When I was quoted for dental work about six months ago, I felt I should try to get a better rate. I just didn't feel comfortable haggling with my dentist to get it. So I enlisted a friend to do it for me. She works in the industry and felt comfortable asking for a 10-per-cent discount. I told her I'd pay her the difference between the original quote of just over $300 and the reduced rate, assuming I was able to hold on to the discount for future visits. She agreed, it worked, and it wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be.
I think most of us are probably better negotiators than we think and I'm certain that all of us would be happy to pocket the extra savings we'd get from making the ask and honing our haggling skills.
Yet only about one-quarter of us try bargaining while shopping, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey.
For those who do end up bargaining, there are rewards. More than 80 per cent of those surveyed who negotiated over clothing or jewellery and close to 70 per cent of those who negotiated over electronics or appliances reported success.
If negotiating results in such a positive outcome, why don't more of us do it? Maybe it's the worry that we'll be perceived as cheap or we'll get no for an answer. Or, it simply has to do with the fact that we don't know when, or how, to ask for a deal.
I wouldn't necessarily say everything is negotiable, but would agree that most things have wiggle room. Here are a few ideas to sharpen your negotiating tools and increase your chances of getting a good deal.
Share your shopping tips with Globe readers
Do your research in advance. Sites like www.shopbot.ca or pricecanada.com will help you compare prices and get a taste for what's out there before attempting to strike a deal. If you're looking to lower your car insurance rates, or lower your credit card rates, for example, visit a site like bankrate.ca to see how your card stacks up against the others. The more you know about what the competitors are offering, the more leverage you have when discussing options.
The key to negotiation is to figure out how you and the other party can both get what you want. Your motivation is likely earning more or spending less, but the motivation for those you are negotiating with will vary. If you're looking to save, then ask yourself, "What can I do for this person?" Friends recently purchased a new kitchen table from a boutique furniture store in Denver, and after realizing the owner didn't have anyone to move the table out and move the new inventory in, they offered to do the heavy lifting in exchange for a 10-per-cent discount. It worked and resulted in a savings of $180.
Pick the right time
Timing is a key element in the art of negotiating. Lifehacker.com recently compiled a list of the best times to buy everything - from furniture to wedding dresses, and candy to cars. If you know when retailers are looking to move items, you know when they are more likely to be motivated to make a sale and strike a deal with you.
Some of us love hunting for a good deal, playing hardball with the salesperson, and building in extra perks to our purchase for free. Others can be intimidated or even embarrassed at the thought of trying to haggle a lower price. If you fall into the latter category, do what I did and enlist someone to do it for you. By hiring friends and offering a fair incentive, you can save the time and stress of going it alone. Aside from enlisting another to negotiate on my behalf at the dentist, I've also used a friend at the car dealership. In return, I've negotiated on behalf of friends for things I feel comfortable haggling over, such as clothing and furniture.
If you're looking to bring in more money, you can set out to earn more or you can spend less. Negotiating will help you do both.
The big wins are ideal, but the small discounts on everyday items add up. For example, if you save 15 per cent on a $40 purchase, that's a latté on the ride home. If you save 40 per cent on a $4,000 purchase, that's an all-inclusive getaway this winter.
Test your skills the next time you're about to spend some of your hard-earned dough. Don't think of it as being cheap - it's smart. And if it's done right, then it can equate to significant savings in the long run.
We're probably better hagglers than we think. It's just a matter of flexing that muscle on a regular basis. And remember the idiom about catching more flies with honey when you negotiate for a better deal - patience and a positive approach will go a long way in creating a win-win situation.