How Haggling Taught Me About Life

Photo: ddefranza

I used to be afraid of bargaining. The thought of haggling over a price, or even asking for a discount, was embarrassing. Then I began visiting countries in which haggling is expected. I was forced to adapt. At first it was frustrating, then tiresome, but eventually I learned to embrace the process of bargaining. Once I did, I realized that haggling had taught me a lot.

Here are six of my favorite lessons:

It Never Hurts to Ask

When I first began bargaining, I was very timid about suggesting a discount. After several very unsuccessful attempts I realized there is no harm in simply asking for what you want. The more I asked, the easier it became. Now I ask questions all the time. I find that it helps establish my terms and clear up misunderstandings before they happen.

Shop Around and Learn the Market

A bargaining situation is not something you want to jump into blindly. Before you can recognize a reasonable price, you must know what other people are paying and what the nature of the market is. This, of course, is not the only time in which a little research leads to a big payoff. I always try to understand the established terms of my problem before I attempt to evaluate it. This is the first step towards what I think is the most important lesson...

Know Your Price

Expert hagglers will tell you that the key to feeling satisfied with a negotiation's outcome is to know exactly what you expect from it. This is relevant to almost any situation, whether bargaining is involved or not. Before I buy something, I try to establish how much it is truly worth to me. If my price is less than the marked one, and there is no room for negotiation, I probably won't buy it. But this doesn't only relate to money. Time, energy, ethical, and moral values are all things to consider when evaluating the cost of an item, activity, new responsibility, or anything.

Stay Calm

A heated negotiation is an exciting event but, to be successful, you cannot get caught up in it. The best hagglers sit back with a calm, almost aloof, confidence and let the situation play out on its own. This patience is a skill that can take a lifetime to develop. I am still working on it, but a more relaxed attitude has already helped me in all aspects of my life.

Have Fun

I think the greatest misconception I had about bargaining before I did a lot of it was that it involved an argument. This couldn't be farther from the truth. If you smile when making an offer, people are much more likely to accept it. If you can laugh at yourself, everyone opens up a bit. Haggling, and life, require a sense of humor.

Don't Be Afraid To Walk Away

The final revelation that comes when learning to bargain is that the lowest price will be shouted after you have walked away. Still, sometimes you just have to accept that your price is too low. Other times, you have to realize that you didn't really want the item that much in the first place. Then there are times when you begin to put distance between yourself and a situation, and it comes running back, begging to make a deal.

There are a lot of great guides to haggling and bargaining out there. Here are some that I enjoyed:

Do you have any great bargaining tips or stories? What has haggling taught you? Share it in the comments!

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Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Since I am Chinese I grew up with  haggling,.  I wrote about it on my blog a while ago:

Nora Dunn's picture

The last car I had (before I sold it along with everything else), I bought as a demo from the dealer. After some banter with the sales manager, it became apparent that we were going to be negotiating. Hard. We both laughed, called a spade a spade, and went at it!

By the end, we both admitted that we enjoyed the process, felt that the deal was fair (I drove a HARD bargain!), and parted company with smiles on our faces and handshakes all around.  

Having fun and not being afraid to walk away are two very sage pieces of advice. Thanks for this article! I wrote a similar article with a different spin here.  

Guest's picture

I've walked away from used car dealerships after I thought they would go no further and had them run after me shouting another price! Your exactly right. You gotta be prepared to walk away.

Julie Rains's picture

I especially like this advice. I have a business service and being a frugal person who wants to help people, I offer extremely reasonable prices. Nevertheless, a few people still want to haggle without making concessions but more importantly, without checking market rates. That should be the first step in negotiation.

I have also been on the other side of the negotiating table and just haven't asked for discounts if I knew I was already getting a below market rate and felt that asking might jeopardize the relationship.

Still, your point of realizing that you just didn't want the item is excellent and something for business owners/sales people to remember -- your price may be great but the potential buyer just isn't really all that  interested.

Guest's picture

I haggled for some flowers without knowing it. The conversation was in chinese (which I don't speak). When I heard the price (25 dollars) for one flower - I repeated what I thought I heard (which was 20 dollars) and somehow managed to get a deal of 2 flowers for 40 dollars, not 50.

Okay, so the money is not big, but that seems a big discount to me 1/5th.

But everyone was happy. Except me because it meant I misunderstood the original number in chinese - and I thought I could hear the numbers.

Guest's picture

Please don't go around haggling people for things they can't provide. Nothing blows my nerves when a customer tries to haggle a price set in stone - like in a restaurant setting.

Guest's picture

I've been traveling to Thailand for the last 5 years and have learnt a lot about haggling too.
I find the best way to know how good a deal you're getting is if they're really annoyed with you. The more annoyed they are the more you know you're not getting as ripped off as the last bloke.

Also just walk away you'll soon find them chasing after you giving you an even better discount! They just wanted to find out if they could get more money out of you as soon as they know you mean business they won't want to let you go.

Guest's picture

I agree with the above about never haggling in inappropriate settings like restaurants, it's just obnoxious. However, in a market setting, especially abroad, haggling is key and a lot of fun if you get into it.

It was mentioned in the post, but I'd like to emphasize that walking away can be one of the haggler's best tools. I spent the summer in Peru and visited several markets and the story was usually predictable: the vendor prices above what they actually want hoping to get lucky with someone to take the price at face value, you (the buyer) walk up and take a time to examine everything and find something interesting, you suggest that is actually under what you intend to pay but that is not unreasonable, haggle back and forward, and then if the vendor doesn't go down all the way thank them and walk away. WITHOUT FAIL you always hear "Amigo, Senor" and different requests to come back which usually involves them finally agreeing to your price.

Now this doesn't always work, and many suggest that it's wrong to try and lower the price on goods sold by people who in many cases are poorer that you, but it's all about the process and actually interacting with the vendor. Typically there is an appreciation for someone who understands what a good buy is and regardless I always enjoyed the interaction because it was never just about getting something but also getting to know the artisan who put their time into making the object.

Guest's picture

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Guest's picture

Another article with some good haggling tips can be found at:

The tips are mainly for traveling in foreign countries, but they are applicable in other haggling situations.

Guest's picture

You do need to grow some balls when you are haggling, especially overseas. Even if you try, and you have no cojones, basically forget it, sales people will see right through you and deny you a discount, because they know you will buy it regardless.