Haggling For Hot Dogs
December 18, 2009 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Haggling For Hot Dogs: Where Tom Chiarella of Esquire decides to try and negotiate the price of everything he wants for 3 months.
posted by reenum (60 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a great article; I read it a while back. Kind of surprised it hasn't been posted here before.
posted by uaudio at 8:28 AM on December 18, 2009


This reminds me a lot of a MeFi FPP about a man who took a huge roll of twenties to [large city] to see what kind of things he could grease his way into. My googlefu fails me, but I think it might also have been an Esquire (or similar) piece.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2009


This is the same guy who did the "Tip everybody a $20" article that mullac linked to once (maybe there was a entire thread too?). He's like the Malcom Gladwell of everyday transactions.
posted by nowoutside at 8:30 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


That might have been what I remembered. I've read both.
posted by uaudio at 8:31 AM on December 18, 2009


Yes, that's the one, nowoutside. I suspected from the writing style that it was the same guy.

On the one hand, it's interesting to see how far you can get with haggling/tipping. On the other, it's hard to fight my knee-jerk "Christ, what an asshole" reaction.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:34 AM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Not done reading it yet but:

"I ordered my dog -- his first sale of the day, I knew. He poked around in his vat and drew one out. Younger than I, this was a man working without thinking, without even looking my way. I decided on the direct approach, no bullshit, to make him snap to, just to see what it would get me.

"Any chance you'd knock a buck off that price?" I said. He stared at me so hard, I couldn't focus on the city moving behind him. "First dog of the day?" I said. "You know, special sale?" He held the hot dog over its bun as if the next thing I said might make it drop.

"First what?" he said, not looking pleased.

"You know," I said. "First-hot-dog special." He glared at me. "Jump-start things. It would be good," I said, without being certain of any retail equation that supported the assertion, "for everybody."

"Fuck no," he said. He looked me up and down. "Why? You don't have money?"

I shrugged. Of course I had money. He knew that much. There was a five-dollar bill pinched in my fingers even now. I crumpled it down, hoping he wouldn't see. It had been perhaps twenty seconds since the deal was put on the table. I had made so many mistakes that I simply wanted to rewind time to the point where I was back in Starbucks, thinking I had everything figured out. I could see a new strategy, a new family of strategies, becoming clear to me. Open with a little banter. Leave the money in the pocket. Wait till the dog is in the bun.

I pointed to the hot dog. "It doesn't look all that good," I said, hoping, I guess, that he'd take a look at what he was offering the world -- a mere hot dog -- and capitulate.

"What?" he said. "It's a hot dog."


This guy is awful at haggling. First he makes the poor vendor make the hot dog before haggling and then he insults the food. When I tried haggling for a hot dog in NYC I just told the guy that I can only spend a dollar and if I can get a hot dog. The guy thought about it and then said yes. It took about 30 seconds and didn't involve forcing the guy to choose whether or not to throw out the hot dog he just made or to sell it for a lower price nor did it involve me telling the guy that the food didn't look good.
posted by I-baLL at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


Note to garage saler and flea market entrepreneurs: There is a huge subset of people who not only will not haggle, they won't even ask a price. When you fail to mark things clearly, they just move on. Whatever you gain in "maybe they'll make me an enormously larger offer than I would have marked it as" you lose in lost volume sales.
posted by DU at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


This guy is awful at haggling.

I don't really like this guy or his take on journalism, but you missed the point here. He was intentionally illustrating your very assertion since that was his first attempt at haggling. It might be a sign of a damaged attention span. that you can't finishing the article without clicking back to proffer some quick commentary.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:41 AM on December 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


my dad does this stuff.... it's so annoying
posted by rebent at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have terrible editing skills.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:44 AM on December 18, 2009


mathowie, would you mind knocking a buck off my sign-up charge? MetaFilter doesn't look all that good...
posted by mazola at 8:46 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I got a deal on my sign-up charge, but it's because I register Astro Zombies in volume.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:56 AM on December 18, 2009


Everything is open to negotiation. Everything.

