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The Art of bargaining

I’m always on the lookout for a good bargain. My aunt from Italy is probably the best haggler I know. I’m not sure if that’s where I got it from, but it’s certainly where I learned where it was possible.

Every Thursday, her little town would hold a market in the middle of the piazza (city centre) that sold fresh food, clothing, electronics, you name it. In fact, every town across Italy has a day of the week set aside for the market. Your weekly town flea-market with some good quality items and some pretty bad knockoffs. Prices were almost always set artificially high, because they expect everyone to bargain them down.

Chandeliering for change

Well one Thursday, my aunt spotted this chandelier that she liked and asked the man “how much do you want for this?” It was nearing the end of the day and I’m sure the merchant wanted to get rid of what he could, instead of having to transport it back. But he stuck to his price – “100.000 lira”, he shouted. Now replaced by the Euro, it was equivalent of 100 Italian dollars or roughly $80 Canadian, at the time. Without hesitation my aunt says “I’ll give you 10.” The merchant looks at her, like she’s crazy and says “C’mon, I can’t do that… I’ll give you a good price…” thinks about it and comes down to 30.000 lire. Again my stubborn aunt insisted and kept to her price, shook her head and said “Look, I told you 10… either you take my $10 bill or I walk away”.

He said he couldn’t. Nor would I expect him to go lower, he was already offering a great deal. Or so I thought. I couldn’t believe it, as we starting walking away, the merchant called her back over, desperate for a sale and my aunt walked away happy with a brand new chandelier for a mere $10, down from $100. And no, that’s not a typo.

Now, for the most part, when it comes to bargaining, Europe is a whole different ball game. They’re used to it. It’s like a sport. A stark contrast to here, where everyone pays the set price and expects to get the price they see on the tag. But why? What if I told you, you could get great deals here in Canada as well, just for asking. You don’t need to be a good negotiator either, you just need to be patient, persistent or at the very least, present. In fact, I get a bit nervous myself, but for the money I’ve saved, it always pays off. Remember the worst they can say is no.

The rules of the bargain

Here a few easy steps you can use next time you’re looking for an appliance, piece of furniture or other big buy:

  1. Know your prices. Do your research beforehand. If there’s one thing I learned from my aunt, it’s before you hit the store, know what the price for it usually is and more importantly, how much you’re willing to pay for it. Remember most salesmen work on commission. If you’re happy, they’re happy.
  2. Make them know you’re interested in buying. This is one of the most important tips I’ve learned. Salespeople will turn to the next customer, unless they know you’re serious. So when I went to buy my new TV and entertainment system, I already prepped the salesman the night before. Made it known that I was in the market for a new TV and told him if he’d put together a good package, I’d promised him a good sale. When I approached him the next day, he knew I was serious and in turn, saved me well over $1000. Took a bit of bargaining, but it turned out he had plenty tricks of his own up his sleeve. Another tip I picked up from a friend, is when you’re telling the salesperson that you’re ready to buy, flash your cash or card. It’s funny how that works, but it’s all about making them know you’re serious.
  3. “Is that the best you can do?” This should be the first question you ask when a salesmen approaches you with a price. Remember no price is carved in stone.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask lower than they’re offering. Isn’t that the point of a bargain? It’s your money to be saved. You may never see that salesman again and maybe you will, but it still never hurts to ask. It’s funny when I think back, because I think I earned a great deal of respect from that TV salesman. Every time I go into the store now and he spots me, he rushes over for a quick chat, like we’re best buds. People generally want to help you, if you just let them. 
  5. If the salesman is reluctant to budge, ask for a manager. They’ll be able to move numbers around in ways the salesmen simply can’t. But be reasonable and reasonably polite. Or approach a different salesman. When I renewed my mortgage this year, three banks offered me a 5-yr fixed rate of 3.5%, which is a pretty good rate nowadays, but I wanted to see if I could do better. When I spoke to my own bank, the guy on the phone also wouldn’t budge. But days later I reached out to another rep from the same bank who got me the 2.99 five-year fixed rate I was looking for, without even asking. You know that saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Well, there’s a way.
  6. And ultimately, if you don’t get your way, walk. I’ve done it many times. Only to buy it at another store for a lower price.

Keep in mind, the smaller the item, the smaller your bargaining power! But it’s worth a shot. I scored a couple of memory sticks for an old camera for about 40% off, when I told the sales rep they were outdated, and he’d have trouble selling those. He hummed and hawed for a bit, but eventually gave in.

But bargaining isn’t just about the little things. Think cars, mortgage rates, wedding services. Ultimately, you’re in control of how much you spend. Why not make the best of it?

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