Updated on 10.19.09

Ethical Frugality Week: Haggling

Trent Hamm

Over the upcoming week, I’ll be posting a series of articles on the ethics of frugality. How far can you take things without crossing an ethical line or diving into seriously socially unacceptable waters? I’ll be recounting some of my own stories – and some stories from readers – along the way.

A little over a year ago, I witnessed something that bothered me quite a bit. I tried several times to write an article about it, but I could never figure out exactly how to address it.

I was at a community festival with a flea market attached. One family had rented a slot and was selling homemade candles and soaps. At one side of that family’s slot, however, was a boy, aged ten or so – presumably, their son. He was selling comic books. He had several issues laid out in front of him and a bunch more in a pair of boxes nearby.

As I watched, he was negotiating with a gentleman that I would guess was about thirty five years old. The gentleman took out a ten dollar bill, threw it on the table in front of the boy, and said (quite loudly), “Take it or leave it.” The boy shook his head. The man picked up the bill, said, “It’s your loss,” and turned heel to walk away. Under his breath, the man muttered, “Stupid kid.”

I looked back at the booth and the ten year old boy was obviously kind of upset at the interaction. I walked over and looked at his comics, talking to him about them, mostly to cheer him up. After about five minutes, the guy came back, threw fifteen dollars on the table, and picked up two books with a price totaling $30 as though it were his birth right.

The boy looked at the cash, then picked it up and handed it to his father. The boy looked at me and said, “We need the money.”

Usually, I have no problem with haggling. However, it was fairly obvious that the gentleman was trying to take advantage of the kid using several psychological techniques – showing the money, acting angry and aggressive, and using other tactics to get what he wanted – and it simply left a really bad taste in my mouth.

How far is too far when it comes to haggling? I don’t mind doing it on occasion, but there are a lot of times when I find it in extremely poor taste.

Is it appropriate to haggle with children? Some of you might have been fine with the gentleman’s behavior above (I wasn’t), but what about a six year old selling lemonade? Are you going to argue that you should get a cup for a quarter instead of fifty cents? Where’s the line between bargain hunting and cheapness?

Is it appropriate to haggle with the obviously disadvantaged? If I see a family selling homemade throw rugs and they’re obviously destitute, should I haggle with them? Again, I tend not to do this, but I’ve heard many arguments against this – appearances can be deceiving, if people can’t afford to haggle then they can’t afford to sell, etc.

Where do you draw the line with haggling?

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  1. Jen says:

    If you haggle honestly (trying to negotiate for a price that you truly believe is the item’s worth) and politely (kindly stating your position without rancor or upset), and you can nicely walk away with no hard feelings if you don’t get your price, then haggling with almost anyone is o.k. If that man had said to the kid “well, those are worth ten dollars to me — can you take that little?”, and been able to say “Thanks, anyway!” nicely if the kid said “no”, I don’t imagine the haggling would have made you that uncomfortable.

  2. lurker carl says:

    The father should have stepped in and dealt with the aggressive customer. Most youngsters are not emotionally equipped to defend themselves against adults.

  3. kat says:

    I would have stepped in and upped the price and bought the comics just to stop the jerk. The behavior you described was just wrong. Haggling at a flea market is expected, but there are limits. You can usually tell when it is acceptable. It’s like a game then, and it is great when you can find a person who knows how to play.

  4. Four Pillars says:

    If the situation was indeed exactly as you described it then I would have been tempted to buy the comics myself for full price just so the jerk couldn’t get them.

    I hate haggling of any type so of course I would side with the kid on this one. I think this story has two issue though – one is the haggling issue and the second is the fact that the guy was a complete jerk. What if he had been really nice and offered $10/$15 – would you have written the story?

  5. Scotty says:

    One thing you have to remember is that in certain cultures, haggling is the norm. In many cases, it’s often times insulting if you DON’T try to haggle the price, even on day to day goods. Every single time I go travelling to many countries, I’m often warned that it’s proper form and etiquette to haggle.

    I used to work in retail, and often got customers who were obviously not born in N. America. They would haggle quite a bit (and this is in the type of play you would normally not associate with haggling). I just always reminded myself that it’s part of their way of doing things.

    But as the article alludes to, haggling in many situations can be a little offensive. If I was that gentleman at the state fair, I would likely end up giving the little kid a little more than what he’s asking, if I think the cause is right.

  6. Kris says:

    I personally hate haggling. I am not an aggressive person by nature and if you are going to haggle you have to be aggressive (however, you don’t have to be rude like the guy in the example). The question I would have is Why would the parents put the child in that situation? Couldn’t mom or dad haggle over the comics or did they purposely put their 10 year old child there to try and pull on peoples heart strings? Everyone knows the flea market environment and knows that major haggling will be going on… i wouldn’t be surprised in the least if putting the 10 year old there was a ploy to get the most they could out of those comic books. To compare haggling with a child who has a stand at a flea market ( where haggling is expected )to haggling at a lemonade stand is quite a stretch if you ask me.

  7. Johanna says:

    The fact that this was all over a couple of comic books makes the situation that much more bizarre. What kind of adult wants a comic book so badly that he’ll upset a little kid in order to get it? Does he swindle kids out of their Halloween candy too?

  8. leslie says:

    I don’t think it’s right to say that only haggling with the “more fortunate” is appropriate. Haggling, is haggling. The seller has marked up the price and the buyer wants to spend as little money as possible. It’s not my job to judge whether I think the buyer needs the money more than I do.

  9. When I was young, I was manning our table at the neighborhood garage sale and a guy came over me and offered aobut a quarter of the asking price. I was six, so I said yes, but I knew then that I was getting a raw deal. I still remember it, so I guess that had a lasting impact.

