Asking For Discounts -- And My Rules About It

I had planned on writing a post specifically about discounts and such, and I'm writing from inside a cafe where I am working between engagements today. While I was here, I wanted to order something to eat, to fill and warm my belly on this chilly winter day, but the restaurant doesn't have that many gluten free options.

There's this one dish that they make, salmon with a side of roasted potatoes and salad, that is quite delicious, and I smelled it from the kitchen and it tempted me. The dish costs $27 dollars. As I was contemplating if that is something I wanted to spend, I realized that, though I was tempted to get the dish, what I actually wanted was the potatoes, and I wasn't even hungry enough for the fish and the salad. So I asked the waitress if I could order just the potatoes from that dish, and she said I could, it would cost me $8.57. Not bad, considering that that was all I actually really wanted. This restaurant has cream sauce for some dishes, so I asked the waitress how much I could get a mushroom cream sauce addition to my dish for, and she said that would be free. So of course I did that.

All because I asked. Had I not asked, I probably would have spent over 3 times the price for something that I didn't even want as much for.

And that goes hand in hand with what this post was intended to be about.

Just Ask About Discounts

I find the biggest, most helpful, money saving tip is to simply ask if there is a discount for xyz. There are many different reasons why someone can get a discount, especially when it comes to entrance fees. If you're a student, you might be eligible for a discount. If you have a disability you might get a discount. If you are a veteran, you might get. If you have a AAA membership... List goes on and on.

So many places have official discount policies in place that they may not advertise with big letters.
When we were on our family vacation last year, we went to a museum that was rather expensive. Just out of curiosity, I asked them if they had a discount for kids with disability. They did. Quite a steep discount. So we got a much cheaper entrance fee because of that. And they didn't even require me to show the disability card.

When we went rock climbing recently, I asked them again about any discounts they may have. They had discounts for people with disabilities, and they asked me how many of my kids had disabilities, I told them two, and they also had a discount for kids under the age of six, so they, without even asking to see my disability cards, gave me discounts for two kids in addition to the discount for a kid under age six, so it ended up being much cheaper than the original price listed.

Use The Web to Look for Them

Something else I recently learned, now that I got a credit card, is that there are oftentimes many available discounts, at least locally, for people who have specific companies' credit cards, that are not advertised widely. I've decided that before I go do something, to look online to see if there are discounts for my credit card. When I took my kids ice skating, by ordering tickets online through my credit card company, I paid less than half of the expensive original price. Going to the movies, I found that for the price of 2 tickets, I get 2 tickets and popcorn and drinks, just by ordering through my credit card company. And no, this wasn't visible on the website in either place, I had to google the name of my credit card and the place I wanted to go, and only then did I find results.

When you're planning to do an activity, not only should you check your credit card company do see if they have discounts for those activities, but check Groupon. When we were on our last family vacation, we went on a glass bottom boat, but by checking out Groupon first, I found the same exact ride for half the price.

When Not To Ask
This post would not be complete without a caveat. And to be honest, at first I was debating whether or not it was wrong to post this, because I personally don't like when people ask me for a discount. And that's why I wanted to add, that as much as "Just Ask" is a great money saving tip, there is a time and place where this is acceptable.

If you're in the supermarket and go to the checkout, you don't ask them there "Can I have a discount on this?" I think we all agree that if we want a discount at the supermarket, then we shop sales, use coupons, and shop around. Asking at the register for a discount is just tacky.

However, though we all (hopefully agree) not to ask at the register for a discount, there might be a time and place to ask for a discount in the supermarket. For example, you might speak to the manager and ask if they are willing to sell you something at a discount if you buy an entire case of it. Or if there are some produce items that have seen better days, you can ask the manager if you can get a discount on some really past prime produce. Or if you see something past its sell by date, again, ask the manager.

But that's not all. More on that in a bit. First I wanted to point out other times that it isn't acceptable to ask for a discount.

When I teach my foraging class, I get royally peeved when people ask me for a discount. The reason is not because I'm a money hungry person who wants to take all your money. In fact, its quite the opposite.

