12 Surprising Things You Didn't Know You Should Be Negotiating

Houses, salaries, cars… sure, we know about those big-ticket items that are supposed to be negotiated. But what about other things? Are you missing the boat and wasting money?

Not everyone likes negotiating. It can feel confrontational, or even rude. But if it's good enough for Dr. Phil, it's good enough for you. Before you do anything, check out this sage advice from the man himself.

"Start with a pre-negotiation phase by claiming the right to negotiate. Negotiation really begins before you even engage the seller or the other partner," explains Dr. Phil. Step number one is making the decision that you have the right to negotiate and that you are worth standing up for yourself, getting the best price, and not being taken advantage of. Claim that right, and know that you're not doing something wrong if you do. (See also: Deal Killers: 5 Phrases to Avoid When Negotiating)

"In this world, you get what you ask for," he reiterates. "Don't be bashful. You're worth it."

Thus armed, it's time to start small. Below is a list of items and places you may have not known were ripe for negotiation.

1. The Yard Sale

The neighborhood yard sale is the perfect place to learn to negotiate. Everything is a "suggested" price. It doesn't matter if the seller "paid xxx" for it; that was then, and this is now, and they need to unload it.

Here is the magic yard sale phrase: "Will you take xxx for it?" This works.

I fretted over an overpriced, vintage set of Russel Wright dishes at a flea market on two separate trips. I badly wanted them. On our third visit, my husband finally convinced me to just try the magic phrase. After only after a moment's hesitation, the seller said, "Okay." What a great feeling! You only need one victory to build up your self-confidence. You may find unmarked items at yard sales, because savvy sellers know that people love to barter.

2. Clothing

My daughter needed a fancy dress for a wedding. After searching high and low, she found the perfect dress, although overpriced, at a major New York chain. One problem: There was a stain. Could a dry cleaner get it out? She wasn't sure, but she decided to try negotiating. Here was her phrase: "I would like to buy this, but I am not sure if I can get this stain out."

After a bit of back-and-forth, the clerk said she would give her a 25% discount, but the dress could not be returned. It was a gamble, but the dry cleaner was able to make the spot nearly unnoticeable, and completely wearable. Lesson: It is worth asking.

Here is another example of a blogger who found Anthropologie brand items for less — she asked, she got. Do not expect to be able to return clothes, though. A 2012 study found that 3.3% of returns were fraudulent, so many stores have cracked down. Many retailers now re-sell their damaged clothing, donate it, or even shred it. If the store is completely unwilling to negotiate, don't despair — try showing up on a markdown day for bargains.

3. Appliances

My friend Michele just scored a deal on a refrigerator, a very good brand that she wanted. Her tricks were that she went for the floor model and compromised on the color. She really wanted black, but the floor model was in stainless steel. By telling the salesman she really wanted black, and knowing they didn't have it, she had a little psychology involved — compromise. Also, being the floor model, it was covered in fingerprints and she knew it had been there for a while. She saved 30% by going with another finish, and of course it cleaned up beautifully and works like a charm. According to Consumer Reports, "75 percent of those who did try to bargain succeeded. Those respondents reported that they saved a median of $100 for major appliances and $50 for small appliances."

4. Professional Services

Did your father use this phrase "Cash on the barrelhead"? Legal, accounting, and even medical bills can be reduced in some cases, if you offer to pay cash. This excellent piece from Consumer Reports reminds us "Not to be intimidated by a title." According to Entrepreneur.com, "Most accounting firms charge by the hour with fees ranging from $100 to $275. However, others work on a monthly retainer. Get a range of quotes from different accountants. Also try to get an estimate of the total annual charges based on the services you have discussed."

5. Food

I have seen this negotiation done twice at my local supermarket. Both people were regular customers, which I suspect made a difference. One woman needed a lot of diced tomatoes — three cases — so just asked the clerk if she could have a case discount (even though it wasn't "case discount month"). The clerk conferred with the manager, and sure enough, she got a discount. The second customer was buying an odd cut of meat, and wanted a large quantity of it. Knowing not a lot of folks wanted that cut, he asked the butcher for a discount, stating, "Well, it's not like it's a big seller." Sure enough, after a little back-and-forth, he paid what he wanted.