    Haggling should have its limits. While travelling in Guatemala this past summer, we quickly realized when we could haggle and when we shouldn’t. The marketplace was easy to haggle, especially because prices were inflated for us, the tourists. On the other hand, the woman who was literally begging us to buy her baked cookies got the asking price.

    I have no problem negotiating with wireless carriers or cable companies. I try to do it in a way that is respectful to the customer service representative because they are just an agent. I even negotiate with ebay sellers, telling them to drop the buy it now price by a few dollars, and in return, I buy immediately, getting cash in their hands.

    If the comic books were not worth $20 to the man, he should have walked away instead of trying to take advance of a kid.

  10. Virginia says:

    Ick. I hate haggling. I recognize that in other cultures it is expected and in certain venues – flea markets & garage sales – it is acceptable as long as people are respectful. But certain people tend to carry their haggling behaviors into area where it does not belong.

    We sometimes get people in our local arts council gift shop who want to haggle or complain about prices and Etsy is having a big problem with buyers wanting to negotiate a better price for handmade artwork and fine crafts. Artisans put a great deal of work into their products, they do not have a union that lobbies for fair wages or health care or reasonable hours for them, they have tremendous overload and most of them price their wares too low to begin with.

    I am always offended when someone asks for a “better price” on fine art or handcrafted goods. People who want to pay Walmart prices need to be satisfied with cheap, mass produced Walmart quality.

    Having said that, I and many handcrafters I know are often willing to trade goods and services so long as the value of each trade is reasonably even. I’m working on an amazing scarf for my chiropractor’s wife right now- I will receive services that I otherwise couldn’t afford and he’ll be able to give her a luxurious gift that might otherwise be too pricey to justify.

  11. Todd @ Personal Finance Playbook says:

    That guy sounds like a jerk.

    That being said, the family could have chose not to sell the comics for that price. They obviously valued the $15 more than they valued the two comics. So the market worked in that regard.

    I agree with the commenter that said that the adult should have stepped in and handled the customer. On the other hand, the kid (who already sounds like he’s growing up a little too fast) may have learned something from the experience. I bet he’ll be a tough businessman when he grows up, since he’s had to claw his way there.

    Thanks for sharing the story.

  12. steamincuppaliz says:

    Bad behavior is just bad behavior, no matter if money is involved or not. While haggling may be appropriate or expected in certain situations, we all should know better than to be emotionally manipulative with children or to treat anyone disrespectfully.

  13. KC says:

    I certainly wouldn’t haggle with a kid or someone who had a mental disability – I wouldn’t want anyone to see me as taking of advantage of them. However I’ll haggle with any adult – rich or poor. If I choose not to haggle with a family that I know needs the money, that’s my choice. But I’ve found in life that a lot of people who appear to be poor…are not. You’d be surprised how many people out there make a decent living (a tax-free living) pan-handling. Like I said, its your choice whether or not to haggle with the poor family, but I certainly don’t see it as unethical if you do. Haggling with kids or those with mental disabilities is another story though.

  14. Courtney says:

    I was about 10 years old and living in Mexico with my parents. Haggling is completely normal and expected there. I took my allowance of 20 pesos and found a necklace I wanted marked 15. I haggled with the girl (not much older than me) and got it down to 12. I was so proud of myself for getting the price down.

    At that point, my father stepped in and told me to give her 15. I explained “but I bargained her down to 12!” He looked at me and I’ll never forget what he said.

    “She needs that three pesos more than you do.”

    I gave her the 15.

    I’m fine with haggling, but if you possess an unfair advantage over the seller (financial, mental, ability, or maturity level), I feel it is unethical to use that advantage to get yourself a better price. Although we all want to be frugal, we have to remember we’re human first. None of us (I would hope) would give $1 to a blind person for $5 in change, but is buying a $2500 car for $500 because the seller is in dire straits any better?

  15. greg says:

    I had a funny experience in Helsinki, Finland. I went into a shop to buy a headset for my Nokia cellphone, and was offered a rather expensive one. I asked if they had any cheaper ones, and the shop attendant said “I will look it up”, typed something into his computer, and then offered me exactly the same item for a much lower price, around 30% less. Different countries have different customs to handle these situations.

  16. casey says:

    I haggle in what most people would say the “wrong” way. I tell the seller what I am willing to pay and if they so no then I thank them and leave. It doesn’t get me the lowest price I can get but to me it is worth the saved time. Obviously I lack the patience necessary for successful haggling.

  17. Christina says:

    At places that are flea markets, yard sales, rummage sales, etc. – I always haggle. I’ve had people respond “this is for XYZ charity”. I smile and say yes, that is one of the reasons I’m here today – I want to support XYZ charity.

    HOWEVER, just because it is for a charity does not mean my personal budget suddenly grew to spend more than I know I should (or am able to) on things. I’m polite and friendly. If I am unable to get the item for my preset price then I simply say thanks! and put the item back for someone else to purchase.

    Haggling is fair in any situation AS LONG AS it’s tempered by kindness and good judgment. I would not haggle at a kids lemonade stand, because I’m ONLY buying the cup of lemonade to support entrepreneurial efforts – not because it’s something I need.

  18. lucho says:

    The parents are just using the kid to get more money for the books. So the first one who acted wrong are the parents. And the guy is really haggling with the parents not the kid. So haggling is fine. I would probably don’t like the sleazy technique to use the kids to get more money and might just walk away though.

  19. Robert says:

    Haggling I have no problem with.

    In the above example, you were at a flea market. This type of venue in the US is an acceptable place to haggle. In my opinion, the kid who was selling the comic books (collectible I’d assume) is opening himself up for this. In my youth, I haggled over the price of baseball cards which is essentially the same thing.

