The Art Of Haggling

Mayan calendar
Mayan calendar

Everything is negotiable….and when trying to snag that amazing sarong in Bali, Mayan calendar in the Yucatan, or Venetian mask…no one wants to break the bank. At home or traveling you would be surprised how much money you can save if you master the art of haggling. I’ve saved money on everything from cell phone bills, to souvenirs, to hotel rooms just by using some smart negotiating skills. With a little practice and a good grasp of the basics anyone can do it. So here are my pearls of wisdom when it comes to haggling.

  •     Value – one of the most important, if not THE most important tool in haggling… is knowing the value of what you are trying to get.  Say you are walking around a market and immediately you see a piece of local pottery you just have to have.  You ask how much and the salesman quotes you some ridiculous number that you just accept…because you don’t know any better.  How do you avoid this? Gain a little knowledge.  If you are headed to a destination and know it’s famous for something….and your probably going to buy that magical “something” do a little research to see average prices are on the web.  If you’re already there and have no internet access walk around the general area (especially if its a market or other shopping center) and see if anyone else is selling the same thing to price compare. Also be aware of what the local currency is worth and use common items as a gauge. I always use a can of Coca-cola since its pretty much everywhere.
  •     Culture – most places bartering/haggling is the norm, but occasionally you will run into a group, country or situation where haggling is considered bad taste.  Always keep aware of local traditions so as not to offend.
  •     Attitude – attitude is everything when trying to get the best deal.  Smile, be friendly, and don’t get angry.  Everyone likes a smile and a lot of the time it will get you a better deal.
Market in Peru
Market in Peru

The Process – You’ve figured out what you want, you know what it’s worth, and you are ready to get down to the nitty gritty. Follow these steps.

  1.     Know how much you are willing to pay before you even start. Example: You want a hat in the market, the street value or going rate is $10, but you’re willing to pay $8.
  2.     Ask how much the item is and expect a high price.  Example: You ask how much the hat is knowing that most vendors around the market are selling for $10….and the merchant tells you $12 because he can tell your a tourist.
  3.     Be cool, calm, and collected. Act like your pondering the price, shake your head no, and low ball (Definition: Low balling is offering a really low price).  Low balling lets the guy know your playing the game.  There is a difference between low balling and being ridiculous.  My general rule of thumb when low balling is offering between half and 2/3 of the value.  Example: He says $12 for the hat above…the value is $10…and you say “$12 is to much I’ll give you $6 for it”
  4.     Read the response for clues.  Occasionally the merchant will accept the low ball and your job is done. Sometimes they will fake being offended and may even act like they are physically taking the item away.  Sometimes they are truly offended, but that’s rare…especially if you are being friendly and smiling. Whatever their response…be cool…and DO NOT offer another higher offer yet. Wait until the merchant comes back with another price.  If he doesn’t give one move on to another vendor or come back later and try again. Example: You low ball at $6 and he fakes offended…but then comes back with an offer $9.
  5.     At this point you should be at the street value or below it. So your either breaking even or already saving a little.  Your almost there, but the merchant is not quite at the price you want so…you throw out a price slightly lower than what you want to pay for the item and turn as if to walk away.  The walking away step is crucial.  You must always be prepared to walk away.  He who cares least wins.  Example: You say no to the $9 and offer $7 (one dollar less than what your prepared to pay $8) as you turn your body as if to walk away.
  6.     Finally, at this point the merchant will either hold firm or counter at a lower price (which should be about what you were willing to pay from the start) If the merchant holds firm you have to make the decision whether or not to walk away or accept the price. Or you can do what I do and actually start to walk away, but slowly. A good percentage of the time the merchant will drop the price again.
  7.     Don’t be the guy who tries to constantly low ball. The goal is to meet in the middle. Everyone needs to feel like they won in a haggle.  The vendor got a sale, you saved a little money, and everyone is happy.  Constantly low balling is insulting and you’ll get a bad response…because frankly that’s not how its done.

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