Driving a hard bargain: the fine art of haggling

Christmas time – and we’re all about to head out and spend a fortune shopping. But there are ways to spend a little less, besides trimming Uncle Bob off your list. Just ask for a lower price.

Haggling came to me by accident.

But once I did it, I realized you can do it almost everywhere. I became if not a seasoned, at least a slightly braver,  negotiator. It encouraged my inner diplomat. Some would call it driving a hard bargain. Will you call me cheap? Well, I like to call it frugal.

Here are some of my haggling experiences excerpted from a from a piece I did for the Toronto Star.

In a Debenhams department store in Northern Ireland I was smitten with a dress by an Irish designer. It cost 265 pounds and buying it would have seriously stretched by travel budget. Still, I tried it on and fell in love with its cut and the way it hung. I knew if I bought it I’d wear it for years.

I told the saleslady I’d think about it and wandered around a while longer before making my way back to The Dress.

“I do have discretion to give a discount,” she suggested.

20 per cent off. Sold.

That experience marked a eureka moment for me. I’d haggled in the usual places – at markets, antique shops, or while buying a car. But that saleswoman kindly taught me that most places will offer you a deal. You just have to ask – and know how to ask properly.

Not all haggles come that easy. But a little persistence can be worth it. In chain stores, for example, I’ve seen a smudge on a piece of clothing that will easily wash out, or perhaps have a missing button. Each time I’ve gone to the sales clerk, pointed out the flaw, and asked what they could do for me.

I’ve also done this to get a discount off floor models. Sometimes I’ve had to ask to speak to a supervisor or manager but it can be worth the wait – I’ve received many discounts of at least 10 per cent.

The same haggling principles hold true whether you’re shopping for insurance, a car, telecom services, or even at a high-end shop: Know your prices, know what other companies are offering, and see whether they’re prepared to add value with a few extras. It’s much cheaper for them to make you happy and keep you as a customer than it is to attract a new one. And be prepared to walk away.

I walked into a Toronto boutique that carries high-end Italian clothes and spotted a pair of trousers. They were $300 – steep. I tried them on, liked them (no, loved them) – and then did the unthinkable.

“Is that the best price?” I asked quietly.

“I can give you 10 per cent off,” the saleswoman said discreetly.

A pause. She typed some numbers into a calculator.

“I can do 25 per cent,” she said.




  1. Atta girl! I’m a haggler too; it would amaze you to know what Rogers has coughed up for me over the years. *proudly brandishes Galaxy II phone*

    1. Oh, good for you! It really does pay off. I think they probably price the cost of haggling into their cost of doing business … so you might as well avail yourself of the best deal you can…

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