    Being a jerk while haggling is inappropriate. Whether the seller was 6 or 60. Make an offer without being a jerk and everything is fine.

    Many of the previous posters made reference to foreign countries. When in foreign marketplaces, I enjoy haggling. I’ve used some of these ‘hard’ tactics. In Mexico, there were some items my wife and I wanted. List price was about $85. I wanted to pay $40 for it. I took out $40 and told the shopkeeper I’d give him that. He said no. So I left. Right as I exited the door, he called me back and took the $40. He didn’t have to take it, he was willing to.

    The issue in your story isn’t the haggling or the tactics used. It was an adult being a jerk to a kid who may have had no business being there in the first place.

  20. Ramona says:

    If you’re okay with putting your 10 year old son in charge of a section at a flea market, you’re pretty well saying you’re okay with him dealing with haggling. Haggling at flea markets is the standard. The techniques used by the buyer weren’t all that polite but isn’t that also to be expected?

  21. Jenny says:

    In the words of a friend of mine, “Sounds like that guy needs a cupcake and a hug!”

  22. I think it’s always ok to haggle, just do it in a friendly way!

  23. Lindsay says:

    I will make one attempted to haggle if the item is pricey, otherwise I pay what the items is market if I feel its a good price. My family use to have a yard sale every year to make money for us to go to the fair. I had to deal with some mean, nasty people. I think that made me a stronger person.

  24. Tamara says:

    I think haggling is a-okay! There should be some decorum, and this story seems to be more about someone being a jerk, than haggling with a child.

    I would also like to comment on the idea of who needs the money more. It is important to keep in mind that appearances are not always what they seem. My grandparents were traveling in Portugal and saw a woman on the street with her young baby. They were poorly dressed, and the mother was begging for money. They were going to give her some money, but the local they were with discouraged them from that. Later that night while out at a nice restaurant they saw the same lady well put together, with nice clothes and jewelry out for supper at the same restaurant.

    I am not saying that everyone who is on the street, has money, but there are those that do, and for me if someone is willing to sell goods in a location (flea market) or country where haggling is the norm, they should expect that haggling will take place.

  25. Kevin says:

    I’m curious about something that seems unique to North Americans. How does one reconcile willingly engaging in the awkward and uncomfortable dance of haggling with one individual trying to make a living, while voluntarily and routinely OVER paying (tipping) another individual for some other service? Does it make us feel like some sort of social crusader, unilaterally deciding who deserves to be paid more or less than the wages our otherwise free economy has decided they’re worth?

    Don’t you think that makes us look just a little hypocritical?

  26. stephanie says:

    I agree with Kevin (#20). I could never, would never haggle with anyone, no matter what the circumstance. I believe prices should be fair to begin with. If a seller overprices something to a degree that assumes haggling as part of the process, then I simply won’t buy it. I would only buy something that has a fair (to me) price.

    I don’t understand the idea that it is fair to haggle at a flea market. Aren’t the people selling things at flea markets the ones who need the money more desperately? Why don’t you haggle with big chain stores, who in the big scheme of things would never notice the 5 dollars you want to knock off their price?

  27. Michelle says:

    Bargaining for a good price is fine in an environment where that’s expected, although I think it’s in poor taste in other situations (like the lemonade stand). On the other hand, bullying someone into giving you a lower price is not okay. The man in your story was guilty of bullying – using the age difference and aggressive behavior to take advantage of the kid.

  28. Will says:

    Haggling is morally and ethically just fine. All you’re saying to a vendor is, “This is what this item is worth to me.” It’s a statement about you and what you value, not about the vendor or the item. The vendor is then free to decide whether or not they value their item more than the money you’ve offered.

    As to the boy, it’s impossible to separate haggling from aspects of social influence. I consider using negative reinforcement to get a better deal to be unethical. In that case one is essentially saying that they’re willing to hurt others for money. Again, it’s up to the vendor to choose whether or not they’ll tolerate that sort of behavior. Doing that to a kid isn’t cool, though.

  29. Heather K says:

    We recently sold items at a community garage sale. A Chinese family was checking out this little side table I had marked at $40. The mom told the girl to bargain and walked off. She was training her. The dad was cracking up and trying to do the bargaining for the daughter while the mom was off looking at something else. The girl never really opened her mouth. In the end, they got the table for $30, but the dad bragged to mom about how the girl only paid $25, with a big wink to me. It was hilarious. It reminded me of a 32-year old Chinese friend of mine that was obviously raised this way, based on her current frugality.

  30. Pedro says:


    as it is written, “There’s a time for everything that is done on earth”. And, specifically on haggling, King Solomon said (Proverbs 20:14 – various versions follow):

    “It is nought, it is worthless!” saith the buyer; but when he has gone his way, then he boasteth.

    It is worthless, it is worthless! says the buyer; but when he goes his way, then he boasts [about his bargain].

    “It’s no good. It’s no good!” says a buyer.
    Then off he goes and brags about what he bought.

  31. Dan says:

    I question why the parents had the kid out there and allowed him to haggle without stepping in. Surely with the way this guy was acting the parent could have stepped in. However, I suspect that the parent wants the child to learn to haggle on their own. I also suspect that $15 wasn’t a terrible price for the comics. Lastly, it sounds like the kid haggled successfully: The guy was almost surely offering $10 but ended up paying $15. That’s a 50% mark down from the asking price, but it’s also a 50% increase in the offered price.

    That guy is a jerk and should act differently, but the haggling that happened sounds fine.

  32. Shannon says:

    Haggling with a child is not acceptable. However, the parents placing the child in that position is not acceptable either.

    As for the lemonade stand, well my girls have the opposite problem. People stop and give them a $5 bill for a $0.25 lemonade and tell them to keep the change. Now, my kids are grateful; but the math lessons (making change/ balancing cost of having the stand) were tossed out the window.

