Discounts – Not Just Another Post On How To Make Money

Rob Pivnick, Author “What All Kids (and adults too) Should Know About . . . Saving & Investing

Outlet malls may not be as great a deal“How’d you get that for free?” “You got a discount on that…how?”

To use a cliché, I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard something like that – that would be a real money-making tip. Sometimes, one of those questions is followed up with advice that I should write a book about all my money saving tricks.

My response has always been that any book I wrote would just get lost in the sea of other crappy books on how to save money. I did, however, write a more thoughtful book on good saving and investment habits, “What All Kids (and adults too) Should Know About . . . Saving & Investing.

But, this article focuses on the short term win – how to get discounts when purchasing retail.

With a bit of insight into the mind of a salesperson, this post sheds light into why people might agree to give something for free – that allows us to more successfully seek items for free or obtain discounts. And since not too many of us on are on unlimited budgets, with holiday shopping upon us, you might actually save yourself some real dollars.

These are real money saving tips, strategies and methods that work – based on tried and true experience and human nature. It isn’t a narrative on wants versus needs. Nor does this article touch on life advise ideas like “set a budget and stick to it,” “downsize your house,” “don’t buy the latest expensive trend” or “cut back on your vacations.”

If that’s what you’re looking for, buy a self-help book. This article details a concrete method to save money on just about every purchase thanks to asking for a discount.

And it is simple: Just ask. Really, just ask for a discount.

Aside from the other beneficial coupons and discounts detailed elsewhere on the Living on the Cheap site, this simple technique works for various reasons:

  1. the general foundation of customer service is to please the consumer,
  2. most folks who work retail either (a) don’t have an ownership interest and don’t care if they give something away or (b) simply don’t know that they may not be allowed to give you the discount you’re seeking,
  3. people generally want to make others happy and will gladly give you free stuff just for asking, and
  4. people don’t like confrontation and will avoid it at all costs (which means giving you the discount you’re seeking).

Ben Franklin was way off when he said that a penny saved is a penny earned. If you pay any taxes, then a penny saved is actually much more than a penny earned . . . that’s because it would take you much more than a penny to net a penny for your savings.

For example, if you’re in the 15% federal tax bracket, you have to earn close to $1.18 to put $1.00 in your pocket – so you would actually “earn” much more than the amount you save.

Ask For a Discount and Ye Shall Receive

People want to be accommodating. And people generally don’t like conflict. So you’ll find that more often than you thought you would, you’ll get free stuff just for asking. Ask nicely. And smile. It will make your wallet fatter.

Anywhere you shop or dine ask for something free (try “gratis” for a cultured variation; “on the house” at upscale restaurants; “take care of me”; etc.).

Is it your birthday, anniversary or someone’s graduation? Heck, any excuse will do – is it Arbor Day or Columbus Day (humor goes a long way by the way)?

You’ll be amazed at how many free appetizers, drinks or desserts you can get at restaurants just by asking. Seek a 20% discount at the point-of-purchase – you may get it, but you can rest assured you’ll end up with 10% off more often than not.

Some cashiers are pretty lazy – use this to your advantage – especially if it is a busy time of the day. After you’ve had the cashier ring up your purchase and they are readying themselves for the next customer (or after the wait person has brought your bill at a restaurant) – that is the time to pounce.

Ask for that little extra item that doesn’t cost much and you may get the response, “Sure that’s fine.” The cashier is concerned with slowing down the line or irritating the other customers, and the little item you requested for free won’t break the bank in their eyes.

Note that you won’t likely have much success asking for a discount or something free if there is anyone around to overhear your request – the cashier won’t risk getting in trouble. Similarly, if there are cameras trained on the cash register, cashiers are reluctant to give any discounts for obvious reasons.

Does your job allow you to interact with vendors vying for your business? If so, ask them for golf balls. And tickets to sporting events. And lunch. By the definition of their job these people have an incentive to make you happy (not just for the sake of being accommodating) – but to earn your business. So don’t be afraid to ask for things – anyone with the potential to earn your business will happily comply.

This following little trick reminds me of the fellow in the park using a friend’s puppy to pick up girls . . . If you have any children (especially cute ones) encourage them to negotiate for you. People can’t resist cute kids doing adult stuff. If your children ask for the discount, the salesperson usually complies.

If your children are too shy, as many are, simply hold them up and say “Look how cute this little one is, don’t you think she is worth a free scoop of ice cream.” She usually is. “Oh, with sprinkles.”

Identify What You Want

To use another cliché, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. And another one – the meek will not likely inherit the Earth – so you have to ask for what you want as detailed above, and you have to be specific in what you’re seeking.

More often than not, if you simply ask the salesperson for a discount or to knock the price down, they won’t. But if you ask them for a specific amount of discount you want and for them to throw in the extra whatever-it-is-you-want, they’re more likely to do so.

Generally when I ask salespersons for “something free” I don’t have great success. It is, after all, kind of presumptuous to simply expect “something free” (but to be sure, I’m still successful every now and then).

But, by being specific (e.g., “How about you toss in a free cookie?”, “Any chance you could let me have one of those too?”, etc.), you’re much more likely to be victorious.

If at First You Don’t Succeed . . .

. . . Try again. If you get rebuffed in your initial attempt at a discount, don’t slump your shoulders and pull out your wallet to pay. But rather follow up the salesperson’s denial with a simple question: “O.k. What kind of discount can you give me?”

That simple question opens the door for them to suggest other options available to you to lower your price. They might respond by telling you that if you get two of the items, they can knock off ten percent.

Or, they’ll ask you if you belong to some charity or organization to which they’re offering discounts. Of if you’re a student. Or a senior citizen.

A variation of this simple question can be used if the salesperson tells you that they aren’t authorized to give you whatever-it-is-that-you-asked-for.

In which case you should ask them the following question: “What kind of discount are you allowed to give me without your manager’s approval?”

Again, then you’ve opened the door for them to start telling you what they can do.

If you haven’t had any luck to this point, try this trick and you’ll end up having success even after having gotten shot down: “Surprise me.” After you ask for whatever it is you want free and get turned down, tell the salesperson not to answer you just yet – just “surprise me.”

Every now and then when your item is delivered or food served, you’ll get that little extra you requested.

It’s at this point that if the salesperson offers me nothing I’ll concede defeat if I’m with my wife. If I’m alone, however, I’ll ask to speak to the manager and start the whole process again . . . asking for a discount using specifics, addressing the manager by his name and smiling.


Rob Pivnick is an investor, entrepreneur, attorney, residential real estate investor and financial literacy advocate. Rob has both a law degree and an M.B.A. from SMU in Dallas, TX. He is a member of the board of directors of the Texas affiliate of the national Council on Economic Education. Professionally, Rob is in-house counsel for Goldman, Sachs and Co. and specializes in finance and real estate.


Rob’s book, “What All Kids (and adults too) Should Know About Saving & Investing,” targets young adults/millennials with vocabulary words, fun facts, “Did you know?” sections and 14 key takeaways. Statistics, charts and graphs from expert sources bolster the information.

It aims to help students develop proper habits for saving and investing for long term. Not get rich quick. Chapters include budgeting, debt, setting goals, risk vs. reward, active v. passive strategies, diversification and more. Visit for more information. Twitter: @RPivnick

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