Including the price for me not soaking you in gasoline, watching you burn, then mailing small packets of your ashes to everyone else who thinks this is a good idea with a flowery card saying "You're next, bub."

I mean, I just want a freaking hotdog. I don't want to have to stand behind some cheap-ass asshat looking for special treatment. Imagine what the beer and hotdog counter would be like at half-time if everyone pulled this jack-ass stunt.
posted by bonehead at 8:59 AM on December 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


This guy is awful at haggling.

The point is that this was his first attempt, and yes, he was awful then. But he improved. And the concluding anecdote, of course, involves a free hot dog.
posted by Perplexity at 8:59 AM on December 18, 2009


Note to garage saler and flea market entrepreneurs: There is a huge subset of people who not only will not haggle, they won't even ask a price. When you fail to mark things clearly, they just move on. Whatever you gain in "maybe they'll make me an enormously larger offer than I would have marked it as" you lose in lost volume sales.

Thank you! And this extends to all retail transactions. I think concealing prices is a form of passive-aggression.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:02 AM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I spent last Winter in Amsterdam, and the night my friends and I we were in the Redlight District, we thought it'd be a fun idea to haggle with prostitutes. We all had girlfriends at the time, so harmless fun, right?

Firstly, we were amazed by how attractive a lot of the women were. Intimidated, in fact. So much so, that we had to head back to the bars and get ourselves drunk.

With renewed confidence, we set our plan into action. We began with a little field research: prices ranged from the novice 30€ to the professional 300€. "Why are you charging so much? What makes you special?" -- "If you don't know who I am or like my asking price, fuck off!"

We had one timid friend who still never got the courage to talk to any of the girls. That changed when we came across a window with two, sharp-featured, attractive Eastern European women giving us the come hither, and we pressured him to finally step up. They seemed to really put him at ease, and that made him dangerously debonair. Just to fuck around, he said, "I'll take a double suck-and-fuck for 50€!" The girls looked at each other and nodded. Without hesitation, they took his hand and dragged him into the room. The last thing we saw was his Jim Halpert-like shrug as the curtain closed.

I can't argue with his actions over the course of the next 15 minutes, because I would have feared getting my ass kicked at that point too. Harder still was having to answer to his girlfriend when I impulsively answered the phone. "Oh, ****, yeah, uhh....he's getting a quick double suck-and-fuck for 50 Euros. No, just kidding, he's passed out from a round of hash we just smoked. I'll have him call you when he comes to."

That fucker had a mile-wide grin when he came out.

Anyway, point is, yes, you can haggle anything.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


Ok, I already know I'm damaged goods as I spent years working in Africa and The Middle East, but I love to haggle!

Mrs Mutant isn't super keen on it ever since I haggled for free deserts with a restaurant manager in front of her family while out in Vegas. Haggling, you see, is very un-Dutch. Oh yeh, I guess I should mention, we were getting married but they forgot our deserts then compounded the error by letting us order (for a second time!) deserts they didn't have in the back, and deserts they had to go get from their other branch.

Half an hour later, desertless, I asked the manager for the address of head office to file a complaint. I wasn't nasty or anything, I never am in these situations as its just business and the manager saw it that way too, so we cut a deal for free deserts but the Dutch contingent of our clan were a little rattled by this and other instances of haggling. So now this has largely been relegated to a secret pleasure. But I just can't stop myself; anything I can negotiate I will.

One thing I love about living in London and being able to purchase most of our fresh produce from street markets is haggling is almost expected! And if you're flexible in terms of what produce you're willing to purchase & consume, the street markets in here Whitechapel are a frugal way to get fruit and veggies. The typical deal is one pound for a rather largish bowl of whatever it is they are selling. Usually works out to maybe two / three bundles of grapes, perhaps ten tomatoes, half a dozen peppers, etc.

