Negotiating Strategies from The Ultimate Cheapskate

Editor’s Note: In good times or bad, this recession-era advice about negotiating a better deal is always timely.

With dollars stretched so tight these days, retail customers are scarce. And when customers are scarce, they gain bargaining muscle. Shoppers who are willing to negotiate even a little often get better deals.

A survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that more than 90% of consumers who got up the nerve to negotiate on things such as electronics, appliances, furniture and even medical bills reported receiving a discount at least once during the survey period, with most saving $50 or more each time they were successful.

Being The Ultimate Cheapskate, I routinely negotiate on a wide range of purchases, in both good times and bad—frequently shaving 5% to 10% off the asking prices, and sometimes 20% or more on big-ticket items. For this article, I tapped my bargain-basement brain trust of more than 300 volunteer “miser advisers” for their best negotiating tips.

Our mantra: It never hurts to ask, but always be friendly and polite. Also, first impressions are important, so it’s best to dress nicely but casually—a slovenly appearance can arouse suspicion, and overdressing suggests wealth and therefore an ability to pay more.


The first step is to make sure that the person you’re speaking with has the authority to negotiate. If not, ask to speak to someone who does. “Is there a manager or someone I can speak with about the possibility of getting a better price on this product?” often does the trick.

For major purchases, such as appliances, computers and furniture, do your homework to find out how much an item sells for elsewhere. If you know that an item is cheaper elsewhere, it’s usually best to let the salesperson know that you’re wise to the fact that his/her price isn’t the best around. Even if the retailer already has the best price, there’s no downside to asking for an even sweeter deal. As one miser adviser told me, “I’ve never had anyone raise the price because I asked him to lower it.”

It’s usually best to state up front the amount that you’re willing to pay, adjusted to allow for some haggling.

Example: If you’re willing to pay $50 for an item that is marked $60, you might start off with a lowball offer of $40 or $45, with the hope of compromising somewhere around $50.

You don’t have to name a price. You can just ask, “Can you do any better on this?” In keeping with the importance of being friendly, many times I ask for (and receive) a “nice guy discount,” based solely on the fact that I’m a nice guy. It’s as simple as asking, “Can you do any better on the price?” then adding, with a smile, “What about giving me a nice guy discount, because I’m a nice guy?” If nothing else, I bet you’ll get a free smile out of the salesperson.

When asking for a discount based on poor service, damaged merchandise or the like, be honest. Don’t fabricate or exaggerate, but politely speak your mind if you are dissatisfied in any way, or think that the condition of an item warrants a price reduction. Just say to the person in charge something like, “I’m not trying to be difficult, but I feel I should let you know that the service I received today was disappointing,” and provide one or two details. Let the person in charge respond. He/she often will offer some type of make-good concession. If he doesn’t, you can then ask, “Is there anything you can do to keep me as a future customer?”


Be prepared for rejection, because the answer often is “no.” Handle it gracefully, and don’t be embarrassed or get nasty. On major purchases, when the initial response is “no,” I generally say, “Is there anything I can do to change your mind?” followed by, “Is there anyone else I can speak to?”

If, in the end, the answer remains “no,” I thank the salesperson or manager for his time and tell him that I’m going to shop around. Occasionally (but rarely), he will reconsider as you’re headed for the door. You always can slip back later to buy the item if, in fact, you can’t do better elsewhere.


With these general strategies in mind, here are some of the finer points when it comes to cutting the best deal…

Flash the cash. Offering to pay with cash instead of a credit card often can convince a retailer to knock a few dollars off the price, because that’s what you’re saving him in credit card–processing fees. And actually showing the greenbacks when you make your best offer sometimes can close the deal.

“I can’t afford it.” There’s nothing wrong with telling a merchant the truth. Don’t break out the violins—just come clean and say something along the lines of, “I really like this product, but to be honest with you, my budget is pretty tight these days. Can you do any better on the price?”

Watch for sales before and after you buy. Many retailers will give you the sale price even when an item isn’t on sale or match a competitor’s sale price, sometimes even before or after the fact. Be prepared to go back to a merchant and suggest that you’ll return an item for a refund if he doesn’t give you the lower sale price. Some retailers have a policy that if an item goes on sale within a certain time period—say, 10 days or two weeks—they will refund the difference.

Ask to cancel your service. Particularly when it comes to dealing with service providers over the phone, politely stating that you would like to talk to someone about canceling your service (cable service, phone plans, credit cards, etc.) usually will get you connected—and pronto—to someone whose job it is to keep you as a customer. This is the person who is authorized to cut you the best deal possible.

Never on a Monday. In my experience, the best deals are made late in the week, particularly on Fridays, and especially before holidays or three-day weekends. Everyone is in a good mood and wants to wrap things up, and salesmen often want to meet their weekly quotas. Avoid negotiating early in the week.

“Do any discounts apply?” If you are still gun-shy about haggling, start with this simple baby step—always ask whether any “promotions” or “other discounts” might apply. Do this when you’re in a store or making a catalog purchase over the phone. “Promotions” are special deals that salespeople (particularly at catalog companies) can mention only if the customer asks first. Many merchants also give discounts to members of AARP, AAA, warehouse clubs, etc.—and even if you’re not a member, they sometimes will give you the same break if you ask.

Example: I stayed at a hotel recently and asked if an AARP discount would be accepted. The desk clerk said “no,” but she immediately took 15% off the price of my room, explaining that if the hotel did offer an AARP discount, that’s what it would be.