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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- Bargaining isn't just for car showrooms or flea markets. Use these tactics to negotiate discounts on everything from jewelry to legal advice.

Discounts on medical bills

Consider this: To maintain cash flow, "many doctors will knock 5 or 10 percent off if you pay up front," says health-care consultant Rocky Fredrickson. Uninsured patients can get even bigger discounts ("50 percent or more," says gastroenterologist Martin Bashir) for procedures that doctors and dentists usually bill to health plans, because medical practitioners are used to getting less than full price from insurance companies. "The discounted rate doctors give a patient is still far better than what an insurance company pays," Bashir says.

Try this: Find out what doctors and dentists typically bill for services and how much insurers pay at www.vimo.com. Negotiate the bill before your procedure. Offer to pay up front in exchange for a discount.

Discounts on uncovered repairs

Consider this: "Companies don't always charge for repairs after the warranty has expired," says Patrick Griffin, a service manager for Dell. Common problems might not require a recall but may be so prevalent that a company will fix the glitch for free.

Try this: Enter the full name of the product ("Brand X digital camera M16") and the problem ("cracked view screen") into a search engine to find chat rooms where people have discussed similar troubles and learn what the company has done for them. Call the returns department, not customer service, to talk to someone who can authorize a free repair or a replacement. Tell them you're loyal to the brand, but that you've seen online evidence of widespread issues with the product. Real Simple: 23 surprising things you can get for free

Discounts on home repairs and improvements

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Consider this: Comparing bids from several contractors will give you some leverage with the one you'd like to hire.

Try this: Get three to five bids, and be clear about the products you want to use. If your preferred contractor is at the high end, say so and offer to show him the other bids. He may adjust his price. When hiring a plumber or a tradesman for a small job, ask him to break down his price into labor and materials. About 35 percent should be materials and 65 percent labor, says construction estimator Al Paxton. If the ratio seems wrong, say so. But be diplomatic. "If you squeeze him too hard, he might give you less than first-class workmanship and use less expensive materials," Paxton says.

Discounts on online purchases

Consider this: You can't haggle online. But there are Web sites (such as www.shopzilla.com, www.froogle.com, and www.nextag.com that track and compare Internet prices for products and direct you to the best bargains. They also rate the sellers based on customer reviews.

Try this: To squeeze the price even further, call a regular store that stocks the product and ask that store to match the best price you saw advertised online. "We are very likely going to drop our price to beat another reputable dealer," says Abe Brown of J&R Music and Computer World. (You can find a list of authorized dealers by contacting the product's manufacturer or, in many cases, just going to its Web site.) Real Simple: Credit Cards 101

Discounts on jewelry

Consider this: The standard selling price for jewelry is 2.3 times the wholesale price, according to the Jewelry Information Center, a trade association. In other words, if the price tag says $500, the jeweler probably paid about $217 for it.

Try this: "Don't just say, 'What's the best price you can give me?'" says jeweler Philip Weisner. "Say, 'Oh, that's more than I am looking to spend.' Then tell him what your budget is. The jeweler may be able to give you the piece you want for your number or direct you to a similar piece you want that's in your price range." Finally, offer to pay with a check. The jeweler may agree to pass along the percentage he would otherwise have been charged by a credit-card company for the transaction.

Discounts on chain-store items

Consider this: The salesclerks at chain stores generally don't have the authority to give you a discount, but a manager does.

Try this: If you're buying a big-ticket item ($200 or more), ask a manager for a discount, says Eugene Fram, a marketing professor. If you've seen the item in the store for a while, say so. Some stores have codes on price tags that will show the manager how long the product has been on the floor. "The longer it has been hanging around, the better the deal you can get," says Fram. For smaller purchases, ask a clerk if she knows when the item is likely to go on sale, or ask her to call you when it is marked down. You could also tell the cashier you forgot the coupon from the weekly circular. He will probably have an extra.

Discounts on professional services

Consider This: Your relationship counts. "If you're a good client -- someone who has referred other customers, who brings organized documents, who pays bills quickly -- I'll knock 10 percent off my fee if you ask," says accountant Marc Albaum.

Try this: Ask for a loyalty discount. If you're not a longtime customer, go to an accountant or an attorney who does work for your friends or family and ask to receive the same treatment as they do, including any price breaks. Offer a barter payment (designing a new Web site for the firm, say), which benefits her by reducing her taxable income. Or propose that she do the work when it's best for her schedule -- preparing taxes in February, for example -- in return for a lower fee. Real Simple: Spend money to save money

Discounts on health and beauty services

Consider this: If you make your appointment for one of the salon's slow days, you may be able to negotiate a 10 to 20 percent discount. Referring new customers could also earn you a price break.

Try this: Ask whether you can get a discount for booking on a Monday or a Tuesday, which are often the slow days. Mention any new clients you have steered their way and see if you can broker something in return. You may also get a discount if you buy packages of services. The same strategies work for facials, waxing, and other beauty services, as well as private training sessions, says personal trainer Linda LaRue. "If you pay up front for 10 or 12 sessions or can train during off-hours, I'll knock my fee down by 10 percent," she says.

Discounts on mom-and-pop store items

Consider this: Whenever you're buying from the owner -- or someone with direct access to the owner -- discounts are easier to get than in chain stores. "The boss has the power to make decisions, he knows his bottom line, and he knows the value of making a sale and establishing good rapport with a customer," says Fram.

Try this: Explain to the store's owner that you're a local customer (if you are) and that you like shopping at independent retailers and coming back to a merchant you know. Mention what the big-box stores are charging for the same item and ask the independent retailer if he will match the price -- or at least come close. If the owner can't budge on price, ask for free delivery for bigger items.

Discounts on a cell phone

Consider this: Your opportunity to haggle over cell-phone minutes and features isn't when you're signing up for a new plan. "You'll start getting sales calls a couple of months before your contract runs out, but don't bite," says telecommunications attorney Art Neill.

Try this: Wait until your contract is about to run out, then call the company's customer-service department. "Their job is to keep you in the fold, and they'll probably throw some extras your way to do it," says Neill. Tell them exactly what you want in terms of a new phone, minutes, and features, based on research you've done about what other companies are offering, and they may stretch the rules to get you to renew. It's always worth talking to a supervisor if others can't help. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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