smart spending

Paying cash? Ask for a discount

Male hands counting out multiple $100 bills
Highlights
  • Some gas stations cut your cost at the pump if you pay cash.
  • Takeout and delivery restaurants are good for cash discounts.
  • Shave your medical bills by offering to pay cash within 30 to 60 days.

Cash is king. It's also the preferred method of payment for a wide range of businesses that offer a discount to their customers who pay cash.

Discounts can range from just a few percentage points to nearly half off, depending on the merchant and product. Though most people don't always know they're available, sometimes all you need to do is ask for it.

Gas stations

Only about 5 percent to 10 percent of the 115,000 independent gas stations nationwide offer cash discounts, says Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group representing gas station and convenience store owners. But that doesn't mean savvy consumers shouldn't be on the lookout for cash deals at the pump, he says. A recent association study found that where one gas station offers cash discounts, others in the area will likely follow.

As for the savings, Lenard says that customers who pay cash can typically trim 2 percent -- the merchant's typical fee for using plastic -- off the total. Based on an average gasoline price nationally of $2.75 per gallon, Lenard estimates that cash will save customers about 5 cents a gallon. But when gas prices rise, the savings also increase, he says. Just don't expect a cash deal on anything inside the store. Lenard says convenience store owners don't offer cash discounts on things like candy and soda.

Restaurants

When Todd Beauchamp, an associate television producer in Los Angeles, ordered takeout one night from his local Thai restaurant, he couldn't believe his ears. If he were to pay cash, he would save 10 percent off the bill, the restaurant's owner told him.

"It was a no-brainer," says Beauchamp, who now routinely asks for a cash discount. "I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of restaurants that offer cash discounts."

According to Beauchamp, by asking around and keeping cash on hand, he can shave a few dollars off of his weekly takeout bill. Saving as much as $3 per week adds up to $150 or more per year.

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An informal survey of restaurants around the country found 10 percent is the norm for cash discounts, but a few eateries took as much as 15 percent off the bill. However, of the more than 20 upscale restaurants that participated in the survey, none said they were offering a cash discount. So, customers should look for discounts at restaurants that do a large takeout or delivery business.

Doctors

Cash discounts are probably the last thing most people consider when visiting the doctor, but those who ask can often trim their medical bills, according to Carrie McLean, a Sacramento, Calif.-based consumer specialist at eHealthInsurance.com, a Web site that advises consumers on medical costs and health insurance plans. In some cases, consumers can cut their bills in half.

 

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