Bargaining — You Just Have to Ask

by Katy on September 13, 2010 · 25 comments

I don’t know if it’s because I did a lot of foreign travel before having kids or simply my love of a great deal, but I’m a big fan of bargaining. I do it at garage sales, thrift stores, foreign markets, and most recently, at the mall. At this point you may be asking:

“Whoa, back up. The Non-Consumer Advocate goes to the mall?!”

Let me preface this little story by saying that my younger son is fashion obsessed and had saved up his cat sitting money for a pair of purple Levi’s skinny jeans. We had unsuccessfully scoured the thrift stores all summer, and the constant whining about how he needed this particular pair of pants had worn me thinner than a supermodel on a hunger strike. Yesterday, he broke through my steely exterior. (He did his homework, fed the neighbor’s cats, looked up the phone number for the Lloyd Center Macy’s and handed the phone to me. I’ve said it once, and I will say it again. I am putty in his grubby little hands!)

The Macy’s store clerk confirmed that yes, they did carry purple Levi’s skinny jeans priced at $19.99, and even put a pair aside for us. This put my son into a frenzy of excitement, which propelled us across town only to find that the pair that fit my son were $29.99 not $19.99.

Big deflation of frenzy, as this purchase was 100% my son’s, (I have bought three pairs of these jeans for him at thrift stores and am done) and he only had $20.

However, by pointing out the that my son was using his own money, and that the almost identical pair was $19.99, the clerks lowered the price on the jeans my son had pinned his hopes on. We were polite, patient and friendly, which is key to successful negotiation. And my son saved $10.

Think our mall-haggling was a fluke, a one time occurrence? Nope, because we then wandered about the mall a bit more, as my daughter was looking for a specific style of sunglasses. She found these at a kiosk selling sunglasses for $12 apiece or two for $20. I told her to ask the clerk if she’d take $10, and guess what, she did!

I am very pleased that both of my kids learned a lesson in haggling yesterday. No price is written in stone, and all you have to do is ask if you want to get that lower price. They may want to go to the abhorrent mall, but they’re still their mommy’s kids. And yes, we did stop into a Goodwill afterwards, where I found a 3-hole punch pencil pouch, which was the single missing item from their school supply list.

Are you a bargaining enthusiast, or does the thought put you into a cold sweat of embarrassment? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Cate September 13, 2010 at 8:44 am

Your younger son cracks me up!


leslie September 13, 2010 at 8:45 am

This is a big lesson I’ve learned lately. Just by asking (or another wonderful method- trading favors or bartering in some other way), I’ve recently gotten free sprouted grain bread ($5), a free awesome handmade skirt (regularly $72), 2 free packs smoked tofu ($5.99 each), countless garage sale deals, and several heavily discounted items. I am even finding that asking for a special deal or offering a non-material compensation builds great networking and friend connections too 🙂

Congrats to your son on his bargaining and the purple jeans!


CathyG September 13, 2010 at 9:02 am

I am one of those people who cannot haggle. 2 examples:
1. I went to a garage sale with friend. She successfully got several dollars off of a skirt; I picked up a small kitchen item marked 50 cents and asked if they would take a quarter. No, I really think that’s worth 50 cents, they told me.
2a. In India – I was out walking for the day and realized I was getting sunburnt. I needed a hat. There was a stall selling baseball caps for the equivalence of a dollar. My colleague said that nobody in India expected you to pay full price, he would bargain with the owner to get 2 hats for the same price. After much back and forth, the owner said no and we walked away. I got sunburnt because I didn’t have a hat.
2b. Also in India – my daughter had asked me to get her a scarf – pink, long rather than square, with sparkly designs on it. I looked all over during our shopping trip and couldn’t find anything like that. I finally found the perfect scarf for $12 in a shop. These were actually marked with price tags. My friends again decided they could do better by haggling and they started in on it. The owner eventually said No. Instead of walking away, I paid the $12 and brought home the scarf for my daughter.
2c. All my friends think that they were more successful with the haggling than I was. But I got exactly what I wanted at a price that I was willing to pay, so I don’t care what they think.


Annie Jones September 13, 2010 at 9:26 am

My husband will haggle anywhere and everywhere, and usually with success. I am more likely to haggle on used items at garage sales or flea markets, or on big ticket items, such as refrigerators or cars. Usually I leave it up to my husband, though, because he is much more assertive and actually enjoys haggling.


Rachel September 13, 2010 at 10:22 am

I don’t normally haggle but recently I had to take my husbands watch in to be mended and the price they quoted included a new battery, having checked with my husband who confirmed he had had a new battery recently, I said I didn’t need a new battery and how much would it be. Very easy and I saved five pounds (I’m in the UK). Previously the only time I have manged to get money off in high street shops is if there is a problem with the item, usually clothing with a mark or missing button which is easily rectified but the shop will often drop the price a little because they don’t want to be left with the item.


