The Truth about Haggling

Haggling Tips

This can be yours if the price is right!

To be honest, the idea of haggling makes me break out in hives.

Part of this has to do with my upbringing. My mother is the owner of an art gallery that does custom framing, and I can remember customers on occasion waggling their fingers at her crying “I know you’re making a profit on this!”

Mom would reply that she had two daughters who selfishly insisted on three meals every day and that usually diffused the situation. But because of these (and other) experiences, I'm particularly sensitive to the fact that small business owners are simply trying to make a living.

I have always felt that it's not my place to price another person's inventory. If something is too expensive for my budget, I just walk away.

Recently, however, I've been realizing that no one wins with my fear of haggling. Many retailers and service providers would rather sell me something at a reduced price than have me walk away entirely.

So there is certainly a place for haggling in the modern world, provided you know how. Here are some suggestions for low-key haggling that even I can do without having an allergic reaction:

Be Polite

Many people assume that in order to be a successful negotiator, you must be assertive or even aggressive. While you certainly don't want anyone pushing you around, you also don't have to take the stance that you are going into battle with the salesperson.

It's ultimately a business transaction, and politeness and a smile work wonders. Wouldn't you prefer to help out someone pleasant? So would your salesperson.

Remember: They Can't Shoot You for Asking

The first hurdle is the toughest for the haggling-averse. You've seen the price and it seems a little steep. But asking if there is any wiggle room in that price is not a crime. No one will assume you are cheap or a jerk just because you ask. Some good phrases to keep in mind:

  • Is this price firm?
  • Might this go on sale soon?
  • Do you have any discounts I can take advantage of?

Pay with Cash

Retailers and service providers have to pay a fee to credit card companies and must wait for checks to clear, so nothing is sweeter than cash in hand. Many merchants are happy to accept a lower price for an item if it means they can bank the money immediately.

Start with a Reasonable Offer

While the art of negotiation suggests that you should lowball the first offer to get closer to what you are willing to pay, please don't be insulting to the merchant. Remember, if they regularly undercut their profits to make the sale, they won't be in business long.

Know what you are shopping for, and recognize what a reasonable price is. And if the merchant offers you what you're willing to pay—buy!

Be a Serious Buyer

Make it clear to the salesperson that you really do want to buy and aren't just curious. You're much more likely to get a deal if you make your interest clear. In addition, you won't make many friends if you go through the haggling process and then say “I'll think about it.”

I will probably never be completely at ease with haggling, but I do know that everyone wants a win-win: you happily leaving the store with your new purchase. Keeping that in mind can help you to navigate the difficulties of negotiation.

What are some of your haggling tips?

photo by clurr

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Last Edited: July 26, 2017 @ 5:40 pm
About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher and respected personal finance blogger. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her engineer husband and two high-energy little boys. She has written four books: The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.


  1. Emily Guy Birken says:

    @Chad, I agree that the first offer will be low, but it’s important to remember to be polite and realistic in your low offer, particularly if you are not sure that haggling will be welcomed by the merchant.

  2. I think that it’s a universal fact that the first offer in a round of haggling is always going to be a lowball… It’s just prudent to realize that, more than likely, your first offer will not be accepted.