  33. Kim says:

    Count me in among the folks who just don’t want to haggle. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never been in a desperate situation where I need something and need to get it for a certain price. My parents are big flea market and antique shop patrons and always tried to get me to do this, but I like a straightforward transaction. You tell me how much you think an item is worth, and I will decide if I am willing to pay that much.

    In the situation you describe you talk about the guy being aggressive and angry. Haggling is not in itself objectively an ethical problem but aggression and anger are. There is no reason to act like that with any human, be they 10, 50, or 100.

  34. Gabriel says:

    That’s not haggling, that’s bullying. It would be obnoxious if it he were dealing with an adult. The fact that it is a kid shows he’s a heartless cretin, the epitome of “cheap.”

  35. Helen says:

    Sorry to get off topic, but why do you consistently refer to the man in this scenario as a “gentleman”? It’s not a generic term that applies to any man; it has a specific meaning and the man in your scenario was by no means a gentleman.

  36. Several years back, Roger Dawson wrote a book entitled “Secrets of Power Negotiating.” In it, he lays out the psychology of “haggling” and how it is perceived in different cultures. America is very different than most parts of the world when it comes to negotiating.

    Negotiation is a necessary part of any business transaction, but it should go to the level of dehumanizing the other person.

  37. Nik says:

    @Kevin: When I give someone a tip, it is for the service. I don’t go to eateries that charge more than I think the meal was worth and if the server makes it that much better by taking care of me, putting up with my indecisiveness, and not judging me for being almost 40 yet going on 12 in social graces and fashion sense, I certainly don’t mind tipping them.
    I also try not to make their job difficult, but I can be somewhat high maintenance. I have a healthy respect for customer service and try to treat people right. I’ll haggle if I think I can get away with paying the price an item is worth, but not in the interest of “saving money.”

  38. chacha1 says:

    I agree, aggression and bullying are NEVER okay. Not big on haggling myself, but it’s a valid method and in principle not at all unethical.

    If I can afford to travel, I can afford to pay for a handmade souvenir. My test is the venue of sale.

    If something is offered for sale in a gallery or shop, I know there is a markup and that the artisan has already been paid or is guaranteed a certain amount. I will negotiate if I think the item is overpriced.

    If something is offered for sale at a sidewalk table, I judge the price purely on the intrinsic appeal of the item and simply show no interest if I think an item is overpriced. Knowing quite a bit about craft, I can estimate the time it took to make most items and the cost of materials.

    A friendly smile and politeness have been tremendously effective for me and DH in getting bargain prices.

  39. palm says:

    I don’t have a problem with haggling, even for kids. I think that the problem here was two-fold: first, the customer was acting like a jerk to a kid; second, the parents put the kid in a situation he wasn’t prepared to handle yet.

    Negotiating prices doesn’t have to involve being mean, and people who assume it does make everyone who wants to make a deal look bad. Haggling isn’t the problem; this is just one situation where this person is behaving badly and I’d bet there are many others.

    Teaching your kids to be comfortable with negotiating situations is incredibly valuable, but I wouldn’t throw a kid cold into a flea market anymore than I’d try to teach my kid to swim by throwing him into a lake. I want my kids to be comfortable dealing with situations where other people want something different than they do and standing up for themselves (like, oh, in salary negotiations when they grow up), but I think that the worst possible way to teach them that is to put them in situations where they’re intimidated by the experience. My son is in preschool so we’ve started with negotiations at home–when he wants two cookies (one for each hand!) I’ll tell him I want him to take a bath and pick up all his toys and the baby’s toys, and he’s learning to dicker with us to get, say, one cookie in exchange for just picking up his own toys. And this process is usually fun for both of us. He’s already started negotiating with his friends at preschool and I am thrilled about it–it sure beats the way that many other preschoolers are handling conflict, which often involves them just grabbing whatever they want or having a meltdown when something is taken from them.

    But even with this practice I doubt he’d be comfortable in the situation you describe at 10 years old and I’d never allow him to be pressed that way without intervening.

  40. John S says:

    I hate haggling too, but it is clear that price negotiations will always be part of participating in a free market society.

    There are a lot of necessary tasks in life I hate doing, but hey, that’s life.

    If you don’t want to haggle, then you pay sticker price. That’s fine, that’s your choice. I make that choice sometimes too, because sometimes it just isn’t worth the hassle.

    Anyone who says “I will never haggle” has probably never bought a house, a new car, or expensive furniture.

  41. Beth says:

    @ Kevin: The “free economy” doesn’t decide anything. People decide things.

    I don’t think haggling or tipping is hypocritical within the context of a “free economy”. Isn’t the economy largely based on supply and demand? If you understand that things (including labour) are only worth what people are willing to pay, then there’s no such thing as intrinsic value or fixed prices. We’re always going to be evaluating and re-evaluating what things are worth, and there are going to be different rules/expectations for different circumstances.

  42. Kevin says:

    @Beth (#41):

    “I don’t think haggling or tipping is hypocritical within the context of a ‘free economy’.”

    It’s not that haggling OR tipping are hypocritical, Beth – it’s that I feel a society that does BOTH is hypocritical. One or the other is fine. :)

    My problem is that in this thread, the common consensus seems to be that it’s acceptable to offer the price that you think an item or service is worth, even if that price is less than the seller is asking. It’s up to us to decide how much we individually value products or services, and that’s just fine.

    Yet in the thread immediately before this one, I was shamed for valuing a hotel housekeeper’s labor at exactly the same rate the hotel does (that is, I think she’s already fairly paid and thus do not feel compelled to tip her).

    What’s the difference? Why is it fine for me to offer the door-to-door driveway sealer less than he’s asking, but it’s NOT fine for me to abstain from tipping a hotel housekeeper?