It never hurts to ask.

6. High-End Jewelry

Make sure you do your research before walking into a jewelry store. Educate yourself about cut, clarity, and look at discount stores like Costco, as well as Ebay first. Be prepared to make an offer, saying something like, "Well, I have a budget of xxx." Don't be taken in by a fancy store. Chain stores are reportedly poor about negotiating. Focus on the quality of the stones, not the store name. Some of them capitalize on people's emotions, and the excitement of getting engaged.

7. Salaries

When do you have room to negotiate? When you have a skill they need. How can you tell? If the job has been posted for a long time, odds are it's considered a "hard to fill" position, requiring a special skill set. Check both the posting date and the vacancy announcement. It's also fine to call the recruiter, noting that you have been seeing that posting for a while. He or she may explain more than the boilerplate job description tells. If that job appears to be stagnant, you have wiggle room — either in the annual salary, or perks like relocation fees, shortage pay, temporary housing, flex time, telecommuting, or even your child's school tuition. Do your research. Read up on the organization's mission, vision, and values; be prepared to illustrate how well you'd fit.

8. Gym Memberships

Frankly, if your gym won't negotiate, they are nuts. I don't think there is a gym in my town that doesn't give a "special discount" for one reason or another. Don't ask in January, when resolutions are fresh — try in the summer, when people are more likely to be outside, and gyms are quieter.

9. Tires

One of our cars needed a certain type of tires, which were expensive locally, but my husband found them online for much less. However, he still had to find a shop willing to install them. When he did, he had them drop-shipped and installed. This can be a hassle, though. Some local shops will meet or beat the online price — you just have to be willing to ask.

10. Closing Costs on Your Mortgage

It's frightening enough, buying a house, but when your mortgage lender presents you with a list of closing costs, it gets worse. The good news is that some of these may be negotiable. Don't try to avoid recording fees, city or county stamps, or taxes; those are set. But feel free to ask about underwriting fees, or processing fees, which can be reduced. A mortgage "application fee" may also be waived, and at an average of $343, it's worth negotiating. It's tedious, but you should be able to look at that (long) list and understand what you are paying for. Zillow advises that "buyers can negotiate with the seller over who pays these closing costs. Sometimes the seller will agree to assume the buyer's closing costs."

11. Rent

You'll have more luck negotiating rent if you live in a house. Why? You may be able to take some of the work off of the landlord's plate. Offer to do the yard work, or some of the routine maintenance, yourself. We kept our first rental house's cost low by mowing the lawn, weeding, painting, and getting the carpets cleaned,ourselves. Landlords also love tenants who are stable, so when negotiating lower rent, mention your plans to stay for a while. This will save the landlord the hassle of cleaning, repainting, advertising, and negotiating with a new tenant.

12. Furniture

We have gotten so used to furniture shopping at big chain stores that we forget about smaller, more specialized furniture stores, and that can be a mistake. Why? A locally owned store may have wiggle room, or will accept a cash discount, whereas a big chain store won't. You might even be able to get free delivery, which is certainly more fun than what you'll have to do at a chain (haul it, yourself).

According to the Seattle Times, "61 percent of consumers have bargained for furniture, cellphones and other services at least once in the last three years. And of those who tried to cut a deal for home furnishings, 94 percent were successful in getting better bargains, saving an average of $300." As an added bonus, you will probably find more unique pieces, rather than the same mass-produced items that everyone else has.

What items have you successfully negotiated? Please share in comments!

No votes yet
Your rating: None

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Guest's picture

These are all good opportunities for negotiating. Even at big chains, if you give them some incentive, they may be willing to negotiate. For example, a few years ago I was in the market for a number of pieces of furniture, and because I bought several pieces at once, I was able to get a discount (on top of sale prices) even at a large chain store. It never hurts to ask.

Guest's picture

Great article. Cable and Internet services are basic, yet expensive household costs that can be easily reduced. It can be as simple as calling customer service and threatening to cancel service because your bill is too high, or asking the company if you qualify for promotions currently being offered to new customers.