How to get offered a bargain without really trying

Shopping for a Bargain

by Loralee Leavitt

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I'm too timid to bargain. I'm not like my mother, who points out defects and asks for price reductions, or my husband, who simply asks if salespeople can go lower. I've always been too self-conscious to demand lower prices, but then I discovered my own way to get lower prices, which is to shop smart, wait before buying, and let salespeople bargain with me.

Shopping for tires, I called several different stores to compare prices, then called back with further questions. One tire salesman recognized my return calls (the crying baby in the background gave me away), and offered a discount of $30 if I'd buy the full set of tires that day. After so many phone calls, he knew I was serious about buying, and I knew his tires were a good price. I bought the tires.

When I shopped for a roof, an even bigger purchase, I wanted to get the most for our money. My husband and I asked several companies for bids, comparing their prices and services. A few weeks later, one company called to offer us a 10% discount on their original price. Since this was a reputable company offering the product we wanted, and since their discounted price now beat out their competitors, we accepted their offer. The same thing happened when we shopped for a gas fireplace insert. A few weeks after hearing our initial bid, we received a call informing us that the price had dropped because the store was having a sale.

To understand why businesses might offer these discounts, I talked to apartment manager Lydia Brinton. She explains that companies might gain more by selling quickly at a reduced price than waiting for somebody to pay full price. For example, when her apartments are vacant, the apartment complex loses money. Brinton needs to fill those apartments, so she might sweeten the terms for customers who act serious about renting. For instance, if they're wavering, if they're throwing out prices, or if they're placing the furniture, Brinton knows they want the apartment. At that point, she might offer them a small discount. Chances are good that they'll sign right away. The renters get a reduced rate, while the apartment earns money instead of losing it. Both sides are happy.

If you hope to encourage a salesperson to bargain, follow these guidelines. Know what you want. Research prices so that you can recognize a bargain when it's offered. Be straightforward and share your concerns, since a salesperson who's heard your limits might offer a lower price. Leave contact information if you're interested in hearing a better offer. Signal your willingness to purchase if your price is met; salespeople won't try to work with you if they think you're wasting their time. Above all, be courteous. "If someone's overdoing it and gets pushy, I just get annoyed," Brinton warns. Then there's no deal.

For me, savvy waiting continues to pay off. The other day I stopped at a roadside flower stand with $15 to spend. Unfortunately, I preferred the $20 bouquets. I stood there, pondering, until the proprietor asked me which ones I liked. "Those," I said, pointing at the $20 bunch. She pulled out the bouquet and wrapped it up for me. She said, "For you, fifteen."

Loralee Leavitt is a freelance writer and the creator of

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