And I've found the perfect gift. The problem is that it's expensive. Even eBay (EBAY) is pricey for the designer sunglasses that she wants.
Then a brilliant idea hit me: I should ask the seller on eBay for a discount. The online retailing giant opened a proverbial can of worms when it started allowing sellers to add the "or best offer" option to auction listings. Even though this listing didn't allow for haggling from its "buy it now" option, I thought I would try anyway.
So I emailed the seller, asking if the listing price on eBay was the best it could offer. I had nothing to lose. The worst thing it could tell me was no. And the seller had already beaten the best price I could find elsewhere by more than 10 percent.
I was pleasantly surprised when the retailer lowered the price by an additional 15 percent and threw in free shipping. This made me wonder how many other opportunities for discounts I was missing. All it takes is a little creativity and negotiation skills. Here are a few ideas.
Retail Stores Are Tough to Negotiate with for Customers
My friends gave me a crash course in bartering when I traveled to Mexico in college: If a store has air conditioning, the retailer freezes its prices as well.
It's hard to negotiate with retail stores. They have a lot of overhead and often price their wares in order to earn a specific profit margin. But it isn't impossible to negotiate. One of the best ways that you can open the conversation is to simply ask, "Is that the best price you can do?" This is a very powerful question. Retailers may surprise you by offering you a discount simply by asking for it.
Call About Cable, Phone and Internet Service
Cable and satellite TV providers are notorious for offering deep discounts and freebies when you initially sign up. But the price typically skyrockets after the introduction period expires. You can save a bundle on a your package by calling and requesting a discount.
"A quick call to your cable, home phone or Internet provider may uncover a new promotion that will save you big bucks," says Andrea Woroch, consumer and money-saving expert with Kinoli. "Some may provide a discount for going paperless or setting up automatic payments. So ask what's available or threaten to switch providers."
Walking away has been a popular negotiating tactic that consumers have honed while buying cars, but you can use this tactic with a lot of online and brick and mortar retailers as well.
Craigslist Is a Breeding Ground for Discounts
I'm not sure if anyone pays the full listing price for items on Craigslist. Be sure to offer less than the asking price and be prepared to haggle.
I recently bought a road bicycle for a steep discount, saving hundreds of dollars, by bringing cash and simply asking if the seller was open to a lower price. Another great technique is to pay attention to how long an item has been on Craigslist or eBay. This could indicate that a seller is more inclined to negotiate to move an item that has been lingering.
Use Negotiating Tactics Seen on TV
Television shows like "Pawn Stars" and "American Pickers" have shown great tips to increase your negotiating prowess.
Make sure that you aim low and leave wiggle room to meet in the middle. Have you noticed how the two parties on these shows eventually gravitate to the middle? There is a fine line between throwing out an insultingly low price and one that is too high, which will leave money on the table that should have been in your pocket.
Don't forget that there are a lot of other costs that comprise a retailer's selling price. Many people on "Pawn Stars" are insulted when they are offered half of the retail value because they forget that the shop has to resale the item as well as pay its employees' salaries and shop overhead.
Retailers may offer you discounts and surprise you simply by asking for them. Are you leaving money on the table by not asking for a better price? You may be surprised when you start practicing your negotiating skills.
Do you routinely ask for a discount? Do you try and score a discount even at brick and mortar stores? What are some of your favorite techniques to get the negotiations going?
Hank Coleman is the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.