Negotiate to Win Big – The Perpetual War of Subscriptions

Negotiate To Win

As a full-time investor, there are two publications that I can’t live without, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.  The thing is, these papers are expensive.  I’ve tried to give each up at various points, but simply can’t.  It’s like functioning without oxygen as an investor to not have access to the information in both publications.  The Journal is especially crucial for U.S.-based investors, the FT for Europe–but both are essential.  If for no other reason, by diligently reading both papers regularly, you learn what biases, assumptions, and fads are driving assets.  This is particularly true when it comes to commodities.

The funny thing is, maintaining a subscription to either publication is like a perpetual war.  Every year both publications try to jack up prices, and every year I call them and they don’t do it.  This is the exact same scenario with other firms such as cable operators, cell phone providers, etc.  When it comes to subscriptions, you have to negotiate to win.  It’s a perpetual war.

Negotiate To Win – Let The Games Begin

Let me give you the latest scenarios with both the WSJ and FT.  I had a yearly online only subscription to the WSJ that was costing me $225 per year.  Last October, the company sent me an email with a heads up that my subscription would shoot up to about $340.  This was a dramatic increase.  I called the WSJ and told them that this was right on the bubble of me wanting to maintain my subscription.  (By the way, I never lie in these negotiations.  I could, but integrity is worth a lot more than saving $100.)

The first person I spoke with told me that there was nothing to be done.  There were no better rates or deals available.  I said thanks very much.  I had about a month before the new rate was scheduled to kick in.  I waited three weeks and called back.  I said the exact same thing, and the fellow asked if it was important for me to read the WSJ on an app or if just going to the website (which is totally mobile friendly) would do.  I said that would be fine.  We locked in another yearly subscription, this time at $179–the best deal I have ever gotten with the WSJ.  I asked the gentleman who helped me get this better rate why I didn’t get this offer when I had called three weeks prior.  He said he had no idea, as that deal had been available for a while.  This goes to show you that there is tremendous randomness when you call these companies.  If at first you don’t succeed, call back.

A few months later, The Financial Times sent a near identical email, telling me my subscription would shoot up to over $300 per year.  I called them up, told them this was borderline too much for me to maintain my subscription, and noted it was dramatically higher than my subscription.  They asked me what I paid WSJ; I told the customer service rep, and she immediately matched that price for another year of the FT, this time at $179–the best deal I’d ever gotten.

See The Game As A Lucrative Part Time Job

Honestly, I find this perpetual dance a bit annoying.  Same with cable companies (though I don’t currently have cable).  But the return on your effort is significant.  If a 30-minute phone call will save you roughly $150, that’s a $300 return per hour.  Factoring taxes, you would have to make about  $370/hour to match that return on your time on an after-tax basis.  For most people out there, that’s a great return on your efforts (but there I go again with my 9th-grade math).

I suggest you look at this game of perpetual negotiation as a very lucrative part-time job that pays you at least $100/per hour for your efforts.  It is worth it to negotiate to win this ongoing war.  Assume prices are flexible.

Negotiating Tips

  • Don’t Lie.  There’s no point.  Say something like, “I am considering canceling this service if we can’t come to a better price,” (assuming that is at least remotely true).  If you don’t plan to cancel, just say flat out, “I think that price is steep and would like to know if you can give me a better deal.”
  • If you don’t like what you hear, get off the phone as quickly and politely as possible and call back.  If you get no joy on your second call, wait two weeks and call again.  If on the third call you still have no luck, there probably really is no flexibility on the side of the company.  That happened to me recently with car insurance, and I had to change providers.
  • Be prepared to cancel or switch providers if necessary.  Again, if you can save $200 or more for a 30-minute phone call and get basically the same service, it’s worth making the call and jumping through a few hoops.
  • Always be polite to the customer service agents.  You actually have very little leverage in the situation when you call some giant corporation and ask for a discount.  That said, these folks appreciate a kind, sane person on the phone.  (I know, I worked on the phones at Charles Schwab Corporation.)  Assume this person is your ally, and he/she will likely go into sync with your assumption.
  • It’s ok to pull the verbal trigger and say, “I want to go ahead and cancel my service.”  It won’t happen immediately during the phone call.  They may transfer you to another department that actually can negotiate with you.  So, even if you start that process during the telephone conversation, there is still time for you to back off and say, “You know, I’ve realized I want to think about this some more.  Let’s not cancel.”

The Negotiation Process – A War of Attrition

For recurring transactions like cable and phone bills, car insurance, newspaper subscriptions, the most accurate frame of reference is that you are fighting a long-running, low-grade war of attrition.  These firms hope you aren’t paying attention as they ratchet up your expenses year after year.  You end up with a $250/month cable bill, cell phone bills way over $100, and on and on and on.  Frankly, this is a tax on the lazy and ignorant.  That’s not you!

So, if you want to reach financial freedom, you need to cut out the unnecessary monthly costs.  Keep negotiating down those subscriptions you wish to maintain.  It takes about 30 minutes of effort a year to save about $100-$200 on many many items.  Negotiate to win big.