October 26, 2012

How To Haggle In New York City


A bargain hunter on how to negotiate prices with the best of them.

By Hillary Chura


It’s amazing what you can get if you just ask.

Living in New York City, we’re unaccustomed to asking for discounts. Prices are as marked. Except when they aren’t. Sales are final. Except when they’re not. And only rubes ask a shop clerk for a better deal. Except when that’s not the case.

My family was in North Carolina this summer when I took our 220,000-mile, 14-year-old Avalon in for an oil change and service before we drove back to New York. The dealer found $1,600 worth of problems, which all seemed legit considering that if the car were a child, it would be in high school.

Failing to fix the frayed hoses that the mechanics pointed out probably would’ve meant a roadside visit from AAA and a few extra nights in a hotel on the drive back to NYC. And those costs add up. Though, I knew the price was fair mostly because Dad said so. And even if it weren’t, it was far cheaper than the Toyota dealership on the West Side of Manhattan.

Now, I’m not a dealership kind of girl. Usually, Eddie from Queens fixes our car, and he’s done a fine job. But, periodically, it’s a good idea to have the specialists take a peek—especially when the dealership is in North Carolina, where labor runs $89.95 an hour, versus $115 at the dealership on Eleventh Avenue. Besides, getting our car to a dealer 20 miles away in North Carolina is more convenient than getting it across town in Manhattan.

Still, I asked the Charlotte, NC, service manager if he offered a cash discount. Not really, he said, but he would help me out. Turns out, he shaved $100 off the total bill—more than enough to cover gasoline for the trip home.

Maybe I just have no shame, but I’ve asked for and gotten discounts at Sleepy’s, when the king-sized mattress we wanted didn’t fit our budget. Gothic Cabinet Craft saved us a few dollars on the platform bed that went under the aforementioned mattress. And Little Wolf Cabinet Shop shaved off a few bucks on the built-ins we purchased for the living room.

Trust me: It’s even worth asking people who you may not think would be open to negotiating. My out-of-network chiropractor took about 15% off of her charges, and another out-of-network doctor gave me a 25% discount since we’re frequent visitors. Our children’s (now former) dentist had juiced his bill by an extra $300 every time he applied laughing gas. As my son, Andy, inherited my teeth along with my dental tolerance, we’d paid an extra $1,200 by the time we were finally granted a concession of $200 per nitrous hit. (Soon thereafter we realized other dentists consider nitrox as integral to a pleasant visit as the customary trip to the toy box, so we switched to another provider entirely.) Beyond dental discounts, even our contractor worked with us to nudge the cost of the job a bit lower when we were renovating.

The moral of the story? Either have pricey work done in North Carolina. Or buck up and ask for a discount.

All they can do is laugh.

And they won’t.

Hillary Chura writes our Le$$er Parenting column where she helps New Yorkers parent for less. She lives in Manhattan with her sons and husband.

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