How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Bargain
“My family's coming over for Thanksgiving,” I told Kim last week. “Really?” she said. “Where are they going to sit?” Good point.
When I moved in, my condo was sparsely furnished. In the divorce, I took a handful of items that were clearly mine — a couch, a chair, a liquor cabinet — and let Kris keep the rest. During the year I lived alone in an apartment, I filled the gaps with inexpensive stuff. Now, in a larger home, there was lots of empty space. The dining room, for instance, was a sea of of emptiness because my IKEA table was acting as a desk in the spare bedroom. Part of this was by design. I hoped that Kim would agree to merge households, so I intentionally left parts of the canvas blank.
Sure enough: In July, she moved in, bringing her own hodgepodge collection of furniture. This meant we could use the IKEA table for its intended purpose…but we never did. After being moved to the dining room, it sat there alone and unloved. It was too small to meet our needs. We both wanted to replace it with something that allowed us to host friends for dinner parties, but it hadn't been a priority — until I volunteered to host Thanksgiving.
How we shop for furniture
Kim and I are both frugal folks. We don't like to spend a lot of money, especially on furniture, which always seems overpriced anyhow. One way we save money on furniture is by buying used. Since I've known her, Kim has used Craigslist to purchase an office desk, an easy chair, and a couch. I always check there first when I need something, but haven't had much luck recently. (But Kris and I purchased all sorts of home furnishings off Craigslist over the years.)
Kim and I also like a certain local consignment store. We discovered the place while shopping for her desk and have been back several times since. After I settled in my condo, I wanted a few small things to make the place more homey. At the consignment store, I found some great bar stools for cheap, as well as a bench and table for the entryway, a mirror, and a couple of other odds and ends. The store is also a great place to sell furniture. When Kim moved in with me, her couch became redundant.
After it didn't sell on Craigslist, we took it to the consignment store. “You'll get 60 percent of whatever it sells for,” they told her. She set a price and signed the papers. Another way we keep costs down on furniture is by bargaining. In fact, Kim negotiates all the time. During our 18 months together, I've watched her haggle on all sorts of stuff, from clothes to food (at the farmers market, not at the grocery store) to furniture. She's good at it. “I believe in negotiating on almost everything,” Kim told me recently. She sees no downside and lots of upside.
Note: When my dishwasher died recently, I didn't bargain like this when shopping for the replacement. I should have. It might not have worked (since the store already made some price concessions), but it wouldn't have hurt to try.
Eagle Bargain Outlet
Last Friday, Kim and I spent a fun evening both bar hopping and table shopping. We'd stop for a beer and then move on to the next pocket of furniture stores. Most of what we saw was too expensive or wasn't our style. We wanted a table to seat eight or 10, and we preferred something round or square in order to foster conversation. Dining tables tend to be long and narrow, so we didn't find much that met our needs. When we did find something, it usually cost about $2,000, which was far outside our budget.
Eventually we found a likely candidate at Eagle Bargain Outlet, a store that sells overstocks from Costco. The table was “pub style,” meaning it was tall and square, with six chairs and a bench. Had it been in good shape, it would have been almost perfect. But it wasn't in good shape. Both the table and chairs were beat up. There were small gouges here and there, and one of the corners on the table had been bashed, revealing the MDF beneath the polished surface.
“I kind of like it,” Kim said as we examined the dings and dents. “I do too,” I said. “But not at $700.” “Let's offer $500,” she said.
We found the store owner and started bargaining. We worked as a team.
“I notice you still have that table,” I said. (We'd seen it the last time we visited the store in July.) “It's been here for a couple of months. I can see why.” I pointed to the damaged corner.
“Yeah, it's nice,” Kim said. “But I'm not sure I'd like to have it in our home when it's that beat up.”
The owner nodded. “It's not in the best shape,” he said. “Things get damaged around here. Sometimes customers are careless. I'll tell you what. I'll let you have it for $600.”
“That's still too expensive,” Kim said. “I think we can find something better for less. Will you take $500?”
