Your Guide To A Painless Haggle Process

Haggling is a finely honed art in some countries, but Americans often find it an uncomfortable exercise. 

Boy, how the times they are changing. According to a 2009 Consumers Reports poll, more than 65 percent of Americans negotiated a purchase in the previous six months. Perhaps more importantly, most were successful in their efforts. The same poll, however, found only 28 percent haggle either "always" or "often," clearly suggesting a "How to Haggle Guide" wouldn't go amiss.

Here are 15 tips to help you feel more comfortable negotiating a better price on your next purchase, whether an auto or slab of premium beef.

1. Do Your Research
When possible, perform preliminary research on the Internet for price and quality comparisons. Remember to figure in any extra fees and taxes and whether free shipping is included in the price. Learn about any product add-ons, specifications, etc. Also comparison shop brick-and-mortar stores in your area, if possible. Each bit of information will give you a starting point from which to open negotiations.

2. Have the Right Attitude
It helps to begin the negotiation process by asking for help. Are you talking to the right person? Can the person you're working with give you some advice before you talk to the next person?

Work to create a collaborative atmosphere. Be friendly and cooperative but firm. Remember how Detective Columbo used to act as though he didn't quite understand a situation, getting the killer to explain more than he intended? Think of yourself as Columbo and be willing to give a bit to get more.

Let the seller know you like the item and would prefer to buy from them, but only at the right price. You simply want their help to close the deal. Your trump card, however, is the willingness to walk away if the seller won't work with you.

3. Ask If They Will Meet or Beat
Some stores, my pharmacy for example, will always charge the cheapest price in town. (There's a reason this family-owned business has succeeded against the big guys for more than 30 years.) If you see a cheaper price elsewhere, bring the ad, printout or photo of the in-store display and ask if the second store will meet or beat that price. You may have to talk to the manager.

4. Can You Buy Before The Sale Begins?
There's a rhythm to sales. You'll find the best prices on cars are offered in December, big appliances in January, and clothing towards the weekend. (See our "Best Time to Buy Guide" for a comprehensive list.) Ask if a product is about to go on sale. If it is, can you secure that price before the sale begins?

5. Use Coupons Creatively
The expiration date on a coupon isn't always a hard-and-fast rule, nor are they always restricted to a particular merchant. Ask a store if they'll still honor a coupon after it's expired or provide the face-value discount of the coupon, even if it's for an online store or other merchant.

6. Ask Why The Price Is Too Dang High
If the listed price seems abnormally high, talk to the sales rep about the reasons for the extra costs. Is it possible to strip off any unnecessary extras to reduce the price?

7. Be Quiet
Use silence to your advantage during negotiations. It's human nature to fill awkward silences: Let the sales rep be the one to do so -- hopefully by offering a lower price.

8. Bring a Reluctant Consultant
Work the good cop/bad cop gig. Ask a friend, partner or parent to accompany you for major negotiations and have them show reluctance when the negotiation nears closing. YOU want the item but your co-negotiator is reluctant -- at the offered price. You can also perform this act via cell phones, whether there's someone on the other end or not. After ending the conversation, tell the sales rep you only have permission to purchase the product at XX price. You might look less macho to the sales rep but think what a hero you'll look to your friends when you brag about the deal you got.

9. Buy In Multiples
Merchants want to move merchandise; thus, the name. They're more likely to cut you a break when you're buying several sweaters or two cars. (You can give the second one to me.)

10. Ask For Extras
If you're buying photography equipment, ask for an extra lens or larger memory card. With a laptop computer, you might want a carrying case. On other items you can ask for a free or cheap upgrade.

11. Offer Cash
Cash upfront is mighty tempting to a retailer. (Make sure you've split your money into smaller increments so the seller can't see how much more money you have in your wallet.) Smaller merchants, in particular, will be attracted by a cash payment. My former next door neighbor accepted a greatly reduced price on his house because the buyers offered cash -- not that everyone can do such a thing.

12. Shop At Closing Time and Sales End
Merchants are more willing to give you a deal when they're facing unsold products. Storing or giving floor space to unsold inventory is expensive, so use that to your advantage. For example, you might check out the meat department of your local grocery store just before closing time. The manager might prefer to sell their displayed ground-beef, rather than spend time and space wrapping and storing it.

13. Suggest You'll Cancel a Service
Every time I try and cancel my cable, phone or other service, the sales rep immediately offers me a better deal. Unfortunately, that's usually at the point when I'm fed up and not interested in a cut rate. This method did get me a better rate at my health club, however. Don't threaten; be polite and talk to the right person. A customer support representative likely doesn't care where you take your business, as long as he or she wraps up the call in their maximum required time.

14. Close The Deal
Stop negotiating when you reach a deal that's mutually acceptable. Now's the time to graciously accept you've won and seal the deal.

15. Check The Contract (or Receipt)
Make sure all the terms to which you agreed are reflected in the contract or are on the receipt. Be sure the seller didn't make a mistake or try to slip in extras on the final price. Also, don't sign or leave the store until you're sure the price you'll pay is the price you negotiated.

How have you made haggling work for you? Have you ever negotiated your way to a great price in another country? If so, tell us how you did it.

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