Haggling wasn't something that came naturally to personal finance blogger Cassie Howard.
"It took a long time for me to have the guts to actually try to negotiate with people, but with practice I've become much better and I think I'm pretty good at it now," said the 27-year-old behind MrsJanuary.com. The mother of two said she was reluctant to ask for deals because she didn't want to be seen as broke – a sentiment she now admits was "really ridiculous."
Ms. Howard, based in Mississauga, said she started out small at yard sales before aiming higher.
"My advice would be definitely to start with smaller purchases first. Don't try it on something like a vehicle or thousands of dollars worth of products right away, but with something like yard sales or even thrift stores," she said.
Eventually, Ms. Howard managed to buy two computers – one for herself and one for her husband – at a discount at Future Shop. She even got a new printer thrown in for free.
"The best thing in my opinion to do is to go to a store that offers their employees commission because then they're going to do whatever they have to do to get the sale," she said.
Kerry Taylor, who blogs about frugal living at Squawkfox.com, said it also took her a while to get up the nerve to negotiate.
Her first haggling experience was over a mirror for her bathroom. It had a scratch on it, and she managed to get a discount just by politely pointing out the flaw to a salesperson.
Ms. Taylor, who lives in Vernon, B.C., with her husband and baby daughter, said timing is key when asking for a bargain. Early in the day, salespeople will be less busy and will be able to give you their undivided attention. Late in the day, they might be under pressure to meet sales quotas, and may therefore be more inclined to sweeten the deal.
She said it's also important to know who to approach. Salespeople on the floor might not budge, but their managers might if you ask to speak to them.
Ms. Taylor also advises negotiation newbies to do their homework. Ask around to find out what a fair price for a product is and comparison shop amongst competing retailers.
"I've gone into stores many times with my husband's iPad and looked for a better deal on an item I was interested in and I found it right there in the store. I got an instant discount just by showing the competitor's website," said Ms. Taylor, 38.
"So I think that's a huge tactic people can now use because everyone's got a mobile device."
She said playing competitors against each other also works when it comes to negotiating better service plans for things like cell phones, cable, Internet and banking.
Whatever the negotiating tactic, Ms. Taylor said being nice gets you further than being a jerk.
"I think if you're just a positive person with a great disposition, these sorts of deals will land in front of you and you won't even have to work for them. It just happens," she said.
"Demanding a better deal is a sure-fire way to get the door shut in your face."
She said men are generally more comfortable with negotiation than women are.
"[Men] tend to see negotiation a little bit more as a game or as a competition, which is a type of interaction that women perceive as a little bit aggressive," Ms. Laschever said from Concord, Mass.
The irony is that women tend to be great negotiators because their approach tends to be more collaborative than adversarial. And that type of problem-solving often leads to better outcomes for all involved than a more combative one.
When it's on behalf of someone else – an employer, a client or a patient – women tend to excel in negotiation. But it's a different story when it's on their own behalf, Ms. Laschever said.
"Women don't negotiate more in part because they don't realize that they can negotiate," she said.
"They assume that a lot more things are kind of fixed – these are the rules, this is the price, and they just need to make the best of things."
And when women do negotiate, they tend not to aim high enough, she said.
Ms. Laschever recommends role-playing a negotiation scenario with a friend before trying it out in real life.
And then, start acting on the premise that everything is negotiable.
"It's really a radical experience to discover how much more is negotiable than you might have thought."