The Definitive Guide: 22 Ways to get a discount on anything

I used to take a store’s sticker price at face value. If the product I wanted was priced at $24.99 (or whatever), I’d pay it. No qualms, no questions asked, no problem — I’d make the purchase. Sticky price tags stuck on marked up merchandise led me to believe all retail prices were firm, fixed, and immovable. Guess what? I was wrong.

The first time I dared to open my mouth and ask for a better deal I scored an instant 10% discount — a $5 savings on a pair of jeans on clearance (I’ve since distanced myself from denim, promise). I know $5 doesn’t sound like a lot of moolah, but over the years I’ve honed my haggling skills and have saved thousands of dollars on everything from housewares to travel, clothing, and even food.

The art of snagging serious savings and uncovering hidden discounts isn’t hard to master — anyone can do it by being brave and asking for a better deal. By following these 22 cost-cutting ways you too can get an instant discount on anything.

1. Ask the question.

Is this the best price you can offer me?

It’s a simple question to ask, and politely posing it to the right person is absolutely free. The only cost to you is the possible disappointment of walking away with zero savings or leaving the store without your prospective purchase.


Get your haggle on: Asking for a better price is free.

I ask this question all the time. At the electronics store, in the mall, and even online when shopping for used gear on Craigslist and eBay. Results can be mixed, but most sellers are happy to cut the advertised sticker price by 5% to 10% to make a fast sale to a keen, courteous buyer.

The trick to haggling is letting the seller or retailer decide the discount first, putting them in a perceived position of power. If you don’t like the deal on first offer, go ahead and ask for a deeper cut. You can always walk away from the sale if you don’t like the old or new price.

Many bashful Canadians (and Americans) blush at the thought of haggling. Why? It’s your money, so don’t be afraid to ask for a better deal.

Where you save: Haggling (politely) for a discount can do wonders for your bottom line in every market and across most every vertical. I’ve successfully talked my way into lower price tags for service plans (phone, internet, TV), sports gear, clothing, jewelry, cars, housewares, real estate, and even my wedding. The sky’s the limit on this tip, kiddies.

Got a little credit card debt? Try this tactic to negotiate a lower credit card interest rate and save yourself a lot of cash while paying off your plastic sooner.

2. Be polite.

Being an a$$hole will cost you. I can’t stress this simple fact in a nicer way. :)

be polite
Pouty or pleasant? Be pleasant. Seriously.

Stamping your foot and making a pouty face won’t save you a dime, and demanding a discount just doesn’t work. Sorry. So don’t be disrespectful or difficult when you attempt to deal — smaller stores and hired help may be unable to drive a discount in your direction, and pushing the matter will likely prove useless.

Learn to smile, and a discount may smile with you.

Smile Tip: While traveling to Toronto, Carl and I drove away from the airport in an upgraded car for 25% off the advertised price. How did I do it? I asked the gal behind the desk: How is your day going?

Turned out her day was a miserable mess, and she quickly unloaded the hell previous customers had put her though. Carl and I listened. She must have enjoyed the conversation ’cause a minute later she announced: Oh look, you just qualified for a free upgrade! She winked and smiled in my direction.

Just by being a nice human being, I scored an unsolicited rental car deal by engaging a gal in conversation. That’s it, people. Easy.

Where you save: It’s hard to resist a pleasant person with a positive disposition. Being kind and courteous (especially when a company has made a big mistake) can net you discounts anywhere you wish to flash your pearly whites.

3. Find the powerful person.

Whether you’re shopping for sensible shoes or guilty pleasure gadgets, the monied path to discount nirvana often starts with the person in charge — the manager. Most store managers or supervisors have the power to instantly discount merchandise by up to 15%, while most employees often don’t have the authority to save you a cent.

manager
Who’s in charge? The manager knows the merchandise markup, and can discount instantly.

The key is to always be respectful of sales clerks since many work on commission, and kindly ask if the manager is available to answer a few questions. See #1 and #2. :)

Where you save: Anywhere there’s a person in charge with the authority to cut the advertised price.

4. Time your haggle.

Timing is everything when scouting savings. Serious discount shoppers know that the best time to ask for a better deal is in the evening or early hours when stores are less busy, and when clerks have the time to chat.

If you’re in the market for big-ticket items such as cars or household appliances, look to bargain shop at the end of the month — that’s when salespeople aim to meet their quotas and may be in the mood to haggle.

