Brokenomics: The Joy of Haggling

Advice & Stories, Featured Article, Living & Spending
on April 9, 2015
Haggling Tips

Pick up haggling tips from this excerpt from Dina Gachman’s perfectly practical (and equally hilarious) Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime—and don’t miss our Q&A session with Gachman, where she talks saving, splurging and resisting the urge to keep up with “The Joneses” (or the Kardashians, or the Carters). 


Haggling gets a bad rap. It shouldn’t just be reserved for the times you’re crossing back into California from Tijuana, still drunk from the Buttery Nipple shots you had the night before, trying to sweeten the price on that Elvis blanket you think you need. I haggle all the time—within reason. It’s not about being cheap; it’s about being frugal. There’s a difference. Keep in mind that whenever you’re haggling you need to be nice and calm and polite. No bullying, yelling, or threatening to call the authorities.

Here’s a rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to haggling:


Electronics/Computers. First, you should always get a warranty. But say it expired, or say it’s too late and you didn’t get the warranty and there you are at the Genius Bar. Here’s a trick I learned when I was laid-off and unemployed and I woke up one day to find that my laptop would suddenly only work if the screen was set at a forty-five-degree angle (I still feel a phantom pain in my neck whenever I think about it). When I finally went to the Genius Bar and was told it would cost $250 just to have someone look at my sad little laptop, I remained calm while I pled my case, and the very sweet, double-helix-tattooed employee leaned in conspiratorially and told me to call the 1-800 number and “use trigger words.” I asked what a “trigger word” was and he said, “‘Inconvenience.’ Use that a lot; it makes them feel guilty. And ‘corporate responsibility.’ That scares them.” And you know what? It worked. You can also tell them you’re a “loyal customer,” and say, “please.” You might want to spend some time practicing your pitiful, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” face in the mirror before going in for the kill. It can’t hurt.

Cable/Internet. There is no shame in haggling with behemoths like Time Warner Cable or Verizon. These aren’t mom-and-pop operations we’re talking about. If cable is an expense you feel is worth it, but the monthly rate mysteriously goes up (it happens—a lot) or you just want to see if you can get maybe $20 off your monthly bill, first cut to the chase and ask for a manager. If that doesn’t work, threaten to leave them for another provider and then sit back and listen to them type who knows what into their computer, crunch some numbers, and get your bill down. If your request is within reason, they’ll usually make it happen. The phone reps are humans with beating hearts, not corporate drones. If you do get a corporate drone, call back repeatedly until you get a real person. This may require patience and time, so clear your schedule.

Cars. You should always haggle with a car salesperson. It might not be fun, but it’s a must. Also, never, ever act impressed with anything they show you. Apathy is key here. Heated steering wheel? Who cares. Massage chairs and genuine leather from Italy? Whatever. Sculpted side mirrors? Lame. If you act excited about the bells and whistles, they’re less likely to get desperate and lower the price. Instead, act as if you’ve had heated steering wheels and rear-seat DVD players since birth. It’ll throw them off their game. You should also ask them to cover the cost of any registration and DMV fees, and try to get them to throw in the first month’s payment as well (as long as you’re putting money down). If they balk, in a very firm tone reply, “Well, I don’t want to have to walk out of here, but . . .” That’ll terrify them. They definitely don’t want you to walk off; they want you to drive off—in the car they’ve just sold you. And if you’re really freaking out, remember this: when buying a car, don’t listen to your heart; listen to the panic attack symptoms erupting all over your body. Then walk away and take a nap if you’re not ready. You’re buying a car, not a candy bar. Don’t sign the papers if your hands are shaking uncontrollably and you feel like puking in a nearby trashcan. And if they’re saying that the deal they’re offering will only last until midnight—they’re bluffing. Go home and think it over.

Late Fees. As long as you’re not constantly late, you can usually get a late fee reversed, whether you’re asking your credit card company, your bank, or your cable company. Just tell them it’s a one-time thing, you’ll never do it again, and thank them when they say, “OK, fine.” Then try to pay all your bills on time. Setting up a recurring payment should do the trick—plus you won’t have to deal with stamps or late fees.

Gym Memberships. Like car salespeople, gym managers are primed for a haggling session. See if they’ll knock off a portion of the registration cost or lower the monthly rate. If they’re being tough, tell them you’re going to march, jog, do plyometric hops, or sprint over to a rival gym. That should do the trick.

Furniture. If you’re buying furniture at Macy’s or Target, you’re definitely not going to get the price down unless it’s damaged or you’re dealing with a rogue salesperson who wants to stick it to The Man. But if it’s a privately owned shop, they’ll usually work with you, unless you’re being ridiculous. Don’t ask to pay $100 for a $4,000 couch. If you do that, I say they’re allowed to charge you $4,100 for the couch.

Bicycles. It’s perfectly acceptable to try and knock the price down when you’re buying a $400 bicycle. I don’t know how a Harley salesperson would feel if you tried to haggle, but if it’s a mountain bike or a Beach Cruiser or a unicycle, it’s worth a conversation. Especially if it’s a unicycle—it’s just one wheel! I’m not sure if that tactic will work, since I’ve never bought a unicycle, but you can try.

Mortgage Rates. Shop around, get quotes, make sure your credit score is stellar, and you should be able to talk about lowering things like processing fees. You can also keep renting so you won’t have to deal with all this crap. It’s your choice.

Other things worth a good haggle: salary, hotel rooms, garage sales (obvi), medical bills (you can at least get a payment plan), rental cars, eyeglasses, farmers’ market produce, art, and wedding costs. Good luck with that last one though—the wedding industry exists to tempt you and suck your bank account dry, so you’ll need superhuman haggling skills in this arena. Stay strong.


Restaurant bills (unless there was an insect in your food or the server slapped you across the face for no reason), school tuition (not happening), movie tickets (also not happening), ice cream cones, lemonade stand refills, Girl Scout cookies, a Slurpee, a game of blackjack, your taxes, a ticket to a charity event, a free lunch, a tattoo. I mean, they’re etching permanent ink into your skin with a needle—do not piss them off.


If you’ve offered to treat a friend, relative, lover, coworker, or any other human being on the planet to drinks or dinner or a piece of Key lime pie, never, ever haggle over the price in front of them—unless they’re your lifelong nemesis and you’re avenging a murder in an extremely wimpy way. Even then . . . probably not a good idea.

Excerpted from Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime, by Dina Gachman. With permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.

Don’t miss our Q&A with Dina Gachman, author of Brokenomics!

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