Haggling 101

Not only is it winter escape season, we’re also apparently in the midst of some sort of economic crisis. So, I figured this would be a good time to share my amazing wisdom and knowledge about being a cheapskate bargaining for goods and services.

How do I know all these things you might ask? It’s partly from a half a lifetime of teetering on the edge of poverty and partly from just being inherently cheap frugal and partly from realizing that most things are overpriced and can be had for less.

Some of you are squirming because you don’t think you’re capable of haggling. You have in mind a picture of yourself at a loud, chaotic Arabian marketplace engaged in a face-to-face screaming match with a large man with a scary beard.


Erase that picture and read on.

First, let’s look at a list of places where it’s acceptable to try to negotiate prices:

  • Flea markets
  • Large electronic stores for big ticket items (don’t haggle over a USB cord)
  • Car dealerships
  • Independent shops
  • Craft stores
  • Hotels
  • Services (plumber, electrician, mechanic, etc.)
  • Department stores (On damaged good and large ticket items only,. Always look hard for damage or a flaw and always ask if there’s a discount for it.)

Types of  places not to try haggling:

  • Grocery store
  • Pharmacy
  • Emergency Ward
  • The Gap
  • Tiffany’s

Next, do some preparation. Research the item you want to buy and know what the high and low prices being offered are. Check online, check wholesalers, auctions… compare prices. Decide how much you want to spend, but be reasonable. Vendors have to make a living, too. This isn’t Highway Robbery 101.

Go to the ATM and get  cash.  Cash still has some advantages — not when you’re paying for cars or hotel rooms, of course, but for most other items, especially when travelling.

Dress nicely, but not flashily. You want to look like someone who can afford stuff because they’ve saved up for it; not like someone who can throw money around but is too cheap to.

Now, do some deep breathing and give yourself plenty of time. You can only haggle successfully if you’re calm, pleasant and very patient. Don’t even try it if you’re in a hurry.  And always be prepared to walk away from the item.


Hotels always show and offer very inflated prices. Unless it’s high season and they’re booked up, you should be able to negotiate a better rate (often much better because hotels typically function at about 70% capacity and want to fill their rooms).

  • Deal directly with the onsite reservation agent instead of the toll-free number (check the toll free number first, though to see what they offer as the best rate).
  • Then, ask the onsite agent for their lowest rate.
  • Some will offer discounts if you use certain credit cards; if you have a value membership with the chain, (you can sign up on the spot, if you don’t); if you’re a member of a certain union or work for a government.
  • Ask if there’s construction going on in or around the hotel (because there almost always is) and ask for a room away from the construction and a discount because of the construction.
  • You can almost always get a deal by staying longer and/or letting them know you will accept streamlined maid service in exchange for a discount.
  • Ask for their lowest rate again. Ask if breakfast is included; if there’s a fridge in the room; if there’s a pool or a gym in the hotel; if there’s an onsite restaurant/room service. If you’ve done your research and already know the answer to any of these questions is no, then you have a bargaining chip.
  • Ask the lowest price again (you’ll be surprised how often this changes).

Independent shops, craft stores, and flea markets both at home and in foreign countries

  • Say hello to the vendor; smile; look around the shop or stall with delight written all over your face.
  • Engage the vendor in conversation. Tell them you love their shop and their stuff.
  • Assuming they aren’t run off their feet with customers:
    •  Tell them a little about yourself (You’re travelling and where you’re from; you love jewelry/crafts/folkart/books/etc. and buy way too much of them)
    • Ask the vendor about items in the shop. If you see something you really want to buy, fall in love with it visibly and audibly – gush at how perfect it is.
  • Ask the price.
  • If the vendor likes you by now they’ll often tell you the sticker price and immediately suggest they could knock a bit off.
  • Look pained because it’s just a tad higher than your budget will allow right now. But oh, it’s so beautiful. Pretend to be thinking furiously while gazing longingly at the item.
  • The vendor may jump in here and offer an even lower price. Take it if you’re comfortable with it.
  •  If they don’t offer, tentatively suggest a price you’re comfortable with – again, you want to offer them a fair deal, not rob them.
  • If they say no, say you’re sorry, you really can’t afford it though you really wish you could and that you hope the item goes to a good home eventually.
  • Sigh regretfully and leave the shop. The vendor may still come after you with a deal. If not, that’s okay. Walk away.

Overall, the best places to haggle are places where people are truly interested in your business and are willing to work with you. Always stay cool, friendly and pleasant. Never tell them their stuff is crap and they’d be lucky if someone would be willing to take it off their hands.

I’m sure some of you also have some excellent haggling and bargain-hunting tips which you’d love to share???


19 responses to “Haggling 101

  1. I’m not big on negotiating locally… although, I did a little at the local future shop the other day for a friend.
    Most of the time, people don’t care, or don’t have the option to make that decision. If it came to contractors – yeah, would work that. Local, independent shops – I like to support them rather than nickel and dime, but you’re absolutely right – they actually CARE about your business…

    Now China on the other hand – that’s where it’s fun! I usually take out some cash, put some in my wallet, 2 or 3 pockets – knowing exactly how much is in each pocket – and then start to work. They see the foreigner come in and jack up their prices 500%. So I start at 100%, and then work it to around 150-200%, I don’t mind giving a little extra – they have to eat too… But they’ll pull out the calculator ‘you say how much!’ and go back and forth forever. My closing tactics are a) pull out amount of cash from specific pocket ‘look – this is all I have with me, take it or leave it’ or b) simply walk away. they’ll chase you down usually.
    But again here – this is how they eat. By selling products.