Where you save: Appliances, cars, clothing, jewelry, and any gear sold by a commissioned salesperson.

5. Pay in cash.

Skipping credit in favor of cash could be your ticket to debt-free savings. Merchant credit card transaction fees can range from 2% to 8%, costing retailers serious dough. Offering to pay for your purchase in cash could easily save you money if the vendor is able to slash these built-in fees from a cash-only sale.

money
Money talks: Pay in cash, and you could bring home a discount.

Paying in cash can also help you win the war on plastic since you won’t go into debt to pay for your purchase. Check out these 5 Ways to beat your credit card debt for more helpful credit tips.

Where you save: On planet Earth. Cash is king, right?

6. Ask about sales.

Love the dress but hate the price? Skip paying full retail by asking the salesperson or the store manager if your prized item will be going on sale. An eager commissioned salesperson may hold your item or let you buy it sooner at the lower price if you ask. Asking is free, and being polite could snag you the deal.

Where you save: Women’s clothing stores is where to take this discount tip to task. Carl has also sourced camera gear by scouting pre-sales.

7. Inspect expiry dates.

Price tags, product labels, and inventory tags usually list date stamps and expiration dates that tell you either how long an item has been in store or when a product is nearly past it’s prime.

egg carton
Past Prime: Seek out the ‘about to expire’ section to save up to 75% on groceries.

If you find a soon-to-expire grocery item (and will eat it) or locate some older inventory (and will use it), go ahead and ask that retailer for a discount. Many smaller shops and big box chain stores will reduce the price on older, or soon-to-expire, inventory to clear store shelf space.

Most grocery stores shelve food stuffs in an ‘about to expire’ section, where fruits, vegetables, breads, and even meat are marked down from 10% to 60% off regular price. To save the most on your grocery bill, always wander past this section and stuff your freezer full of nearly expired savings.

Where you save: Food, and any retailer looking to move inventory, fast.

8. Use your points.

You’ve been stockpiling (Ok, collecting) reward points for eons. So now what? Cash them in, already!

There’s an endless number of credit card, supermarket, drug store, and other so-called rewards or loyalty programs hooking you in to save those points forever. Really?

Use ’em or lose ’em, people.

With programs like Air Miles now expiring points after five years, and other programs starting similar shenanigans (like points inflation) mucking up your bottom line, it just makes good financial sense to cash in those points sooner, rather than later, to reap the discount benefit while the reward still adds up to something more than a pair of socks. OK, there’s nothing wrong with free socks.

Where you save: Gas, groceries, magazines, travel, dividend cash back, and any stuff offered through your loyalty reward program.

Your Turn: What’s your best tip for getting a discount?

But wait, there’s more! Check out Part Two The Definitive Guide: 22 Ways to get a discount on anything to continue saving, and then head on over to Part Three.

Your two cents:

  1. Barbara Kajfasz March 18th, 2012

    Thank you for all this wonderful information! I always thought I was the only Bargain Betty around, nice to know there are others. I do not and will not pay full price for 90% of my purchases. I always tell people you have nothing to loose only to gain, the worse they can tell you is no! And yes being nice, polite and behaving in a simple manner will get you usually a better deal!!

  2. Frugal Fries March 18th, 2012

    I think paying in cash has been one of the best “hidden” ways to save money. So I always ask what the price is if I pay cash before I make the purchase.

    Obviously scooping products is another great way to get items for free–or at least for $10.00 less. A lot of stores are getting smarter now though, and you have to ask for the discount before they’ll give you the item.

  3. Tyler S. March 18th, 2012

    Just being respectful and cheerful can make all the difference in the little things like this. (Hooray #2!!) I had a similar experience to yours at the car rental office. I talked to the agent and listened to his brief college history. He ended up giving me an entire day free! Not bad, considering that cut the bill in half.

  4. Cathy March 18th, 2012

    I work in a small second hand shop and I have to say that people who think they are losing nothing by asking for a discount are actually losing a lot- like my respect for them and my willingness to help them. We have many vendors in the store and if we had to call and negotiate with a vendor for every little item, we would be on the phone all day. And the worst part is, most of our vendors are just there as an enjoyable hobby- that $5 off your item that so important to you just for the thrill of the bargain, can be the difference between paying the rent and closing up shop. Maybe asking for a discount works at a large chain store, but please be more considerate of the little guys. Who, by the way, support their local community far more than the big box stores ever would.

