Haggle Like a Pro: 5 Lines That Work

Want to get more for less? Here's how to cut a deal.

by Marc Myers from Reader's Digest | June 2005

One of the best ways to save hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars a year on goods and services is simple: Just pay less for them. And the secret to paying less? Negotiation.

But many people hate to haggle. They think it makes them look cheap. And yet they’re certain that someone, somewhere, got a better price.

“People equate negotiating with arguing,” says Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project and author of Getting to Yes. “But if you view it as a discussion of joint interests, you’ll be more likely to put fair terms on the table and find common ground.”

All you need to negotiate the lowest possible price is determination — and a handful of magic lines:

“Hmmm, I don’t know…”

When Joe Questel, a marketing consultant in Nashville, Tennessee, went shopping for four new tires for his pickup truck, a national chain offered him three at $150 each and the fourth free — or $112.50 per tire.

So Questel asked the manager at a nearby shop to beat the price. He said he could do $100 per tire — $50 less than the chain. Asked if that included installation, he said sure, for $60 — $20 less than the chain’s $80.

Questel kept his mouth shut for what seemed an eternity. Finally the manager threw in road hazard insurance, to replace the tires if they blow out, saving $60 — and a total of $130.

Haggling tip: “Don’t be afraid of silence,” Questel says. “Silence almost always works in your favor. It says you’re on the fence, that you need just one more goodie to get the deal done.”

“Help me spend my money here.”
Herb Cohen is a former arms control and hostage negotiator, and author of Negotiate This! But in Delray Beach, Florida, recently, he was just another consumer looking for a really good deal on a 42-inch flat-screen TV.

To improve his odds, Cohen stopped at a major electronics chain on a Thursday at 2 p.m., when business tends to be slow. The salesperson showed him three sets — for $5,999, $4,999 and $3,599. Cohen said he only had $2,500 to spend.

The salesperson told Cohen he could have the least expensive TV for $3,000. Cohen countered with $2,580. No way, the salesperson said, laughing.
Cohen spotted the manager. “Look, please help me spend my money here. If I don’t, my wife will buy furniture.”

The manager proposed $2,750 if Cohen paid by check. Cohen said he had to call his wife. This established that the two of them were making the deal. Seconds later, Cohen said, “Great news, I can spend $2,620. Do we have a deal?” The manager finally relented.

Haggling tip: “All prices on big-ticket items are negotiable,” says Cohen. “You just have to find the right person who can do the deal, and then have the courage to ask.”

“Your rivals can do it for less.”
When Sally Greenberg, a Consumers Union attorney, needed a new furnace for her Washington, D.C., home, she went to checkbook.org. to find out which installers were rated best by consumers. She invited the top three to visit her home and give her a written estimate. Their prices ranged from $2,800 to $3,800.

She called the two with the lowest prices — the costliest one probably wasn’t going to budge enough to be competitive — and told the pair the job was between them. “Then I asked if they could come down in price.”

Both called the next day. Greenberg went with the lowest bid — $2,600 — a savings of more than $1,000.

Haggling tip: “I always say to companies that you’re entitled to make a profit, but if your competitors can do it for less, you guys probably can too.”

“I feel like I was tricked.”
Mary Hunt thought she was buying a kitchen appliance and a Christmas tree stand for a total of $33. But when she arrived home, she saw she had been billed $43 — the full price.

Hunt called the store. The manager said there was nothing she could do about it because the ads all said, albeit in fine print, that the sale wasn’t due to start until the next day.

Hunt said she felt tricked — that from the customer’s standpoint the store was baiting consumers, promising discounts that weren’t yet available. The manager considered Hunt’s point — and left her an envelope with the cash refund and $20 in gift certificates.

Haggling tip: “Don’t start with the details — talk first about how you feel as a customer,” says Hunt, editor of cheapskatemonthly.com. “You stand a much better chance of getting your way if you are an innocent victim rather than an angry shopper.”

“But you broke your promise.”
Greenberg took her computer to have a new hard drive installed. She was told the part would be almost $100, plus $20 for cleaning the interior.

But when she returned a week later, her PC wasn’t ready. Greenberg told the manager her time was valuable and that her computer wasn’t ready as the store had promised. When the manager said, “I’m sorry. What can I do? We’re going to need more time,” Greenberg said that, for starters, the $20 cleaning fee should be removed. The manager agreed.

Haggling tip: “Whenever a company or store breaks its contract, you have every right to expect something in return,” Greenberg says. “Just be sure you know in advance what you want when you’re asked.”

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