Read before bidding.
1. Come prepared.
Never begin to negotiate on the price of an item that you haven't researched and understand the value of. In order to get the best deal, it's essential to know what the market supports for the item in your area. Ask yourself: is it a good deal to begin with? What have other items like it sold for recently? How is this one better or worse? What's my ideal price and what's my maximum price?
2. Be polite.
Negotiating should be less of a battle and more of a dance. Have a conversation with your seller, kick the dirt, and find some common ground. Realize that both parties have an investment in the outcome, and that a happy seller is as important as a happy buyer. Sellers who leave feeling like you drove a hard but fair deal will be more likely to "dance" with you again.
3. Don't make the first move.
This is where a bit of psychology comes in. If you're in a situation where the price of an item is not stated, let the seller toss out the first number. Whoever quotes this magic figure first takes the most risk in negotiation — is the price so outlandish that the seller has alienated the buyer? Is it so low that he could have gotten twice that amount? If you can't avoid naming the first price, opt for a fair, if slightly low-ball offer. Remember, you can always increase your offer, but decreasing it is like trying to unlay an egg.
4. Time it right.
Don't start haggling the minute you meet your seller...or worse, on the phone or in email. A few months ago, I was selling some antique furniture and advertised one piece online with the photo and price. I got three calls within an hour from folks asking me to come down on my price before they even went to the trouble of coming over to see it. This method is tactless and shows little skill and even less effort. (See also: 9 Secrets of Highly Successful Craigslist Sellers)
5. Get creative.
Negotiating on price is the most obvious way to employ your skills, but there are many other things that can tip the deal in your direction. Don't get stuck on dollars and forget other factors that can equal dollars. If the item is large and hard to move, ask the seller to include delivery. How about a few lessons on how to use that guitar instead of the $20 discount you're looking for? Maybe that cell phone carrier would include a free car charger and earbud to win your business.
6. Be able to walk away.
If you're working hard on a deal that you believe just isn't going your way, be prepared to politely wrap things up and walk away. Remember, in the game of negotiation, walking away is the ultimate card to play, so don't overplay it or play it before you're ready. Typically, seeing a potential buyer heading toward the door will motivate most sellers to make a deal.
7. Flash the cash.
If you've gone to all the trouble to close a sweet deal, don't spoil the moment by not having cash in-hand. Remember, cash is still king — showing up with the green is a huge bargaining chip in itself. Leaving to hit the ATM gives your seller time you don't want him to have — time to reconsider or get a better offer. Oh, and while we're on the topic, have exact change. There are few things that show worse form than explaining your tight financial circumstances to a seller and then sorting through your c-notes to pay for that $40 bicycle. Think in advance and expect success — have the money ready
The 7 Laws of Negotiation
PS. Always make a face when they give you the price. Make it look like they just hurt you.