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Easy Ways to Save Money: Negotiating and Bartering to Stay Within Budget

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Quick Survey

Who thinks Stacy and I are cheap?  If you said “yes,” thank you.  I am proud of the fact that we don’t pay retail for virtually anything and we are always looking for ways to save money.  More importantly, we’re always looking for the best ways to save money and easy ways to save money.  Today I want to spend a little time talking about two things you’re either really excited about or scared to death to try: negotiating and bartering.

When to Negotiate

Negotiation isn’t just something that occurs during a hostage situation where the bad guys want pizza, $5,000,000 and a private jet to the Caymans.  Negotiation should occur anytime you buy something at a place where there is a chance to save some money.  You’re probably not going to walk into a big box store and do a lot of negotiating, but many stores and just about every person is willing to negotiate price if you’re willing to ask.  I’ve shared the story before that when we got the final bill for Annie’s birth, the first thing I did was call the hospital and tell them I wanted to pay it in full, but I expected a discount.  With no hesitation, they said they’d give me 20% off.  Considering the bill was over $1,300, that phone call was worth almost $300.  Voila!

The Approach

Most of you don’t want to spend more than you have to on any purchase.  In fact, some of you can’t afford to spend much on most purchases and have to make every penny count.  For you, negotiating must become a way of life.  If you’re not sure whether the price of a purchase you’re about to make has any wiggle room, ask!  When you are preparing for the purchase, simply ask, “I’d really like to buy this but my budget is pretty tight.  Is there any wiggle room in the price?”  If the answer is no and you have the cash to buy it, go ahead.  I guarantee, though, you’ll be surprised how often you’ll be given a discount just by asking.  This one question has saved us thousands of dollars.  ASK!  Your budget will thank you.

When to Barter

If you need or really want something you can’t afford and negotiating doesn’t get you far enough toward being able to buy it, consider bartering.  Even though a full-scale barter economy is not very realistic, on an individual level it is a great way to save money.  Barter systems have been around forever.  You have something I want; I have something you want.  We trade.  Even little kids understand the barter system.  Don’t believe me – hide and watch two kids play together.  They’ll “trade” and “share” until they each end up with something they believe is better than what they started with.

The Approach

Keep it simple.  Let’s consider some examples:

  1. When Stacy and I were struggling to make our gift budget work, we happened to have some friends who were building a house and wanting some built-in cabinets that were going to be EXPENSIVE.  They also happened to own a small laser-engraving business.  I agreed to build those cabinets (they paid for materials) in exchange for them making us several personalized gifts (we paid for materials).  I spent a couple of Saturdays in the woodshop and we got a bunch of Christmas gifts for that year.
  2. When Stacy went to get her hair cut a few months ago, her hairdresser was VERY interested in her fancy purse (yard sale find).  They traded a free haircut in exchange for that purse.
  3. We really wanted someone to help us stage our home as we were putting it on the market.  Our friend Missy (who rocks at staging) traded us these services for one of Stacy’s rockin’ awesome home-cooked meals.

See – simple.  Facebook and other social media outlets have made bartering much easier than it used to be.  You can post on your wall that you need X and are willing to exchange it for Y.  In a face-to-face encounter, you can simply ask the person something like this, “Hey Mildred, I really need some of those lovely hand-woven mullet-warmers you sell but I can’t make that purchase fit in my budget right now.  Is there something you need that I could help you with in exchange for a set of your mullet-warmers?”  Even though I’m sure the demand for Mildred’s fine products would allow her to sell all she could make, she might be looking for someone who can make her a nice casserole.  Trade!  If Mildred says no, it’s all good.  You tried.

Negotiating and bartering are two creative and easy ways to help make your budget work.  If you can’t bring in more income or cut expenses, these ways can help you squeeze a little more out of your money.  If you’ve done this before, I’d love to hear how it worked out.  If you’ve never tried it, what are you waiting for?  Need some financial counseling but can’t afford to pay for it?  What could you trade? See how easy it is!?

*This post is linked at Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead, at Finer Things Friday on Amy’s Finer Things, at Works For Me Wednesday on We Are That Family, at Simple Lives Thursday on GNOWFGLINS, at Frugal Friday on Life as Mom, and at Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable.

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Comment Policy: I love hearing your thoughts and input on what I write. Since I write about what works at my house, what pleases my handsome hubby and darling children; I'm sure we'll disagree sometimes. In those cases, do what's right for you and yours. As with any form of communication, please only post comments that move the discussion in a positive direction.

About Barry

Barry is the husband half of the Stacy Makes Cents team, responsible for all the marketing, website development, sanity management and taste testing. Barry writes about personal finance issues, helping people get out of debt, live on a budget and make the most of every cent that comes into their hands. He is the author of From Debtor to Better: The Details of Debt and How to Get Out! and writes periodically on his own site, Debtor to Better.


  1. Great post!

    Debt and mullets–two things people should really stay away from. 😉

  2. I LOVE barter! Having four kids on one paycheck makes for a very tight budget, so when the older two wanted to sign up for some dance and art classes (we homeschool), I had to get creative. I talked with the owner and we worked out a trade…while my kids are in classes, I clean some of the studios/lobby. It’s a total win-win!

