The word “bills” used to be synonymous with “fixed expenses.” But there’s nothing fixed about many of the bills a typical household pays today.

BillShark, a bill negotiating service based in Boston, calculates Americans could save $50 billion a year by haggling over their bills for cellphone service, home security, internet and pay television. The company, like its competitors BillFixers of Nashville, Tennessee, and BillCutterz of Corpus Christi, Texas, offers to negotiate for consumers in exchange for 40 percent to 50 percent of the savings.

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The savings can total hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Steven McKean, founder and CEO of BillShark, said his negotiators cut bills by an average of $320 each, with annual savings ranging from $250 for home security to $300 for TV, phone and internet bundles to $360 for cellphone bills.

The following services often have plenty of room for negotiation:

  • Alarm systems
  • Bottled water delivery
  • Cellphone plans
  • Gym memberships
  • Internet
  • Landline phones
  • Pay television (cable or satellite)
  • Satellite radio
  • Storage units

What these bills have in common is competition: In most areas, there’s another provider that you can hire. You also can opt out, at least theoretically. It’s typically much harder to tell your electric company that you can do without lights.

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Knowing you have that kind of leverage can help you negotiate better deals. Here are the steps:

Gather competitors’ offers. These may be touted on the providers’ websites, or you may have to call and ask what the best deals are for new customers.

Call your provider. Let the telephone representative know, right away, that you’re thinking of switching to a competitor or canceling the service if you can’t get a better deal.

Tell them what you know. Companies have caught on to empty threats to cancel.

Don’t accept the first offer. If “Can’t you do any better than that?” doesn’t produce a deeper discount, tell them you’ll sleep on it.

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Get clear on expiration dates. Any discounts you negotiate may expire in a few months.

Think bigger. Monthly bills such as mortgages and car insurance aren’t negotiable in the same way, but you can and should revisit those rates at least annually. The savings could be bigger than all your smaller bills put together.