Get bit by the bargaining bug

I'm appalled when someone hands over money for something without even attempting a negotiation.

Mat Koehler

I’ve only felt completely enlightened two times in my life. The last case came after watching an episode of “NOVA” that discussed the dwindling population of North Pacific sea lions. In the case before that, I had a whole new world revealed to me while purchasing guitar strings with my brother.

Apparently, one of the guaranteed rights in this country is the freedom of haggling shamelessly. My brother told me that, in music stores and elsewhere, one is allowed to politely argue the price of a product until the buyer is satisfied. I didn’t believe him until I bargained $500 off the store price of a guitar. Then I was hooked – I started to negotiate the price of everything.

From clothing to fruits and vegetables, there’s no commodity I haven’t tried to purchase at a discount. Most of the time, I have to talk to the managers, because they are required to let customers take advantage of them. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, like when I told a restaurant I wanted their lasagna “at cost.” But there’s no harm in trying. I might seem obnoxious when I bargain, but the satisfaction of getting half-price car parts and cut-rate computer accessories totally removes any guilt I might have. Heck, I even hustled a nice old lady at a greenhouse into selling me roses for the price of dandelions. My girlfriend never even knew I swindled a submissive octogenarian just to make her happy.

Plus, for me, bargaining can be as much a form of entertainment as a way of being thrifty. It’s an adrenaline rush of sorts – one that makes palms sweat and brows furrow. There’s also the satisfaction of knowing the stores I hate (Guitar Center, Footlocker, Kohl’s, etc.) aren’t getting much profit from me, if any.

You might be wondering how stores get away with bargaining their products. Simply put, it’s because hardly anyone tries it. Fifteen guitar-shop customers will buy an amplifier for the price on the tag before someone makes a lowball offer and gets the amp at the price the store bought it. I hope this column will influence others to take the path less traveled.

Ever since I started to bargain, my life has taken on new meaning. I’m appalled when someone hands over money for something without even attempting a negotiation. I shudder when I remember the Mat Koehler who paid parking lot attendants full price.

Admittedly, my lifestyle gets out of hand from time to time. I freaked out when my mom bought some antique glassware for the sticker price, and I almost drove to Chicago to argue with the salesperson. Then I tried to buy grapes at the supermarket for a penny apiece, because I do not believe a grape should cost more than 1 cent. And during my most pitiful time, I even tried to bargain the minimum-bet rule at a casino.

But as bad as all that sounds, I’m perfectly content being a bargain-a-holic. Now I have tons and tons of cheap stuff that I probably wouldn’t have bought if it weren’t for my new hobby.

Hmm Ö maybe I can bargain myself out of this debt while I’m at it.

Mat Koehler welcomes comments at [email protected]