  3. I buy most of my stuff at thrift stores now, anyway..although even then, sometimes you can get them to lower the price a little bit :) The bartering idea sounds intriguing. I haven’t tried that yet. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  4. This was perfect timing! My husband and I were on the hunt for a minivan yesterday, and after reading this article, I was a little more willing to stand my ground on what we could pay! Sadly, we had hoped having cash for most of it would be incentive for the dealership to drop the price, but he said it doesn’t matter much anymore because they get their money so quick from the bank that it’s all the same. We were able to talk him down about $3000 and increase the amount they were going to give us on our trade by holding to our plan, but it was a LONG day of back and forth negotiating. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • YAY! That’s awesome! Saving money is fun…and I’m sure you’d happily work a few hours every day of the week if you could make $3,000 by doing so.

  5. My husband negotiates our phone/internet bill every year and he’s good at it! We save about 20% by not paying the going rate.

    He also bartered one of the dulcimers he makes for a hand-knit wool sweater for me. He’s a keeper!


  6. Barry (or Stacy!), I’m really interested in your story about Annie’s birth. I’m a new reader, so I wasn’t around to hear it before. Has this worked for you two on other medical bills? We just got a quite unexpected hospital bill to the tune of about $500 for something we thought was mostly, if not entirely, covered under our insurance, and I was planning to mail in a check today. Now, I’m thinking I need to call and ask them before I send a payment in. Thanks for the post!

    • Hey Sarai, it seems your timing of reading this article might be perfect! We have saved so much money by following the simple step of making a phone call whenever there is a bill to pay off that I dedicated an entire portion of my book ( to that very topic. As simply and briefly as I can put it, here’s the conversation (assuming the bill is valid; if it isn’t get that resolved first by calling insurance and the hospital until we’re sure it is right): “Hi, I’m calling about a bill I received from you and want to pay it with you today. If I pay this in full, can I get a discount?” If they say no, ask them if there is something you can do to get a discount on it or someone you can speak with that will give you a discount. BE NICE and don’t be pushy. We have two hospital systems in our area and I know that with both of them (depending on the situation) you can save between 20-50% by making that phone call on almost any bill they send you.

  7. We are exercising our bartering abilities more and more lately. For some hormonal imbalances, I sought the help of a nutritionist. She happened to be in need of a website, and my husband happens to build websites. So, she’s treating our family in exchange for hubby building her site! Also, our son’s taekwondo instructor is having some computer issues. Since my hubby happens to be a computer geek extraordinaire, he is going to agree to perform monthly maintenance on the instructor’s computers in exchange for taekwondo lessons. I used to be afraid and embarrassed to ask about bartering, but with this economy crapping out and our income not rising one bit, I’ve had to lay down my pride!

    • I think it’s great that people are bartering more often! :-) It makes it seem less weird. My hubby does computer work in exchange for things too…and I love it! I also love that I can cook and bake for other people in exchange for something I need. It’s a true blessing. :-)

  8. I really enjoyed this post! When we had some huge medical bills after our daughter and son were born (the insurance company screwed up both times), we waited until they and the hospital worked it out and then asked for an additional discount (we have a high-deductible plan). We ended up paying LESS THAN HALF of our deductible amount the first time and got a 20% discount the second time! I’m not sure why, but the hospital was willing to deal–maybe because we actually wanted to pay our bill–ha ha!

    Now, the bartering thing I’m too scared to try. I’m not sure that I have any extraordinary talents to barter, unless someone needs me to wipe their kids’ noses or something :)

    • @Jenn

      I kinda felt the same way about bartering. But when I stopped to think about what I could offer, there are tons of things. Cooking, baking, babysitting, errands, typing, sewing, cleaning, pet sitting, laundry, ironing, organizing and I’m sure there’s more I’m not thinking of. Take a moment and think about the things you do everyday that you think are ordinary. Those are the things busy people don’t have time to do themselves. I’m sure a home cooked meal from you is way healthier/tastier than some freezer thing that people buy regularly. You just have to find the right match up for the trade. Good luck!

      • Kayla, that is excellent advice! :-) Everyone has something they can do that someone else cannot. It just takes thinking.

  9. I think its awesome that you reply to so many comments! Most bloggers don’t do that. It set you apart. Great job!

  10. really really wonderful article. There are so many things here you mention that I have never thought of! I am going to check out the rest of your site. For me ( a mom with 3 boys) I must say saving money for me has been with the cellphones. Of course all three of them wanted an iphone but there was NO WAY i could do that. After a ton of research I found that Tracfone ( a prepaid cellphone company) had fantastic family bundle plans with smart phones that my kids actually thought were cool!. Its like nokia and samsung phones and what not. Anyways my husband and I sat down and realized that with tracfone we were saving a cool 200 dollars a month.. and that was UNDERestimating. It seriously has been one of the smartest switches we ever made and I HIGHLY suggest checking it out if you want to save in that arena!

    • Before we were able to hop onto the Sprint Friends and Family plan, we too used a prepaid cell phone – and LOVED it! The price just cannot be beat, as you stated. :-) Kudos on pleasing the kids. Ha!

  11. ah i posted that twice! SORRY!

  12. I just stumbled across your website and I’m really enjoying scrolling through the archives. This idea of bartering is one I hadn’t thought of much until a few weeks ago when I set up my first ‘trade’. An at-hom mom business was crocheting hats and such that were adorable, but seriously out of my price range. But I contacted the owner to see if she would be interested in a trade – she crochets me a little pumpkin and I would quilt her daughter a placemat. She was excited and happy to do it, which really aleviated my nervousness about the whole thing. And I’m so happy that we’re BOTH happy with the trade.

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