Jeanine September 13, 2010 at 11:12 am

I will ask for a price to be lowered at yard sales, etc, but not in a store. My mother raised me to ask for a discount on things that were defective, but if there was nothing wrong with the item, then to ask for a price reduction was in poor taste, and I obviously needed to shop around because I had champagne taste on a tap water budget!

As a previous retail worker, I found people asking for a discount just because to be annoying and time consuming.

That’s what sales are for.


Andrea September 13, 2010 at 11:15 am

I have a friend, who is a doctor (and married to a LNP)–and therefore can afford to pay full price for stuff–who is always talking about trying to get a lower price on things. Not stuff from the mall (hey, I’m all for bringing dow corporate America by whatever means possible), but from local businesses (for eg. she was talking about trying to get a deal on some trees that had been sitting at a local nursery for a long time; or seeing if someone would lower the price on her dance or exercise classes because of the poor economy). This really bugs me. Can I walk into her doctor office and say, “You know I’d rather not pay $165 for five minutes of your time, so here’s a bag of turnips instead.”? No. I think not.


Adrienne September 14, 2010 at 4:41 am

Not true! Doctors and Dentists will lower their costs if you ask. We don’t have dental insurance so I’ve gotten my dentist to give us a lower price. Also have negotiated certain fees with doctors.

I think your Doctor friend is smart to ask. People can always say no. As a local business owner myself I would give a discount on something that wasn’t moving (like the trees).


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl September 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I do bargain sometimes, even though it’s not natural for my don’t-rock-the-boat self. lol


Kariann September 13, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I used to haggle all the time at yard sales. I went with a friend who never haggled because she felt like people deserved to get the full $2 or whatever. I still will ask if people can do a little better on a price if an item is costly and I will “drop a cookie” in a thrift store to get a better price if possible. I noticed that since I stopped haggling I seem to get things for lower prices and even for free sometimes.

That being said I think most garage sale people expect some people to offer a lower price and there is never anything wrong with asking.

The above comment about offering the doctor some turnips was great, maybe I can try that next time.


Magdalena September 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Yes, I’ll bargain a bit, but I think I’m just a wee theatrical about it. “How much do you want?” I’ll ask,even if it’s priced. (I don’t shop at malls – so I dont have the opportunity to try this out there!) They’ll tell me, or point out the price tag. “Oh,” I reply, with that eloquent one-shoulder shrug that says I could take it or leave it. “I don’t know,” I might say, “I guess it’s not worth that to me.” And 9 out 10 times, they lower the price. At the farmer’s market, I will offer to buy more if they give me a price break. This is most useful if there is a lot of something – tomatoes, potatoes, apples, and they really don’t want to take the surplus home. When I sold at the farmer’s market, I was willing to negotiate. I was there to sell, not keep.


Lisa P. September 13, 2010 at 7:39 pm

I don’t normally haggle unless it’s perhaps a floor model in a store but I did manage to save $1000 in grad school (MBA) just by asking! I was at the counter hanging out and a student came in with a question on his scholarship & his job ~ so when he left I jokingly commented to the desk person that those of us whose company isn’t picking up the tab should get a scholarship too LOL ~ she looked at me funny and said, “you do” & I’m like huh? lol… The college offered a $500/semester discount for those paying on their own ~ all I had to do was complete a very short information sheet, sign that I was self-pay (which I was) and woo hoo…saved $1000 (2 semesters) before graduation. (I try not to think about the first 2 semesters when I didn’t know about the discount LOL).


Bellen September 14, 2010 at 5:20 am

My husband has asked for a 20% discount when buying stove, refrig & dishwasher at Lowe’s – he got 15%. I’ve asked for and gotten a 10% discount on buying a case of kidney beans (chili making for family reunion). I always ask for a lower price at a yard sale if buying more than 2 items unless it’ll be less than a $1. I don’t shop at the mall – haven’t even been in one in over 5 years-so I don’t know if getting a discount is possible.

I’m also very polite in asking and very,very polite in accepting the answer whether yes or no.


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary September 14, 2010 at 6:46 am

I’m with Kristen on this one — I just hate haggling.

I know I should, I know there’s no reason not to, I certainly know how to remain polite whatever the answer is…but still, I find it just uncomfortable enough that normally I would rather not. Just another character-building exercise for me, I guess.


Practical Parsimony September 14, 2010 at 9:12 am

First of all, I did not know that purple jeans were cool, or that skinny purple jeans would be a fashion must for a high school guy. That said, how old am I?

I will haggle. I love to haggle. If someone comes to my yardsale who is a persistent, professional haggler, I just keep going up on the price until the person figures out I am serious about the price. One guy asked me why I was going up instead of down on my price. My answer as I was laughing, “Irritation fee.” He was amused and paid my price.

