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.

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 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.