In first world countries, the prices in grocery and department stores are pretty much set in stone. You can’t convince the cashier to give you a better price. My wife and I visit the flea market on occasion, but even there the vendors don’t usually like to haggle. With most of them the price is what it is, take it or leave it.
This will change quickly after a major economic disaster. Buyers will be strapped for cash and vendors will be more desperate to sell, so people will have to compromise on prices at flea markets and swap meets. If you want to get a good deal, you’ll have to know how to haggle. Here are a few tips:
Pretend you’re poor. If times are tough, this might not be much of a stretch for you, but the point is to not wear your nicer clothes to the market. If looking good in public is important to you, you’ll just have to let it go. Wear some torn pants and a dirty shirt. Don’t spend a lot of time on your hair or makeup. Leave the jewelry at home. If the dealer thinks you’re doing well, he’s not going to lower his prices much.
Bring a list. Not only will this keep you focused, but you’ll also have the opportunity to say, “I don’t know. This isn’t even on my list.” (whether it’s true or not)
Shop in pairs. A large group usually looks well off. Part of this is because when a lot of people live together and split the rent, they have more disposable income. On the other hand, an individual can look more desperate and vulnerable. A pair is the happy medium between these two extremes. It also helps when your partner looks impatient and ready to move on while you’re still haggling. The vendor might pick up on this and lower his price faster in order to make the sale before you change your mind and leave.
Check other vendors’ prices. This is something you should be doing already. Say you’re shopping for a TV. You shouldn’t just go to Best Buy and pay whatever they want. You should also check Walmart, Target, other electronic stores, and online. This is even more important at a bazaar. But when you find the lowest price, don’t stop there. Go back to the person with the second lowest price and say something like, “So-and-so is only asking $20.” He might give you an even better price.
Offer half the selling price. So if the vendor is asking $100, say “Oh, sorry, I was only planning on spending $50.” Unless his first price is ridiculously high, this is a great place to start the bargaining process.
Ask for quantity discounts. For example, if shirts are selling for $6 a piece, ask if you can get two for $10. The vendor will usually do it because he/she will be happy to be selling more than one.
Ask for discounts on damaged products. Don’t be rude, but don’t be afraid to make a big deal about it either. It’s the vendor’s fault for selling products with defects. And if you complain, he might worry about future complainers and give you a discounted price just to get rid of it.
Take your time. Don’t go to the market expecting to get in and out in a half hour. Instead, plan on spending several hours there. It takes time to talk people down to good prices, so you’ll need to stay there for a while and be patient. Getting good deals is time well spent.
Don’t be afraid to say “No.” Try not to look too interested or the price will go up. Instead ask a lot of questions and act like you’re having trouble making up your mind. If they won’t give you the price you want, just say no and walk away. If it’s something you really need, don’t panic. You might find a better deal elsewhere and you can always come back. If you’re lucky, they might say “Wait!” and offer a lower price.
Be friendly but firm. There’s no need to be a jerk when haggling. The vendor is trying to make a living, just like you. Be polite, but don’t let him push you around, either. Again, don’t be afraid to say something like, “No thanks. Have a good one,” and move on.
Don’t be too cheap, either. If you offer $10 and he’s asking $100, it’s about as annoying as him asking $1000 for something that clearly is only worth $100. Get the best price you can, but be realistic. Otherwise he won’t want to waste any more time with you and will probably start talking to another potential customer.
Don’t stand for overly greedy vendors. This is related to the previous point. If you offer $100 and he demands $1000, say “That’s ridiculous. I’ll give you $90.”
Become a “regular.” If you find a vendor you like, it might be worth going back to him even if the next week someone else has slightly lower prices. It’s easier to get discounts from people you see every week.
Don’t bother with the sympathy technique. Some people might disagree with me on this, but in a post-shtf world, most vendors won’t have time for sob stories. They might feel bad for you, but they will have problems of their own and will usually still sell to a higher bidder.
Look for things your friends/neighbors need. Let’s say your neighbor really needs a cast-iron skillet and you find a really good deal on one. Go ahead and get it because later you can barter with your neighbor for something you need.
Beware of the “bait and switch.” Sometimes the items on display might be of a much higher quality than the ones they’re actually selling. If this happens, don’t be afraid to say, “No, I want the one on display or else I want a lower price.”
Have a good poker face. Some vendors are very good at reading microexpressions. If they can tell you’re anxious to buy something, they’re not going to lower their price much.
What to read next: 20 Ways to Save Money on Food