A local business gives me 8.5% discount because I buy several things two at a time. Now, I just automatically get the discount. I bought two fruit pickers, two pecan picker-uppers, and two can crushers at one time. One was for me and the other was for a friend in another city. That was just one purchase. Now, I try to find people to buy with me because he likes the multiple purchases. So, when I went to the adjoining frame shop for minor work on a picture frame, he charged me nothing.

I was buying three new, plastic Adirondack chairs at a yard sale and only had money for two of them even though they were just $2 apiece. So, I offered the guy some freshly-layed eggs from my four hens. He agreed, and the next time I was that way, I dropped them off. Since he was a policeman and I had given him a check for the two chairs, he was assured of getting his eggs…lol.

One woman was so desperately poor that I refused to haggle for the $1 floor lamp even though she would have taken fifty cents. Restored now, it is a prize possession. Another toothless, battered, young woman was being treated so badly by her male companion that I slipped her a $10. She promptly ran to him and held it out. sigh….not what I had in mind!

Haggling is an art. If I am insulted, I will eat the item before letting it go. So, I am never critical of the object or insulting in any way. Haggling is an art.


Katy September 14, 2010 at 9:54 am

The purple skinny jeans were for my 12-year-old son, who is a 7th grader. 😉



Lilypad September 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

I recently got 20% off a bra at Macy’s by pointing out it had a black mark on it. It was the only one left in that color and size, so the sales clerk didn’t argue at all. The mark came out in the wash, so I was pleased. That said, I usually am terrible at haggling. I was not taught to speak up as a child and I usually don’t feel comfortable asserting myself.


Tim McGraw May 14, 2013 at 7:39 am

Your son wears purple skinny jeans? Either he’s trying WAYY to hard to fit in with the crowd, or he’s gay. Sorry to be the barer of bad news.


Katy May 14, 2013 at 7:45 am

Why on earth would being gay be bad news?



rjb September 19, 2015 at 4:40 am

It isn’t bad news Katy. The bad news would be if he were the kind of person that believed fashion choices were an indication Of sexuality and judged people based on that. In that instance you would have failed as a parent. 🙂


Mitzi September 19, 2015 at 6:12 am

I love to bargain and this is agreat reminder to do so at the mall too!

I am queen of searching for coupon codes before any retail purchase. It pains me to pay full price. Most stores will accept a coupon from my phone which I love!!!


rita September 19, 2015 at 7:55 am

I own a small womens clothing shop, and all the items are locally and handmade. I price things as low as I can to make a living myself, and pay my vendors. I love when people come in and check out the sale rack, but am never willing to haggle on price unless there’s a problem with the item, or its your birthday or some other ‘very’ special reason.
I think at garage sales and other avenues where people are simply trying to offload unwanted goods, or in places where its expected, (like travel markets,) – go for it!
When someone comes into my store and (by bartering) tells me that the work that went into making an item isn’t worth their dollars I try to turn it into a learning moment- without being judgemental- hey, we all have a budget!


Betty Winslow September 19, 2015 at 10:43 am

I haggle at garage sales and rummage sales, but only occasionally at a regular store. I worked part-time a few yrs ago at a florist/gift shop and the boss’s biggest peeve was a customer who would come in, pick up a brand-new gift item, and ask, “What will you take for this?” She’d sweetly reply, “Oh, I’m sorry, did we forget to put a price tag on that one?” instead of saying (as she often said she was tempted to) “What does the tag say, dumbass? This ain’t a garage sale!” LOL I’ve had a good experience several times at a local jeweler’s recently – he fixed two rings for me and installed a new spring bar in a watch, all for free (and one of the rings even needed a bit of soldering!), since I bring him any gold or silver jewelry I want to sell. As you can guess, I take all my stuff to him!


Debra September 20, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Sometimes at garage sales. Especially if I am buying a lot I’ll say will you take $10 for all of this? Sometimes for a single item if it is priced to high for me. And never if it is kids selling their stuff.
I remember a garage sale in my neighborhood when I lived in Terre Haute. I looked around for a few, didn’t see anything I wanted. The owner came up to me and asked are you sure? Just offer whatever. And she looked so desparate. I still remember the look on her face. 2 months later the house was for sale by the bank- a foreclosure. And this was a cheaper neighborhood.
I will haggle at a store only if there’s something wrong with it.
At my favorite chair thrift store, it was half price day today. I got a big zippy bag of toys, regular price a dollar. I paid the dollar even tho I was told 50c today. The money goes to the food pantry and I know they often only clear enough to pay expenses. There were at least 10 plays cool people or hot wheels in the bag. I thought at a dollar it was a good deal.
Most of the time I don’t. I make a good income, try to limit my purchases and wait for a good price on something before I buy.


Debra September 20, 2015 at 5:37 pm

My autocorrect drives me batty! Playskool


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