make room for new merchandise. Just be sure your big prize still comes with a warranty.

An airline upgrade

This can be a toughie if you're not a frequent flier, as airlines are running closer to capacity these days, but upgrades still happen. You have a better chance for a free upgrade if you're flying solo or if you casually drop that you're traveling for a wedding (only if you are, of course). If a flight is oversold, as they often are during the holidays, you can offer to take a later one in exchange for a plush seat and extra legroom. Smile at the gate attendant — the most underused bargaining trick! Charm your fellow passengers, too. My girlfriend got upgraded by chatting up the guy sitting next to her at the gate. He was an un-uniformed flight attendant!

Your doctor's bill

Believe it or not, you can bargain with your doc — many have pay scales that vary depending on a patient's insurance coverage. Find the going rates for common procedures and exams at outofpocket.com, and ask what your options are when making your appointment. Offering to pay in cash will net you the best discount, but if it's a big bill and you plan to fork over your credit card, request an itemized invoice by mail instead of paying on the spot — then comb it for errors. As for therapy, if you're going out of network and the cost is a hardship, your shrink may shrink her usual fee if asked, and you could walk out of there happy — emotionally and financially.

Carmen Wong Ulrich is a personal finance expert and the author of Generation Debt: Take Control of Your Money.


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