Do you know a born haggler, someone who still remembers how she resurrected her high school French to negotiate a 250-dong discount on tee shirts in Vietnam a decade ago? That's not me. Enterprising souvenir hawkers can smell my fear of negotiating from miles away. Yet even I have run across the chance to bargain -- and in places I'd never have suspected.

One such opportunity was when I bought a mattress. I was surprised to find out that purchasing a new bed can be a lot like buying a car -- take it for a test drive, then haggle over the price. How about stereo equipment? By buying speakers and the components at the same time, we managed to negotiate a lower price for the entire package at a local store. Or maybe you need furniture. Buy an entire kitchen's worth of appliances, and you might be surprised at the bargains you'll find.

In at least one case (the stereo equipment), my husband and I stumbled into negotiations accidentally. We spent a long time trying to decide between two different sets of speakers. Our good-cop/bad-cop routine caught the attention of a manager, who offered us a discount as an inducement to buy the more expensive set.

Keep your eyes open
Since then, I've been on the lookout for opportunities to negotiate the price of some big-ticket purchases. I'm not the type to dicker over the price of everything, but I can get motivated if it's expensive enough. Take our new kitchen appliances, for example. By buying them from a local distributor and agreeing to pay by check rather than credit card, we shaved a considerable sum from the cost.

To ferret out your own bargaining opportunities, try these tactics:

Shop local. You may find a more willing sparring partner at a local store than a national chain. A manager with the authority to lower the price may be more accessible in a smaller store, and may also be more motivated to get you as a customer.

Be friendly. A bit of skepticism may go far in encouraging a reluctant retailer to give you a better deal, but denigrating the merchandise or the store probably won't win you many favors. If there's an obvious flaw, point it out as a factor that should lower the price. Otherwise, stay positive.

Be serious. Know your product and your budget. Undertake your negotiations when you're ready to buy. Sellers have little motivation to lower their prices for someone who's not really interested in purchasing their goods.

Buy in bulk. You'll have more leverage if you're buying a room full of furniture, or an entire home theater. Your retailer might be willing to lower the prices in order to get you to purchase everything in one store.

Shop in pairs. Bring a spouse or a friend along, and try out that good-cop/bad-cop routine. It will help both of you think through the advantages and disadvantages of the purchase. You'll simultaneously demonstrate to the salesperson that you're interested in the purchase but not completely sold on it.

Shop secondhand. Some of the most intense bargaining takes place on Saturday mornings at garage sales and flea markets. If you don't mind buying used goods, start hunting and haggling.

Ask for extras. If you sense a retailer won't bargain on the merchandise price, ask for free delivery or discounts on related extras. You might hit on a bargain that works for everyone and brings your total cost down.

For more tips on stretching your dollar, take a 30-day spin through Motley Fool Green Light. It's a free trial, with no haggling necessary. Check out these related articles, too: