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How to Negotiate a Cheaper Price on Anything

4 tips to get salespeople to cave in

I believe it’s unwise to spend more than $500 on a purchase without sleeping on it. Advertising and salespeople try to get us to believe that if we don’t buy right away, we’ll miss out on a deal: The car will be gone or the time-share will be sold. Don’t believe them! There will always be another car, couch, or oceanfront condo. Nothing other than food, water, or shelter is absolutely necessary for life. Walk out the door. Have faith; they will chase you.

But don’t we sometimes need to buy something right away? What happens if your car breaks down? You’ve got to buy one right away, right? Wrong. You can rent a car at $30 a day for an entire month and it will cost you less than $1,000. As I’ve demonstrated, if you give yourself a little breathing room and eliminate the emergency, you can knock down the price of a new car by at least a grand, likely more.

3. Companies need your money more than you need their product or service.

Most of the things we buy aren’t critical to our existence. But companies need our money in order to survive. As long as your money stays in your wallet, you are in control. Advertising and high-pressure sales techniques are designed to create the illusion of scarcity and need for immediacy. The company will act as if it has  the power, but it’s really a dog on a chain. They can bark, but they can’t bite. As long as you keep your wallet shut, you lose nothing.

Remember that “spendy” hotel room I mentioned earlier? What I understood was this: If the hotel still had a room open for later that evening, the chances they’d book it in the next couple of hours were between slim and none. It may have listed for $439, but the value of that room for that night was sitting at zero if left un-booked.

The first thing I did was ask what the hotel’s best price was. The reservation agent chirped back with $329. That was a decent discount, but, I thought, maybe I can still do better. I said, “I’ll reserve it right now if you can give it to me for $219.”

There was a pause.

“Just a minute,” she said, and put me on hold. (You and I know I would have taken the $329—and she could have just said, “No.”) She returned to the line within 30 seconds and accepted my offer.

4. Give them a reason to be nice to you.

We don’t negotiate with companies. We negotiate with people. People are nice to people they like. 

On my way back from New York, I was in my good suit and facing a seven-hour flight. I walked up to the gate agent and explained that I’d sat on the tarmac for three hours the day before and would greatly appreciate a business seat if one became available so that I could catch up on some sleep. I smiled, used her name, and was polite. I thanked her for doing “anything she could to help a weary traveler.”

You might say, “That’s too corny to work.”

Nope. First of all, it was the truth. Second, kind words, a smile, and a good story can often inspire the best in people. Five minutes before we boarded, the agent handed me a business-class ticket and said, “I really shouldn’t do this, but you were so nice about things.”

Do the math: It was a $1,200 smile.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid for.

You may also like: 10 shopping tips for yard sales, thrift stores. >>

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