How to Haggle Like a Local (and Other Money Tips)

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In many foreign cultures (and in places outside of the industrialized world) haggling and bargaining for goods is a part of life. Most backpackers and travelers assume that the only things that can be haggled on are goods at the market. This is not true, and in many countries almost EVERYTHING is negotiable (it is usually only restaurants and buses that have fixed, non-negotiable prices).

For example, if you’re staying at the same hotel or guesthouse for more than a few days, you could try negotiating a discount. Lots of places will be happy to compromise, especially if it means you’ll be staying with them for weeks or even months. In addition to this, if the place you’re staying at looks empty (or if you’re visiting in the off-season), it’s a good idea to try and negotiate the first price they give you, as they could clearly use your business.

The Basic Dos and Dont’s of Haggling

The Do’s

Know how much the item SHOULD cost – You can work out a rough estimate of the price of an item by thinking about how much it might cost back home, then converting that price into the local currency. For example, you might see a picture frame that you want to buy in a Thai market. You estimate that at home something like that would go for around £10. £1 is roughly equal to 70 Thai Baht, so you would value that item at around 700 Baht.

Think BEFORE you start haggling – Some people see an item they like, and before they know it they’re in a full-scale haggling war. Before getting this far, remember that you’ll have to carry it with you for the rest of your trip, so think carefully about whether you actually want it.

fake clothingRealize that certain items will be fakes – There’s that old saying that goes ‘If it’s too good to be true, it probably is’, and this is certainly true with a lot of items you’ll find in markets. Things like sports clothing, electronics and name-brand clothing will probably be fakes, but so long as you don’t mind a fake there’s no problem.

Always haggle in good spirits – Remember that bargaining is not a hostage negotiation. It’s supposed to be fun, and you’ll do much better if you’re cheeky and cheerful.

Ask for a multi-buy discount – Oftentimes a merchant will have a minimum price in their head for an item that they will not break. If you find they’re not budging, ask if they’ll throw something else in for free, or ask if how much they’ll sell you two or three of them for (providing you even want more than one). This is a technique that can work from time to time and is certainly worth a try.

If in doubt, bring a woman to help! Merchants seem to give women better deals than men, so if you know a pretty girl (or if you ARE a pretty girl) you’re in luck!

The Don’ts

bargainingDon’t ever offer a price and then refuse to pay it – This is rule number one! Doing this is extremely rude and unfriendly. If you’re not sure if you want something or not, don’t offer a price for it in the first place.

Don’t let the merchant’s emotional pleas fool you – You’ll often hear about how they have 12 kids to feed, or watch as they start crying when you offer them a price you think is fair. They may well have 12 children, but such melodramatics are just part of their selling tactics in order to sway you over to their side.

Don’t come across as nervous when bargaining – Street vendors will perceive nervousness as a sign of a weak person. Try to act confident and act like you’ve been in this situation plenty of times before.

Don’t be too aggressive – Remember, these merchants are just trying to make a living just like everyone else, and are probably a lot poorer than you anyway. It’s okay to be playful and a bit cheeky, but if you’re TOO pushy and demanding they may tell you to leave as you’re not worth the effort.

hagglingDon’t flash the cash – Try getting large wads of cash out of your wallet right in front of a vendor and watch his eyes light up! You don’t want them to know how much money you have, as it’ll make haggling a lot harder if they know you’ve got a lot more money on you than you’re offering. Only get your money out AFTER a price has been agreed by both parties.

Don’t comment how ‘cheap’ an item is – You might think like you’re complementing the store’s owner by loudly exclaiming how cheap their wares are, but in many cases they’ll take this as an insult, and insulting them won’t help you when you’re trying to bargain the price down!

Haggling in 3 Easy Steps

If you take just one thing away from this guide, be sure to memorize these three steps:

  1. NEVER accept their first offer – When street vendors see foreigners approaching them, the starting price of any item instantly jumps up in price. They’ll assume that you probably want to haggle a bit, so they’ll increase the starting price, let you haggle it down a bit (till you think you’ve ‘won’) then laugh as you walk away (having paid over the odds for whatever they were selling).
  2. Half their offer – Once you’ve instantly rejected their first offer, start negotiations by halving the amount they quoted you. Most of the time, the merchant will try to laugh your ‘ridiculous’ offer off, but at least now they’ll realize you can’t be taken lightly and it gives you a starting point. It’s at times like this when you have to show (or at least pretend) that you aren’t TOO bothered about buying the item. In business negotiations, the person who wants ‘it’ less is the one who gets their way.
  3. Walk away – If they simply won’t budge on the price (and you’re not happy paying what they’re offering, act like you’re going to walk away. A lot of the time, they’ll be so desperate to make the sale that they’ll agree on your price or offer you a lower price.

Two Common Examples

Let’s take a detailed look at haggling for souvenirs and taxis (or similar transportation), as they’re two things that you can save a lot of money on (if you know how):

Taxis

  • Realize that not all taxis are the same. Some will have working meters, some will have ‘broken’ meters, and some won’t have meters at all. Before you get into a taxi, make sure the meter works, or agree on a price beforehand if they don’t have a working one.
  • Many taxi drivers will try to con you by not using their meter, and then charging you an extortionate amount when you arrive at your destination. This is why you shouldn’t get into a taxi cab before you’re both agreed on a price.
  • In some areas (such as China), taxi drivers will try and charge you double the agreed price once you arrive at your location, as they’ll state that your bags count as an extra person. Because of this, it’s important to clarify that the price you’re paying includes your baggage as well.
  • This same trick is often used on groups of people. They’ll quote you a price for the journey, then when you arrive they’ll tell you that was PER PERSON. Again, when traveling in a group, clarify this beforehand and be very specific.
  • 99% of taxi drivers are honest, hardworking people who see tourists as a source of easy money. There’s nothing wrong with this (why shouldn’t they try and make as much as possible?) and many of them can be extremely useful sources of information. In my experience, local taxi drivers have amazing stories to tell, so don’t be afraid to chat to them!

Souvenirs

  • As a general rule, it’s best to save your souvenir/gift shopping till the end of your trip. This is so you don’t have to carry them round with you the whole way, and it also means you’ll have a better idea of what’s available and how much it should cost. Obviously, if you’re visiting somewhere that sells cool souvenirs that you know you won’t be able to find anywhere else, don’t be afraid to splash out.
  • In built up tourist areas, there will be a lot of souvenir shops around (and they’ll often sell largely the same items), so shop around a few to get the best price.

In Summary

Remember the true purpose of haggling: It’s there so that both you and the person you’re haggling with can both walk away happy feeling that you got a good deal. Haggling isn’t about arguing for hours for the sake of it, so that you might save a meager five pence.

Haggling really is a skill, and like any skill it can be learnt and improved upon over time (and with practice).


Related posts:

  1. Cash, Credit Cards or Traveler’s Checks – A Guide to Handling Money Abroad




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