Money file

How to master the art of haggling

Cell phone bills, cable bills, new shoes, and health club memberships are some of the surprising things you could negotiate on price

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Being willing and able to negotiate can net you serious savings, whether it's a lower price on a used car or $200 off your bill from the plumber. There are more areas than you think with room for negotiation, as long as you know how to do it.

Regardless of what upcoming purchase you're hoping to haggle on — whether it's a big-ticket item like a car or a house or a smaller cost like your cell phone bill or gym membership — here are some pointers to keep in mind to make your next negotiation a success.

Negotiation is an option

It can be easy to forget that haggling is on the table, especially if there's already a price tag stuck on an item. "The list of situations where bargaining does work is far longer than the list of where it doesn't," according to the personal finance website Wise Bread. Prices on new shoes, used cars, new tires, and health club memberships are all up for negotiation, though that's far from an exhaustive list. Other examples include cell phone and cable bills, credit card interest rates, rent, and even houses.

If you're not sure whether or not negotiation is an option, remember the worst that can happen is that you'll be told no. And "you won't know until you try," Wise Bread points out.

Get confident

While some people are natural-born negotiators, for others, the very idea of haggling on a price can make them squirm. Common feelings that hold people back from negotiating are fear and embarrassment. "People fear offending sellers, being overheard by other buyers, challenging convention, or asserting their legitimate power as consumers," says Wise Bread. There's also the concern that if we haggle, it looks like we can't afford to pay the price on the tag.

There are ways to overcome those pesky emotions though. Success tends to build confidence. First practice "in lower-pressure situations," like over the phone, Wise Bread suggests. "Once you see that negotiation works 90 percent of the time, you'll start to get your sea legs and apply your new skills on the car lot, in the furniture store, and job market."

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Come prepared

You'll stand a better chance at successfully haggling if you've done your research ahead of time and show up ready. Negotiates should dig into "market conditions and prices" and have a sense on which areas they're more likely to get a bargain than others, Kiplinger suggests. For instance, "sellers of products with a large profit margin and short shelf life usually have more flexibility with pricing — think seasonal items, perishables and consumer electronics that are quickly updated and made obsolete," Kiplinger adds.

Similarly, knowing what you're talking about can give you a sense of confidence entering into negotiations, Wise Bread says. If you know how much a used car is really worth, for example, and have a good sense of comparable products on the market, you might feel more at ease angling for the price you believe is fair.

Focus more on listening than talking

When you're at the negotiation table, so to speak, "talk less, listen more," Kiplinger recommends. One easy way to establish this dynamic is to "ask open-ended questions rather than ones that might yield an abrupt yes or no response."

Here's an example that Kwame Christian, director of the American Negotiation Institute, gave to Kiplinger of how this could play out: "A common mistake is to ask, 'Do you have flexibility?' [...] Instead ask, 'What flexibility do you have?' This sets the conversation off with the assumption that there is always some wiggle room." 

Once you get the other person talking, they might just reveal information that you can then use to your advantage.

Turn up the charm

"Studies show that when people do business with someone they like, they're more inclined to discount the price," Kiplinger writes. So when you go into negotiations, make an effort to be friendly and considerate, and paint yourself as positively as possible. 

Some tips Kiplinger offers include to "introduce yourself by name," "ask the name of the clerk," and if you need to talk to the manager, "promise to put in a good word for the person who has been helping you." You might also point out if you're a long-standing customer.

Try to see things from the other person's perspective

While you might be focused on getting your desired price, it's helpful in negotiations if you can also try to see the situation from the other party's point of view. Specifically, consider what the "barriers to agreement" are and "what might prompt the seller to reconsider," Kiplinger suggests. If someone turns down your initial offer, you could put the ball in their court by asking them what price they would accept.

Taking all of this information into account can help you to more easily find middle ground so you don't walk away with a flat-out no (though that is always a possibility when haggling on price).

Becca Stanek has worked as an editor and writer in the personal finance space since 2017. She has previously served as the managing editor for investing and savings content at LendingTree, an editor at SmartAsset and a staff writer for The Week. This article is in part based on information first published on The Week's sister site,

New Tax Rules for 2023: Download your free issue of The Kiplinger Tax Letter today. No information is required from you.


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