  5. Marianne March 18th, 2012

    I work in high end retail and can tell you that you are 100% correct! Our boss wants your money and would not be happy if we let you walk away over a 10% discount (assuming the item isn’t already discounted- then it’s hit/ miss depending on margins). The only one that we don’t really do much of is the cash suggestion. We get asked about a cash discount a lot but don’t really do much with that. People will usually first ask for a discount and then once we’ve told them what we can do ask if we can discount it further if they pay cash. That’s annoying. Certainly being pleasant is the number 1 thing to do. If you are a jerk we will find a way to charge you more. All that said, a lot of our prices are already really good and you should know enough about the product you are purchasing to know if you are already getting an awesome deal. If a $500 item is marked down to $250 we probably don’t have room to discount- you probably don’t want to waste your breath asking for a discount on that item. If you ask for too many discounts you sound like a broken record and we just start saying no, no, no- it gets easier the more we say it.

  6. Sandra March 19th, 2012

    Buy display models of appliances, etc. The only thing you might miss out on is throwing away the manufacturers cardboard box. Department stores will sell display items at a very discounted price. I’ve bought a stove, washer, dryer, and fridge this way. They even threw in free delivery.

  7. Jules March 19th, 2012

    We knocked off about 40% for our kitchen remodeling. It wasn’t really haggling–we basically said to the guy, “Look, we only have [XXXX] to pay for this remodel. If you can’t get it below that, we can’t buy it.”

    It wasn’t as if we were asking for a seriously expensive kitchen, either–it was a smidge above their bottom-of-the-line, most-basic remodel. But a huge part of it, I think, was that we were buying in the middle of the recession.

  8. BrokeElizabeth March 19th, 2012

    I am so bad at #1… I’m too shy to even think about haggling :/.

  9. Connie March 19th, 2012

    Oh too right. It never hurts to ask. I used this approach alot when I was remodeling for services and products. At a local shop I got my beautiful kitchen sink for half price as it had been outside and was dirty! And yes, be nice. But you might say something like “I am reluctant to buy (for whatever reason) at this price. Can you come down in price?”
    But I have to admit that because of the economy I am more relectant to ask in a small shop because I think they need the money more than I do.

  10. ChristianPF March 19th, 2012

    Great tips! I especially liked the part about being polite when you ask a business for discounts. I used to work in a retail store, and I can’t tell you how many people were impolite when asking for a discount. Typically, I wouldn’t give them a discount if they were rude. If they were polite about it an non-threatening, I would definitely find a way to save them some money. Fun stuff!

  11. Delores March 19th, 2012

    Sometimes if something is on clearance you can get an even greater discount.
    I saw the laundry soap I used at a clearance price, they had 8 left on the shelf so I figured they weren’t going to carry the product anymore so I asked if I could get a better price if I bought what he had left. I ended up getting 75% off the original price.

  12. Eve March 19th, 2012

    I used to oversee the bed & bath section of a department store. Sales clerks were authorized to take 10% off without manager approval, and obviously the manager could be called to take off more (I don’t think I ever saw more than 50% off though). BUT. The sale was then final, because it was being sold as defective. So if you’re the kind of person who likes to take something home, think about it, then return it, you would be out of luck.

    Also, #2 cannot be stressed enough. If you’re unpleasant, condescending, rude, loud, etc., the employees shift into the mode of getting you out of their store ASAP before you ruin other potential sales. On the other hand, I’ve gone far out of my way for a nice person, especially if I knew the backstory on why they wanted what they did–e.g., a certain discontinued color of towel that matched a customer’s bathroom perfectly. I got other stores to send me their stock, at no charge to her, and the towels were even clearance price. Because she was nice. If she had raised her voice to me, or told me “it’s your JOB” (actually it was my job to do the opposite and not stock discontinued things), she would have gotten a fake smile and an even faker “Sorry.”

  13. mycanuckbuck March 19th, 2012

    I am not great at asking for discounts – mind you, I’m not very good at being assertive in general. :) I’ll have to keep your tips in mind. I’d have to say paying in cash is the only way I’ve gotten a discount..oh and when they “lost” my wedding dress while they were cleaning it. I made sure to get a discount when it turned back up. So – I can get one – when I’m mad!

