Learn how to haggle for a bargain

Posted on 10/04/2007

While many countries have a rich culture and history of haggling, it's not as common in the U.S. or many parts of Europe. For those of us who aren't natural hagglers, it can be an uncomfortable thing to attempt. And yet, we can save thousands of dollars a year if we just learn to haggle. And yes, you can haggle on nearly everything, from smaller stores to big ones, from houses and cars to clothes and shoes. Here's how to do it.

Know the seller. It's best to know the practices of the seller. Some are used to haggling, and giving discounts, and others expect you to pay the sticker price and no more. For example, smaller stores and car lots expect a bit of haggling, while it could be more difficult (though not impossible) at a larger chain store.

Just ask. It doesn't hurt to ask for a lower price. If they're selling something for $200, politely ask if they'll sell it for $180. Practice doing this, and you'll get more comfortable and better at it over time.

Be willing to walk away. If you really want something and just have to have it now, you're in a bad bargaining position. But if you're genuinely willing to walk away if you don't get a lower price, you are in a more powerful position. And really do walk away if you don't get your price. You can always come back another time and ask again, or go somewhere else. If you're not willing to walk away, you probably won't get the best price.

Confess a lack of money. It's not embarrassing to say, "I have a limited budget" or "I only have $X to spend on this." If you tell them what your limit is, the seller might be willing to go lower. When faced with a choice of giving a discount or getting nothing, most sellers would give the discount.

Point out flaws that should merit a discount. If there's a small stain, or a small tear, or a missing button, or some other flaw, point it out and ask if they'll give you a discount on that if you buy it. Most times, even at larger stores, you'll get the discount.

Offer to buy more for a lower rate. This works well at more independent stores, but if you're willing to buy multiple items, they'll often give you a lower price. Say, "I only have $X to spend on these, but I'd really like to get them all. Will you give them to me for that price?"

Ask for a lower rate for off-peak days. This works well for hotels, rentals and the like. If it's during the peak season, or if they have a waiting list, they're not likely to lower the price. But if it's off-peak, they might be willing to give you a bargain. Just ask.

Hide behind email. If you just can't get the nerve up to haggle in person, do it virtually over email. Find the item you want and email the online store to ask for a discount. It's much easier when you don't have to face the other person.

Buy at the end of the month. Many salespeople have a monthly quota to meet, and at the end of the month, they're facing crunch time. Shop at the end of the month, and ask for a discount. This works anywhere that a salesperson might work on commission or quota, like at a car dealer or independent fashion store.

Ask about upcoming sales. Have you ever bought something only to see it go on sale a few days later? Often if you're nice, you can ask a salesperson if there's an upcoming sale. Sometimes they'll even sell you the item at sale price, especially if it's the owner or manager. Otherwise, you can just come back when it's actually on sale.

Look for a win-win situation. Look for what the seller wants, and then what you want. See if there's a way to make you both happy, and present it that way to the seller (emphasizing the part that makes him happy). You can't miss with a deal like that.

See if the item has been out on the floor long. Sometimes you can tell by the tag (there's often a date stamp on the tag that a sales clerk can even help you decipher) and sometimes you can tell by the amount of dust it's collected. Either way, if you suspect that an item has been out long, a seller will often be willing to come down in price to get rid of it. It doesn't hurt to ask.

What's your best price? Even if your first offer or request is turned down, ask the seller, "What's your best price?" It's worth it, as they'll often come down a bit.

Be polite. Don't make it seem like you're haggling, or the seller will be more guarded and hesitant. Just politely ask for lower rates or discounts, and you'll have a better rate of success.

Go up the chain. If a sales clerk is not authorized to give a discount, ask to speak to a manager. If the manager isn't authorized, don't be afraid to ask him to call the head office.

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