    I’m really disappointed in North America and most of the western world, that big retailers and their salespeople seem to forget that their salaries are somehow linked to actually making sales…

  2. I’m much to shy and reserved to haggle. But I did find that booking a hotel through a website called hotwire.com got me a very nice room at the Sheraton in downtown Toronto for $103 per night. Calls to the front desk got me quotes of $275. The online reservations site on the hotel website: $315. And Canadian travel sites (Travelocity and another one I can’t remember) bottomed out at $250. For the same room at the same hotel on the same night. Weird, eh?

  3. My best tip? Shop with Mr. Jazz. If there’s a deal to be had, he’ll find it. Like you he’s inherently cheap… ah frugal.

  4. LOL… frugal, yeah that’s it. I do the same thing ian does – money in several pockets and in my purse, so I can pretend that’s all I have. Sometimes it actually works, sometimes I have to find another bill from my other pocket and pretend I didn’t know it was there, then act so surprised and lucky. I’m good at faking it 😉

  5. Coyote – I think I really meant parsimonious.

    Ian – There really isn’t any pride involved here in being a sales person. In many places in Europe it is a real career with training and certification; the job comes with benefits and everything just like a real job. You are a valued employee; you take pride in your company; you get rewarded and recognized for excellence. That’s why it’s so much more fun to shop there – and to haggle there.

    Alison – The hotel business like the airline business is a big mystery. There are so many variables involved – and so randomly – that it’s always worth calling and calling and calling again until you get a price you can live with. And then snap it up because in 5 minutes it’s going to change.

    Jazz – I’ll book him next time I need a big ticket item.

    Charlene – Cash always comes in handy when haggling. Haggling with a credit card in hand just doesn’t have the same cache. I’ve done the money hiding thing, too, but I usually only have a bit less than I want to spend with me and leave the rest with someone an then say I have to go see “my friend” to see if they have any more money they could lend me. Most of the time, they’ll let me have it for the money I have with me rather than risk letting me walk away and never coming back. Key is to offer something reasonable.

  6. My one good tip is if you are paying cash for your vehicle, do not tell them up front. Their company makes all their money from the finance/interest. After you have negotiated the lowest acceptable price, then say, “Oh and I’m paying cash for this.”

  7. When we were in Turkey, my cousin learned enough Turkish to say things like: “That’s a swindle for tourists, I won’t pay it!” Shopkeepers were usually so surprised that they immediately cut prices by 1/2 to 2/3.

  8. I don’t usually haggle, but once in a while I’ve asked (sincerely) if they could find a way to help me out because I was a student, or low budget, etc.

    Getting a floor model (or former floor model) is a good way. When I bought my first digital camera, they were going to sell me the floor model at a very good discount, but then the box didn’t have the adapter, so they would have to sell me an unopened box at full price. I would have none of this bait-and-switch (whether or not it was deliberate).

    Kitchenalia in Westboro hooked me up with a mandoline for a good discount because it was a floor model of a discontinued line that was sitting in their back room without its box. I mention their name to send good karma and good customers their way–not bargain-hungry sneaks!

    Like Ian, when I was in China they caught my ear with “three t-shirts for one dollar,” and I ended up paying about CDN$20 for a T-shirt. After a short bit of haggling, I just couldn’t bother trying to pretend that I, a tourist who had spent thousands of dollars to come to China, needed the money more than these people did. Maybe it would make a good story for them to tell their friends over dinner, about how much they got out of this ignorant Canadian.

    In fact, haggling was the thing I hated the most about China, because I couldn’t just go someplace and buy one of the many identical pieces of garbage they sell at every single stall on a lark. As a tourist, I prefer going into a place, seeing the price, balking at it, then coughing it up because it would make a fun trinket/souvenir. (Though I do the few souvenirs I did get from China).

    – RG>

  9. Lebowski – Wasn’t just about everything better in the days of Monty Python, brand new SNL and 3 kinds of blue jeans?

    Geewits – So, what you have a briefcase full of small unmarked bills totalling 30 Gs?

    Milan – That really worked? I always heard that if you got insulting they starting calling you nasty things like ” cheap American offspring of a dog”

    Grouchy – There are usually discounts to be had if you’re persistent enough, especially these days and even in this North American climate of no-service customer service. By the way, are you still blogging? You always had such excellent and well-researched rants. Waddup?

  10. I hate haggling. But then, I also hate shopping. I do the several pockets thing mostly and I find that if you go into certain independently owned shops often enough that they get to ‘know’ you, you can often get a deal for your loyal business. Antique shops (my favourite kind of shopping) are great for that.

  11. Yeah, I’ve been busy this year, and will be for at least another month. I’ve forgiven a couple hours’ sleep to get a post out tonight, and it’s not even very ranty.

    I’m glad you appreciate my posts!

    – RG>

  12. Violetsky – I’m not much of a shopper, either. I like grocery shopping and I like rooting through thrift shops and stuff like that if I’m in the right mood. I have to have lots of time to actually enjoy shopping though.

    RealGrouchy – Oh boy! And, yes I do.

    Milan – Ah yes, an attractive wench can get away with anything. Just ask Woodsy.

  13. I found this quote for you…

    I have learned that the cost of everything from a royal suite to a bottle of soda water can be halved by the simple expedient of saying it must be halved.”- Robert Byron

  14. Pingback: On haggling