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How to Negotiate a Better Price on Everything

Brandon Ballenger

These days, many people rely on technology to save money. They go online for Groupon offers, they print coupons, and they scan deals pages.

But there’s an even simpler way to save. It’s the technique human beings have been using since they developed the ability to use language: ask for a better deal.

Granted, we often haggle when shopping for big-ticket items like cars or houses. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t try it with less-expensive items. It can work when you buy furniture or even stay at a hotel. In fact, a national Consumer Reports survey a few years ago found Americans who ask for a discount get it up to 83 percent of the time.

[Related: Money-saving tips that work]

How do you know if you can haggle for something? There’s only one way to find out, and the worst that can happen is a “no.” If you want to boost your odds, try these tips…

1. Do your homework

It’s easier to bargain for a deal (and recognize if you’re really getting one) when you understand the numbers. Before you go shopping, research prices and competitors. Check on store policies to see if a business matches prices, and under what conditions. And while this obviously applies to big purchases like appliances, don’t stop there. If the dry cleaner down the street is charging $1 for shirts, why should you pay $1.25 at yours?

2. Don’t be afraid to walk away

Your biggest bargaining chip is the fact your business isn’t guaranteed. If a seller is convinced you’re going to buy (or continue buying) from them regardless, you’re at their mercy. They should be at yours. Not getting the price you want? Say you’re going to see if the next competitor down the list can do better. If they don’t care, neither will you – because you’ll mean it.

The person with the power is the one who doesn’t care if the deal gets done.

3. Ask the right person

Not everybody has the authority to negotiate, so seek out the decision-maker. Customer service, billing issues, and cancellations are often handled by different people, especially on the phone. In a store, the salespeople might not have the authority to negotiate. Ask. If they don’t, speak to a manager. In fact, any time someone can’t or won’t help you with any purchase or problem, don’t be afraid to say, “OK. Now I understand you can’t help me. May I please speak with someone who can?”

[Related: Why a Budget Could Cause You to Spend More]

4. Time it right

One trick to negotiating is understanding the other person’s business. For instance, at certain times of the year, clothing stores are eager to get rid of seasonal merchandise. Car dealers might be pushing to meet an end-of-month quota. And every salesperson is more attentive when business is slow. New Year’s Eve is traditionally one of the best times to shop for a car – it’s end of the month, end of the year, and there are no customers in the showroom.

In short, try to buy when others aren’t and when stores need to either clear inventory or make quota.

5. Pay with paper instead of plastic

Businesses can pay up to 3 percent in transaction costs by accepting credit cards. If you’re paying cash, you deserve to take at least that much off the purchase price.

6. Don’t fear awkwardness

If you have little experience haggling, don’t sell yourself short just because it feels weird. You’re not being a cheapskate, and the other party isn’t going to hate you. Don’t get flustered by a momentary silence, and don’t be afraid to pause and think. In fact, silence can be a bargaining tool. According to Stacy, who was in securities sales for 10 years, “In any negotiation, make an offer, then shut up. Wait 10 minutes in silence if you have to. Because more often than not, the next person to speak loses.”

7. Be friendly

Being aggressive only works when you’re in the superior position. If you lack power – which you do when trying to negotiate something like a discounted hotel room – play nice. Rude customers are the rule for most people in customer service. Be the exception. Smile, be patient, make a joke. Nobody wants to help a jerk, but everyone wants to do a favor for a friend.

That being said, it’s important to be real. You don’t have to be Donald Trump or Mr. Rogers to get a deal – just be yourself. Use the person’s name as often as possible, look them in the eye, and treat people like you like being treated.

8. Be firm

Being nice doesn’t mean rolling over. If you’re a steady customer, don’t be shy about pointing that out. Your loyalty should be worth something. And if not, your future business definitely is.

[Related: Admit It—A Refund Feels Good]

9. Be persistent

Stacy’s rule: ask three times. “When I go into a hotel, I ask for a discount. If they say no, I say, “Are you sure there’s not some special rate you can give me?” If they still say no, then I use my fallback. I smile big and say, “Well, you can at least give me the Elvis suite for the same price, right?” They invariably laugh, and almost invariably give me the best deal they possibly can.

Speaking of upgrades…

10. Go for extras

If the price is non-negotiable, don’t give up. There are other ways to sweeten a deal – like a free upgrade, accessories, a future discount, free shipping, free delivery, or free installation. Sometimes, businesses are already prepared to offer these concessions – because they’re cheaper than dropping the price but still make customers happy.

Bottom line? Like conversation, negotiation is an art that cries out to be practiced. It’s not just acceptable, it’s fun. It often results in lively banter and nearly as often a better deal.