Criticise the quality of the produce and they'll usually toss in a couple extra peppers, whatever for free. Ask them to top off the bowl and they'll usually do so without an extra charge. If they balk I then purchase a second, both topped off, naturally. Also I try to shop towards the end of the trading day as they'll very often give you two bowls for one pound rather than take the stuff home with them.

Always be nice to these people! They're just trying to earn a living and they are far, far better hagglers now then you or I will ever be. So I always make sure I joke around and even if we don't do a deal I like to think I've made their day a little better.

And these vendors also sell soap and other household goods, but before you haggle and buy anything from the street make sure you know what you're looking for, and you damn well better have compared prices to the major retailers. Sometimes you can get an items on sale at Sainsburys far lower than the street vendors and vice / versa. Generally it depends on what you're buying and when, but stuff like toilet paper is almost always about one third of what the stores want, and I buy a lot of it at one time to get it even cheaper.

Sainsburys will negotiate as well - just ask for a manager. I've cut deals with them when I've come in and they didn't have an item that was advertised, generally getting better quality goods at the advertised (much lower) sale price. I've even cut deals at M&S (bought seven cases of champagne for my team at the bank during Christmas). Again, just ask! No harm in trying.

Clothes at street markets are a great favourite of mine, but be prepared to purchase a lot in one go and haggle haggle haggle. For example: I usually try to negotiate my best price for one shirt, making sure I take a long time, maybe twenty minutes, to do so and only after I've asked lots of questions about the shirt / material / stitching / etc.

Then after I've gotten the money out and the vendor has seen the cash, even as she/he is making change I casually ask the price for two, making sure they discount the combined price a little, and on and on. You can scale this up quickly, but a lot depends on the personal connection you can create with the vendor. Win / win is key.

Depending upon the stall, what you're buying, and how badly the vendor wants to cart their crap home with them, you can get 20% or even more off the single unit price. Best I ever did was 40% off but I had to purchase twenty shirts cash deal. Took me about one hour to negotiate, but it was a quiet Saturday afternoon, that stuff wasn't flying out of his stall, and I pointed that out to him a couple of times. We cut a nice deal.

I liked the article but this guy was definitely small time; the best deal I ever negotiated in absolute terms was when I took the QM2 to New York in 2005. Cunard claims they won't deal but that's bullshit. When that boat leaves Southampton those cabins are going, empty or full. Since Cunard makes a crap load of money off a paying customer (booze, etc) and none off an empty cabin, as departure day approaches they'll cut a deal. If you can be flexible about your departure day you'll get best price. We booked less than two weeks before that ship departed.

I got two tickets for a B deck balcony equipped room, list price £2495 each for £1200 per ticket flat, but, as the author correctly points out, you've got to give something back. In my case I had to purchase limo service on the New York side as well as First Class upgrades for the BA flight home, but it was worth it as we still did the trip for less than listed price each.

But I'll telll you for thrills the best deal I ever did was those shirts here in London. I'm still wearing them four years later, in fact I've got two still in the pack and I can't help myself, but I feel a little tingle everytime put one on.

What else can I say? Its a cheap thrill.
posted by Mutant at 9:06 AM on December 18, 2009 [15 favorites]


The great thing about haggling is the way it ends up re-inserting relationships and equality of dignity into otherwise alienated buyers and sellers. The bad thing is that it raises costs for everybody involved, but this can sometimes be a good thing, when you're not a status-conscious hagggled looking for a deal like it's a trophy. A purchase is already an instrumental moment: there's nothing wrong with treating the seller like a person and seeing if they'll pay for that treatment, if there's something they want more than money.