  43. Chris Cruz says:

    I haggle but I make sure to do my homework and get a fair price without offending the seller. I check online comparison sites and forums to see what other people paid. I usually only haggle big ticket items like cars, TV, appliances.

  44. bethany says:

    I agree with John. I feel uncomfortable about haggling situations, and would rather engage in honest conversation about what I would like and how much I am willing to pay. In most cases, the social awkwardness of haggling isn’t worth the few dollars I might save, sometimes it is necessary.

    I also agree that bullying and rudeness are never acceptable, and sometimes backfire. Sometimes I have found myself in negotiations with sales reps on the phone, and get further by politely explaining my situation and asking if there is anything they can offer me.

  45. I learned a bit about haggling while studying in Mexico for a couple of months. Where I ended up was to decide what I thought something was worth. I’d ask the price, and if my number was in the ballpark, I’d haggle. If it wasn’t, I’d set the item back down and thank them then walk away. Frequently, I’d get a counter-offer, but I tried not to stray too far from what my initial number was.

    Regardless, common courtesy should apply, especially if the item is hand made.

  46. Tony says:

    I haggle on items I know are overpriced. And if the person isn’t willing to budge I never force the issue. It’s pretty much, “I have this much to spend, would you like to sell for this price?” If the answer is no, I say thanks and walk away. If something is priced fairly or underpriced, I never haggle. I’m happy to have found something worth purchasing at a fair price and call it a day.

  47. Kevin M says:

    I’ll haggle (what a strange word, BTW) when I feel like the price is too high…whether it’s a store, flea market, garage sale, etc. I won’t try to take advantage of anyone though, kid or adult. I believe what goes around comes around and saving a few bucks on “stuff” isn’t worth the guilt later on.

  48. Jim says:

    For haggling I would draw the line at deception. If a child is really unable to understand what they are doing then I wouldn’t haggle with them as that is unfairly taking advantage of a child. This child however seemed to know what he was doing and admit he was taking a low price since they need the money, that shows pretty high maturity on his part rather than financial ignorance.

    I also think its OK to haggle with poor people. If they are selling something then its a business transaction and the price should suit both parties. Its not a charity handout, so their financial situation shouldn’t dictate how much you pay them for the item. So go ahead and haggle like normal. Then if you feel sorry for them for some reason then help them out in some other way.

    When someone says “we need the money” you don’t know why they need it or for what. Don’t automatically assume they’re in need of your assistance. They may “need” the money for a snow mobile or to pay dad’s DUI fines.

  49. Lisa says:

    It always seems to me that *most* things that our society haggles for are usually things we don’t even need. Of course, there are exceptions, namely one’s home, but haggling over comic books? Really? I’m all for getting a good deal but I don’t ever think it could be considered “worth it” to get half off a comic book in exchange for rudeness… Maybe I’ve been victim of too many bargain hunters at garage sales who have offered me pennies on valuable things…. but there is a line and if something is marked very reasonable I’ll consider that a deal and not insult the seller. The behavior you’ve described is very much in line with the saying “he who dies with the most toys wins” and I’m just not at all into that game….frugal people should not be.

  50. Jim says:

    Couple additional points. I don’t personally haggle much at all so my comment above is really about what I consider ethical, not what I do.

    Another thing to consider: Acting poor is a fairly good haggling technique. I don’t want to be overly cynical but its easier to get sympathy and a better price if people think you’re poor so people do in fact dress the part when they are negotiating. e.g. I wouldn’t go to buy a car in my best suit.

  51. Kris says:

    @ Stephanie who asks: “Aren’t the people selling things at flea markets the ones who need the money more desperately?”

    That is a common misconception. A flea market is just another way of doing business. Margins are good because there is almost no overhead and that leaves room in the profits for the haggling. Many business models are even set up to take advantage of the “bargain shopper” at a flea market. I know 2 people at work who sell homemade jewelry and candles and such at flea markets in the summer because they enjoy it, yet they have well paying jobs year round. Then of course you have your people who are there selling the pirated things, you know, the movies from Hong Kong and stuff like that, but I would say its a very small percentage of people at a flea market that is desperate for money.

  52. Kris says:

    @ Kevin

    Your tipping comment is a little off topic, but I wanted to respond. Tipping is to the service industry as Commission is to the sales industry. In Sales, you make a minimum salary and the better salesman you are, the more you make. In the service industry ( like waitresses ) you make a minimum salary and the better service you provide, the more you make.

    Go to a country like New Zealand that does not have tipping and notice how the “service” ( if you can call it that ) is. Notice how the waitress never comes back to check on your food or see if you need anything else. Want hot food, well, you better hope its your lucky day. Now if we did away with tipping in the U.S., then I have no doubt that restaurants will raise all their prices by at least 20% to cover the increase they will have to pay in wages… and the service will go down 100%. I prefer a system like we have where a large majority of their salary is based on how good they perform their job. Bad waitresses either get used to not making much money or find a job they are more suited for while good waitresses are able to make a decent income.

  53. Geoff says:

    These ‘Ethics of Frugality’ pieces really get the readers going and they appear to be some of the bigger commented articles. Nice work Trent. Keep up the good work, it’s great to see people engaged.

  54. Gena says:

    Growing up, I spent A LOT of time at flea markets. My mom bought antiques, refinished them and resold them, as well as buying lots of different kinds of stuff and flipping it. I got very good at both answering the haggle and haggling myself. That said, I have to agree with Gabriel (#34). There is a BIG difference between friendly haggling and being a bully. This “gentleman” was downright abusive if he behaved as described. Why the parents didn’t step in still doesn’t make this jerk’s behavior right. Maybe they were dealing with their own customers. When someone with more power, in any situation, takes advantage of someone with less, both suffer. The kid learned that there are adults who are shmucks and can’t be expected to behave civilly, and the adult learned that he can get his way if he throws his weight around. A bad bargain no matter how you slice it.

