As millions of Americans experience a disruption in income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, more people than ever are looking for ways to lower living expenses. According to a recent online poll from U.S. News and SurveyMonkey, the majority of respondents are worried about the impact of the coronavirus on their finances, and 42% say their biggest financial concern is paying for day-to-day expenses.
"Being dedicated to your budget is more crucial than ever," says Kumiko Love, accredited financial counselor and founder of The Budget Mom blog. "Right now, it's time to reevaluate your spending and goals."
Stretching your budget doesn't mean you have to completely cut out nonessentials. In fact, lowering your TV, internet and cellphone bills can be easily done by negotiating your rate. For many people, however, this may be intimidating.
The good news is that negotiating is a skill you can easily learn. And, the more you practice, the better you will get at it. Keep in mind: The worst someone can say to you is no, so why not give it a try?
To get started, here are some expert-backed tips to haggle your way to savings like a pro:
-- Run a competitive analysis.
-- Connect with the right person.
-- Bundle services.
-- Beware of upsells.
-- Don't be afraid to ask for more.
-- Be gracious.
-- Review your account updates in detail.
-- Go online for help.
[Read: Best Budget Apps.]
Run a Competitive Analysis
Before you begin negotiating, arm yourself with information. By running a quick Google search or comparing deals available in your area through sites like allconnect.com, you can gather competitor prices to leverage in your negotiation.
"When you call, let the customer service representative know that you're thinking about canceling," Love says. "See what they offer, then ask if they'll come in lower or meet their competitor's offer."
Meanwhile, Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at personal finance blog TrueTrae.com and a former U.S. News contributor, says you shouldn't just look at the cost of a plan. Some companies may match or try to beat various coupons or deals you come across.
"There are a lot of generous offers out there for switching services, and you should mention these to the agent when negotiating," Bodge says. For instance, mobile plan customers can snag a $250 Mastercard gift card for switching to Verizon or a $200 Mastercard gift card for switching to T-Mobile. These deals are available through coupon sites like CouponCabin.com, and your carrier may be willing to match the savings. "Having this info in your back pocket is something that will give you more power as you negotiate," Bodge says.
Connect With the Right Person
Your ability to negotiate a lower rate on a monthly bill often depends heavily on the person you're speaking with. You will get much further, faster by connecting with someone who has more authority to adjust prices.
"When you call to negotiate an expense, the first point of contact is probably someone who is not authorized to reduce your bill," Love says. "Politely ask to speak to a manager, who may have more power to negotiate a price."
However, Barry Gross, founder and president of BillCutterz, a bill negotiating site, suggests being even more specific when requesting someone to speak with. Ask to be connected to someone in the retention, loyalty or VIP department who can truly help you get significant discounts on your bill, he says.
Sometimes switching providers may be your best option for lowering your overall bill. When calling around to inquire about price adjustments, find out about what it would cost if you bundled your services. For cable, that may mean using the same provider for Internet if you aren't doing so already. For homeowners and auto insurance, you could save by using the same provider for both. Before making a final decision, though, gather the quotes and run a price analysis to see which offer the biggest savings without taking away from service options or coverage.
Beware of Upsells
Customer representatives are trained to upsell services, and they may try to convince you to increase your plan by offering a deal that appears to be a better value. For instance, the agent may offer higher Internet speed, more mobile data or more TV channels for the current price you're paying or a small increase.
Such sales techniques often trick customers into signing up for something that actually costs more in the end, so don't take the bait. Just let the agent know upfront that you're only interested in lowering the price on the plan you have now without making any changes to your services, Gross says.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for More
When you get the first offer, don't stop there. Chances are, you can snag even bigger savings by simply asking for more, Gross says. "The worst that can happen is they will say no," he says.
Don't throw out a dollar figure -- simply ask what types of new promotions are available for the current plan you have and how you can lower the bill further.
When you notice an unexpected price hike on your bill or you have to wait on hold for what may seems like an eternity to get through to a customer service agent, you may get frustrated. Just don't take it out on the representative. This will sabotage your negotiating efforts, so stay calm and be kind.
"Customer representatives typically deal with angry people all day, and you can be a breath of fresh air," says Gross, who also recommends using the agent's name throughout the call to build rapport. "It will go a long way in saving you money."
Review Your Account Updates in Detail
Once you agree on a new price, ask that the customer agent review your plan in detail, including the services, discount and final price to ensure there was no miscommunication. If the savings applied to your account is a promotion, make sure you know the date it's set to expire. This way, you can mark it in your calendar so you know when to call back and renegotiate in the future.
It's also a good idea to ask the representative you're speaking with to document your conversation and updates on your account before getting off the phone. This way, your call notes are available in writing in case your bill doesn't change. "It's rare, but it does happen that the rep will forget to document your conversation and the savings will never appear on your bill," Gross says.
Go Online for Help
There are digital tools for everything these days, including some that will negotiate your bills and purchases. For instance, BillCutterz will negotiate with service providers on your behalf to reduce your monthly cost, taking 50% of the savings it procures and nothing if it can't make a deal. Although you give up a portion of your savings, some people may find this to be a worthwhile cost since it saves time and hassle.
Trim is another service that will negotiate on your behalf and works with Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and most other providers. It charges a fee for bill negotiating that varies depending on the services and savings. There's also CoPatient, a site dedicated to helping customers manage health care costs. It reviews medical bills for mistakes, gives you a summary of the findings and an option to negotiate on your behalf for a percentage of the savings.
When it comes to shopping, Paribus will track prices of purchases linked to your email account and request price adjustments for any items that go on sale within the retailer's price adjustment window, taking a cut of the credit at 25% of the savings it secures. However, it waives this charge if you send referrals to friends on your social networks.
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