Indeed, it's quite often the case that there's something they want more than the money or time their goods or services cost them: the example he gives of the streetsweeper doing three passes in exchange for the author getting all his neighbors to move their cars is a perfect illustration. The streetsweeper doesn't know the neighbors, so he can't get the people to move their cars without a tremendous hassle. In comparison, two extra sweeps is cheap to him. Each has something the other wants, and can't get as easily on their own. Voila: an exchange that increases overall welfare!
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:07 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't enjoy doing that. He hasn't saved enough money to offset the damage to his soul.
posted by cccorlew at 9:11 AM on December 18, 2009


my dad does this stuff.... it's so annoying

Yeah, both this article and the bribing-with-a-twenty article definitely make the dude sound like the kind of dad who thinks he's King Clever while his high-school age daughters are standing uncomfortably behind him, slowly sinking their shoulders down, praying that none of their friends are anywhere nearby to see this, maybe even going so far as to mouth "sorry" to the clerk.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:14 AM on December 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


Again, just ask! No harm in trying.

Yes. I'll always ask "is this the best you can do?" or "is there a discount for cash" or something like that, in almost any transaction that isn't at the grocery store. Surprisingly often, people say yes. There's no need to be a dick about it, but there's no shame in negotiating, either.
posted by Forktine at 9:15 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]




I just spent a bunch of time over in Hong Kong(my Dad works over there) and everyone haggles ALL THE TIME. The first Mandarin word I learned was "Tài guì le" which means "It's too expensive!"
posted by OrangeSoda at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2009


I save most of my haggling for craigslist purchases, but have had good luck there.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:23 AM on December 18, 2009


This guy is awful at haggling.

He gets better, and by "better" I mean he spends his vacation haggling with a car rental agency just to prove he could come out ahead in the end, instead of doing what most other people do and leave their keys on the beach and enjoy the time with their family.

I understand there's probably a thrill in getting a better deal, but there's a time and place for that. On vacation, with your only source of transportation: you're being a dick to your family and the rental agency. On vacation, in the local tourist market: have at it.

I'm frugal, and I thought this article was exciting at first. "You mean I can discuss the price down? I'll do it!" And then I told my wife about it. Her response was much like rebent's - I'd be an annoyance, not a dashing fellow who is saving us money.

The one time I successfully haggled was for two vintage necklaces. They were big and flamboyant, and my wife loved them. But they would be suitable for few other women, because they were so showy, and I told the seller as much. I appreciated the work in them, and how unique they were, but I told him I thought few other people would find them more than an interesting curiosity, and asked if he could drop the price. "I'll take a hundred off," he said. "Off each?" I asked? "Hm, OK" he said. At that moment, my wife was proud of me (though I imagine I'll hold on to this memory longer than she will).

I'm not gambling my vacation on the chance of getting a free car rental, but I'll try to pay less for luxury items, and I think my wife is OK with that.

I just spent a bunch of time over in Hong Kong(my Dad works over there) and everyone haggles ALL THE TIME. The first Mandarin word I learned was "Tài guì le" which means "It's too expensive!"

Some cultures treat haggling as part of the regular daily trade. Others look at the sticker price as the price, end of discussion. I haven't thought of asking for the manager to haggle the price, but I might try when I'm on my own (thanks Mutant!)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:25 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The great thing about haggling is the way it ends up re-inserting relationships and equality of dignity into otherwise alienated buyers and sellers.

What are you talking about?

No. Just... no.

You're telling me that you think I'm gouging you, and that I can surely afford to sell for less because you're special.

Walking up and saying "I think I'm such a kick-ass guy that I can stand here and waste your time fucking with your livelihood" is really not a boon to the benighted retailer that lies awake all night just champing at the bit to haggle over a pack of gum. They don't stand in their shops desperately hoping that some penny-pinching chiseller will come in and try to keep them from making a profit from their labours. Nobody is praying that a silver-tongued devil will come into their store and charm them into a discount with their dazzling fucking wit.


If you want to re-insert a relationship and equality of dignity to the retail process, try smiling.
posted by Shepherd at 9:26 AM on December 18, 2009 [23 favorites]


"I think concealing prices is a form of passive-aggression."

The saying my wife and I always use is "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

So we don't ever ask.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you want to re-insert a relationship and equality of dignity to the retail process, try smiling.

