I love that when I go to Chipotle and order a burrito I always know it’s going to cost me around $8. Maybe a little more with New York City prices, maybe a little less in a small midwestern town, but all in all, I know $8 is standard. What I also know is that if it comes out to significantly more than $8, something is off and I need to fix it.
Unfortunately, not everything in life is as transparent and defined as the cost of Chipotle. For instance, when I go to an auto body shop, how am I supposed to know when a price quote should raise a red flag? Even with some research, there are so many variables (location, service, parts needed, etc); I don’t know how to begin calculating a standard fair price.
Among skilled service businesses – mechanics, plumbers, tailors, cobblers, etc- price lists are practically non-existent. As much as I’d love to trust my local business owner not to grossly overcharge me or take advantage of my ignorance, experience has taught me otherwise. And while I always appreciate a recommendation from a friend, who’s to say they haven’t been ripped off too?
I’m sorry to say that my problems with variable and seemingly random pricing haven’t been limited to the services alone. Even at the doctor’s office, my bill never appears to follow any kind of pattern. One week I may consult the doctor for five minutes and be charged $100, and the next time I’m in with the same doctor for the same amount of time, I’m charged $150. I wonder if it has something to do with billing the largest amount possible to the insurance companies.
I certainly know hospitals inflate their pricing. Much like I presume the doctors are doing, hospitals rely on insured patients to make up for the people who never pay their bills and those who use Medicaid, which generally doesn’t reimburse enough to cover hospital costs. If you’ve ever wondered how your latest hospital bill turned out to be so outrageously large, I encourage you to ask for an itemized statement. According to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, as many as 8 out of 10 bills for health care services contain errors. It’s ok to question any charges that seem overly inflated or erroneous. You can reduce your bill by hundreds of dollars simply by questioning the charges or asking for an audit.
When I think about the service and medical professions, I think about people whose expertise I’m trusting to look out for my best interests. And yet, the lack of a clear and consistent payment structure, allows so many opportunities for these “trusted professionals” to take advantage of the consumer. Often without the consumer even knowing it.
While I’ve come to approach all services with a critical eye, I wonder what percentage of people accept pricing for what it is without hesitation. How many hundreds (or thousands) of dollars could you save over the course of your lifetime simply by questioning prices and charges that seem out of place?
While I can never be 100% sure that I’m getting a fair price, here’s what I’m doing to reduce my risk of being ripped off.
– Doing My Research. A simple google search for “fair or standard price of____” is a great place to start.
– Asking the Experts. I like to reach out to people who have experience in the field of my query to get their expert opinion on what kind of prices I should be expecting.
– Reading Reviews. Not only do I want a good price, but I want good quality. For the best value, I read reviews online (1 star, 5 star, and some of the in between). This also gives me an opportunity to do some price comparisons before settling on a certain business, doctor, plumber, etc.
– Asking Questions. I don’t hesitate to ask about unexpected fees or price inflations on my total bill (which I ALWAYS check thoroughly before paying).
Hopefully, with these strategies in place I can the best price possible. Perhaps it will never be as simple as ordering my Chipotle, but I’ll do what I can to make it close.
What services do you find most variable in terms of pricing? Have you ever been ripped off?