Bargaining 101: How to Get Lower Prices on Everything

Bargaining, “wheeling and dealing” or just getting a deal—whatever you call it, it isn’t always easy to find exactly the item or service you want, and then ask for a lower price. Our American culture often views this sort of thing as the move of a cheapskate, or disrespectful/distrustful of the merchant and his or her pricing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The best “bargain” is where everyone is happy, and where the transaction is conducted in a respectful way. (Oh, and when you get a screamin’ deal).

I never considered myself a bargainer, until I traveled in Africa. There, nothing was priced, and I was subject to” muzungo (foreigner) pricing.” Even my native-language translators couldn’t get a price lower for me. Muzungo prices were almost always 300%+ locals pricing. Using a few strategies, I began to overcome this (though I doubt I ever truly got pricing to match locals’ prices).

Bargaining Rules

Here are a few rules about bargaining that I learned while traveling, and have since employed stateside.

  1. Always bargain with cash. First, it doesn’t cost the merchant anything to accept it, second, there’s no risk!
  2. Know what you’re willing to pay. Always do your research first, and know your top price for the product or service that you’re hoping to buy.
  3. Be prepared to walk away. One thing I’m nearly certain of, is that aside from people and artwork, nothing is one-of-a-kind. You can always find the product or service that you’re looking for somewhere else. When in doubt, always walk.

 Where to Bargain

  • Overseas (check travel guides). Most cultures expect some bargaining and consider you a fool if you don’t. (Perhaps they’re right?)
  • With service businesses (carpet, drapery cleaning, auto detailing, construction, etc).
  • With any major purchase (appliance, automobile, real estate)
  • On anything used (thrift shop, garage sale)
  • Monthly contracts (mobile phone, gym, etc)
  • Credit cards and mortgage companies (on mortgages, get all of your bargaining done before you sign the papers!)
  • Doctors and hospitals: Try offering payment in full before the treatment. Ask for a 20% discount. Ask for cash discounts.

Be Polite! Do’s and Don’ts of Bargaining


  • Ask for a manager when you can.
  • Be reasonable. The vendor or service provider deserves to make a profit.
  • Use cash!
  • Plan a maximum price.
  • Buy in quantity or negotiate a quantity purchase. (Consider asking the carpet cleaner for a 30-50% discount if you can get 2-3 neighbors to have their rugs cleaned the same day).
  • Know if the item must be purchased, or if it is possible to be scavenged or thrifted.


  • Be loud or rude.
  • Bargain with an audience. Be discreet. If you really want that washing machine, don’t try to bargain them down in front of three other shoppers—they’ll all want the same deal, which makes yours a lot less realistic!
  • Use credit or write checks for your deal. Seldom is it a real “deal” this way—the vendor absorbs both risk and merchant fees. See if they’ll let you save the difference, or split the difference.
  • Visit during a busy time of day or season. If you want a new washer and dryer, forget the home store on a Saturday morning—go on a Tuesday morning, when nobody else is there. The daytime sales rep will be eager to meet quotas, and is likely getting poor hours.

Reporting Back

I don’t buy a lot of household items, but in my business I wheel-and-deal like crazy. I’ve purchased several printers for my business (and for others) at deep discount because they are open box or because I’m buying more than one at once. We recently got cash discounts on two medical bills, a dentist and a 15% discount on a major auto service for paying in cash (oh, and two new tires for my husband’s Civic—because we moved all service for both of our high-mileage cars over to one mechanic!)

Here’s your challenge for the week (or month if you don’t have anything you need to buy this week). Set a goal of an item to get a deal on. Give it a try, and report back. I can’t wait to hear your savings!


By , on Oct 13, 2011
Jessica Ward Jessica Ward is a full-time writer and adoptive mom to two wonderful children. She writes to support her parenting/adopting habit. For frugal family tips see The PennyWise Family or @jessc098 and my google+ profile.


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  1. Dave:

    I’m trying to get a discontinued bike from walmart. The price is still marked for $400 but I saw on a forum that a guy got it from his local walmart for half that. Any tips on how to get them to knock it down? They also have the bike that was made to replace the one I want priced at $179, I don’t know if that helps any.

  2. In a recession I have taught many friends and family how to stretch the food dollar. This month we are buying only meat , fruit, veggies ,rice,peanut butter and soap we are going to see how we can get by on these few tings for one month. I have to say our meals are healthier we are all loosing weight. I made some apple chips which the kids liked! We don’t turn down free items in fact today I picked up a coupon off facebook for a bag of Kettle chips. However, for the one month we are going to see how much we spend on groceries.
    So far for 9 people we have spent $140.00 this month and our fridg, pantry and freezer are full.
    Stop by glossymoney if you have any ideas or comments.

  3. I always find that furniture and appliance stores are where the bargaining happens most of all. They pretty much expect you to offer a lower price. Basically any place that has a sales person come up to you is open for bargaining. The nice thing with appliances is that the same ones are sold pretty much everywhere and going to a smaller chain can often lead to better deals.

  4. I have done a lot of bargaining, especially if I buy in bulk. Fortunately enough, I get the deal most of the time. Lucky me!

  5. Jessica:

    Yes! Friends of mine negotiated before the birth of their child, and pre-paid the L&D costs at a substantial discount.

    For me, I always ask for the comparison for what I would pay with insurance (my co-pay) versus if I paid without insurance coverage. Believe it or not, sometimes a treatment billed to an “uninsured” person costs even less than the co-pay for an “insured” person. A good example is flu shots, but there are others, and it’s going to vary wildly based on your insurance. Basically, anything where your doc has an up-front cost could be considered negotiable. Just ask in advance (no sense in bargaining after the fact IMO, though some say it can be done–especially if you’re entirely un-insured and it was a costly treatment–you may be able to settle a debt, which is totally different than getting a bargian on the pricing. ).

  6. Jessica:

    Charity, he doesn’t happen to clean carpets near Seattle does he? ;-)

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