Who doesn’t love a bargain?
Serina Bird, single mother and self-confessed ‘frugalista’, does.
It was when she was struggling to get out of an unhealthy marriage while caring for her child and paying the bills that she learnt the importance of the ‘every dollar counts’ mindset.
She learnt that you can still be stylish, fashionable, and treat yourself – without forking out a fortune to do so.
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And yet, when compared to her friends in Chinese and Taiwanese communities, Bird – who is a Chinese linguist – observed in her book The Joyful Frugalista that Australians never talk about personal finances, and therefore tend to pay too much.
“You’ll forgive me for saying this: you are bloody stupid if you pay full price when you do not have to.”
In order to side-step paying full price, Bird recommends learning to “negotiate like an expert” – but also calling the experts in when you need to. Here are her top tips:
1. Offer what the other side wants
Negotiation skills can be learnt and nurtured in situations as innocent as playing Monopoly. Bird cited the popular board game as helping her develop her negotiation skills in buying and selling properties as well as dealing with international trade negotiators in her professional job.
“Similar to when playing Monopoly, a key issue is determining what the other side wants,” she said.
“When the stakes are big and there are multi-million (or even billion) dollar industries that want specific things, finding out and leveraging what the other side wants is an essential part of the negotiations.”
Bird recommends starting off on the right foot by negotiating the easy things first, which will help build goodwill and rapport, she said.
“It also provides an opportunity to glean what the sticking points are for the other side.”
2. Build rapport
It makes intuitive sense and speaks for itself: you’re much more likely to do business with or strike a deal with someone you already like.
“We tend to think about negotiating in terms of being shrewd, tough and aggressive – big, powerful manly man stuff,” Bird said.
“But we are all human beings and like to feel good about the transactions we are involved in, not that we have been ripped off by an unscrupulous bastard.”
3. Just ask (politely)
Naturally, asking to buy something for a lower price will feel a bit embarrassing. But just because you’ve been quoted a price for something doesn’t mean you can’t get yourself a better deal.
If you’re at an expensive salad bar, for example, you could either accept you’re paying top dollar for lettuce, or ask for some more haloumi.
“Using words as ‘Is this your best price, please’ or ‘Could you please ask if there is any flexibility with the price’ or ‘Is this negotiable, please’, or ‘Could you do me a better deal, please’ can get you a long way,” wrote Bird.
When you ask for a lower price in most circumstances, you’ll probably get told ‘no’ more often than not.
“But not always. You’ll never know unless you ask.”
4. Loyalty pays
Bird borrows from the Chinese concept of guanxi, which means a particular kind of reciprocal relationship. When you develop a relationship with someone built on trust and respect, you’ll likely give them a good deal.
So rather than shopping around, in some situations you can cut yourself a better deal by consolidating and buying everything from the one place.
“A boutique owner might give you a bargain if you buy several outfits, for instance. Or perhaps you could leverage loyalty schemes that reward repeat business.
“Airline frequent flyer schemes are an example of this, as are fashion brands that have special pre-season events offering their regular customers a discount.”
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5. Call on the experts
While it’s important to develop the savoir faire to find yourself a better deal, your time is arguably more precious than your money.
Know when it’s time to call in the experts, who already have a wealth of knowledge of how to get the best deals, have those key relationships established, and offer quality service.
“They can bargain effectively because they have the power of quantity. They also do it every day, so they understand the market that they are in, including common pitfalls. They know which providers are good and which ones to stay away from,” said Bird.
Some examples of where it’s better to have experts backing you is in matters of insurance and mortgages.
When an insurance company is claimed through an insurance broker, your claim is more likely to be treated as priority than if you claimed it directly because the insurance company knows poor service will mean the broker won’t recommend them to future clients.
Finding the right broker or expert at a good rate can save you hundreds a year, Bird indicated.
More from Serina Bird: 6 home savings tips from a single mum turned millionaire
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