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Bargaining Tips for Beginners
Holding your own when you're haggling about price

Haggling can be intimidating if you're not in the habit of doing it - and even if you are. Solo women can feel particularly intimidated as vendors, seeing you as an easy mark, become more pushy. (You're no more a pushover than anyone else - often the opposite - but cultural attitudes to women may color how they see you. They're just trying to rattle you.)

Never mind. These basic bargaining tips will help you develop the right attitude, one that should help make this experience bearable, and even pleasurable.

Moroccan carpetsBargaining is an art and a science: there's a right and a wrong way to do it. And you can bargain for pretty much anything - not just for carpets or in markets. Photo Anne Sterck

Basic bargaining tips, tricks and a few words to the wise

I'm not the world's best bargainer but I have been known to snag a rebate or two, sometimes in unlikely places such as restaurants and everyday shops (it comes from having a Turkish father and a mother who was brought up in Egypt).

I grew up in a household where haggling was a way of life, but I know it can be daunting if you're not accustomed to it.

So I've prepared this simple list of tips that takes you by the hand and walks you through the bargaining maze. Have a try!

  • Determine your strategy before you start. Will you demean the item? Tell the merchant it's not worth the money she's asking? Or will you plead poverty? Perhaps you'll feign disinterest? It's best to have a plan before you plunge. Try not to look too wealthy. No merchant will believe your woeful tales of poverty if you're dripping with the very latest bling or gear. 
  • Practice or role play with a friend. If you're a Westerner, there's every chance you won't be used to bargaining. (If you're from Asia, Africa or Latin America, the opposite will be true.) Test it out and pretend. It's like making a speech: it gets easier each time you rehearse.
  • Learn a few essential words. You can't bargain without the basics - not much, mind you, but at least such things as 'how much', 'too expensive' or 'thank you'.
  • Be ready to walk away before you walk in. You must be convincing about this - most deals happen when you're halfway out the door. 
  • Try to estimate what the item is worth. Ask others what they paid for something similar or ask a local, bearing in mind that as a foreigner, you would be expected to pay a little more. 
  • Put that amount - and no more - in your pocket. That way, when you pull it out to say it's all you have to spend, you'll be telling the truth. 
  • Walk around and look for similar items. Make sure you've spotted the best of the lot before you start bargaining. Ask the prices of two or three items, so the one you're keen on isn't so apparent - and you'll look less keen to buy it. 
  • Do not look interested. You'll be watched closely as you meander through the stall or shop. Any show of interest will raise the price. If you must point at something just to begin the bargaining process, do so carelessly. 
  • Appear bored or in a hurry. Don't hold an object in your hand any longer than you need to in order to begin the bidding. That said, gear up psychologically. You are about to face the gurus of haggling: they have worn down thousands of foreign shoppers before you. 
  • Take a friend or someone from the hostel. It's harder to convince two people, and a friend will keep you from going overboard if you get too caught up in the haggling game. You can use the carrot and stick - you look interested while she tries to drag you away. 
  • Make your first offer. It should be far lower than the price you've researched as appropriate. If you're in the ball park, this should yield a counteroffer. At this stage, you should be trying to bring the price towards your end of the scale and the vendor towards his or hers. 
  • This is a good time to highlight some of the product's disadvantages - a stain or discoloration, hanging threads, mismatched colors, anything you can think of that makes this particular item less than perfect. 
  • Claim your power. If after several efforts the price is still too high but you're keen on the purchase, walk away. Chances are you're still in the game, and this may help clinch the deal. 

Whatever you do, don't try to take away all the seller's profit. Stall-owners are sometimes badgered so aggressively by tourists that they scale back their prices unacceptably, even parting with an item at cost. Remember, they have to make a living, while all you may be trying to do is save 5 cents. Keep things in perspective. 

In the end, these bargaining tips stress a mixture of common sense and mutual respect.

Go ahead and try to get a good price - but not at any price. That's why it's called the art of haggling.

WOMEN PLEASE NOTE: As women we interact differently so try to find shops where women are selling. Otherwise, if you're young or attractive, there may be undertones, or your openness and eye contact may be misconstrued. As a woman you might be taken less seriously. Finally, some women are brought up to be more deferential and will buy at a higher price to avoid any kind of confrontation.

Solo travel tips for women like you - the first Tuesday of every month >>>

(and to say thank you I'll send you the 'list of 9' indispensable items I NEVER travel without!)