Also known as “the magical six-word question that’s saved me $1,140 in the last three months.” Sounds like clickbait, right? But miraculously, this tip is 100% legit and may one day save your (financial) life.
It’s a special little secret called… the cash discount.
I’m a little wary of asking for discounts, especially from very small companies. When it’s just one or two people running the show, it means those one or two people spend an inordinate percentage of their time doing things they don’t like to do. Nobody starts their own business because they love filing quarterly taxes—they soldier through it for the 10% of the time running their business in which they’re actually doing the thing they love.
And every small business owner I’ve known has lost sleep over their pricing. (Us included!) No matter what you’re selling, there’s local and global competition for it, and consumers have tools now that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago that allow them to find, compare, rate, and review similar services. The world is a buyer’s market, and it’s really hard to measure what you know your work is worth against what you know people are willing to pay for it.
So asking to pay less for the same product is almost always a wearying and unwelcome question… with one very special exception.
There is exactly ONE magical six-word question a consumer can whip out that will make any small business owner’s ears perk up.
“Do y’all offer a cash discount?”
The amazing, inimitable cash discount
Ah, the cash discount. Holy grail of the sole proprietorship.
But when a truly small business owner accepts a cash payment, it is now on their own conscience to report those earnings to the IRS. I’ll tell you right now that it’s a hard world out there for small businesses. The option to use an off-the-books cash payment to quietly buy groceries is a temptation not many will resist.
In any case, what the business owner does with their money is not the consumer’s responsibility. The important thing is that most are eager to lower their prices in exchange for a wad of bills.
How to ask for a cash discount
So how do you go about asking?
This technique works best on non-chain, mid-ticket purchases that have some service component attached. Goods often have a fixed cost, but service charges are set at the owner’s discretion. That’s why this trick also won’t work on a chain that sends service people to you, say a Stanley Steemer; or a place like a restaurant, where the cost of the goods and overhead drives the prices on the menu.
But a special shout-out to anyone planning a wedding: I guarantee the cash discount will become your best friend throughout this process. Everyone from invitation designers to cake decorators to videographers will be tripping over themselves to give you a healthy discount for cash.
Talk to your service person first and get a somewhat firm commitment from them on the price—then drop your magical question. If you bring it up too early, a savvy individual may bump up their quoted rate to compensate.
A cash discount require cash
It should go without saying, but “cash” means “cash.”
When you go to the bank and request a few thousand dollars from your account, your teller will likely advise to you to go with a cashier’s check or other workaround. But your service person will be expecting a sketchy envelope filled with dead presidents. Do not disappoint them.
Just be careful about withdrawing too much—$10,000 is the amount at which the bank begins reporting the withdrawal. Sneaking around with multiple just-under-the-limit withdrawals is, uhhhh… not illegal. (I am not a lawyer so much as a television watcher, so keep that in mind please!) You’re not doing anything wrong, and you have nothing to hide. But, y’know, nobody loves unnecessary legal scrutiny.
It pays to ask nicely
Finally, I think the “y’all” is actually an important part of our script here. It sets the tone! (Though you may substitute with the regional dialect of your choice, youse guys.)
Always be friendly and chill with your service person. Always. They are far more likely to give good service and good prices to someone who is sane, reasonable, friendly, and pays on time.
If you have someone coming to your house to do work, small courtesies go a long way. Offer them a glass of water and use of your bathroom facilities. For off-site services, ask their name and remember it. Go hard on those “pleases” and “thank yous” and don’t be afraid to throw a “sir” in there too. (Don’t reach for a female gender equivalent, for there be dragons.)
The more people like you, the more likely they are to help you out. Even if you don’t leave with a discount, you’re making the world a slightly less crappy place. Service people get their fair share of rude jerks shitting on them. Don’t be one of them.
$1,140 this year, and counting
I’ve asked this question twice this year, and met with success both times. First, our tree removal guy gave us a discount of 20%, or $690. Then my car repairman gave me a 10% discount of $450 on a major collision repair. That’s an extra $1,140 in my pocket this year!
Obviously being able to pay for expensive services in cash is a sign that your life has been hashtag-blessed. Don’t feel like you’ve failed if you have to put an unexpected expense onto a credit card. That’s why the good lord gave them to us! Aim for cash payments when they are within your reach, and your multiplying fortune will soon be ready for more.
Readers, have you ever tried this trick? Did it work for you? If so, tell us about it in the comments below!
Small businesses need cash
SPEAKING OF SMALL BUSINESSES… it’s hard out there for ’em. Which is why, if you’re interested in getting ahead financially while simultaneously helping small business owners, we recommend our sponsor Mainvest.
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A version of this article was originally published in March, 2016.