No kidding. If you are looking to retail transactions to save the collapse of social interaction, UR DOING IT RONG.
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


It seems perfectly fair to me. Like when a seller get to eyeball a particularly flush-looking punter coming their way, hide the price list and tell them everything's a few quid dearer.

That's reasonable too, right? So long as they're not a dick about it I mean. The guy wants a sausage in a bun, he's wearing good clothes, holding a twenty. Obviously he can afford a little more than three quid. Seller rounds it up, calls it five. Just good business sense. Silly to do otherwise really.
posted by Lorc at 9:40 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


As someone who has been behind the counter, and dealt with hagglers, this guy is a prick.

Look, maybe at a mom-and-pop business where you're dealing with the guy who actually sets the prices, you can haggle. At a retail store, you pull that, and you're just driving everyone nuts.
posted by SansPoint at 9:54 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I worked in a furniture store we got hagglers all the time. The problem was that our prices were solidly set from on high, but customers so often pitched hissy fits about how we were robbing them that sales staff was taking to intentionally declaring everything damaged because you could force a sale because the customer thought he was putting one over you.
posted by Phalene at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"You want how much to print Christmas cards of my naked family? Is that the best you can do? But everyone loves my cards! And we're baking cookies!"
posted by bondcliff at 10:02 AM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


As a socially awkward introvert, I've always been to shy to try haggling. The thing that frustrates me about it though, is that in situations where it's perfectly acceptable to haggle (say flea markets/antique sales) I feel annoyed that other people might be getting much better deals than I am for paying the sticker price. It's my problem not the hagglers, but it's almost enough to make me try "What's the best you can do?"
posted by drezdn at 10:09 AM on December 18, 2009


If you have to haggle, you can't afford it.

I would have mentally garroted this fuckstain if he was in line ahead of me.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:17 AM on December 18, 2009


Why does he describe Greencastle as his "hometown"? The guy might teach at DePauw but his facebook and wikipedia profile says he did his undergrad at St Lawrence. I very much doubt that a guy who claims to have grown up in a neighbourhood where the Irish kids picked on him for being Italian (see "75 things") grew up in Indiana- where this sort of ethnic charmingness never happened, not even my ethnically diverse Hammond where I grew up, at least not in the 1970s. He also went to a college in upstate NY that has students from pretty much just the northeast, so no way did he actually grew up in Indiana.

How does a professional writer not understand what "hometown" means?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:29 AM on December 18, 2009


The great thing about haggling is the way it ends up re-inserting relationships and equality of dignity into otherwise alienated buyers and sellers. ... there's nothing wrong with treating the seller like a person and seeing if they'll pay for that treatment, if there's something they want more than money.

I get that we're talking about America for the most part, but haggling in no way glosses a capitalist monetary exchange with dignity. Read Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, which cants the haggling power dynamic, specifically in poorer post-colonial islands, exactly where it should me: in the hands of rich, white tourists who look at the goods sold by natives as tricks to be sussed out, prices to be docked down, codified humiliations for naive tourists who will pay $10 for a beaded bracelet when it's really only worth $4.

Sure, in some countries it's considered acceptable to haggle, but when the power dynamic is painfully skewed--whether it's Mr. Boise, Idaho vs. a Haitian bead-maker or an upper-class magazine editor vs. a hot dog vendor--there's not much dignity to salvage.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Haggling works best when there's no definite price. I've successfully haggled with trading card dealers, because asking, "Will you take $35" on a card labeled "$40" forces them to ask whether another buyer will come around offering $40 any time soon. And of course, they can flip that $35 into much more right away.

Haggling also works in places like Best Buy where the prices are constantly changing and shifting. Is the TV worth the $700 it's labeled now? Of course not! It was $800 last week, it'll be $600 next week on sale, and replaced by another model in 3 months.

