Don’t Be Too Timid To Bargain
These simple negotiating techniques can help you save money on almost everything
By Donald And Dorothy Stroetzel
THE SALESMAN SQUINTS at the price tag. “This refrigerator will cost you $859.99,” he says. You wince; the most you want to pay is $700. What do you do? Do you tell yourself that $159.99 isn’t really that much and pull out your credit card? Or, do you muster your courage, look the salesman in the eye and ask, “Will you take less?”
“Those four- words can save a family hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a year,” claims Alan Schoonmaker, a New Jersey psychologist who coaches business negotiators for Control Data, Mobil Oil, and other large corporations.
Prices of many family purchases—actually the biggest ones—are negotiable. Yet most people are too timid to try it. Here, from Schoonmaker and other experts, are tips to help you bargain your way to savings:
Inform Yourself. If you are shopping for a used car, for example, visit several lots. Ask the “blue book” price—the average retail price—of the make and model you want. Pile up bits of information from friends. Do the salesmen at Honest John’s Used Cars have a monthly sales quota? If so, shop toward the end of the month.
Appear Uninterested. When you enter the lot, casually walk around the cars. Don’t tell the salesman you’ve already located one you want. Give him the make and model you may want and let him lead you to your choice. Don’t say you really like it. When he pitches its virtues, don’t go beyond, “Well, we might be interested if the price is right.”
Work as a Team. It can make sense for husband and wife to work together—but only if you use strategy. A wife who cautions, “We can’t afford it” or “Let’s look around before we decide,” boosts her husband’s negotiating power.
Hide Your Maximum Limit. Set this maximum limit before you start bargaining and never divulge it. Let’s say the car you want has a price tag of $13,750, and you can afford only $13,000. Don’t say, “That’s a little too high.” Act like it’s much more than you can afford.
Induce the Seller to Move First. Check the tires, look under the hood and frown. Comment on every bit of rust and wear. Worry aloud about the mileage. As you steadily attack the car’s value, the salesman realizes he’ll have to come down. “We might be able to go $13,300,” he ventures.
Keep Initial Offer Low. You look unimpressed, but your pulse quickens. You counter low. “I’ll give you $12,000,” you say, watching carefully the salesman’s reaction.
“No,” he says, “we can’t go that low.” But he’s still bargaining.
“Too bad,” you say, starting to leave. “For the right price I might have been interested.”
The salesman hesitates. “Wait a moment. Let me see what my manager will do.” After huddled discussion, he returns. “You’re lucky. The boss says $13,000—but no lower.”
He’s down to your maximum limit. You’re elated, but you don’t show it. There may be more. “If your boss makes it $12,400, he’s got a deal.”
Split the Difference. More huddled conversation. “I can’t budge him,” the salesman tells you. “But I need this sale. It’ll mean shaving my commission, but let’s split the difference.” To allow him to save face, you agree and shake on the deal. For $12,700—$1,050 under the dealer’s asking price and $200 below what you were secretly prepared to pay—you drive away in your car.
Here are some more techniques to use when negotiating for other items:
Test the Seller’s Mood. Do some gentle probing. “You must get tired of showing strangers through your home,” a professional negotiator remarked soothingly after touring a house he was considering buying.
“After four months I’m half-crazy with people stomping through, criticizing my, taste in furniture,” exclaimed the owner. Handed the power of this information, the negotiator whittled $10,000 off the selling price.
Hide Behind a Third Party. When you’re up against a toughie, one expert suggests you draw on a “big, bad bear in the back room.” Your banker makes a fine grizzly. (“He won’t loan me more than $100,000 on this deal.”). Or a husband (“I love it, but he’ll be furious if I pay more than $50.”). You avert direct ego conflict because it’s not you making the demands.
Play Off the Competition. You ask three contractors to bid on swimming pool. One proposes to spray on the concrete; another to drape a plastic liner over cinder block walls; and the third tosses in ceramic-tile coping. Combine the best ideas from each into new specifications and ask the contractors to bid again. Chances are, they’ll bid low, not only to stay competitive but to protect the time they’ve already invested in seeking your business.
Alter the Payment Terms. You might, for example, get a favorable price for your home by agreeing to take the buyer’s second mortgage. Or urge a merchant to give you discount for paying with cash instead of a credit card; the merchant lost no money because he pays no credit card service charge.
Nibble. Negotiate for extras: a couple of free ties if you buy a dozen shirts; free alterations if you go for the more expensive suit. Buy the refrigerator only if the dealer carts away your old one without charge.
Bargaining may expose you to a occasional put-down, but your triumphs will more than offset the bruises. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to save big money—and you’ll have a lot of fun in the process.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, Negotiate to Win: Gaining the Psychological Edge, 2nd Edition. It’s being edited and will be published soon.
Reading this book, watching the eight videos that we used in our workshops, and doing the exercises will help you to reach three objectives:
- Reduce your inhibitions and discomfort
- Develop your knowledge, skills, and sensitivity
- Increase your flexibility.
The essential first step is to make you more comfortable when you negotiate. Otherwise your discomfort can make you avoid negotiating, settle too quickly, miss the other side’s signals, or stonewall. As you understand the negotiating process and your reactions to it, you will slowly become more comfortable and effective.
To get a free copy of that book, click HERE.
To see a free video, click HERE.
  This blog is a slightly edited version of an article from the December, 1978 issue of Readers’ Digest. The prices were changed to more modern ones. The references to Dr. Karrass and myself were not changed.