Haggling: My Frugal Superpower!

When I was around 17 years old, my parents took me and my brother to Cairo to see the Great Pyramids. Having only ever been on holidays to a caravan in Wales when we were much younger, and then to the US for Disney and such when we got a bit older, Cairo was a huge culture shock. It was hot, busy, dirty, but at the same time welcoming and exciting and altogether not what we expected. But the one thing I will never forget, was the constant haggling, The art of haggling is engrained into the Egyptian culture, and as such was expected at every turn, and I mean every turn.

me mum and taxi driver in mosque
Our taxi driver on the left, dragging us to our third mosque that day

Early on in the trip we got hooked up with a taxi driver to take us to and from the hotel and some of the sights. Before long this guy was stopping off on trips to meet his “friends” at a local restaurant, take us to multiple mosques on one day despite not asking, and one time despite all being knackered, he dragged us to some kind of weird perfume shop (see the image at the top) where they really didn’t want us to leave until we bought something. One day we checked out the bazaars, and the guys running the shops would approach you if you even looked their way, attempting to get a sale. As Brits this culture was a fair shock to my parents. It even comes across as rude in some ways if you don’t know better. Altogether too late we realised that the haggling type could be reasoned with, and the only reason we got dragged to meet our taxi drivers friends at weird shops was because we never said no!

All of this may seem a bit unrelated, but it was a very early indicator to me that as Brits we are way too likely just to put up with whatever crap we are dealt. Additionally, it also suggested to me that by acting differently in a situation where everyone had a stiff upper lip, you could actually take people by surprise and get ahead, in the same way the taxi driver did with us in Cairo.

Haggling really does take practice. More than that, it requires you to get out of your comfort zone and act in a way unrelated to your true character. You have to build confidence in the art, and only then can you start to pull it off.

I don’t know exactly where I started haggling myself, but I invariably practiced the art on the phone to various service providers. Like the internet, speaking to someone on the phone where you can’t see their face is weirdly empowering. So I used this “safe” environment to practice.

I started out with things like my broadband and mobile phone provider, who have “retentions” teams specifically designated to try and keep people who are thinking of leaving. As it turns out these guys are literally trained to let you haggle them down on price, so I started doing it, and succeeding. Sky TV is well known for being receptive to haggling for instance. Before long my confidence was growing and I started haggling with people who didn’t expect to be haggled with, like insurance providers or banks. The real shock came when, exactly as our driver had found in Cairo, I was even more successful since these people didn’t expect or weren’t prepared for me to haggle with them.

These days I will haggle for absolutely EVERYTHING given half the chance. It has got to the point where I am so infrequently successful in getting some kind of concession, that I tend to walk away and go elsewhere if I can’t. One thing I have learnt is that there are very few situations where you couldn’t go somewhere else for something, and this is companies biggest fear when it comes to their consumers, so I use it. Haggling really has become my frugal superpower.

Here are my simple rules to haggling, that I have picked up over the years. I tend to go for a slightly different approach to some, but try it for yourself:

1. Humanise yourself

Ask the persons name, introduce yourself, make conversation, laugh with them, drop family related tidbits into conversation. “Oh sorry, just need to get my daughter a snack” or whatever. All of it helps to forge a connection in that persons mind, to humanise you, and ultimately get the other person towards your side of the line, more likely to see your side of things.

2. Be nice to start with

You won’t get anywhere if you get people’s backs up within minutes of starting the process. People tend to just shut down when you go in too hard too fast. Start slow and be nice.

3. Have an argument or defence prepared

Prepare your story, practice it in your head, do your research on the competition. Maybe you’ve seen a good deal somewhere else and want them to better it?

4. If you see the ability to move, keep pushing

Some hagglers stop or slow down when the other party budges. This is a valid approach if you want everyone to like you. In reality, you will probably never interact with this person again (address it differently if you will). But if they move, it’s normally a sign that they could in fact go further, so don’t take the pressure off.

5. Be assertive but not aggressive

There exists a point where I would start ramping things up from nice to assertive. You have to press your position, make it seem like you’ve been wronged or taken advantage of. However, don’t make the classic mistake (I’ve done it plenty) of slipping into aggression. You want to be calm, not raise your voice, let people speak, but also not back down, and make sure you are heard. Aggression just shuts people down.

6. Don’t be afraid to go all-in

This isn’t a game of poker in that you have no stake or bet on the table that you could lose. Normally the worst that can happen is that they don’t budge and you might need to consider paying full price. You literally have nothing to lose, so go all in, and…

7. If you don’t get anywhere, go elsewhere

Be prepared to walk away. If there is only one provider, try again another day or with a different individual. Obviously be careful of this if this is literally a single person selling something you can’t get anywhere else, but that happens so rarely.

I have even had some success with the billing guys at WordPress.com as I attempted to set up domain mapping for this blog rather than use one of their .blog domains. I signed up for the “blogger” plan at a cost of around £2 a month (used a code for 20% off SAVE20), thinking that this would get me the ability to domain map. In short, it didn’t. I contacted the support staff and explained my situation, asked what they could do, they came back with “please upgrade if you want to domain map anything but .blog domains”, I explained my situation again, to which I got the same response, I tried one more time to see if I could get any movement, and on the third attempt they offered me 17% off my upgrade. At this point I knew I could get more from them. Frankly, 17% as a discount sucks and by showing they could budge, I knew they were capable of more movement, and so I was gonna go all in to get them to budge more. So I again reiterated that the only reason I signed up in the first place was to get this domain mapping ability, and that if they couldn’t give me it, I would cancel everything and go elsewhere. I was only starting out after all. Within 24 hours the support staff had mapped the domain for me at no extra cost, and http://www.frugaldad.co.uk was live.

I will probably regret dumping where I eat, but to hell with it. If it benefits someone else reading this, then I’m ok with the repercussions.

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