How To Get Better at Haggling

Americans don’t like haggling very much and as a result we usually don’t have a lot of experience to draw from when the situation calls for it. For most transactions we simply pay the posted price for the product and if the price is too high we don’t buy it. For example, you won’t see anyone trying to talk down the price of their groceries at the supermarket which is fairly commonplace in some other countries (though you might see some extreme couponing). However, haggling is a very important skill to have especially if you’re buying or selling big-ticket items like cars and houses or negotiating your salary.

TIME recently wrote an article about the science of haggling and what people can to to get better at it. The biggest lesson? Avoid round numbers. In the study people who offered or asked for very specific prices were able to get more concessions from the other side than those who started with round numbers. Don’t ask for $1,500 for an item, ask for $1,519. The reasoning behind this is that presenting a more precise number suggests that you know what you’re talking about and that has a tendency to reduce the range that’s considered negotiable more favorably to your terms. As the article said: “If you say you want $10 for something, the other party takes that to mean a range of $7 to $13. If you say you want $11, that range becomes $10 to $12. The initial figure exerts a kind of gravitational pull.”

There are of course limits. If you offer a specific figure you still have to be able to justify it and you still have to have a good idea what the item is worth. When it comes to big things like cars, houses, and salary there is no substitute for doing your homework beforehand. It’s also good to have in mind a walkaway number that you can stick to. One of the biggest sources of leverage in any negotiation is the ability to walk away if you don’t get the deal you want. Haggling is about bending the price at the margins, not breaking it completely.

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