Most of us do it, me included. In every area of our lives, we try to cut corners, clip coupons, shop around, and find other ways to save money. For me, it's in my blood. My parents, especially my mom, taught me to buy in bulk, use the off brand, and find satisfaction in the small things in life. My husband and I do it ourselves if we can, whatever "it" may be. We grow some of our own food in a garden out back. My favorite pickles, and I am a pickle fiend, are the Always Save brand from Food 4 Less. I am no stranger to finding ways to save money, no matter what the occasion may be.
So when a potential client calls me and is quite preoccupied with money and how much I am going to charge them, I totally get it. There are many people who treat hiring a private investigator like most other areas of their lives in which they shop around until they find the cheapest one. But there are several reasons why cost should not be anyone’s sole motivation in choosing a private investigator.
To be frank, many clients who choose a private investigator solely based on price are often dissatisfied with the end result of their investigation. A simple example that I've used before is that a "cheap" private investigator might charge half of what a more expensive investigator charges, but he or she might also very well take twice as much time on a case as the more expensive PI. In this case, a client has saved no money at all. And, when you choose the cheapest option for anything, you are always running the risk of sacrificing quality, convenience, timeliness, customer service, and just overall satisfaction.
Let's face it. Even for the most frugal of us out there, there are some things it doesn't pay to go cheap on. For example, I personally don't buy off brand sour cream. I can't do it. I've tried every brand out there and none compare to the quality of Daisy. I also just cannot let go of Girl Scout cookies. Their price keeps increasing and I just keep paying. My air conditioner just stopped working at home and it's nearly 100 degrees outside. You better believe I found the one company that could send a technician out immediately, no matter the cost. We all have our own methods for weighing cost against convenience, quality, and timeliness.
So when it comes time for you to choose a private investigator, no matter your need, you should definitely use multiple factors in your decision-making. But since we are talking specifically about saving money whilst using a private investigator, here are some helpful hints at steps you can take to reduce your final bill:
- Before you ask the private investigator to get started, gather all the details you can about your case, organize them into a practical format, and give them to the private investigator. No detail is too small. If you've conducted your own research, pass that along as well.
- Along the same lines as #1, if you can do your own digging, depending on the details of your case, do it. The more you can do on your own, the less the investigator will have to do and the less money out of your pocket. Disclaimer: This is not recommended for all cases due to potential safety reasons, liability issues, complexity of case, etc.
- Know exactly what you want the investigator to do before you even call him or her. Again, the more specific you can be, the better. This also will help you to determine for yourself exactly what information you are needing. For example, if you want an investigator to run a background check on an individual, ask yourself what information you are specifically seeking about that individual. Are you seeking information on their assets, criminal history, civil litigation, past employment, education credentials, overall character?
- Use an investigator who requires a written contract before starting any work for you. It is imperative that the contract includes details on payment requirements for your case. In other words, know exactly what you are paying for, how much you are paying, and what limits you have outlined for your case. You don't want any surprises when you get a bill for $1,000 when you didn't want to spend more than $500.
- Find a private investigator who uses flat rates and/or refunds any portion of the retainer that goes unused. If you pay a $300 retainer up front and the PI uses only $200 of it, will they keep the extra $100 or refund it back to you? Flat rates are just nice because you know exactly what you are paying up front, no hidden fees, no “extras".
- Find a PI who specializes in your particular need. Do you need a social media investigation? Find an investigator who offers that as a specialty. You don't want to hire a PI who primarily conducts background checks to perform specialized surveillance for a highly sensitive case.
- Don’t hesitate to ask a private investigator if they ever have any sales or promotions throughout the year.
- Often, if you sign up to receive a private investigator’s newsletter (if he or she has one), they offer special deals for subscribers only. Full disclosure, I do! Sign up here.
- Do your own background check on a private investigator before you decide to hire him or her. Make sure he or she has a current state-issued license in good standing, carries up-to-date liability insurance, and is reputable. You can check their reputation through their business website, social media, a Google search, and even your own personal references.
- Ask your hired private investigator to keep you regularly updated on the progress of your case. When you consistently know what is happening, especially in a multi-faceted case, there should be no surprises and you can guide the investigator as facts unfold. Be advised, this doesn't mean you should constantly call your investigator every day (or even more), pestering him or her for results.