How 'Nice-Lady' Negotiating Saved Me $4,300 in a Year

By: Jill Beirne Davi


After a recent hospital stay, I opened one of dozens of health care-related bills and found one for $21.47 for the TV and phone in my hospital room. I never used the phone. I never used the TV. Yet here was this bill — one that my health insurance would not be covering — telling me I owed money for a service I never used.

Now most people would get on the phone right away to dispute this error, but I hesitated. As an agreeable people-pleaser, calling to disagree felt scary. Deep down, I was terrified of the word ‘no’ — both hearing and saying it.

I’d think: It’s hopeless anyway; they’re just going to tell me I have to pay. And then I’d rationalize not calling by telling myself it was “only $20,” or whatever the bill amount was. If the bill in question was higher, sometimes I just wouldn’t even pay it.

Every once in a while, I’d get up the confidence to call. But at the first sign of disagreement, I’d panic and hang up — and then send in the payment.

As my financial life became more complex with a mortgage and two kids, I realized my shut-up-and-pay (or not pay) strategy couldn’t continue. Those smaller charges were adding up. And the larger ones I ignored were hurting my credit when those bills went to collection. I knew I needed to find another way.

Inspiration came in the form of my two-year-old daughter negotiating over school clothes. I realized she was a pro in this delicate art form: pleasant, curious and dogged in the pursuit of her own happiness, despite hearing several "no’s" from her mama. I could learn a thing or two.

And then it hit me: Instead of perceiving the person on the other end of the phone as an enemy, I would approach them as a collaborator — someone who could answer my questions and help me get what I wanted.

So, back to the hospital bill.

Calling with no plan was the old Jill. This time, I took 10 minutes and did my research. I called the insurance company first. Then I wrote down exactly what I wanted the outcome to be. Finally, I wrote down in big letters, “What if they say no?” and scribbled some thoughts about what I’d say next.

Prepared, I picked up the phone and pleasantly introduced myself. The man on the other end sounded like he’d had a long day. I detected annoyance. Bad start, but I forged ahead. After calmly explaining my situation, I asked how I should proceed. He reminded me that my insurance didn’t cover this and explained it was a separate service.

I paused. This is normally when I’d agree and hang up. I looked at my notes and asked a question instead: “I don’t remember signing up for these services. Would you be able to send me a copy of the document I signed that said I authorized those charges?”

“Ma’am,” he replied,” you are automatically enrolled in the services and should have received a document in the hospital for you to sign if you wanted to opt out.”

Bingo! This new information gave me just the leverage I needed. I explained: “I never received paperwork to opt out. I was never given the opportunity to decline these services. What should I do next?”

He responded, in a huff, “Ma’am, did you use the TV or phone in your room or not?”

“I did not,” I calmly replied, ignoring his tone.

There was a long pause, during which I made sure to stay quiet. He came back and agreed to give me a one-time credit for the bill.

I thanked him, hung up and broke out in a happy dance. I couldn't believe it! The amount was irrelevant; this was a breakthrough moment. Since then, I’ve gone from timid bill accepter to expert nice-lady negotiator. In the past year alone I saved over $4,300 in fees, discounts, health insurance copays and incorrect charges by having the courage to get on the phone and negotiate. Want to do the same? Here are my tips for getting the outcome you want:

Have a written plan. If you usually get flustered on the phone, don’t wing it — be prepared. Before each call, write down the exact outcome you’re seeking and how you hope to get there, including possible roadblocks and how you can get around them. It’s important to have something (anything!) to say when your emotions get rattled.

Get your facts straight. Knowledge is power in this situation, so keep all documentation of bills sent to you, have specific dates ready and always read the fine print on any policies so you can speak intelligently and confidently on the phone.

Ask open-ended questions. Before a call, write down 10 questions you could ask the person on the phone. This can help move the conversation forward when you may otherwise feel stuck.

Be neutral and pleasant in your tone. If you’re angry or upset about a bill, give yourself some time to calm down before reaching for the phone. I used to think I had to turn into a jerk to get my way, but in my experience I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. Being pleasant, making a connection or even cracking a joke can help grease the wheels between you and the rep.

