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How I learned to love haggling

I hated to negotiate prices but was determined to overcome my fears.

By Money Staff Oct 16, 2013 1:42PM

This comes from Demetria Gallegos at partner site The Wall Street Journal.


The Wall Street Journal on MSN MoneyNever underestimate the negotiating skill of a hungry 12-year-old.


Customer and sales assistant haggling © Image Source, Getty ImagesIsabella fleeced the pastry-selling vendor at the medieval fair, scoring pumpkin pie and a scone for just $3, a fraction of the full cost. It was late in the day and deals were being struck at booths all around us.


Except by me. I wordlessly paid the full $8 for chicken on a stick and felt like a fool.


I admit it: I'm haggling-impaired.


That our kids are so adept in the art of bargaining is to their dad's credit. Since they were little, John has encouraged them to stretch their dollars at garage sales and secondhand shops.


John is scary good. He can get a lower price or added perks anywhere, even in chain stores. When I asked John how he developed the skill, he explained it came from his years in airline sales.


"We had a class at TWA about negotiations," he says. "They urged us to negotiate over everything. You go buy clothing, you negotiate, you get a tie thrown in with the suit."


I, on the other hand, am reluctant to ask for a discount. I suspect it comes from childhood feelings of being at a financial disadvantage. I grew up in a family without much money, and I never wanted that to be obvious.


I know there's a difference between being poor and negotiating for a good price. But I tend to freeze at the very idea of having to strike a bargain. If anything, I find myself empathizing with the sellers and wanting to see them win, even at my own expense.


Still, as much as I dread haggling, I feel it's important to be capable of doing it, because there are times when it's just stupid not to. I consider my aversion a weakness, an irrational phobia that I would like to overcome.


But how? I asked some people I know for advice.


"I used to believe that negotiating was insulting," says my friend Mike. "Americans believe it's cheap to haggle." But then he began traveling overseas, where prices aren't nearly as rigid.


His negotiating mantra -- learned from his broker when he bought his first house -- is simple: "The person who cares least always wins." 


If a seller doesn't really need to sell, or cares less than the buyer, then he won't come down.


If the buyer cares less, he won't give the full asking price. Mike used the lesson on a later home purchase. After negotiations failed, he walked away. Two weeks later, the owner called him back.


Mike understands that haggling isn't always appropriate—for instance, he would never dicker in a restaurant. He also says he negotiates politely, and sometimes has had sellers respond politely that the item isn't subject to negotiation. He finds nothing embarrassing or disrespectful about it.


Mike was struck by how personal my fear was that any efforts to negotiate would be rejected. "You can't take a sales transaction personally," he says. "It's just a matter of money."


In the end, he views prices as arbitrary. And he agrees with John in believing that "it's always worth trying."


My cousin Rosella offers this advice: "Just be fair and ethical. Don't take advantage of someone's need to make a profit."


She recounted helping her sister get a major break on some handmade furniture in New Mexico. Rosella knew the likely markup and kept telling her sister, "Not at that price." The seller just kept dropping the number.


Rosella says she occasionally deals with sellers who are "horribly offended" when she tries to bargain. She'll apologize. Her intent isn't to hurt their feelings, so she's mindful of her body language, making eye contact and conveying sincerity. She keeps the bidding light. "When you negotiate aggressively, you do put people on the spot," she says. "You almost shame them into giving it to you free."


She also says it's good to be knowledgeable about the value of the item. "When you get a fair price for yourself, that's where you stop," she says. "You don't have to take them to the mat and beat them up."


Her bottom line: "If you don't ask, you have a 'No.' If you ask, you have a 50-50 chance of a 'Yes.' ''


I went into this exercise wondering how I could emerge the winner. But Rosella helped me see a different outcome: "How can we both win?"


Another friend, Maria, said one more thing I'll carry into my next transaction: "You have to believe that the seller is expecting you to haggle and that you will both enjoy the process."


Rather than feeling shame, I'm learning that seeking a fair, ethical price might actually feel good.


So late-day street vendors, beware. My goal is a 2-for-1 bratwurst. I'm prepared to walk away.


More from The Wall Street Journal: 



Oct 17, 2013 11:23AM
Think you can haggle at Best Buy??? I don't know but when i went to Menard's to look at a wooden shelving unit I asked if they could give me a discount if I bought 2.  He checked with his manager - said yes and gave me 10% off each one.  Not a lot maybe, but it was a win win for us both.
Oct 17, 2013 9:33AM

 "Just be fair and ethical. Don't take advantage of someone's need to make a profit."


~ there is the rub.  as one of those seller at art shows, i'd get the people trying to haggle with ridiculously low offers.  as if they have no respect for me or the artwork itself.  people trying to force me to drop the sales tax - which i do in fact have to pay. 


" But then he began traveling overseas, where prices aren't nearly as rigid."


~  in visiting 3rd world countries where people are seriously out of money and selling to simply live! 


think you can haggle at Best Buy?  Costco?  Walmart?  good luck. 


i learned when people want to drop my prices i actually raise them.  "$80 for a large hand thrown pottery bowl?  how about $60?"   .....sorry the price is now $100.  "how long did it take you to make this?" you ever ask an oil painter the same question?

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