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How “Not To Be A Jerk” Haggling Guide

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Shilin Taipei Night MarketAs a kid, I would visit Taiwan every few years. My parents emigrated to the United States a few years before I was born and every few years we’d have the chance to go back to visit family. One of the lessons I quickly learned was that haggling was a way of life almost everywhere else outside of the United States. Whenever we went to street markets, everything was negotiated. If you wanted to buy a product, the listed price was the starting point.

I loved haggling because it was like a game. I rarely got money from my parents so it was a precious commodity. As a kid, without a healthy dose of social morays, I haggled like a champ. I’d ask for ridiculous things because I didn’t know any better! As I grew up, I realized some of the tactics I used made me a jerk (had I been older) and so I adjusted.

These are some strategies I use today, whenever we’re traveling, and not meant to be an exhaustive guide on how to haggling. It’s just how I do it, based on my own ideas of what makes you a jerk, and what is effective.

General Idea

Remember that in negotiating almost any sale, the buyer has all of the power. The only way the buyer loses power is if they give it up willingly because the buyer can always walk away. If you need to buy a car, there are a dozen dealerships within twenty or thirty miles of where you are right now. There are going to be multiple Toyota, Ford, or GM dealerships so if you don’t like the salesperson you’re talking to, go somewhere else. Buyers have the power because they can always leave. No vendor will every physically stop you if you want to leave, that would be against the law. So, knowing that the seller needs to make the sale more than you need to buy puts you in control.

Next, don’t feel bad negotiating. If the vendor isn’t going to make money, they won’t sell it to you. You aren’t taking advantage of them, you’re simply decreasing how much they’re taking advantage of you!

Remember, the goal of negotiation is to arrive at the “real” price of the item. The list price is just the start.


As you’re shopping, watch the vendor to try to assess how open he or she is to negotiations. It only takes two seconds to realize that walking into a Gap and negotiating won’t work. The same applies on a person by person basis, some people just won’t negotiate regardless of the situation. Don’t waste your time haggling with them because it won’t work and it’ll just frustrate you.

Be Nice

This is rule number one – be nice, cordial, make some jokes, and be an all around nice person. You’re about to go into some hand to hand haggling combat but people are generally more willing to give you a deal if you seem like a nice person. Think about when you play any intramural or adult league sports. You certainly want to win but you really want to crush those teams that take kickball or softball way too seriously. When you lose to a more cordial, friendly, “out to have fun” type of team it doesn’t bother you as much – same logic here. Plus, it’s just good to be nice!

Learn to Pause and Consider

My favorite tactic is to simply sit/stand there and be quiet. Ponder it. Do the math, take your time. It’s not like a conversation where an awkward pause can actually be awkward. When you do this with a street vendor who has invested five minutes trying to sell you something, they get anxious. They want to make this sale so they might offer concessions without you having to do anything. If you aren’t comfortable standing there, or pausing simply isn’t working, just ask if they can do better than their last offer. Say things like “that’s just too much, is that the best offer?” and you might find out quickly whether or not they’re willing to let you walk away.

Look Disinterested & Be Willing to Walk

The seller wants to make a deal so if you act like you’re disinterested and they’re about to lose you, they might come with a better offer to keep you in the conversation. Also, being willing to walk away (and actually walking away) is crucial because acting disinterested only works if the next step is walking away. If you aren’t willing to walk, an experienced seller (and they are experienced if they’re in a street market) can tell this and adjust accordingly.

Bulk Purchases

If you plan on buying several items or a few in your group want to buy the same thing – negotiate a bulk deal. Step one is to negotiate the one item down to a place where you’d be happy to do the deal. Then, keep the negotiation going by adding in the fact that you want two items and see where that gets you. If something costs $15 by itself, see if you can buy two for $20 (or $10 a piece). Maybe you don’t get two for $20 but you get 2 for $24, which is an extra $3 savings per item. Don’t do this unless you’re willing to get two (that would make you a jerk).

Story About Tactics

This is a story I once told in an old your take about haggling in Bermuda. It showcases a few of the tactics above. We were in Bermuda with friends, near an open air market, when I saw a kid was selling conchs. The list price was $10 each and I knew the cost of them couldn’t be more than a dollar or two, so the kid was looking at huge profits on each sale. Tourists were walking up, paying the $10, and walking away happy. I walked up and asked him how much they were, he responded $10. I said it was too much and stepped aside [acting disinterested]. I waited until there was a lull in his sales volume (my friends were shopping in the market, I was just drinking my adult beverage) and then offered him $6. He said no, to which I responded $7… then he pondered, then I quickly said “we’ll buy two for $10.” [bulk purchases] He agreed.

What tactics did I not include? Anything that requires deceit, such as agreeing to a price and then saying “oops, I only have [something less]” or negotiating on behalf of someone else (who isn’t there) to try to find the lowest price they’d go to, makes you a jerk in my eyes.

I know it’s all fair in haggling and I wouldn’t begrudge you for doing it, but I would think you were being unfair.

Do you have any favorite haggling tactics? Ones that you know make you a jerk but that you do anyway? Or any that you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t had the chance?

(Photo: kayone73)

{ 13 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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13 Responses to “How “Not To Be A Jerk” Haggling Guide”

  1. Great insights.

    You stated, “the goal of negotiation is to arrive at the “real” price of the item.”

    I think it’s more accurate to say- the goal of a negotiation is to find the price at which all parties are satisfied and still willing to complete a transaction.

    Some cultures don’t respect “nice” or “fun” people when negotiating. They find the niceties to be a waste of time. You just have to take a little time to understand cultural preferences before starting a negotiation.