Have a plan for a no. Instead of fearing an initial "no," learn to embrace it. Don’t be discouraged — just keep asking questions until you can find a creative way around it.

This article originally appeared on

jill beirne davis.jpg

Jill Beirne Davi is the founder of Abundant Finances, a service that helps you get yourself out of debt and start amassing abundant savings in record time (without deprivation or eating cat food for dinner). For more helpful money strategies to turn your finances around, visit 

I used to let people walk all over me at work — until I learned how I could use my niceness to my advantage

By: Jill Beirne Davi

'Niceness' can be a helpful tool in a negotiation.  Strelka Institute/Flickr/Attribution License

'Niceness' can be a helpful tool in a negotiation. Strelka Institute/Flickr/Attribution License

Nice people can find it challenging to successfully negotiate a business deal.

For 'nice' people who tend to let others take advantage of them, it is essential to prepare for negotiations.

Using 'nice' qualities can actually be helpful: By behaving pleasantly and positively, your opposition is more likely to soften and follow your lead.

For us sensitive, "too-nice" types, negotiation can be a nasty word.

At least for me, it was.

Sure I talked a good game, but when it really came down to negotiation on my own behalf for what I wanted, I possessed a terrible habit of rolling over and letting the other party win. My ears burned hot red at the hint of confrontation. Even though it was "just business," negotiation always felt personal. I didn't want to anger anyone and I believed pushing back meant I'd ruin the relationship.

But you can't go through life, letting people take advantage of you. Especially when you run your own business. As business owner and consultant, I knew I needed new tools to help me deal with the uncomfortable scenarios all business owners eventually face:

Situations like:

What to do when a client is late on payments?

What to do when a client wants to change the terms of the contract?

How to ask for better terms from vendors?

Things are going well in a conversation with a potential client — until you start talking about your fee. What do you next do to seal the deal when things are feeling tense? What to do when a client won't take the suggestions you know they need to be successful?

I've learned from running my own business that negotiation is an essential skill I needed in order to survive. So, I devoured everything I could on the subject (even the out-of-print, hard to find books) and started practicing on low-stakes events.

My first real win had nothing to do with business, but it was great practice. It came when it was time to order my daughter's birth certificate. I called the government office and they told me to send $25 in cash (!) with a pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelope. Once received, they'd send me a copy. I followed the directions to the letter.

3 weeks, no certificate.

So I called again. The woman told me they received my request and sent it out already. When I told her I hadn't received it, she said my only option was to re-send the money and try again. I hung up the phone and instantly realized: I could get angry, I could roll over and send the money, or I could negotiate. I decided to do some prep work, call her back and negotiate. In the end, she sent me a new certificate free of charge, (happily I might add).

After that small win, I was hooked and reached for higher stakes. I raised my consulting fees, negotiated with vendors (saving myself over $4300 in just three months), and started landing new clients reaching out to cold contacts using my new found negotiation skills.

Here's how I did it

This is the exact 5 step blueprint I use now before entering into any negotiation — without being aggressive or rude.

1.      You must realize you're in a negotiation. This is the hardest part, in my opinion. If you don't know you're negotiating, you will start to take things personally.

2.     Have a written plan before you begin the negotiation. Don't wing it! Be prepared. Before each interaction, write down the exact outcome you're seeking. If you're a sensitive or naturally agreeable person, it's important to have something (anything!) to say in response when your emotions get rattled.

3.     Ask open-ended questions. Some people, like me, were raised not to ask questions which makes this step seem impolite. However, questions are the only way to unlock the information that can help you get what you want. Before a negotiation, write ten questions you could ask the person on the phone. This will help move the conversation forward in case your emotions rattle you.

4.     Be neutral and pleasant in your tone. If you're angry or upset, give yourself some time to calm down before reaching for the phone. I used to think that if I was calling to negotiate I had to turn into a jerk to get my way. But in my experience, I've found the exact opposite to be true. Being pleasant, making a connection even cracking a joke or two can help grease the wheels between you and the person on the other end, helping you to get what you want.

5.     Have a plan for a no. In America, we're a nation of no-a-phobes. We hate the word and will do nearly anything to avoid it. But if you embrace it, and prepare for it in advance, you will be able to find a creative way around it.

