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Consumer Watch: Ask for hidden deals

Not all discounts are publicized, so be sure to speak up

Nov. 3, 2011 - 10:35AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 3, 2011 - 10:35AM  |  
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Coupons and discounts are great ways to stretch your budget, and with Veterans Day approaching, look for discounts all around. We'd even go so far as to suggest asking about unadvertised discounts outright.

A number of restaurants offer troops and veterans free meals on Veterans Day, and Home Depot and Lowe's have expanded their 10 percent military discounts to be good for the entire year.

But have you checked with your local gift shop, favorite restaurant, hotel or cruise line, your cable company or cellphone provider, to see if they offer discounts or savings? Ask for a military discount, but remember that you may qualify for some other savings, as well.

Asking for a discount might feel a little like haggling, but don't look at it that way. What do you have to lose?

Take the experiences of Katie Savant, a Marine Corps wife and expert on consumer financial issues with the National Military Family Association. She noticed offers coming in from competitors to her satellite TV provider. She called to ask if her provider could give any discounts, and the company reduced her monthly bill.

This wasn't a military discount per se. Some spouses have told me they've called their service providers to ask for a military discount and received it. Some were specifically related to deployments; others weren't.

On another occasion, when shopping at a local card store, Savant was making her purchase when the cashier noticed her military ID card and volunteered the fact that the store offers a 10 percent military discount.

A colleague of mine had a similar experience. When talking to a plumbing company about a service call, she mentioned that her husband couldn't be at home during the day because he's a teacher. The service representative then told her the company gives a 10 percent discount to teachers.

Those experiences should inspire all of us to at least ask.

Here's what to consider before making the call, or before asking a cashier if there is a discount.

You're not asking for a handout. You're simply asking if there are discounts. A cashier or customer representative isn't necessarily going to tell every customer every discount that's available before a purchase is made.

On the other hand, don't assume. You may not be entitled to a discount just because you're in the military or related to someone who is.

Be polite. I recently called the company that provides our household's cable, Internet and phone service and simply said, "We're paying a lot each month for these services. Is there anything you can do to save us money?" The customer service representative was very helpful and did find some savings. It was definitely worth the 15-minute call. Then I checked with my cellphone company, and the representative helped pare down my bill by eliminating some extra features we really didn't need.

Research and return. If a company offers no discounts, take it a step further. Do some research on competitors' prices for similar services such as cable or Internet. If you find lower prices, check back with your provider armed with that information.

Don't bluff. Before you get angry and cancel your service because you didn't get a cheaper price, make sure you know what the service costs elsewhere.

Relax. Think about the worst thing that could happen. Savant and her husband recently took their young son to a local pumpkin patch, and she asked if there was a military discount. There was not, and it wasn't a crushing experience. The three happily continued with their planned pumpkin expedition.

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