Most people don't think twice about bargaining when it comes to something big, like a new car or home. But getting a price cut on smaller...

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Most people don’t think twice about bargaining when it comes to something big, like a new car or home. But getting a price cut on smaller things — cable bills, doctors’ fees, electronics goods — can be surprisingly easy: Just ask.

That goes against the grain for millions of Americans. Maybe our ancestors haggled at the dry-goods store. But today’s big-box stores, laser price scanners and uniformed checkout personnel present a barrier.

The good news is, in many situations, it’s getting easier to ask for, and get, a price break. Increasingly, retailers and others are empowering rank-and-file employees to give discounts. At hotels, for example, most desk clerks can give 10 percent to 25 percent off the advertised rate, whereas a few years ago that might have required a discussion with the manager, says Rick Doble, a discount-advice writer.

Don’t just think retail. Doctors and hospitals have a surprising amount of leeway to bargain. Some patients have taken to negotiating fees in advance with doctors, but even after the bill comes in, it’s not too late to ask for cuts. Sympathetic billing offices will often reduce the portion insurance didn’t pay, or even waive it altogether. Another common approach: interest-free installment plans, which are basically a free loan.

Doble goes to considerable lengths to save a buck, such as tracking down the manager of the grocery-store dairy aisle to get a break on about-to-expire milk and cheese. But getting a deal doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or even require an appetite for dubious cheddar.

Some guidance:

Pick your store, and your moment . Try small boutiques and family-owned businesses. Look for somebody who seems knowledgeable and comfortable in his or her job, not the high-school student who started last week. Go in when the store isn’t busy — a harried staffer has less time or inclination to negotiate.

Ease into it . Chat with the salesperson, and ask a lot about prices, so he can see that is a concern. Ask whether the store takes an American Automobile Association discount or a local discount card, even if you know it doesn’t. After a few leading questions, it’s possible a shopkeeper will simply volunteer 10 percent off.

Offer to pay in cash. Credit-card companies take 2 percent to 3 percent of the price in fees out of the merchant’s pocket. At some stores, nicely asking whether you get a break for paying in cash can get you 5 percent or 10 percent off — more than the credit-card fees.

Make it easy for them to pull it off: Ask whether it’s possible for you to ride on the coattails of a “friends and family” discount, or employee discount.

Call your phone company , ISP and cable providers and say you’re thinking about switching. Often, you’ll immediately get transferred to the company’s “retention” desk, where the staff is prepped with special offers designed to retain wavering customers.

Assume there is a promotion going on. Doble, author of the book “Savvy Discounts,” says he never checks into a hotel before asking, “Don’t you have a special at this time of year?” Much of the time, the answer is “yes,” he says. And after he has finished cutting a deal, he asks for an upgrade. And free breakfast.