Are You a Bum at Bartering?

Bottom-line principals used to barter better

Since the creation of man, mankind has always bartered. The concept of set pricing is truly still in its infancy. But just as wearing shoes has made the practice of going barefoot seem unnatural, so has the use of set pricing become, over a very short span of time, so much the custom of our population that the concept of bartering seems also unnatural.

The funny thing is that bartering is inherent. Children barter with candy and toys among themselves from the time they can talk. Yet somehow as we grow up in our culture, we become embarrassed to barter – shy – as if it were dirty or taking advantage. We have become bums at bartering.

Many places in the world use bartering exclusively, and if we cannot do it effectively, we cannot be good stewards of our money on vacation. Remember that it is not a dirty thing, not cheap or taking advantage, but the time-honored custom of nations. When you enter the business of bartering, you are in effect doing what has been done by your ancestors through centuries.

I have never had any sort of formal training, or read any literature on the subject. The below information is predominately a compilation of tips which skilled barterers have passed on to me, either verbally or demonstratively, as well as a few which stemmed from unfortunate personal fumbles. I use each of these principals and stand by them.

  1. Know when to barter. When Mamie and I were in Southeast Asia, we made the rookie mistake of showing interest in some jewelry as we entered a temple. The consequence was a generous crowd accompanying us through the temple, with much shoving, and no thought of personal space, the desperate sound of street sellers speaking to us in jumbled voices, calling out various prices for various items, and generally making the temple experience a blur of faces and souvenirs. We learned right then to be wise about when to barter! Always do it before you leave a place, never when you arrive.
  2. Pay attention to currency and prices. The easiest way to barter better is to know each common piece of local currency well enough that you don’t have to convert it to U.S. currency in your head. You will be faster, more confident, and more successful if you do.
  3. Set your prices. You will need to know your maximum price, your ideal price, and your starting price before you begin.
  4. How to calculate your starting price: I have found it to be a general rule that if I set one price and the vendor sets another, we usually meet roughly somewhere in the middle. Your goal is to manipulate “the middle” into being your ideal price. The following is an example:

Their starting price ——————— Your ideal price—————-Your starting price

   10,000 rupees                      7,000 rupees                 4,000 rupees

  1. Don’t back down when the vendor acts insulted at your starting price. You will hear lots of “I can’t even make it for that!”, “My work is quality! That is insulting!” and (accompanied by a bending of the knees and a holding of the heart) “Awe, you hurt me!” These are manipulation tactics. I have seen people reduce to pure meekness when this language surfaces, begin to feel bad for having insulted the vendor, and proceed to have their money purloined.
  2. You know to walk away when they get stuck on a number and refuse to negotiate further. I like to start walking soon after they get stuck, and are still interested in doing business with me, so they are likely to call me back with a lower offer. You can walk away multiple times in one transaction if you feel they are very eager for the sale and you are not too far separated in price.
  3. Be willing to walk away, without making the purchase. Sometimes the numbers just will not foregather.
  4. Be confident and enjoy yourself! Most locals respect an American who can barter well. When you utilize these principals, and relax into the experience, you will inevitably barter better.

To Adventure!

Kate Nash   

Professional Vacation Advisor   
My Savvy Vacation
Twitter: @SavvyKateNash