  55. Jim says:

    Kevin @ #42,

    I don’t think there’s a hypocritical contradiction between haggling and tipping in our society. Neither are mandatory nor forced on either end. You don’t *have* to give someone 20% tip and you don’t *have* to engage in haggling. Our society generally tips and generally does not haggle. Does this make rational sense? I don’t know. I don’t think the waiter at Denny’s *deserves* more pay than the kid at the McDonalds counter. But thats how we do it. Fact of the matter is this is the way American culture is.

    Other countries do the opposite, they don’t tip at restaurants but haggle a ton at stores. Does that make any more sense? I don’t think it does really.

  56. Tammy says:

    My husband’s grandpa went to a nursing home and we were clearing out his house to be able to sell it. We were having a garage sale to get rid of the last few odds and ends. We had a wooden ladder that was still in pretty good condition, even though it was several years old. My mother-in-law was asking $15 for it. A man came to the sale and offered her $5, and she accepted, even though she felt like she could have gotten more. Then the man proceeded to gripe about what a piece of junk the ladder was…she wanted to tell the man “If it’s such a piece of junk, I’ll take my ladder back and sell it to somebody else!”. (But of course she was too polite to say it out loud).

    I worked in a grocery store as a teenager and this guy (an American) wanted to buy a case of bananas. I told him the price ($12) and he said “I’ll give you $10”. And I said, “No, I’m sorry, but this isn’t an auction. You’ll give me $12 if you want to buy them from our store”. In foreign marketplaces or farmer’s markets? OK. But I would never go into an American grocery store and try to negotiate a price with a 16 year old cashier.

    Bottom line is…some people are just jerks. I think haggling is ok if you are polite about it, and if it is an appropriate venue.

  57. k2000k says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it, the guy was a jerk, but the absence of the father makes me think that he may have let this happen to the kid to teach him a lesson. The lesson being that there are individuals who will take advantage of you whether or not your a foreigner, young, distressed, or any other reason why other decent people would render aid. We all have to face that lesson eventually, be it Trents experience with his collected cans or this buy getting shafted out of his comics. I have a feeling the kid is fine, and a bit more world savvy because of it.

  58. Cambo says:

    In my early to mid 20’s back in the 90’s I worked for a chain store that sold whitegoods (fridges/washers) and browngoods (TV, VCR’s, stereos).

    We had a RRP – recommended retail price, a standarard Australian retailing term, and a MSP – minimum sell price.

    RRP was what was ticketed and what we charged for “interest free deals” as interest free cost the store about 5%.

    If a customer asked for a discount it was at the salespersons discretion what to charge. Say a $1000 fridge (fairly common price point) might have a MSP of $780. MSP still left a 10% or so margin for the company.

    Most sales sold at RRP as customers were sold on the benefit of interest free as it was an easier sell and more margin for the store.

    There was an element of commission for the salesperson but it was minimal as base wages are fairly decent in Australia.

  59. Cambo says:

    Sorry, hit submit too soon – the point of my story was if you didn’t ask you didn’t get!

  60. kristine says:


    One reason it is the norm to tip for service is that now people understand that the IRS presumes a 10% tip for certain occupations- waitressing, for one. The employer is free to pay them 10% less than minimum wage, AND, the gov will tax them on a presumed 10% tip, even if they made no tips! So some poor soul making a paltry wage may even have to pay taxes on more than they actually earn!

    As far as the flea market- the guy was a creep. And the parents should have kept a watchful eye, and prevented their child from being made to feel desperately poor, and have a bad experience.

    As far as haggling? I saw a car I wanted for 7500, overpriced 1000 by the blue book, and offered 5000, including any and all fees, cash, the minute my mechanic could come and check it out. Not a penny more, at all, as 5000 was what I had, no more. I got the car for 5000- all fees, taxes, etc included. Short negotiation, both parties happy. It was Dec, and I did mention that in just a month, he car would be 6 years, old, not 5. (It’s a 2000 Ford Focus, still going strong!)

    And lemonade stands? I am always uncomfortable approaching children when there is no adult in sight. The parent may see from the window, but is more important that they be seen. So I never stop. But if I did, I would NOT haggle. I mean, don’t be ridiculous!

  61. ChrisD says:

    Actually in a way this story is an illustration of the values that Trent is teaching.

    You should live frugally so that you are never so desperate for money that you can’t afford to say no, the comic is not for sale. Even if you might have allowed the sale for someone who asked nicely. People should be in a position where you can say no to jerks, whether it means selling the comic in a weeks time rather than today, or if it means leaving a bad job and living on savings until you get another one.

    Once I was selling cake on a market stall and a girl just grabbed a slice. I managed to jump in and grab the slice back off her. Obviously I couldn’t sell the slice so it was still lost but I was happy about foiling the theft and that was easily worth the cost of the cake.

    The whole issue (saying no to mean hagglers) is also described over a century ago in Three Men on the Bummel.

  62. Susan says:

    For me, ethics is based upon my faith. Within my faith tradition, we are called upon to provide distributive justice for the poor. Justibutive justice is where there is a fair compensation for goods or services. In this case, the man purchasing the comic books did not provide fair compensation for what he received.

    The boy in this story forms part of the poor – those who cannot do for themselves. Not only does the young man speak to his desperate financial situation but due to his age, he lacks the skills to defend himself. The man purchasing the comic book took advantage of the vendor’s financial position as well as his age. This made the man’s actions both unethical and sinful in my opinion. It did not help the situation that the man acted, in the words of my teen-agers, like a dumb-butt.