The problem is trying to haggle on a good that is sold in bulk, and where your deal might have repercussions for future sales. If a guy sells 100 hot-dogs a day, he doesn't need to let you haggle. That, and if he even lets you, all the other customers are witnesses and will want the deal. Better to say "get lost," lose the one sale, and maintain the profit margin.
posted by explosion at 10:56 AM on December 18, 2009


Mobile Phones Become Essential Tool for Holiday Shopping
"Powerful software applications for devices like the Apple iPhone are making it easy for bargain-hunting consumers to see if another retailer is offering a better deal on a big-screen HDTV or pair of shoes and to use it to haggle at the cash register."
posted by ericb at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2009


A lot of the talk about haggling being unacceptable in chain retail stores is bullshit. I can clearly remember telling the guy in Curry's in Glasgow that I would only buy the console if he threw in an extra controller and a scart lead (which he did).

Then again, it was a Sega Saturn so what the fuck do I know?
posted by ClanvidHorse at 11:00 AM on December 18, 2009


I just remember trying to find out the price of a nice kurta on Devon street, Chicago's "Little India". It was very nice, and I expected that it would be outside of my price range, but I wanted to see if it was something I could save up for.

That was not how things were done, apparently--the only answer to "How much is this lovely kurta?" was, "Oh, it looks so nice on you, how much were you planning to spend?" I think we eventually settled on fifty or sixty bucks, which was less than I had expected but probably way more than they usually sold for.

I'm firmly in the "haggling implies a lack of respect, just pay what you're asked" camp, so it was interesting to see that sometimes that's just not an option.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 11:06 AM on December 18, 2009


I got to say, although I work in customer service fields myself, I think this dude figured out the right way to do it.

You are not entitled to a better price, no way.

However, if you can make the better price worth someone's while through giving something you've got, and you can be nice about it, go for it. Helping the dollar store employee with her bin at the end of the night, calling your neighbors to get them to move their car, and expending the time and patience to talk to all those car rental folks. Even the buy 3 tailored shirts, get the 4th free thing involved him putting out a little more than the average customer, and agreeing to spend time talking up the shirts to his friends.

I think he starts off with jerky behaviour but gets a clue by the end.
posted by redsparkler at 11:10 AM on December 18, 2009


A former colleague would haggle all of the time -- on furniture, electronics, etc. I was with him once when we entered a high-end furniture store. There was a dining room table he and his wife liked. He said that he was aware of this table being on sale a few weeks prior. He wanted the table at that price plus an additional 10% off. The sales person refused him. My friend gave the sales person his card and said: "Think about it. If you decide to accept my offer, give me a call. I'm in no hurry." A week later he got a call accepting the offer.
posted by ericb at 11:10 AM on December 18, 2009


You're telling me that you think I'm gouging you, and that I can surely afford to sell for less because you're special.

The narrative anotherpanacea is getting at here has nothing to do with money - you're actually demonstrating what he's getting at.

Sure, in some countries it's considered acceptable to haggle, but when the power dynamic is painfully skewed--whether it's Mr. Boise, Idaho vs. a Haitian bead-maker or an upper-class magazine editor vs. a hot dog vendor--there's not much dignity to salvage.

As I learned while learning to negotiate prices in countries where you have to haggle - my relatively obscene wealth didn't mean that I wasn't the one getting played. There's a fantastic arrogance involved in believing that money is literally power.
posted by MillMan at 11:13 AM on December 18, 2009


How does a professional writer not understand what "hometown" means?

How do you not understand that journalists lie about this shit all the time?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:16 AM on December 18, 2009


Adding a bit to that - there is a point at which you are indeed fucking with someone's livelihood, and it is really, really ugly to witness. As a self professed "nice guy" I almost always stop one step above the price I can ultimately get with enough effort anyway - unless I am feeling particularly playful that day. Part of learning to negotiate is the social intelligence needed to know how far to take it before you are being a jackass. Since we kind of fetishize the take-no-prisoners corporate sociopathic mentality in this country this can be easy to miss.
posted by MillMan at 11:21 AM on December 18, 2009


To the author: Here you are, sir. One piping hot mug of Shut The Fuck Up. On the house. Enjoy.

