The art of haggling is difficult to define but for those willing to drive a hard bargain the payoff can be considerable.
From slashing the price of a car to getting a better deal on a home loan, there’s a wide range of everyday transactions that you can negotiate a better price for. And Adelaide resident Eline van der Vaart, a self-described expert haggler, says the key to success is picking your battles.
“I don’t have a lot of shame,” she admits. “I don’t do it on small items like clothes or food shops. I pick my battles. If it’s a local shop that is struggling for business I would never give it a go.”
The 31-year-old says she has haggled over anything from vacuum cleaners to coffee machines and her rent when her former landlord threatened to raise it.
Her biggest scalp was paying just under $2000 for a mattress originally advertised for twice that amount.
“I wanted the mattress really bad but obviously had set a budget for myself. I played the two big shops against each other because they had the same mattress and just got the cheapest deal.”
“I’d like to think that I look into prices with different shops and know how far I can push it.”
Jason Cunningham, founder of financial services firm The Practice, says haggling is a worthwhile skill.
“It’s something that can definitely be taught and learnt,” he says.
“If you don’t ask you’ll never know. There’s nothing rude or confronting in just asking a question.”
Below are some tips on how to master the art of haggling.
Do your homework
Come armed with the facts so you know the market value of the product you’re trying to land a discount on.
Mr Cunningham says people often wast their time trying to haggle over items where there’s little or no room to move, such as at an Apple Store.
“The owners of those stores have no ability at all to offer discounts.
“If you’re armed with that information you’re not even going to waste your breath.”
Pick your mark
In the same vein, Mr Cunningham suggests pinpointing when and where to haggle.
Busy major shopping centres are unlikely to budge on prices on weekends when flooded with customers.
A more sensible approach is seeking out local shopping strips and smaller chains during quieter periods.
“You put yourself in a better opportunity to get some sort of discount. It’s not only asking the question but knowing your mark and picking your timing.
“[For example] the best time to buy fresh fruit and vegetables is on a Saturday afternoon at the markets because chances are they’re going to throw it out.”
Ask the question
Many people think banks are no-go zones when it comes to negotiating but Kirsty Lamont, money expert and director of comparison website Mozo.com.au, begs to differ.
Ms Lamont reports many borrowers saving up to 1.3 per cent on their home loans from haggling a better rate.
“A discount of about one per cent on the average loan size of $300,000 could save you around $2000 in interest a year.”
Play it cool
When bargaining, the subtle approach works best.
“Negotiating is almost like a game of cards or a game of poker,” Mr Cunningham says.
“It’s more around asking the questions as opposed to having any of the answers and let him or her tell you what the answer is.”
Mr Cunningham says many consumers lose focus.
“A lot of us have this high desire to be liked even if it’s by people we don’t know. We want the girl in the shop or the guy selling the car to like us. That sometimes overrides our need to get a good price.”
Use an expert
Haggling isn’t everyone’s forte and there are situations where engaging the help of a friend or professional is beneficial.
Whether it’s negotiating a new contract or buying a house at auction, bringing in an expert to strike a deal on your behalf could be better than going it alone and getting short changed.
Ms van der Vaart says while her ultimate goal is paying as little as possible the outcome needs to be win-win.
“I’m fair. I’m not asking for the unreasonable. I’d like to think that I look into prices with different shops and know how far I can push it.”
Mr Cunningham says consumers should realise they are in a position of power and if they aren’t happy with the price offered they need be prepared to walk away.
“The customer is way more educated than we were when I first started in business,” he says.
“If you’re negotiating with a retailer the aces are up you’re sleeve.”