In the quest to stay healthy and happy, nothing is free: $350 to fill a cavity, $120 for a monthly gym membership, $30 for a yoga class. But you don't need to go broke just to be at your best. The key to paying less? Asking for it.
Unfortunately, that's something many of us don't do.
"Haggling involves two things people hate: conflict and rejection," said Edward Wertheim, professor of negotiation at Northeastern University's D'Amore-McKim School of Business in Boston. And health is an area where people don't often think they can strike a bargain.
But "anything you spend money on—whether it's an antique or a skin check—is open to debate," said Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever.” "And health-care prices tend to be arbitrary—there is no rule saying a doctor or personal trainer has to charge a certain amount." Save big on services by learning the art of negotiation.
Get a deal on...: Gym memberships
Gather info on local rates. This should always be your first step. That way, "you can ask the gym you like best to match the average or lowest price you find," said Sandy Todd Webster, editor-in-chief of trade publications for Idea Health & Fitness Association, the world's largest association of fitness professionals.
Create your own discounts. "I asked a nearby gym about a neighborhood discount. They said no, but when I explained how close I lived, they gave me 25 percent off for the first year," said Thorin Klosowski, a writer for the website Lifehacker.
The same gambit worked for Amy Davis, a teacher in Columbia, Md.
"I had stress fractures that sidelined me for a few months, so I went to a gym and asked if I could get a discount to ride only the stationary bike," she said. "They waived my joining fee, and I paid just $15 a month."
Also ask about any discounts that aren't advertised. "Some gyms offer lower membership rates if you go later at night or only on weekdays," Klosowski said.
Haggle at the right time. "Most gyms have a sales quota they need to meet each month, so if you talk to them toward the end of the month, you have more power," said trainer Andrea Metcalf, author of “Naked Fitness.” "You can also get more bang for your buck during slower months, like July, when everyone is away or exercising outside."
Barter with boutique gyms, too. Ask yoga and cycling studios to match any lower rates you've found at similar places. And "don't be afraid to ask for a free trial period or a friends-and-family referral discount," Webster added.
Get a deal on...: Sessions with a personal trainer, nutritionist or massage therapist
Buy in bulk. "Ask if you can get bonus sessions by paying in advance," Ellwood said.
Propose a trade. Carrie Anton, a writer in Madison, Wis., tried this tactic and succeeded. "The trainers I went to had a clunky website," she said. "So I offered them my writing services in exchange for getting free sessions. They liked the work I did so much that they kept the freebies coming!"
Get a deal on...: Therapy
Ask about sliding scales. "This means you're charged based on your income, so the less you make, the less you pay," said Joe Taravella, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City. Therapists do this more often than you might think.
Get a deal on...: Spa treatments
Hit up Groupon. "Massages and facials are some of the biggest categories for mass-coupon websites," said Allan Share, president of the Day Spa Association. "If the spa you go to isn't on one, call them up, mention that their competitor is running a certain special and ask if they can match it."
Get a deal on...: Dental work
Offer to pay in cash. This is particularly useful at the dentist's office, since most dental insurance leaves patients shelling out quite a bit on their own. "My dentist lowered the price of my visit when I said I would pay in full up front," Klosowski said. "He knew he'd get his money directly without worrying about insurance."
Shop around. "Many dentists will meet with you for a complimentary consultation to get a price quote—just confirm in advance that it will indeed be free," said Dr. Gayle Glenn, president of the American Association of Orthodontists. "You can save up to 10 percent in costs by doing this."
4 Things You Shouldn't Scrimp On
A super low price isn't always a great deal. In some areas, it's worth spending a little bit more.
Complex procedures. Buyer, beware: "Cheaper versions may not be the best treatment solutions," said Dr. Todd Barsky, a prosthodontist at the Miami Institute in Florida.
Contact lenses. Save by getting them online if you can. But know that too-good-to-be-true prices can mean the lenses are counterfeit—and possibly harmful to your eyes.
Prescription drugs. As with contacts, sweet online deals for meds could signal a counterfeit product. Stick to reputable vendors whose names you know and trust.
Supplements. Nutritional supplements aren't as rigidly regulated as drugs, so you're best off buying them at big chain stores to ensure their effectiveness.