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Last night’s workshop session was on budgets and budgeting tools, a whirlwind tour on How To Make A Budget That Actually Works. Fun times were had by all, but I didn’t have nearly the time to go over everything I wanted. One of the topics that didn’t make the cut is one I’d like to talk about now: negotiation.

It used to be a bad word in American culture, but it’s becoming more and more prevalent in this post-2008 economy. Of course, it still makes a lot of people nervous; speaking personally, the very thought of negotiating with someone terrified me until a couple years ago, when I started really getting into it. This is a shame, because there’s nothing inherently wrong with negotiating: you want to buy something, but you’re not willing to pay list price, so negotiation is the tool by which the salesperson can make a sale and you get the price you want. Everyone wins!

Sounds great, but how do we get there? The best way to get good at negotiation is simply to practice. Just do it, whenever you have the opportunity. You’ll probably not do well your first few times; figure out what went wrong, and correct it. (It took me a while to learn how not to immediately cave in, to ask to talk to a supervisor or to the retention department.) Start with small stuff, so that when you get to the big stuff (like a new car, but that deserves a separate post altogether), you’re ready. A few rules to keep in mind:

  1. Do your research beforehand; know the competitor’s prices, and reference them.

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for a supervisor or for the retention department. It’s quite often that the first person you talk to simply doesn’t have the authority to cut a deal.

  3. Be polite.

  4. Be persistent.

  5. Be prepared to walk away.

If you’re still intimidated, here’s a step-by-step example of how to negotiate, specifically on your TV, phone, or Internet bill. If you negotiate nothing else, do this: it’s easy, expected, and it pays very well. About an hour total on the phone got me around $30/month permanently off of our wireless bill. That’s a pretty good hourly wage!

Step 1: Do the research. Find out if there are any new customer deals that pertain to your service, and/or find out what the competitor’s prices for similar service are.

Step 2: Call customer support. Tell them, “I like your service, but I can’t afford it. Before I cancel, can I please speak with your retention department to see what they can do about lowering my bill?”

Step 3: Tell the kind folks in the retention department — and my experience is that they are, indeed, very kind folks! — that you’d like them to please match the deal(s) you found in step 1.

Step 4: Ask them if there are other plans not readily available, ones that better fit your needs. Liz and I hardly use our cell phone minutes, so we were able to get special plans with fewer minutes/month and texts/month than anything listed on the website.

Step 5: Pick a provider and stay with it! The longer you’re a customer, the better a deal you will generally get.

There you have it. Intimidating? Well, sure. But there’s nothing that beats the feeling of overcoming your insecurities — and saving money besides!

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