Haggle with contractors, car salesmen, and drug dealers. Period.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:41 AM on December 18, 2009


there is a point at which you are indeed fucking with someone's livelihood, and it is really, really ugly to witness.

There was one time when I was in a very poor part of a very poor country. I needed a metal file, and went to buy one from a nice young guy who had a tiny roadside stall selling tools and hardware stuff -- I'd bought something else from him a few days before, and he was a really good person to deal with. I think he was asking the equivalent of about $5 for the file, I did my usual "is that your best price?", and he came down a buck or so to a totally fair price for the file. But then for some reason I got a bee up my ass and I spent the next twenty minutes arguing over pennies with that poor kid. I think in the end I got the file for $2, but I left all of my dignity on the table and later I felt like a total turd. Asking for the right price was fine -- staying around to eat as much of his profit margin as possible wasn't.

I did the same thing another time in a different country, involving a $2 taxi fare that I thought should be like $1.25. Again, I proved that sheer stubbornness and unpleasantness can save you a few cents, but ethically I was a bad, bad person that day. Both times, I lost all sense of proportion and took a measurable percent of someone's daily livelihood.

So I'm all for bargaining -- but at the same time if both people aren't walking away feeling like it was a win-win, you are probably doing it wrong.

Also, my experience is that in the US bargaining is more about the extras than it is the price. Things like, when will the repairs be done? Is delivery included? By looking only at price, you are missing another 80% of the transaction.
posted by Forktine at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2009


Jeez, I am really surprised at the vitriol directed at this guy and at the idea of haggling in general. I agree, trying to get a free (or cheaper) hot dog is a waste of time and would be very, very annoying if I was behind someone haggling over this. But the author of the article discusses this issue when he talks about his guru Herb Cohen. His haggling is always about a give and take -- offering someone else something in return for the discounted price. I don't think that, in the various situations he discussed, that he was fucking with other people's livelihood but just ... making a deal. Saying, hey, I know you have financial needs, but then so do I, so let's come to an agreement that makes us both come out ahead of where we'd be if we'd never met.

From my own experience, I'm usually terrible, TERRIBLE, at haggling. I've tried to get deals on big ticket items at Best Buy and furniture stores and such, and always failed miserably, even though I know other people who have done so successfully. I think that I get embarrassed, and that I reveal too soon my desire to buy the thing regardless of whether I get the deal or not. I think I got an OK deal on my car when I bought it a few years back, though. A friend of my dad's used to have a trick to get a good deal on his car. He'd do his research, figure out which model he wanted, what options, color, etc. He'd send a fax (now I guess you'd send an email) to all the car dealerships within a certain area and say, "This is what I want, I'm ready to buy, I've sent this message to all your competitors. Make me an offer." Seemed to work for him pretty well, although it is a bit dickish.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2009


Saxon, I don't think letting all of the dealers know you're ready to buy today at the cheapest price and letting them fight over you is dickish. In that instance, the dealers don't have to spend any time on him to speak of, just send him the lowest price.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:56 AM on December 18, 2009


Yeah, you're probably right. It is certainly less manipulative than making up stories about how your son is narcoleptic and needs an 80 hour TIVO because he falls asleep watching TV all the time.

My philosophy is: for big ticket items and many services, negotiating (I won't call it haggling) is appropriate. Guiding principles are politeness, honesty, and fair trade. At places like Best Buy, if you're buying at plasma-screen TV, I think it's more than fair to ask for things like free extension of the warranty, delivery, whatever, in order to close the deal. Of course, I never seem to be successful in getting those concessions...