Follow these five steps and you'll be able to negotiate better and still be "nice."

This article originally appeared on

jill beirne davis.jpg

Jill Beirne Davi is the founder of Abundant Finances, a service that helps you get yourself out of debt and start amassing abundant savings in record time (without deprivation or eating cat food for dinner). For more helpful money strategies to turn your finances around, visit 

Secrets of Success: How I Learned to Make What I Was Really Worth

By: Jill Beirne Davi

When I launched a side business about five years ago coaching people about their finances, I enjoyed it so much that I barely charged -- if I charged at all -- for my services. Many of the people I was helping were in the hole -- and desperately trying to get out. Plus, I loved talking to them about their money, so it didn't feel like an even exchange. I felt ashamed asking them to pay me.

After all, I had been deep in debt once, too, so I knew what it felt like to struggle to keep costs down. In fact, it was my own experiences that led me to become a money coach. As I began to share my success story, friends and friends of friends asked me to hold workshops, and pulled me aside for private advice.

I realized that there was a demand for money coaching, so I began doing it during my free time, while keeping my day job in market research. But when I first set out to offer my services, I charged nothing. I was caught up in the classic belief that if you loved what you did, you didn't have to get paid for it.

Work, by nature, had to be hard -- or so I thought. And if it wasn't hard, then you were pulling the wool over someone's eyes. So I did a lot of free sessions, irrationally hoping that someone would be so thrilled with what they were getting that they'd donate some money. Of course, that's not how things work.

Wait ... I Can Actually Get Paid to Do This?

As I started helping more people with their budgets, I realized that I could do it all day. I enjoyed problem-solving, crunching numbers and helping folks find creative solutions to sticky financial problems without having to declare bankruptcy or ruin their credit scores.

I decided that I eventually wanted to do this as a career -- which meant that I had to figure out how I was going to, you know, make money. I was working with a life coach at the time, so I shared my aspirations with her, as well as my fear of coming off as greedy if I asked for money. Her advice was simple: Start small. Just charge a little something to gain the experience of someone paying you to do what you love.

I realized that what I offered was valuable in ways that even I didn't expect. That first private client gave me the courage to take on more paying clients. So I did. A week later I charged my first paying client $25 for an hour-long session. He laughed and said, "That's it?" I stopped offering free sessions after that.

A few months in, this client was getting great results, so I considered asking him to write a testimonial -- but I was nervous for fear of coming off as selfish. I knew that it would help me build my future business, so I bit the bullet and asked him anyway. To my relief, he agreed.

His testimonial blew me away. I knew something had shifted, but after reading it I realized there was a real ripple effect happening in him. Not only had he started watching his finances better, but his smarter decisions and newfound discipline were also having a positive effect on his personal relationships and health. When I read it, something shifted inside me too.

I realized for the first time that what I offered was valuable to people in ways that even I didn't expect. That first private client gave me the courage to take on more paying clients.

The Inner Critic Comes Out

Still, it seemed that no matter how many people I worked with, I always had the same nervousness in the beginning. The same inner monologue would loop over and over: "You're not good at this. They're going to demand their money back and tell everyone how awful you are."

Oh, yes, my inner critic is a full-on monster, and she's the reason I kept my rates ridiculously, laughably low, just so no one would get mad at me if they weren't happy with my services.

This charging low fees thing went on for a few months with a handful of clients. Then I was contacted by a woman who'd heard about me through a mutual friend. She was a woman I admired, an entrepreneur who'd started a business a few years prior.

We sat down, and I asked her about her financial situation. I felt that I could help her, and she was nearly ready to say yes -- until I shared my rates with her. Her mood changed immediately. Suddenly, she wasn't so eager.

At first I thought my rates were too high -- but it was the exact opposite. She told me that the reason she didn't want to work with me was because they were too low. "I can tell by your rates that you're not confident in your abilities," she said. "So I'm not sure this is going to work out."

After the initial shock wore off, I realized she was right. To this day, I'm grateful for her brutal honesty because it made a lightbulb go off. After that, I looked through my testimonials and interviewed past clients about what they got out of working with me. Most clients started to see results around the two-month mark, and the best clients stayed with me for three or four months. The people who didn't get great results only came to me for one or two sessions.

