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Bargain Your Way to a Bargain

Ylan Mui

In this recession, everything is negotiable.

I learned that lesson when I bargained to get a lower interest rate on my home refinance. And I put that knowledge to work recently while browsing the Eastern Market flea market for furniture with my husband. He eyed a small wooden cabinet that might look nice in our foyer and waved me over to look at it. The price tag was $150.

A saleswoman quickly descended. She could give us a special, low price of just $140, she said. I raised my eyebrows and made a big show of inspecting the cabinet. I thought about my mom, a master bargainer who once spent 12 hours at a car dealership negotiating the price. We were there so long that the dealer ordered us a pizza. What would she do in this situation?

I decided to counter: $120, I told her.

She laughed. She laughed so hard that she called over another salesman to tell him the story. Even my husband laughed at me -- until I shushed him for ruining my game. I smiled and told them that I was so glad that they were agreeing to $120 for the cabinet. No, no, they said, still laughing. $140.

I walked away, and they lost a sale.

According to Consumer Reports, walking away is one of the main weapons you have in your bargaining arsenal. At the end of the day, you have control over how and where you spend your money -- and retailers realize that. A recent survey by the magazine found that 66 percent of Americans have tried to negotiate for a better deal in the past six months.

Those who haggled had the best luck with hotel rates (83 percent successful), cell phone bills (81 percent) and clothing (81 percent). Salon's series Pinched chronicles one writer's attempts to bargain for a better deal at the dollar store (where, by the way, not everything is just one dollar).

I'll let you know what happens if/when I go back to that vendor at Eastern Market. But maybe the best thing I can do with my money is spend it elsewhere.

Here are some of Consumer Reports' tips for successful haggling:

Be patient and be nice. Demanding a discount rarely works. Savvy negotiators know that a smile is more difficult to resist than tough talk.

Time your haggle. Late in the month, when salespeople are trying to meet their quotas, can be a good time to bargain for big ticket items. Evening or early hours are usually less busy, so clerks have time to talk.

Avoid an audience. Haggle out of earshot of other customers. Sales clerks don’t want everyone else in the store asking for a deal too. Keep in mind that at chain stores, salespeople often don’t have the power to offer a discount. Try asking a manager or supervisor instead.

Know before you go. Research prices and store policies. Bring Web printouts, flyers, and newspaper ads with you. Mention if a local competitor is selling the item for less. The store might be willing to match your best quote. If you can’t get a price discount, ask for free shipping, delivery, or installation.

Be prepared to walk. The most persuasive weapon you have in your haggling arsenal is your ability to walk away and spend your money someplace else.

By Ylan Mui  |  May 21, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bargains , Ylan Q. Mui  
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Next: Memorial Day Money-Saving Tips


I agree with the writer however everyone is in the market to profit ,if the offer is below the cost no sale is made.evalute and offer a reasonable price if you are serious about buying.One should not bargain just for the sake of bargaining.

Posted by: aliraouf | May 21, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

This whole blog is a joke. They didn't lose a sale, they avoided letting someone rip them off. Too bad the J.Crew people weren't spared the same experience (dishonest customers buying too much and then returning some of it just to avoid shipping charges). A more fitting topic would have been how you avoided the temptation to buy furniture you didn't really need, or how you found something more productive to do with your free time than shopping for luxuries. Or buying from places less expensive than J. Crew, or not buying new clothes at all. This ranks with the column from a few days ago about paying too much for wine at a restaurant, when people actually concerned about saving money would have just eaten at home. All this just confirms how elitist the Post is.

Posted by: Yankeesfan1 | May 21, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I have a few issues with Ylan Q. Mui's Small Change article for Friday, May 22. First and Foremost
not every antique/furniture dealer haggles. My family's store has operated with a one price fits all
format since 1968. If a business does not mark up to mark down then you are asking for a special
priveledge that could very well bite into an honest broker's profit margin in lean times.

Secondly, you professed no knowledge of ascertaining the cabinet's true value. You even state you
pretended to give the item a thorough look-over as if this is part of some charade.

You are right to be wary, however shopping (investing) without even basic knowledge of items' values is
foolhardy. And imparting that information to your readers is nothing short of a disservice.

My guess is, if it was a solid wood cabinet (ever rarer in these days of press-board furnishings) that $140.00
was very probably a fair price. And the only thing you accomplished was walking out on an inexpensive fine
piece for your foyer. Haggling without knowledge is akin to debating without facts and while not a crime in
itself is certainly not useful information to impart in these tough financial times.

Chuck Kilmon
Oak Creek Sales

Posted by: echuck67 | May 22, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Chuck Kilmon and YankeesFan1.

I really wanted this blog to offer helpful money-saving tips suited to this economy.

Instead, I get anecdotes overheard at the country club.

"Daaaarling, I saw the most adoooorable table at Eastern Market the other day. The woman wanted $140, but I figured in this economy she MUST be desperate. So I offered $120 -- and do you know she had the nerve to laugh at me? Well, I showed her. I left!

"It is an awfully cute table though and it would be just perfect in my foyer. I'll send hubby to get it next weekend."

Posted by: gettingdizzy1 | May 23, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

The problem with this blog is that the Post selected two people with zero experience in being frugal to write it. I am not assuming that they have zero experience; they admit it in virtually every blog entry they write. The result is not really advice for the thrifty so much as advice for those who are newly required by circumstance to be thrifty.

It would be nice to have a blog written by someone with actual experience in minimizing his or her expenses, or even just a forum in which people could share strategies.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | May 27, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

The art and science of getting a bargain takes many paths. Being savvy and doing your homework is one criteria, being lucky and "in the right place at the right time" is definitely another.

But knowing a store's policy of beating a competitor's price or leveraging a store policy to honor all competitors coupons, can leave you with plenty of change in your pocket. You just have to know a real bargain from a fabricated bargain.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | May 27, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

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