Editorial Policy

Do You Feel Comfortable Haggling?

Kristin McGrath

July 12, 2013

If haggling makes you uncomfortable, you’re losing out. According to a July 2013 survey by Consumer Reports, those brave enough to bargain over the cost of products and services have decent odds of success. Most (89 percent) of hagglers are rewarded for their efforts at least once and save an average of $80 to $300, depending on what they’re haggling over.

For the most part, haggling makes me uncomfortable. Yet there have been a few times when the desire to save money (or avoid paying extra money) forced me to go for it:

  • Bank fees: I’ve paid my credit card bills a few days late twice. Both times, I called my bank and pointed out my nearly flawless payment history. In one case, I explained that a family emergency had made me forgetful. The fees were waived both times. That’s not surprising, considering that 73 percent who negotiate over bank fees are successful, according to the Consumer Reports survey.
  • Cellphone bill: Several years ago, I went over my allotment of “anytime minutes” for the month and got charged 40 cents per extra minute, adding $75 to my bill. The customer representative I spoke with pointed out that I ate up a ton of minutes around Christmas, which is common, as people forget to count their minutes during the holidays. I asked if she could offer me a break, and before I could even launch into my sob story about spending hours on hold with my airline after it canceled my flight, she offered to charge me just $20 — the difference between the plan I had and the next tier up, which would have given me 500 more minutes.
  • Furniture: I was in the market for a dining room table last year. I found a picture of one posted online by a used furniture store, but when I arrived at the store to buy the $75 table, I saw that the color of the stain wasn’t quite what it appeared to be online. I searched the store and found a table I liked better for $115. It was 20 minutes before closing time. I told the seller I had borrowed my friend’s truck only for the day and wanted to leave with a table, but was surprised that the photo in the ad didn’t represent the color accurately. Could I have the $115 table for $75? He agreed. According to Consumer Reports, furniture is the area where hagglers reap some of the biggest savings (an average of $300).

In all these instances, I was surprised by how willing others were to work with me. If you’re still hesitant to haggle, these tips from the Consumer Reports survey and the personal finance blogosphere will help you along:

1. Consider everything fair game. The fact that sellers put products on sale shows that they are willing to be flexible about prices to move items off the shelves, Consumer Reports points out. So the sticker price is negotiable for those who aren’t willing to pay it. In fact, those holding yard sales and selling items at flea markets often build “haggle room” into their sticker prices.

2. Make sure the scene is set. According to a Mint.com blog post by contributor Julia Scott, you can increase your odds of success by shopping during a not-so-busy time and making sure other customers are out of earshot (so the merchant doesn’t have to worry about others asking for the same deal). Krystal Yee, blogger at Give Me Back My Five Bucks, says she’s had the best luck haggling at flea markets and bazaars right before closing time, when the sellers are tired, ready to close up shop and eager to close a few last-minute deals.

3. Do your homework. Know the prices all competitors are offering for the same service, recommends Mark, the anonymous blogger behind My Own Advisor, in a guest post on Modest Money. Consider bringing a printout of a coupon or a screen shot of an online deal. Scott, meanwhile, recommends scouting out the store in advance. If you know that an item has been sitting on the shelf or showroom floor for weeks, you know you’re in a better position to bargain.

4. Make sure the seller gets something out of the deal. In a guest blog on Prairie Eco-Thrifter, Kyle James (owner of discount website Rather-be-Shopping) points out that the best way to get a discount is to make it worthwhile to the seller. By asking for a price cut on a damaged item, for example, you’re offering to move it off the shelf to make way for undamaged product. You might also offer to buy a second item in exchange for a discount on the first item, leading to a bigger overall sale for the merchant. Yee, meanwhile, suggests offering to pay in cash, allowing the merchant to avoid transaction fees, and asking if they’ll pass the savings on to you.

5. Take your time. Yee suggests striking a delicate balance between appearing interested, but not too interested. Ask questions about the item, but don’t say that you have to have it. Walk away for a while, but then circle back.

Finally, although successful haggling can be exhilarating, don’t let your ability to bargain get out of control, Trent Hamm, blogger at The Simple Dollar, warns. If you haggle a $100 item you don’t really need down to $50, you’re wasting money — not saving it.

Have any haggling success stories? Share them in the comments.