And how much will that cost?

October 18, 2012 — Leave a comment

Why is it we’re so afraid to ask how much something costs, or even harder, ask for a better price? Is it pride or are we just afraid of looking like we don’t have the money as Benjamin Franklin said.

“A man being sometimes more generous when he has but a little money than when he has plenty, perhaps thro’ Fear of being thought to have but little.”

In some countries such as India, prices are sometimes set at a slightly higher level because it’s understood they’ll be negotiated down. Don’t get me wrong, there are many instances where I have no problem asking how much something costs, and I often negotiate prices as well, but other times I don’t.

The most common time I don’t ask how much something costs is when I’m at the doctor’s office. Since I had some recent experience with a broken hand and ruptured Achilles, it’s still fresh on my mind! I also used to be reluctant to talks costs at the vet, but after spending boatloads of money on our allergic-to-everything dog, I’ve overcome that fear!

With the doctor’s office, there are some strong psychological powers at play. First, when it comes to our health, we feel questioning a procedure is a form of abuse to ourselves because our bodies need it. In addition, we fall victim to the doctor as a total authority figure. As Robert Cialdini explains in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, we’re trained to unquestionably follow authority from an early age.

Conforming to the dictates of authority figures has always had genuine practical advantages for us. Early on, these people (parents, teachers, etc) knew more than we did, and we found that taking their advice proved beneficial – partly because of their greater wisdom and partly because they controlled our rewards and punishments. As adults, the same benefits persist for the same reasons, though the authority figures now appear as employers, judges, and government leaders. Because their positions speak of superior access to information and power, it makes great sense to comply with wishes of properly constituted authorities. It makes so much sense, in fact, that we often do so when it makes no sense at all.

We feel like we shouldn’t question procedures or costs just because they know so much. This held true in my procedures and cost me extra money!

For example, for my Achilles surgery, the doctor preferred a non-hospital location because it’s more convenient and his staff assured me the cost would be the same because they’d lower the price to match in-network. One big problem, I had a separate, $1,500 deductible for out of network that wasn’t yet reached!

They didn’t inform me of the separate deductible, and I didn’t think about it. Nothing angers me more than leaving money on the table, and I do wish the hospital stuff would’ve alerted me of this. However, when I was in the situation and the surgery was an emergency, I didn’t even think about the cost. This is one of the reasons our health care costs are spiraling out of control.

There are some decent articles on how to negotiate medical costs you can check out, but in the end it’s up to you and me to ask the questions. I don’t think doctors cost us more on purpose, they just have so much other stuff going on that they aren’t able to think about our personal financial decisions. Maybe I need to go back and review the five things formal education doesn’t teach us and read the authority part!

Are there any situations where you’re afraid to ask the costs of things?

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