The only place I've ever done any successful haggling is in India at markets and stuff, because I know that whatever price they agree on I'll still be paying the foreign tourist mark-up. And also, those guys will lie their pants off and they can be really aggressive about trying to guilt you into buying whatever they are selling. So, I don't feel guilty about asking for 50 or 100 or 200 rupees off and sticking to my guns about it.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2009


My dad loves to haggle, and I would say he's pretty good. To this day, one of the stories he loves to tell is about a chess set he/we purchased in the shuk in the Old City part of Jerusalem, in 1978. It's a nice chess set, carved in olive wood, with generously sized pieces featuring crusaders fighting Muslims -- a very appropriate souvenir for the trip. The original asking price was $130 or so (in 1978 dollars), and after a solid day and, I swear, 10+ visits back to the shop, he finally purchased it for $17. This was the highlight of the trip for my dad, who still tells this story whenever someone asks about the chess set. When the deal was finally struck and the money changed hands, the seller actually came and shook my father's hand and thanked him for the extended back-and-forth, which he said he thoroughly enjoyed.

The irony, I suppose, is that my father doesn't even play chess, but once he started negotiating, the deal took on a life of its own.
posted by mosk at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I cut my dry-cleaning bill in half in exchange for returning two hundred wire hangers that had built up in my closet.

I hadn't occurred to me dry-cleaners would take them back. I would be happy to return them for free. Throwing them away feels so wasteful. (Or can they be recycled?)
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm always amazed at how some of my customers will say "It's cheaper at [competitor]" as though that changes anything. In my head, I'm asking them "So why aren't you there buying it?".

I get haggling. I really do. But it's the people who say things like "10% is nothing" that annoy me. I have to bite my tongue and stop myself from saying "well, you won't mind paying it then, will you?".
posted by Solomon at 1:00 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I did the same thing another time in a different country, involving a $2 taxi fare that I thought should be like $1.25.

Hey, at least you're better than Patrick Kane...

and seriously, I can't believe we're 53 comments in without a gourd joke!
posted by mannequito at 1:07 PM on December 18, 2009


I hate haggling, but not because I think it's evil or a sign that you're an asshole or anything like that...I just hate shopping so much that anything that would increase the amount of time I have to spend in a store (record and thrift stores excluded) is something I'll gladly pay full price to avoid. Just tell me what you're charging for the item or service, I'll decide if I want to pay it or not and then I can get the hell out of there.

That said, a friend of mine went into an Indian restaurant one night when he was piss-drunk and managed to haggle his way into paying a higher price than he was supposed to for takeout. Then he compounded his error by coming back to the apartment we shared and bragging about the "deal" he got.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hagglers are really annoying, not just during the haggling but afterwards. My family prides itself on getting the best deal on everything, and every family gathering is filled with "You'll never guess what I paid for this..." It's revolting.
posted by desjardins at 1:54 PM on December 18, 2009


next time Mutant gives us some insight into high-level international finance, I'm going to picture him haggling for vegetables
posted by Quietgal at 6:28 PM on December 18, 2009




Many of you didn't actually RTFA or at least missed some points.
He didn't spend all vacation trying to get a free car rental, he spent all vacation trying to at least mitigate the $1300 mistake he made by losing the car keys in the ocean.

Although he describes trying to talk down a hotdog vendor and get a discount TIVO,
He specifically says that it is a waste of time to negotiate the price of something that has a low margin, or to try to negotiate with someone who doesn't have the power to make a deal.
posted by Megafly at 6:55 PM on December 18, 2009


You're telling me that you think I'm gouging you

What's your margin/markup?
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:59 PM on December 19, 2009


I've heard stories on NPR about this sort of thing before, though I don't think they involved this particular guy.

While I understand the desire to spend less, I can't really understand the mentality of someone willing to go through this with everyone just to save a few bucks. I balked at the necessity of having to haggle for a car just so I didn't get utterly screwed over; I found the whole process emotionally exhausting. To do it for every single thing you buy? That sounds like a good way to give yourself a stroke or something.
posted by Target Practice at 3:50 AM on December 20, 2009


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