  63. Michele says:

    The guy was a jerk. And the kid’s dad is also a jerk. Dads are supposed to look out for their kids. End of story.
    I never haggle with kids. If I go to a garage sale looking for little toys for the Yorkies, I always pay what the kid asks. I might be a schumuck, but I feel that if a kid is selling beloved toys or books, then they should get what it is worth to them.
    That being said, I always haggle at garage sales or flea markets with adults, including charity fundraisers. I am looking for things I need, or collectible that I want. I ALWAYS research the value of what I’m looking for. I won’t pay more than what I know is the value of an item. I’ll just wait- it will come around again.

  64. gexx says:

    That’s not haggling. That’s bullying. I feel bad for the kid.

    I will pay what I think an item is worth, and I’ll let the owner of a store or stand know if I don’t think their price is fair and ask for it to be reduced. But that’s adults. With kids, if I don’t like their price, I don’t go after it. I don’t want to be “that jerk.”

    At the same time, if a kid (and sometimes adults) are undervaluing an object I let them know. As I’m working at a comic/game store I’m getting attuned to the price of collectables and just feel horrible taking advantage of someone.

  65. Bonnie says:

    I agree w/ #64. What that man was doing wasn’t haggling. He was bullying the boy, likely to get the book at a significantly reduced price so he can turn around and sell it on eBay for a significantly higher price. The boy’s parent should’ve stepped in to deal with the rude customer. I have no respect for men who feel the need to bully children. What’s the point?

  66. Todd says:

    This reminded me of a lemonade stand I had as a kid. I was selling plastic cups of lemonade for a quarter. A man pulled up and said, “I’ll give you three dollars for the whole pitcher.” Of course I said YES. He drove off with one of my mom’s glass pitchers. She was rather upset. We laugh about it now, but I still think “What a jerk” to make such an offer to a kid. Luckily it wasn’t an heirloom or anything.

  67. deRuiter says:

    With haggling, the seller never takes less than his bottom line. If you don’t ever haggle, you’re over paying for a lot of things. I haggle over everything, and it’s fun for both the seller and myself. Private people selling at a garage sale or flea market DON’T WANT WHAT THEY’RE TRYING TO SELL, THEY WANT IT TO GO AWAY, the price is usually secondary to the offer to remove the object in question. Most sellers at flea markets are professionals with another income from a “day” job. The touching thought that only the destitute sell at flea markets is hilarious! The “poor” in America get generous welfare, section 8, utilities vouchers, food stamps, free vocational training, free food from the local food pantry, free health care from the local emergency room, they are paid a welfare supplement each time they add another child to the flock. Being poor in America reuqires a good bit of time and effort going from agency to agency to collect the free stuff. The poor don’t bother to get up at 5 AM on Saturday to set up at the flea market. Most people who sell at flea markets and garage sales are business people with a small business (selling used goods or selling for a wholesaler.) Flea marketers (me among them) are hard working enterpreneurs making extra income. The idea is to buy low, sell high, and do volume. In order to do volume you have to haggle. Flea marketers sell things to others who often plan to resell the stuff. Antiques move up the food chain that way, from the house sale, to the flea market, to the low level antiques “picker” to the mid lever dealer, to the Pier Show in Manhattan, each sale resulting in a higher price and a haggle, until the thing ends up in New York City with a blockbuster price to a person who may or may not haggle. As to Helen, THANK YOU! “Gentleman” is not a fancy term for a male human. A “gentleman” has a specific code of morals, manner, behavior, and a gentleman is never cruel or rude to animals, children or women. A “lady” is a specific type of human female, all ladies are women but not all women are ladies. Thank you Helen for airing one of my pet peeves language wise.

  68. littlepitcher says:

    I’ve sold at flea markets, and I seldom haggle. I’ve been quite frank about telling the guys that they are trying to haggle a woman down to half the wages they would pay a man. You’ve never really experienced arrogance until you’ve sold at such a place. Admittedly, the overhead is low, but many salespeople are unemployed, have a disabled spouse, or are supplementing minimum-wage or part-time jobs with flea marketing on weekends.

    Rude people will be rude, no matter what the venue. A child learned a valuable lesson about manners, greed, and human nature that day.

  69. Bill OBrien says:

    “Ethical Frugality” should be a core topic for TSD. It resonates much more clearly than social networking (Never Eat Alone). I have nothing to add re the haggling example, but Trent, keep expanding on the EF theme. Right on!!

  70. Tall Bill says:

    Right on # 69 & Trent. More EF Please!!

  71. Sea Jay says:

    While this has been talked to death, my feeling is that in order to haggle fairly, the playing field should be some what even–an adult verbally abusing a child is not an even playing field! I guess the final answer comes down to: What price do you put on your honor? Obviously, the adult intimidating a child to save $15–sold his honor for $15. Frankly, I value my honor at a much higher rate!! I wouldn’t stiff another person for such a small amount–especially for a comic book that he probably resold later at a huge profit. He was an “honor-less” man! That was not free commerce, that was bullying and intimidation! Shame on him!

  72. sbt says:

    It’s not the haggling, it’s the bullying that’s inappropriate.

  73. Lenore says:

    Yeah, this Ethical Frugality stuff is fun to read and could actually end up making the world a slightly better place. It’s certainly food for thought about what constitutes fair behavior and how far is too far to go for a deal.
    If I’d been around for this transaction, I would have had to make some smart comment to the kid within earshot of the adult: “You know what the difference is between you and that man? Someday you may outgrow comic books because you already know how to be a hero, even when someone else is acting like a villain.”

