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By Julia Glum
July 27, 2020
Jade Schulz for Money

In a recession like this, every cent counts. So after you’ve kicked that expensive Starbucks habit and canceled the Disney+ subscription you only bought for Hamilton, why not try to reduce your fixed costs, too?

It’s possible to bring down the cost of your monthly bills — and you don’t even have to yell at a customer service rep.

“If you have the time, you should try to negotiate every bill you’ve got,” says Ben Kurland, co-founder of BillFixers. “Most often, things like TV, internet and phone bills are structured with padding built in from the provider assuming you’re going to negotiate. They’ve got this whole profit margin they’re expecting you to come down on.”

It all centers around the idea of retention. Companies want to grow and get more customers, not shrink and lose customers, so they’re willing to do a lot to keep you around.

You can take advantage of this, but you still need to have a strategy before you pick up the phone. Here are five expert-approved tips that’ll teach you how to negotiate your bills… without being a jerk.

Pick your battles

Discretionary bills are among the easiest to negotiate because you could, theoretically, cancel your service and walk away. This goes for industries where there’s a lot of competition, like home security, or that provide nonessential services, like satellite radio.

There’s a lot less wiggle room when it comes to the basics, like electric and water.

“All service providers are a little different and have their specific nuances on how much they will reduce your bill,” says Barry Gross, founder and president of BillCutterz. “Some offer more discounts than others, and there is no way to specifically know what discounts you might receive without contacting your provider to find out.”

Do your homework

Kurland says that it’s totally possible for you to negotiate your bills on your own… if you have the time and patience. (That’s a big if.) He recommends doing some research about competitors’ rates and calling the company during business hours on a workday.

Once you’ve reached a representative, you should tell them you’d like to cancel your service because you’ve decided to switch to competitor X’s specific deal that will save you Y dollars a month.

This “basically pushes a little red button on their side,” Kurland says. It goes from a regular service call to a retention one. They’ll start thinking, “we’ve got to find a way to keep this customer,” he adds.

Be quiet

Being polite is key. After all, it’s not the little guy’s fault the Megacorp Man has astronomical rates. No yelling. If you can get the rep’s first name and use it often, it’ll build rapport, Gross says.

You still need to be assertive, though. “Never take the first offer. When offered a discount, always pause — maybe five seconds of silence — and ask, ‘What else can you do to lower my monthly bill?’” Gross says.

You should do this after the second offer, as well. You need to remain silent, even if it’s awkward.

Rinse and repeat

Once you’ve gotten the price as low as you think it’ll go, you’ll want to thank them and do what Gross refers to as a “wrap.” You should wrap up by asking the rep to summarize the details of the discounts, how long they’ll apply and whether they can email you a confirmation. You should also make sure that this doesn’t change your contract.

Then, Kurland says, you should hang up and call back. When you inquire about your bill this time, the person on the phone should reply that oh, he sees on the computer that you just got a discount. The amount should match what the other rep just told you. If he doesn’t, then you’ve got to start the whole process over again.

Consider outsourcing

Sounds exhausting, right? Well, both Kurland and Gross have companies that will do the negotiating for you… if you give them a cut of the savings. (Neither BillFixers nor BillCutterz will charge you if they fail to reduce your bills.)

Perhaps the biggest con of outsourcing negotiations is the fact that you don’t get 100% of the money saved back. There are lots of pros, though, including that the companies’ employees will likely know the best questions to ask, the proper department to reach and when to call back to renegotiate.

Plus — and this is a major selling point — you don’t have to do it yourself.

“Hassling and haggling with service providers is not something people typically like to do,” Gross says. “We all already have a lot of stress in our lives. If there is a way to alleviate some and it saves me money, I am in.”

More from Money:

David Bach’s Guide to Financial Recovery

The Pandemic Is Highlighting the Importance of Emergency Funds

Coronavirus Has Turned America Into a Nation of Savers. But How Long Will It Last?

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