Secrets to Successful Haggling
I used to be afraid to haggle. I didn't want to insult anyone by asking for a lower price. And I was afraid that if I did ask, I would get shot down and end up feeling foolish. I think what really held me back from haggling, though, was my belief that I would be perceived as a cheapskate.
But now if I see an opportunity to get a lower price, I won't hesitate to ask. However, I didn't transform from anti-haggler to super-haggler overnight. I took baby steps. I started with phone negotiations then worked my way up to face-to-face haggling as I gained confidence and realized that I was being a savvy consumer -- not a cheapskate -- by asking for a lower price in the appropriate situation.
Notice that I say "appropriate situation." I've found that the key to my haggling success has been knowing when, where and how to ask for a better price. I know some people who will haggle over almost anything. But if you're a novice, here are tips to help you get over your fears of haggling and start saving money.
What to haggle for. There are plenty of things that are obvious targets for haggling, such as the price of a car. However, more than half of new-car shoppers would rather to go a dealer with a single, set price than engage in negotiations, according to a study by Kelley Blue Book. That's why I wrote about little-known discounts for car buyers that don't involve haggling. But negotiating the price of a vehicle is a commonly accepted practice and there are plenty of resources online to guide you, so it's a good way to get your feet wet haggling. You can negotiate with service providers, such as your cable company, to keep your rates from going up year after year (see The Game I Play With the Cable Company). You can negotiate with contractors to get the best price on home-improvement projects. You can even talk down the price of big-ticket electronics, mattresses, gym memberships, rent and financial advising services (see 5 Things You Can Haggle For).
Where and when to haggle. Don't buy anything at a yard sale, thrift store or advertised in the classifieds online or in your local paper without haggling because negotiating is expected. You might have success getting a deal at the farmer's market, deli or butcher's shop if you wait until closing time when sellers are eager to unload their remaining fruits, vegetables, meats and baked goods that don't have a long shelf life. Call hotels directly to see if you can get a better price than what you find online. You can even talk down the price of merchandise at retail stores, especially if it's the end of a season and the retailer is eager to make room for new merchandise or if it's a chain store and one location has an item on clearance and the other doesn't. Elena Smonina haggled her way to $4,000 in savings by calling several Lowe's stores in her area to see if they would match the price of pavers that were on clearance at one of the stores (see Master the Modern Art of Haggling).
How to ask. Asking for a lower price is tough for many people because they're afraid that they will offend the seller or that they don't have the negotiating skills to seal the deal. I've found that there are several ways to approach the situation without being offensive or aggressive. For example, you'll have more luck haggling over sale items, floor samples and slightly damaged items. I've managed to get the price knocked down below the sale price on a rug and dining table that were floor samples by pointing out minor flaws on each. I've gotten discounts of 25% to 50% on clothing simply by letting a salesperson know that a button was missing or that an item was slightly stained.
You can also ask for a discount if you pay with cash because it will help merchants avoid paying credit card issuers a fee equal to 1.5% to 3% of a total purchase when they accept a credit card. Some health care providers and hospitals will offer you a better price if you pay with cash and ask for a discount (see 30 Ways to Cut Your Health Care Costs and Bargain With Hospitals to Slash Bills).
Another way to negotiate without being confrontational is to ask if retailers match competitors' prices. Smart phone apps, such as ShopSavvy or RedLaser, make this easy. The apps allow you to use your phone's camera as a bar-code scanner to scan the code of an item at the store you're in and get a list of all local and online retailers that sell that product and their prices. Then you can ask a clerk if the store will match the lowest price on the list.
Using a competitor's price can be a great bargaining tool in any situation -- not just in a retail store. For example, when I wanted a fence replaced and a deck built, I got quotes from several contractors. The contractor who offered the lowest price on the fence did not build decks. So I told another contractor who built both that he'd have to match the lowest price I got for the fence if he wanted the job -- and he agreed. When my husband and I were making an offer on our current house, we thought it was overpriced. We searched online for other similar properties for sale and found that most were much cheaper. And we looked up the property valuation administrator's tax assessment for the house we wanted to buy (which also was much lower than the sale price). Then we went to the real estate agent armed with this information and got the sellers to lower their price by $35,000. Not bad, right?