I've been told by so many people that I charge way too little for my classes. But that is done intentionally. I charge very little because I want to make it accessible to everyone, to make a class that doesn't keep this knowledge away from people who don't have money to come. I charge very little, to the extent that everyone is already getting a discounted rate. And I provide a bring a friend discount and a family rate. When people ask me for a discount on top of that, I do get miffed, because I personally feel like they don't realize that I'm already charging much less than I should be charging to give everyone a discount, and they aren't valuing my time or my expertise, because if I gave people a discount on top of my already discounted rate, I would practically be losing money. (That said, I have been known to give select people free admission to my classes, people who approach me and tell me that they really want to come to my class but can't afford it. But that is very different than people, for example, seeing my $15 dollar price and asking for a discount.
Don't ask for a discount on an already low price. The one exception I have to this is in scratch and dent stores or reduced rack stalls at the market. Often they want to move products quickly and they've offered me a discount on buying in bulk, so once I know that they will do that, in the future I may ask about discounts for bulk. But only once they offer it to me first.

For other things, to be honest, I charge a larger price tag. So I understand people asking me for a discount then. But because of various reasons, I don't generally give out discounts for those. However, people who approach me and say "Hey, I want to be a long time customer of yours, are you willing to give me a bulk discount?" I am much more likely to agree to that. You see, I'm getting something out of that. I'm getting more work, and you're getting a discount.
The people that annoy me most are people who don't just ask me for a discount, but ask for a price that is 5-20% of my asking price. That is just rude. Don't do that. If you ask for a discount, don't tell them "This is what I'll pay you", especially if the number is laughably little. That's rude.

And accept no for an answer. Don't pester. If you ask for a discount and they say no, then that's the end of it. Don't badger them and explain to them why they should be giving you a discount. And if they do give a discounted price, accept that, don't try to bargain them down to accept it lower.
However, if you ask for a price and don't like the price, feel free to walk away. If they then offer you a lower price to keep you as a client, then that's fine. But I'm not ok with haggling when someone already tells you an answer. But that's just me.

So to sum it up:

Rules For Asking For Discounts
  • Don't ask for discounts on already cheap items.
  • If offered a discount, accept the price given, or walk away. Don't try to get them to give you a bigger discount.
  • Ask them what their price is, don't tell them what you are going to pay.
  • Be reasonable. Don't ever ask for more than a 25% discount.
  • Ask the right person, like the manager, not a cashier.
  • Give something back in exchange for the discount- like taking past prime/past date items off their hand, or a bulk purchase. Don't ask for a discount without giving anything in exchange.
  • Respect the no. When someone says no, do not pester them. No means no.

And lastly, while I don't add this as an official rule, I personally feel very different asking entrepreneurs/self employed people about discounts than I do big companies. Entrepreneurs usually have to work really hard to survive financially, and don't get a steady salary. Every discount you ask for means less money for them, and often those discounts can make or break it for such a person. So overall, I nearly never will ask an entrepreneur for a discount, and feel less bad asking companies for one.

What about you? Do you generally ask for discounts or look for discounts? What are your rules for when you will ask for discounts and when you won't? If you're an entrepreneur, how do you personally feel and respond when people ask you for a discount?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. One thing I learned is that if the customer doesn't know you are giving him or her a discounted price, they don't think of it as a discount. If you don't tell them they don't know. In the past I would sometimes give a discount without mentioning it, if I thought it was really needed by the customer. After a few times where the customer then asked for a discount, not realizing I already gave one, I realized that when I do this I have to tell them. I'll say only charging the minimum house call rate rather than full rate, or whatever. Once they know they are getting a discount they'll rarely ask for another and will just say thank you.
    In your case you can't blame them for asking for a discount. They don't know your price is already discounted. If you expect them to realize that, you are mistaken. They usually won't. When you tell them the price also mention you are giving a discounted rate

  2. There's a joke here that there is one price for city visitors and one special one for locals. The vendors don't ask if I want a local discount; they just give it to me. (It's obviously discounted because I can see the price). I've never asked for one, because vendors have enough trouble as it is staying in business, but if someone gives me a discount I'm guaranteed to come back, and recommend the store to any city people I run across. Given local wages are so low, and prices charged to city people are high, all us locals are grateful, and appreciative.

  3. I have asked if a bigger ticket item would be going on sale soon. Several times the clerk knew it was going on sale the next week . I just waited in one case and the other it happened to be the manager who gave me a discount equal to the sale price .

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