  2. DrewT says:

    My favorite haggling story was when we were in Marrakesh and looking to buy a Moroccan rug at one of the many rug stores, the salesman told me that I had “camel tastes and a donkey budget” (a line he uses on all tourists, no doubt).

    I haven’t bought a car in some time, but, when I do, I intend to use a haggling technique used by my dad, which is to (1) figure out what car and options you want by test driving several and researching online, (2) email all of the dealerships located nearby saying that you are looking to by X car with Y options, (3) mention in your email that you have found via online research that the invoice price is $Z and ask in your email what the dealer’s best price for the car is, (4) once you receive prices from the dealers, email those that didn’t offer the lowest price and ask if they will beat the dealer that did offer the lowest price (being honest about the prices offered) and (5) buy from the dealer that offers the lowest price that you are willing to pay.

    I like this technique because it saves time (which is, indeed, money in my opinion) and it eliminates the in-person haggling which, for large items like cars, I do not enjoy.

    The downside is that not all dealers will play this game, but this is mitigated if you live in a heavily populated area with a lot of car dealers.

  3. cvargo says:

    I know it is rude. But when I buy a car I go in on sunday, because they work shorter days. I show up at open so that I know I will be the first customer for the salesman. And I stay til close, sometimes due to paperwork it is after close. So in other words I guarantee I am there only sale, they are more inclined to close the deal so they can atleast get that one sale

    • RickBlaine says:

      You’re right, it is rude. The person selling the car is trying to make an honest living; cut him some slack. Do it this way – walk in a half hour before closing and do your stuff. You’ll still get the best deal you can and you can spend your Sunday doing something you enjoy – just about anything is better than hanging around a car dealership (I used to work in one).

  4. When we were in Italy at a street market, I wanted to buy a 5 euro necklace, but just had a 10. The vendor told me he didn’t have change, did I want earrings to match for the 10. I just said no, and made to walk away. Suddenly, he found change. It helps also in your negotiations if you don’t believe a word they say…. just sayin’.

  5. freeby50 says:

    I can only recall one time someone was kind of a ‘jerk’ during haggling. I’d agreed to sell a half year old used bed to someone (I had been in a temp job and was leaving town). When they show up they start complaining about how the bed was supposedly in poor quality and how my price was a rip off. The bed was in virtually new condition and we’d already agreed to the sale price. I assume this was a hard ball bluff tactic to get me to panic and lower the price. It seemed rude to me since we already agreed to the price and their complaints were BS.

    • Deborah says:

      I had a similar experience but with a service rendered.
      I was working as an English language tutor and took on a student that wanted a paper based on his text book for 2 students by a certain amount of time.
      To make this really complicated story short, ok maybe not, first he wanted two versions in power point. He’d accept an outline version, though. I sent him the power point and he was not happy because he had a done a portion of that part himself. I had to go back and rewrite all that as a report, and different so it looked like two reports.
      I had agreed to do it for $50. Much too cheap and too short a time. I was completely frazzled, plus not happy about doing two people’s homework. I like teaching, not doing the work for someone else.
      I had leverage in one thing. I had his textbook (he would have paid over a hundred when he bought it). So he said, OK, give him what he wanted and he’d give me the $50. Let me tell you, for the amount of work I put in. I said fine. He showed up and I lost. I gave him his book back for $40.
      I learned a lesson, though.

  6. Momma says:

    My favorite was in a market in Istanbul… I found a beautiful Star of David, white gold with a number of diamonds; definitely the real thing. There was no price marked on it, so I asked, I was told $900… There was no way I could afford that much so I said, oh, okay, thank you, and turned to leave. The vendor stopped me and asked how much I would pay. I said, oh, there’s no way you could do what I can afford, knowing that it would probably be an insult to him. He insisted that I tell him, I said $250 was the max I could afford. He haggled back and forth, though honestly, $250 WAS my max. It took a good 45 minutes of him running inside and talking to his partners, or whomever, but he finally let me have it for my price. I brought it back here to the states, and had my jeweler put it on a chain for me and appraise it. He told me it was worth $1500! So I call that successful. I was nice and polite, smiled the whole time. And I honestly was willing to walk away, I wasn’t looking for a deal, I just happened to get one!

    • Mike says:

      Be careful. My 2ct diamond tennis bracelet gift that I bought for $750 got appraised for $4500. Jewelers tend to mark up the appraisals a bit.

  7. Uh huh. Some of us are to the haggling born…some of us will just. never. get. it. My favorite haggling tactic is to hire a car broker.

    Wouldja be interested in hiring out to help me acquire a new-to-me car without getting ripped off? Failing you, I’ll take DrewT… 😉

  8. Nick says:

    The first commandment in bargaining a price is that you do your due diligence and determine the the price that you are willing to pay before you even start to negotiate. The target price is then up to you ie. anywhere from less the vendors cost and less than the standard mark up in the business. Yes vendors do sell for less than their cost if there cash flow is bad

  9. Joe says:

    I love haggling, and when I decide on the absolute final price I’m willing to pay (with the exception of a car), I’ll always go “$xx, final offer, cash right now”. It’s not said rudely, but it has a finality in the tone, so that they know I’m losing interest.

  10. Megan E. says:

    My two tips:

    1. Have the amount of money that you want to pay ready to go – especially if it’s not your home currency and you aren’t used to it. Short story: Bargained down a guy to $10 for a bag on the street – found out I only had a $20 (the original price of the item) and had to get him to give me change after I said I didn’t have that much – he did but I was embarrassed!

    2. Maybe ask to talk to them in private if you are in a crowded store. Sometimes they don’t want others to know the great “deal” you are getting and will be more willing to work with you out of hearing. Short story: In India, my brother wanted a pair of shoes but I (and everyone else) had to leave the room before the guy would talk price with him – my brother got the deal but on the condition he wouldn’t share it with others!

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