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Mendo Lake Family Life

Learn to Negotiate and Save Big Bucks

By Malia Jacobson

What’s more fun than a new swingset, a new couch, or a brand-new set of wheels? Scoring those items and having cash left to spare, thanks to the power of negotiation.

“Yikes!” I can hear you think. “Negotiating? Asking for discounts? Maybe financial pros can do it, but I never could!” This knee-jerk reaction to bargaining is all too familiar to me, because the entire subject of negotiation used to make my knees weak. Then I became a stay-at-home mom, and I felt silly throwing away my family’s hard-earned cash by paying retail prices.

So I gave myself a few pep talks and started small by asking for discounts on Craigslist purchases and car repair bills. With each small negotiating win, my confidence grew. This year, I scored major discounts on a new home, carpeting, a minivan, and appliances. When I added up the total savings, my knees nearly buckled: I saved enough to cover our family’s food bill for two years. Now, that really makes me swoon.

Why should you take the time to wrangle a better deal on that new bike or dishwasher? Because a lot is at stake, says Ellie Kay, author of The 60-Minute Money Workout (Random House, 2010). In today’s economy no one can afford to throw away money, particularly parents with growing kids and rising expenses. “Paying less for purchases gives you more money to do great things like paying down credit card debt, putting money aside for retirement, and funding your kids’ college,” she says.

According to Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover (Thomas Nelson, 2013), confident negotiators can save on everything—even pizza delivery! From car repairs to carpeting, vet bills to vacations, you can buy what you need and save thousands in the process, if you’re willing to ask. Keep these tactics in your pocket, and you’ll never be far from your next great deal.

Mind over matter. First, get over the misplaced fear of looking or feeling foolish. People all over the world use negotiating tactics every day without a second thought. It’s OK to feel scared, says Kay, but don’t let that feeling stop you: “Do it scared,” she says. “It may seem awkward at first, but it’s usually just the fear of the unknown.
Remember that this is something you are doing to improve your family’s bottom line.” Keeping a big-picture perspective will give you the confidence to get started.

Do your homework. Arrive prepared. The plethora of product information available online makes it a snap to find the essential facts about the product you’re after. Come prepared to bargain and have a basic idea of what you need and want, including “must-have” and “nice-to-have” features. But don’t get your heart set on a particular brand or model.

Flash cash. Ramsey counsels bargain hunters to “use the power of cash.” The sight of crisp dollar bills triggers an emotional response that can be a powerful negotiating tool, he notes. Personally, I have gotten sales managers to waive sales tax or throw in additional discounts by telling them, truthfully, that the cash in my hand was all I could spend on the purchase, including tax, delivery, and other fees. So flash a little cash, and watch sellers scramble to get their hands on it.

Say the magic words. You’ve done your homework, you’re armed with cash, and you’ve just walked into the store. Now what? Start the negotiating process with five simple words, “Is that your best price?” This phrase works in nearly every situation by informing the seller that you’re looking for a deal, and putting the ball into their court.

Use the power of technology. Today’s smartphones, laptops, and tablets put a world of portable purchasing power at your fingertips. I recently scored a minivan at a sizable discount (one that prompted the salesman to quip that I must have done some praying that day) by pulling up prices of comparable cars at neighboring dealerships on my laptop, and showing the sales manager. Your Internet-connected device can be a valuable asset in the negotiating process, so bring it with you when you shop to keep tabs on real-time prices at competing stores.

Invoke walk-away power. Always remember that you have the power to put your cash back in your pocket, walk away, and search out another deal. There are legions of stores and salespeople who are eager for your business, so don’t settle for a sub-par deal. Keep a light, pleasant attitude, and be prepared to politely thank the salesperson for their time if the negotiation isn’t fruitful.

Negotiate with sincerity. Above all, maintain your integrity throughout the negotiating process. Bargaining is a two-way street, so tell the truth and be ready to hold up your end of the bargain. Garnering pity with sob stories about your bleak finances won’t help you score a great deal—your negotiating prowess will. So sharpen those skills and be prepared to wield them with authority, integrity, and sincerity. Your pocketbook, and your family, will thank you.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.