smart spending

Paying cash? Ask for a discount

"If you don't have insurance and you go to the hospital, it's important to know that you'll typically get a 20 percent discount," McLean says. "But you can always ask about cash terms, too. A lot of hospitals will take another 20 percent off for customers who pay cash within 30 days and 10 percent off for those who pay cash within 60 days."

But those with insurance also should look for opportunities to pay cash, especially if they're planning to have a procedure that won't be covered, McLean says.

"The thing to do is talk to your doctor's office manager beforehand," she says. "Often, the first price reflects an agreement between the insurance company and the health care provider, so it's not what your doctor actually gets. And that means there's a lot more room to negotiate than people think."

Computer repairs

You have to ask, but some independent computer repair firms will happily knock 5 percent off your bill if you pay cash.

"There's a much lower risk of headaches with cash transactions," says Adam Jamal Craig, owner of HyperNerd Inc., a computer repair business in Burbank, Calif.

Craig says he only offers the discount on services, not on hardware or software sales because those items tend to give him less room to negotiate. But even 5 percent can add up on a service bill.

For instance, Craig says he typically charges $200 to recover lost data from a damaged hard drive. While the primary concern for his customers is getting their data back, Craig says a lot of them are happy to pay cash if it means they get $10 off.

Jewelry purchases

If you have the money to spend on jewelry, a discount may not be foremost on your mind, but it should be, says Inga Vascenkova, a brand manager for ItsHot.com, an online jewelry retailer in New York.

Discounts vary, but Vascenkova says that some items may be discounted by as much as 20 percent if the customer is willing to pay cash. With jewelry prices ranging from several hundred dollars into the thousands, the savings can be substantial. However, if the item is mostly gold, the discount will likely be less -- 5 percent or 10 percent, she warns.

Either way, getting a cash discount comes down to two things. "Customers must be willing to pay cash, and they have to ask," Vascenkova says.

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