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The Secret to Saving on Practically Anything

Appliances, clothing, even groceries—many items can be had for less if you follow these expert negotiating tips.

Sure, you can negotiate the price of a house or a car. But have you done the same for an appliance? Or a sofa? Or a big-screen TV? Or a steak?

Yes, you can negotiate on these and other products as well—as long as you realize how motivated a manager or owner is to sell them. While less than one-half of shoppers attempt to bargain on everyday goods and services, nine out of ten who do will save money, according to Consumer Reports. “You’re looking for the middle ground between what a company wants to make and the rock-bottom price you have in mind,” says consumer expert Teri Gault, author of Shop Smart, Save More. “Retailers work hard. But I’m working hard for my money too. That’s when the art of making a deal comes into play.”

To get the most—for as little as possible—consider these tips:

Be nice. There’s no reason to become confrontational while haggling. You’re far, far more likely to succeed if you present your case while pleasantly engaging sales staffers and/or store managers. “Don’t criticize or otherwise put down products,” says Gault, who is also CEO of TheGroceryGame.com. “I always speak positively about what I’m seeking to purchase, and negotiate in a respectful manner.”

Buy in bundles. When you combine two or more items, you gain leverage to cut the overall cost. “I was buying a 42-inch, high-definition TV and DVD player and asked the salesman if he could knock off $100 if I bought both right there and then,” says Kyle James, owner and founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com, a coupon site which also posts advice about personal finance and consumer savings. “He went to his manager and asked. Within a minute, he came back and said they could reduce the cost by $75.”

While this may represent a best case scenario, James says you can expect to save about 10 percent off store-listed prices through bundling.

Do your homework. Find great bargains from the “online only” companies and print out the most favorable ones—not just for cost, but for warranties, free shipping and tax-free transactions. Then, go to your business of choice with the research. You’ll want to work up the “food chain” to get to a manager who has authority to deal. “Tell the manager you don’t want to buy online because you prefer to shop in a place with ‘real people,’ and that you enjoy going to this store,” Gault says. “Explain that you’d like some kind of discount. They’ll either match the price, or meet you halfway.”

Look for returns, floor models, overstocks and ‘abandoned’ special orders. Consumers return items for a wide range of reasons—many of which have nothing to do with quality—and that detracts from their ‘brand new’ value. Meanwhile, from a business perspective, overstocks and special orders that are never picked up simply represent excess inventory taking up valuable space. “Usually, they’re marked with special tags to tell you they’re returned products or overstocks,” James says. “Start negotiating at 20 percent off, and be prepared to meet down the middle.” Similarly, floor models may contain a scratch or some fingerprints, but they generally work great and are subject to haggling.

Take advantage of ‘sell by’ dates. It’s standard operating procedure for supermarkets to mark down produce on ‘sell by’ dates, given that the grocer has only one day to clear it out. But there are opportunities before that day for dairy, baked goods, meats and anything else with an expiration date. “I’ll see a huge overstock of a certain type of meat with tomorrow’s date on it,” Gault says. “I’ll say to the butcher, ‘I notice you have four times the usual amount of pork chops with tomorrow’s date on it. Do you need to unload those? I would take eight of them if you could mark them down.’ Sometimes, they’ll do so a day ahead. So I’ll stock up on the meat and either cook it that night, or freeze for later.”

‘Whittle down’ the big ticket. Do you suffer from sticker shock when looking for big-screen TVs, furniture, appliances, jewelry, etc? Then reduce the pain factor by talking the retailer down. Sales reps stand to make a ton of commission on big-ticket items, so they’re highly motivated to sell. “I saw a $180 stool in an office furniture department,” Gault says. “I worked my way up the chain to the manager, telling everyone there about how much I loved the stool, but could I get a discount? Eventually, the manager said, ‘I’ll give it to you for $120.’ ”

Ask for ‘stuff.’ Dropping phrases such as “Can we knock off the tax?” or “Is free delivery available?” or “Could I have this assembled for me?” often result in a “Yes!” Retailers pay sales taxes, for example, but might be willing to mark it down. “Same for free delivery and assembly, as well as treatments like the expensive stain guard they offer when you buy furniture,” Gault says. “All of these things can be bargained down, or given away. You just need to ask.”

Pay cash. Merchants get charged fees when you use a credit card. “If you offer them cash in hand,” Gault says, “you save them money on a transaction.”

Point out flaws. While you don’t want to disparage merchandise, you can kindly draw attention to various chips, markings and other imperfections. Most managers will discount these items. “If you see a shirt which is missing a button but you still want it,” Gault says, “you can save 10 percent.”

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