Admit it, we all secretly want to be that overconfident dude who walks into the street market and gets whatever price he darn well pleases.
He knows he’s going to get that fez for some smooth lines, a grin, and maybe a 50% markdown on an off day. Really, who needs Black Friday or early bird specials if you can make up your own discount? But before you go plunging into the farmer’s market with a few dollars and a giant grocery list, take a minute to plan your strategy. Like any other fine art, bargaining has some ground rules, and the five rules listed below can help get you started toward a long, gratifying career as haggler extraordinaire. So the next time you look at a price tag and think it’s ridiculous that you should be charged $50 for that mediocre ceramic flower pot with a chip on the edge, you can saunter up to the counter, work your magic, and walk out with a $20 pot and a few flowers to go with it.
Channel your inner cynic
You know that nasty little guy inside your head that looks at the world and says “I have to put up with this?” No? Well, you might not have met him yet, but that little cynic is there. And he’s just waiting to get to work. Think of the haggling mentality like driving in New York, a land where otherwise wonderful, polite folk morph into snarling, honking lane-dodgers. So you, as an otherwise lovely and cultured human being, will become completely unimpressed—frankly, disgusted—with anything put forth to you for inspection. This pearl necklace handmade by Japanese pearl divers? Eh, it’s kinda misshapen. Or how about this one-of-a-kind painted wooden sculpture of a buffalo from Tanzania? Oh man, look at the scratches along the bottom— did the artist think those would go unnoticed? You don’t have to get nasty, just act “meh.” The key is to never show enthusiasm for what you’re buying.
Location, location, location
Before you even begin to bargain, make sure you know you have a chance of success. This might take some haggler’s intuition, especially if you’re from a country where people haggle for toothpaste and tomato sauce. Case in point: a friend of Let’s Go, upon moving to the US, found a nice placemat at Walmart for $0.75. When he asked how much it cost, the employee pointed to the price tag below it. “Really? That’s a little much…I mean, I’d take it for $0.50…” The employee, after scrutinizing our hapless bargainer, just shook his head and reminded him it was not $0.50: $0.75 cents, take it or leave it. Whoops. Moral of the story: if you find yourself in a place where bargaining is the norm, you probably have a chance. Department stores? Probably not.
Know thy enemy
“Enemy” might be an exaggeration, but in a haggling battle the seller is your fearless foe. Being able to read him or her can make your experience much more pleasant (and successful). Know when your swagger is being taken well, or when you’re being judged as an arrogant little…American. Being able to judge the seller is also important in feeling out how far down you can feasibly work the price. If you can tell the seller is insecure about the quality of a product, milk it for all it’s worth. If he knows what he’s selling is top rate, be a little less aggressive. And don’t worry if you’re not great at reading minds yet, you’ll learn. Remember, this is an art. Or a learnable supernatural power—take your pick.
Keep good company – and kick out the rest
Bargaining in numbers can be a double-edged sword, and if you plan on having your friends with you, make sure they can handle your expert haggling technique. That sarcastic, mildly lazy guy who thinks Shakespeare is “just a’ight”? Great. Your heavyweight Swedish wrestling friend who doesn’t speak English too well and doesn’t smile? (Ever.) He’s in, too. Your friendly philanthropist who always sees the beauty in things and wants to help those poor entrepreneurs trying to make a living? Nope. Send them off to a nearby store, give them a cell phone and your third cousin’s number in Athens and ask them to call your great grandfather in Barcelona, whatever it takes to get them out of the vicinity while you work. Otherwise, just as you are convincing the seller that this handbag is looking like the stitching might fall apart any minute, your buddy will chime in about how it’s just what she needed and her purse is in shambles and isn’t this thing just exquisite? Whoever might not be able to reign in their optimism has to vacate the premises. Duct tape also works.
You don’t owe nobody nothin’
At the end of the day, realize that you don’t have to buy anything. This might seem obvious, but when you’re in ten minutes in to a heated bargain, remembering this simple rule can be incredibly relieving. You’re the guy with the money, and they’re the ones with the glass garden decorations and leather briefcases. Your money is way more useful. If you don’t think you’re getting a good deal, just leave. A lot of times, threatening to “maybe come back later” is enough to drop the price to where you want it. If it’s not, they’re being too stubborn and you can walk out the door: no harm, no foul.