I Love to Bargain for Stuff, Which Is Good Because Now I Have to

A fun guide for shopping with rapidly depreciating currency.
Publish date:
August 11, 2011
travel, shopping, bargaining, haggling

A few days ago, I went to Bangkok’s gigantic Chatuchak market. Jet-lagged, I forked over some newly withdrawn Baht on plastic religious icons, a bracelet shaped like a saw and a bright red purse that would best be described with an adjective like “snappy.” The new purse is smaller than the pocketed monstrosities I’ve been carrying around lately. I’m downsizing (and supporting Communism?) with my snappy red purse, which is all leather and which I got for a ridiculously low 10 dollars, down from 25.

I like to believe I am very good at bargaining.I have a system for lowering prices, which has been carefully honed in the last decade of travel to be effective in nearly any situation where there’s no fixed price. It’s not that I’m cheap, I’m just poor. And I enjoy a good haggle, which if done right, is satisfying to both parties involved in the transaction.

So, this is my system for saving money at the market. And maybe in the coming months when our dollar is rendered as useless as Monopoly money, the global economy collapses and we are forced to barter for goods and services with cigarettes, conch shells and packets of Splenda, these tips could come in handy at your local 7-11 as well.

Here’s my drill:

1. Never act impressed.

Ever. Repeat after me, "I don’t really want this bright green Lakshmi statue." (You do, you do! Oh my God, you need it.) I’ve learned that if I act enamored with something, the seller will just use it against me later by offering a higher price, and then not budging on it, certain I won’t walk away from it, because I already told him I wouldn't with my googly love eyes.

I like to channel Daria’s detached judgment when I pick up something I really want to buy. “Eh, I could take it or leave it,” I want my expression to say.

I like to think this also works as a sort of reverse psychology trick on the seller as well who then tries harder to make you want their stuff. It also helps to examine the object closely, holding it up to your face and poking at it delicately as though you can see its every flaw.

2. Put that improv class from high school to good use

Feign horror after first price. I like to put a hand (of the arm not already weighed down with shopping bags) to my chest as though their high price might be bringing on some sort of medical episode and give my head a small jerky shake as though to clear that godforsaken number from my mind.

If you really want it, offer a third or even a quarter of what they’re asking. Then let negotiations move in small increments from there.

3.Learn some useful phrases in the language of whatever country you are shopping.

Can you make a discount?

I can’t!

But that I bought one already for [your ideal price] from that guy over there (vague gesture to other side of the market.)

Please, stop saying that number. You’re hurting me. (accompanied by heart-clutching.)

4. Walk away.

As a last resort, walk away slowly but don’t look back. Nine times out of ten, someone will call out to you either accepting your offer or offering their lowest possible price. If they don’t, you were being too cheap.

5. You bartered for it, you buy it.

It’s only fair after you’ve subjected them to your cheapskate prices and bad theatrics. As soon as you say a price, you’re honor-bound to fork over the cash if they accept your offer. There’s no, “Oh, I think I changed my mind, I’m going to go look around now.” That’s just not cool. If you want to browse, don’t say a price, let them do the talking.

That’s what I’ve got. Anyone else have any tips for bargaining? Or any stories about being ripped off? I’ve got those as well.