  14. Jetfuel March 22nd, 2012

    While i was checking in at the airline counter while wearing a suit in July, and everone around me in shorts and flip-flops, I found myself upgraded to business class after having a friendly chat with the staff. I guess she took pity on me as I was the only one in line not apparently on holidays.

  15. savingjunkie March 23rd, 2012

    I was shopping in downtown LA last week and found a cute little dress at Macy’s on sale. Seriously marked down already. The cashier did the usual “how are you today” greeting and I replied “great, and you”. She looked me straight in the eye and said “I’m fine, thank you”. It turns out that I was the first person in a long time to ask her how she was. Most of her customers are rude or indifferent to her. Got me an extra 15% of my already discounted item. It never hurts to be polite!

  16. James Campanas September 30th, 2012

    I agree with Sandra about display appliances. I worked for an appliance store and we were encouraged to sell the demos at a discount. The store always wanted to make way for a newer model on the sales floor. Also, try to bunndle your appliances. Why buy a stove without a new hoodfan? I could offer a better price if the customer took more than one product.

  17. James C September 30th, 2012

    One more tip regarding appliances. Most, (if not all) commission sales staff only get paid commission on items that ship that month. Most customers will buy the appliance one day and have it delivered at a later date. You may get a much better deal if you shop on the last day of the month and ask what type of discount they will give you if skip delivery and take the appliance with you that same day (guaranteeing the salesperson commission for the sale that month). Of course, this will only work with items that will fit into your auto. A stove, cooktop, hood fan, washer, dryer, and dishwasher will probably fit in a minivan. I would leave moving refrigerators to the pros. It would also be best that you prep the auto for the move (removing seats etc.) before you go shopping.

  18. erinne January 30th, 2013

    I once went into an appliance store, I need a fridge a stove and washer dryer set (we had just bought our first house) I was paying cash and I was about 200 dollars short of the combined price (and the tax and the delivery)…….I simply asked the the manager if he could accommodate me (I really didnt want to select something different)..we got into talking about that I had just bought a house etc and it was a friendly conversation I told him I was buying everything cash on the barrel, I told him what I had total and he was very sweet and i got everything I wanted for the sum i was holding….even thru in the delivery for me……… all it took was a nice conversation and a smile….

  19. Elizabeth October 8th, 2013

    I work at a chain discount shoe store. I agree that a good attitude will go a long way. After a long day, I’ve been know to give out a good kids discount to parents who’s kids thanked them instead of screaming for more stuff. (I’m sure parenting is really hard, and kids will have breakdowns, but I cannot stress enough how far well behaved kids will get you. If you’ve been in retail, you can tell the difference between kids who are tired and kids who are just ungrateful brats, i.e. throwing jewelry at me, tipping stuff over, running around uncontrollably etc.) Plus, when a family comes in and buys two pairs of shoes for three or more kids, I want to help them out if I can.

    In addition, I have a lot of control behind the register (although all of the changes I make are flagged for review, so even though I theoretically could mark stuff down to whatever I want, It wouldn’t go over well.) Most employees know what coupons are currently circulating and may have some extra ones behind the counter. That said, please, don’t ask “Do you have any coupons?” Instead, be friendly, provide a phone number and address/email, which is what signs you up for coupons. (If you don’t want to give out an address offer to give an email instead. Or, give the phone number of a friend or family member who shops there and is already registered with the store. Many employes are required to me a quota for this information.) If I see you are in our system with a name, email and address (basically, you’re a rewards member) then all you have to do is say “I think I have a coupon at home but I always forget it” If you’ve been nice and come off as genuine, I’m likely to give you a break (you can also look up current coupons on your phone, and I’ll probably let you use it, even though we’re not technically supposed to honor phone provided coupons.) If nothing else I may offer you another possible discount like Triple A/Military/student etc.

    That said, there are some things I just can’t (read won’t) discount. If I pair of $20 trendy moccasins are half off this week, I can’t help you. You’re already getting a good deal. If you’re looking at the brand new boot that’s $60, I know it’s probably going to go on sale for $49.99 in the coming weeks and am far more likely to help you out.

    As a last note, if don’t want to buy today, you’re more than welcome to ask when I think something is likely to go on sale. I probably have an idea when will be the best time to buy.

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