Serina Bird has saved a lot of cash with a simple question. The truth about the cost of living in Australia
Serina Bird has saved a lot of cash with a simple question. The truth about the cost of living in Australia Pixabay

Mistake that's costing you $9000 a year

"YOU mean I can ask for a discount?" someone asked me recently when I shared how I got 12 per cent off my electricity bill. Yep. You most certainly can.

And not just off your electricity bill.

I'm always amazed at how polite we are here in Australia when it comes to paying for things. We ask how much something is, then we say 'oh, okay then' and hand over our credit cards. Maybe we are seething inwardly about something being overpriced, but we are socialised to accept it. We were taught in Australian society that it is vulgar to talk about money, rude and even pushy to ask for a better rate. It is much more genteel to just to pay quietly and not make a fuss.

Last year I was at a dinner party where a woman was talking about her experience of buying a property off the plan. 'Did you negotiate the price,' I asked? I was curious because I had bought an apartment a month beforehand and, with the guidance of my mother, had negotiated shrewdly yet fairly and achieved a good result.

'No,' she said. 'The agent advised me that it was the market price, so I bought it for that amount.'

As I was at a dinner party, I did not want to be impolite, so I said nothing. But inwardly, I was shocked that someone would pay full price for a major purchase. Maybe a lower offer might not have been accepted, but to not even ask?

There are times when you may choose to pay full price for good reasons - for example, convenience, service, quality or to support your local community. But in general, you do not win any karmic awards by paying full price when you do not have to.

There are many things holding us back from negotiating a better price. The main one is the fear of asking.

You can grow your own food, but Serina has found there are much quicker ways to save a lot of money.
You can grow your own food, but Serina has found there are much quicker ways to save a lot of money.

Even though I am a frugalista, I still feel scared to ask for something at a cheaper price. It involves taking a risk, putting yourself out there and going against the Australian norm of standing in line and politely paying the price on the tag. What if you ask and the person says no - loudly? Just like Oliver Twist who dared to ask for more, I fear the ridicule that might result from my attempts at haggling in the wrong social situation.

The secret I have found is not to 'haggle'. Instead, it is about asking - firmly, clearly and politely.

And that's really it: it all starts with having the courage to ask for more. There are many books that have been written about negotiating strategies - whether it's win-win or Trump's more aggressive win-at-any-cost approach.

Usually, strategies revolve around technical things such as who makes the offer first, whether or not you withhold the price, or how to bluff it like you are a high-stakes poker player. But none of these approaches means a thing unless you ask for what you want. If you don't ask, you don't get. Because otherwise no-one will know what it is you want. Maybe you will be lucky and someone will voluntarily give you a lower price - it happens to me occasionally - but usually I need to ask first.

You can't always get a discount, but discounts are available more often than you might think. You can't always ask for a better price on a shelf item in a supermarket (although you can ask a store to price-match an item that is cheaper elsewhere, and you can choose to shop at a cheaper store). But there is no reason in the world why you can't ask for a discount if you are in a boutique - especially if you are buying more than one outfit.

My mother used to own a boutique in Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Some of the wealthiest women in Australia venture north for their holidays, and their wealth didn't stop them from requesting money off on their resort wear. She valued their repeat business and would often give a fair discount.

You can definitely ask for a discount for large service items, including for renos or a big event. Ideally ask for more than one quote so you can compare.

You can definitely offer a lower price if you are negotiating on the purchase of a property. The agent might say something like, "The purchasers will not even look at an offer on the property below $x price." Tell them you are a genuine cashed-up buyer and insist the offer be put to the vendors anyway (yes I have done this, yes I was genuine, and yes it worked). Of course, this might not be successful if there are multiple bidders or if you have your heart set on the home of your dreams.

Over the course of the last year, I saved 12 per cent off my electricity bill by asking for a better deal (equivalent to around $180), saved around $200 negotiating discounts on Gumtree purchases, at least $6000 by submitting an offer lower than the listed price for a property (the agent later said he could have sold it several times over at a much higher price), around $300 getting an insurance broker to ask for better insurance details, around $2000 on an air conditioner installation (the first quote was ludicrous), and $294.99 by asking that break costs, delivery and installation on migration to NBN be waived. That makes a total of $8974.99. For me, I would need to work at least six weeks in my current job to earn that amount.

Serina Bird is a proud frugalista, mother of two boys and billionaire in the making. She believes that every dollar counts, and blogs about her money savings journey at Ms Frugal Ears.


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