  74. Angela says:

    @ Jim 55 and Kristine 66

    Actually when I was a waitress I made $1.83 an hour. Minimum wage for wait staff in Texas was $2.15 and they took $.32 an hour out of our pay to cover our lunches (which were mandatory to eat their food). On top of that the IRS charges you 10% minimum of your total sales unless you voluntarily reported more (which I always did). So if you come in, eat $100 worth of food and don’t leave a tip then I’m paying the IRS $10 and getting paid less than $2 for the hour it took to take care of you. This was in 2005 btw. No matter how bad the service is I will not tip less than 10% because whether or not I pay someone extra is one thing but it’s not my place to literally take money out of their pockets. If you can’t afford to tip you can’t afford to eat out. I still live by that and I left waitressing years ago.

  75. kathryn says:

    I have to agree with Gabriel, what that guy did was not haggling, it was bullying. It is very much like a larger, stronger person punching out a smaller person because (he/she) has the advantage of size and strength. The adult “haggler” had the advantage in size, age, and tactics. It was unfair to the young boy. What bitter lesson that boy had to learn!

  76. pam munro says:

    I think haggling over prices is the norm with yard sales, and even some flea markets and swap meets – It’s a known fact that even marked prices there go down towards the end of the day, when the seller just wants to get RID of everything. I always think that’s the best time to buy. My husband sometimes gathers several items up and offers a lump sum for them – which works when they look overloaded with stuff. Not all yard sale prices are realistic, since the sellers are amateurs – there it’s perfectly OK to offer what you think the item is worth. Of course, in other cultures, really cut throat haggling is not out of the ordinary – even the bullish manner. If you are offered a price you don’t think is acceptable, you don’t have to sell. This goes for kids, too – who often tend their own old toys was a question, an adult should have been called in.

  77. AnnJo says:

    I agree with Helen (#35) and DeRuiter (#67). This man was no gentleman. An appropriate label would be “boor.”

  78. Nancy says:

    I don’t haggle at these kinds of events. Period. Whether these people are there out of extreme need or not, I’m not going to decide.

    That “man” was wrong and I hope somebody recognizes him in this story!

    Oh, and by the way, can we talk about haggling the price for services/goods with people who run their own businesses, like I do? We’re not doing this for fun, either.

    Last week a woman asked me if I could cut her a break on watching her home and cat because her cruise was costing her so much money.

  79. jreed says:

    Did it occur to anyone that these comic books might not be worth even a buck or two? Maybe the kid was puttting one over on the guy? It is a pretty rare comic book to be worth 15.00. Maybe the guy was actually a good samaratan being rebuffed. Why exactly are the parents putting the kid out there to begin with?

  80. Kate says:

    First, I agree the guy was a jerk. Even if the parents were encouraging the kid to help the family by selling his own collection, he was still a kid, and the guy sounds like a bully.

    My husband is a superb haggler; he grew up with it, and honed his technique in Mexico and southeast Asia. And when we owned a wrecking yard, he was always happy to haggle with customers who wanted to do so. OTOH, when customers came in who were hard-up (and he wasn’t easily fooled by fakers), he would often set his starting price lower than normal… sometimes way lower. We were never part of the official Senior Citizens Discount program that many businesses in town had; many of the local retirees had far more money than we did. But he could spot the ones living on only their Social Security, and would cut prices like mad for them.

    He used to come in and apologize to me for how little he sometimes charged in these cases. I always hugged him and told him I was proud of his decision. This is a large part of why we’re still married after 35 years.

  81. almost there says:

    Perhaps if people had haggled better during the housing boom, prices of houses would not have risen to the heights that they did and the loss wouldn’t have been so much now. Yes, every negotiation is haggling, esp. house buying. Anyone seeing the offensive behavior of the man bullying the kid should have stepped in and set him straight. People think, well, it is none of my business. But if one hears the bully, it becomes everyone’s business. That is what makes for a more civil society when strangers are not afraid to put people in their place.

  82. Danielle says:

    I prefer the word “negotiating”, though I will say that I find it completely acceptable, even in stores where it isn’t the norm to do so.

    One case that I’ve recently done this myself was at Walmart. They had a onesie that said “Baby’s 1st Thanksgiving”. It was clearly the only one in the store and had probably been missed when they cleared out whatever didn’t sell. The gal offered me 50% off (this was in January). We were looking for 75% off or better (the current rate at the time for post-Christmas items) and politely said “thanks, but no”.

    Flea markets, thrift stores, online purchases… I think you are doing the seller a disservice if you would be willing to a pay a certain price and you don’t even discuss it. For one, they might just be interested in making the deal, and for another, polite feedback on what your customers think the price should be can be very useful.

  83. kevina says:

    thanks for posting this article. I was trying to find another person’s point of view on haggling. I do haggle myself but in the market, flea stores, where its is generaly acceptable. Haggling for me is politely asking if there is a price lower than what is it being sold for, then if the selelr says no, then i stop and be thankful they entertained my question and not feel like i was being cheated just because the price is fixed.

    one of the main problem i am experiencing with my store selling online and in my little show room, is when customers tend to haggle or ask for discounts or “last price” of items, not thinking how unethical it is on such occasions when they are in a lingerie store and not a flea market.

    I guess there are many people who are not sensible enough, to know when it is and isnt the right time to haggle. Unfortunately some of my customers haggle the prices of my lingerie..to think im selling lingerie ! tried to make an effort and pay for an online store, made my tiny show room really pretty and classy, spent a lot of bucks on automated inventory and barcoded tags just so theyll know the prices are fixed but still!

    asking politely is acceptable to me since it is part of our culture in Asia, but those people who act like theyre being cheated on with the price when you say its fixed, and that its their “birth right” to get your items at a lesser price is what annoys me the most. Discounts , i give them to people who deserve it, those who doesnt ask for discounts are the people who i enjoy and wholeheartedly give discounts to,

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