NEW YORK — Jeff Yeager likes to haggle. The Washington, D.C., author is something of a virtuoso at this lost art, with a deep playlist of tactics that he estimates saves him 10 percent to 15 percent a year on his spending.
“I try to negotiate on all sorts of things, every day,” Yeager says. “And the vast majority of the time, it’s a very positive interaction.”
Yeager, author of the recently published “How To Retire the Cheapskate Way,” is a bit of renegade. According to a survey by the magazine Consumer Reports, only 48 percent of us have tried to negotiate a lower price in the last three years. That’s down from 61 percent in 2007.
But here’s a tip: When you do decide to haggle, it can be a spectacularly successful strategy. According to Consumer Reports, almost 90 percent of those who took a stab at it got positive results and saved some cash.
So how do negotiation ninjas like Yeager get past this cultural norm — the idea that prices are set in stone — and secure fabulous deals where others cannot? We talked to a few experts and got these pointers:
1. Have an escalation script handy. When negotiating, there’s nothing wrong with having a playbook in front of you. In his book, Ramit Sethi, a personal finance expert and author of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” supplies word-for-word scripts for dealing with reps from banks, telecom providers or credit-card companies.
“If you’re asking about an overdraft fee and they won’t waive it, just go to the escalation script,” says Sethi. “You could say something like, ‘Boy, I’ve been a customer since 2006, and I’d hate to leave because of a $20 fee.’ Right there, you have a 70 percent chance of getting it waived.”
When Vancouver, British Columbia, newspaper columnist Laila Yuile escalated things with her cable provider recently, threatening to switch to a rival, she got some gift-wrapped savings, including a free HD box upgrade (worth about $100), a $22-per-month break on her monthly bills — and more cable channels to boot.
2. Know who has the power. There’s no point in trying to negotiate with someone who doesn’t have the authority to cut you a deal. That’s why a traditional bargaining tactic is to go higher up the corporate food chain, to a supervisor or manager, when seeking a discount.
One caveat: Don’t assume your first contact has no power. “I’ve noticed that more and more major retailers have been empowering their front-line employees, to keep you happy and cut you a better deal,” says Yeager. “It’s a tough economy, and they want the business.”
3. Get the timing right. Take a moment to think about when you’re trying to strike a bargain. Is it on a Monday, when people are generally crabby and customer-service reps have no real incentive to wrap things up? Or is it at the end of the week, when they’re trying to clear everything off their desks?
The same principle applies to the time of month. Is it at the beginning, when salespeople still have plenty of time to meet their sales quotas? Or at the end, when they need to make deals to impress the boss, and put dollars in their pockets to make the rent?
Indeed, some hagglers drill down even further. “I believe the best day to negotiate anything, from an insurance claim to a salary raise, is the Friday before a three-day long weekend,” says Yeager, who signs all his publishing contracts on Fridays. “Think about it. The last thing people want to do is spoil their own weekend, by leaving stuff unresolved.”
4. Do your due diligence. Asking for a deal is all well and good. But if you have some ammunition to back you up, even better. That’s because “80 percent of the work is done before you even step in the room,” says Sethi.
That can come in handy when asking for a raise. Researching average salaries for your position can be done with a few mouse clicks at sites like Salary.com or PayScale.com.
Research also helps for anything being sold at full retail price — which Yuile says she almost never pays. “The very first thing is to do is your homework,” she advises. “You research a store’s prices, then their competitor’s prices and finally the store policies to see if they match and under what conditions.”
5. Buy seasonally. Yeager once got $1,100 worth of perennial plants for $11. That’s right, $11. “Fall is a terrific time to get a deal like that, because the nurseries are closing up to make room for pumpkins,” he says. “Merchants just want to be rid of that stuff. So I backed up my pickup truck, said I’d take it off their hands right away and got it for next to nothing.”
Same goes with other merchandise. New car models starting to arrive on the lot? Dealers don’t want last year’s leftovers taking up valuable space. Appliance floor model been hanging around the showroom too long? Time to swoop in for a deal.
6. Be ready to walk away. If you absolutely have to buy something, the vendor retains all the negotiating leverage. If you don’t, then you have the power. So when Laila Yuile was negotiating to buy a brand-new GMC Sierra, she had no qualms about walking out the door.
“I went into the dealership three days before the end of the month, got the paperwork started and then walked out when they wouldn’t budge on the price,” she says. “The next day they called me — and offered another $3,500 off.”