The owner shook his head. He pulled out a calculator and punched in some numbers. “I can't take $500. Brand new, it's a thousand-dollar table. But if you give me $550, you can have it.”
Kim and I exchanged a glance, which was all we needed. “That's tempting,” I said. “How's this? We're about to leave for the weekend, but when we get back on Sunday, we'll come by if we're still interested.” We jotted down the owner's name and the deal he'd promised.
“That table's OK at $550,” Kim said as we drove home. “But I'd rather pay $500. I think we should keep looking.”
On our way out of town the next morning, we stopped at the consignment store to check on Kim's couch. It had sold, and there was a check waiting for her. While she did business, I checked the floor for dining tables. In a back corner, I found one I liked. It wasn't round or square, but it still looked warm and inviting. It had a rustic finish and was very solid. Plus, the price was reasonable: only $650.
When Kim finished her paperwork, she came to see what I'd found. “Not bad,” she said. She looked at each of the two chairs and two benches. “Are these wobbly?” she asked, but the saleswoman showed us that the floor was just uneven. Kim found other flaws, which wasn't hard. The table was well-used, so there were plenty of scars and scratches. (Because it was naturally rustic, these didn't bother me, but I wasn't going to say that aloud.)
Kim played the gender card. “I'm a typical gal,” she said, rubbing her hand over the most noticeable blemish. “This sort of thing bugs me. Appearances are important. When we have people over for dinner, I want things to look nice. I don't want my guests sitting at a scuffed-up table.”
“We have a little room in that price,” the saleswoman said, “but not a lot. That table came in on Tuesday, so the owner won't move much. But I'm certain I could sell it to you for $600.”
Kim and I conferred in whispers. “It would be great to be done with this process,” I said. “Plus, I really like that table.” “I like it too,” she said, “but $600 is too much. Let's see if we can get it for less.”
She took the lead. “We can't pay $600,” she said, “but we'd buy it today for $500. What's the lowest price you can give us?”
The saleswoman frowned. She asked to be excused so she could call the seller. After a few minutes, she returned. “I'm authorized to sell it to you for $550,” she said. “But you have to buy it today, and you have to pay cash.”
“Done,” Kim said. We went to the bank to get the money, and then drove on to Hood River for a weekend of picking fruit and tasting wine.
Bargaining for beginners
Over the past eight years (!!!), I've shared several articles at Get Rich Slowly about how to haggle and negotiate, including:
- How to Haggle
- Negotiate Once, Save Thousands Every Year
- How One Reader Uses Haggling to Save Big Bucks
- You Can Negotiate Anything
I know that haggling is a valuable skill. All the same, it's taken me a long time for negotiating to feel natural to me. I think part of the problem used to be low self-esteem. Seriously! I didn't want others to think poorly of me, and I was afraid that bargaining would make them cranky. Things have changed. For one, I've learned that it doesn't matter what other people think (especially strangers!). For another, I've done a lot of travel.
You see, in other countries, bargaining is common. If you don't bargain, you can get ripped off. (Heck, even when you do bargain you can get ripped off.) During my first few trips abroad, I didn't enjoy the bargaining process. When Kris and I went to southern Africa in 2011, the markets frustrated me. I wanted to buy stuff, but it seemed silly to haggle with folks who needed the money more than I did. My efforts were half-hearted.
In Peru, however, it became clear my hesitancy was only costing me money. When my friends and I would return to the hotel after a day of shopping, we'd compare our catches. We'd often purchased the same things, but some of us — including me — had paid two (or three or four) times what the best bargainers had paid. Toward the end of that trip, I stepped up my game. By the time I left, I'd even become bold enough to haggle on the price of soda pop!
Last month in Ecuador, it was fun to see how far I'd come. As always, my friends and I would compare what we'd paid for similar items. This time, I paid much less than everyone else.
Like anything, bargaining takes practice. You have to get comfortable with the give and take. Just remember that if you take a friendly, casual approach, you won't upset the other person — not even in the U.S. Frequently, your courage will reward you with lower prices. And the worst the person will do is simply tell you no.
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