At the time, I was billing on an hourly basis. So I started lumping sessions together and charging a bundled price to make sure people stayed long enough to see results. Each bundle was several hundred dollars -- way more than I was charging before.

Next Step: Overcoming My Fears

When I first started offering bundled pricing, I was terrified. I kept playing with the numbers to make them "seem" lower, doing things like adding more sessions to justify the price.

When people would question my fees, I'd explain that most clients didn't see results unless they were willing to invest some time, and the price reflected that. But I wasn't confident enough to charge more -- and potential clients picked up on that. They'd ask if I could just do one session or try to negotiate the price. Sometimes I caved, other times I didn't out of fear that they'd run to the 11 o'clock news with their complaints.

None of my fears ever came to pass. They were and still are completely irrational.

But after landing a few clients at my new, higher rate, history repeated itself. Clients were happy. They were getting good results, writing testimonials and referring friends. I could breathe a bit easier. I felt like I had scaled a small mountain and found a spot at the top where I could rest.

A year later, I raised my rates again after calculating how much I would need to earn in order to leave my corporate job. By this point, I was devoting 20 hours a week to my "side" job, and I knew I wanted to do it full time. I remember the first, four-figure proposal I sent out to a potential client. She didn't respond for a few days, and I chewed nearly all of my nails off waiting to see if she'd say yes.

Finally, the email came: "Let's do this." I was excited (for her) and terrified (for me). The inner critic, again looking for trouble, told me the other shoe was about to drop. I held my breath for a few weeks while I worked with the client, but after we both saw that she was getting great results, I let myself relax. And the higher rate became the new normal.

Accepting My Real Worth

I wish I could say that realizing my worth was a one-time event, but it wasn't. It's a journey. The fear never really goes away, but I'm learning how to manage it better. Whenever I offer a new service or raise my rates, that inner critic goes berserk trying to get me to revert to what is comfortable and safe.

Realizing my worth is like climbing a mountain with many peaks. You climb a small peak, and rest for a bit. Eventually, you have to get to the next one, so you keep going -- but you're terrified the whole way. Then you reach the next peak, and the journey starts again. With every peak, however, the urge to continue gets stronger.

I didn't start off with a ton of self-worth when it came to the services I was providing -- even if I felt plenty in other areas of my life! In the beginning, I attached my value to the dollar amount I was charging. But then I focused on whether my clients were really getting results. Then I made a promise to myself that if I couldn't help them, I'd quit entirely. But as long as I was, I'd stay in the game.

It's easy to stay stuck at a lower rate in order to avoid rocking the boat. Every time I've raised my fees, it's usually been followed by a week or two of panic attacks, fearing that this time I've asked for too much. But eventually the awkward phase passes, and my rates feel like a cozy sweater again.

My hope is that, one day, I'll be able to silence that inner critic who wants to devalue my professional self. But I know I'm not that enlightened yet. Still, one of the best things about going through this experience was finally realizing my self-worth. Here are some of my top tips:

Start small. Charging something nominal is still better than charging nothing at all. Don't give your gifts away for free, which could breed resentment later.

Find encouragement. Get a coach or mentor to help you stay the course when you're feeling uncomfortable about raising your rates or asking for a higher salary.

Focus on your results. When I get into panic mode, I read the testimonials of my clients. Seeing progress in their own words takes the spotlight off myself and shines it back on my clients.

Stay attuned to your emotions. This one is more of an art. If you are starting to feel a little resentful or burned out, it may be time to up your rates or ask for a raise. The increase can help get your sanity back -- especially if you offer a client-based service.

Let your rates work their way up. You don't have to triple your rates overnight to prove a point. That may backfire. Raise them incrementally and keep close watch on the results that gives you -- and your clients. Eventually, you'll be charging what you're truly worth!

This article originally appeared on

jill beirne davis.jpg

Jill Beirne Davi is the founder of Abundant Finances, a service that helps you get yourself out of debt and start amassing abundant savings in record time (without deprivation or eating cat food for dinner). For more helpful money strategies to turn your finances around, visit