The Motley Fool's Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp is in session! Every weekday this month, we'll walk you through a fresh money-saving/moneymaking tip as we work toward finding $2,000 in savings you didn't know you had.

A serious customer with cash to spend can really call the shots these days on everything from electronics to housing to a root canal. Really.

A 2007 Consumer Reports survey found that 90% of customers who negotiated with a salesperson got a price break on at least one purchase over a three-year period. They nabbed deals on furniture, electronics, appliances and even medical care, netting the best of the hagglers savings of $50 or more. And that was before the economy went all kamikaze.

In other words, it really does pay to ask, particularly these days when retailers and service providers are struggling to get any cash flowing through the registers. But not everyone is comfortable asking whether there's any wiggle room in the price. So today's Fiscal Fitness task is to devise your price-reduction strategy for your next major purchase. (The $157.86 mentioned in the headline is from our example, which we'll get to in just a bit.) Put on your poker face and read on.

7 tips on negotiating a deal
Unless it comes naturally to you, haggling is a strategy best saved for big-ticket purchases. That way, you have time to do your research (a must) and will see some serious coin for your efforts. Here are some rules of thumb for negotiating a better price on just about anything.

1. Shop before you shop
You won't know whether you're getting a real bargain or a dud deal unless you have some pricing history for comparison. Go online and find out what the going rate is for the item you want. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) offers a Product Search, which allows you to easily window-shop from your seat. (NASDAQ:AMZN), through its expansive Merchants and Marketplace program, will also provide product prices from various retailers. Then you can use your retail recon to either buy online, or make bricks-and-mortar merchants play good cop/bad cop. Flash your cash and a competitor's lower advertised price (you'll need physical proof) and many stores will match the price. Don't get too cocky, though. Most will only honor coupons or sale prices if they have the exact item in stock.

2. Make the request at the right time
Take your cue from the automobile industry, where wheeling and dealing is most prevalent right before sales milestones, such as the end of the quarter, end of the season (particularly for seasonal items like patio furniture and Christmas ornaments), and end of the fiscal year. Getting more granular, you'll get better results by visiting the store when foot traffic is at its lowest -- during the middle of a weekday, for example.

3. Ask the right person
Some stores have price-match policies (which is why you want to come armed with a competitor's deals if possible). Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), for example, has a "Price Match Guarantee" where it will match a local competitor's price on the spot if the item is the same make and model. At Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS), they'll match the price or give you the difference within 14 days of purchase. Sears Holdings' (NASDAQ:SHLD) Sears stores will match the price on some items and give you an additional 10% discount. The catch with most is that the "competitor" must be local -- many retailers will not match the price of an item found on the Internet.

4. Move up the chain of command
Some retailers leave discounting up to employees' discretion, particularly in stores where employees earn a commission. If the first person you talk to won't budge, ask (politely!) if there is someone else, perhaps a department or store manager, who may be able to make the call. Don't limit your line of questioning to big multi-location retail chains. Mom-and-pop stores are often more willing to meet or beat a big-box retailer's advertised price or provide free add-ons when presented with firm evidence of the lower price and a ready purchaser.

5. Show that you mean business, but always be nice
A polite way to ask for a discount is to say, for example, "Is this the best price available?" The answer may be "Yes, that's as good as we can do." If so, you must be willing to walk away (or at least act like it). But don't storm away in a huff or start your negotiation from an adversarial position. For example, instead of saying "This is way overpriced!" say "I really like this item, but this is more than I was planning to spend." Remember, you and the retailer have something to gain in this transaction.

6. Phone a friend
If you need time to waffle (and stall the sale in the hopes of getting the best price possible), tell the salesperson that you want to get a second opinion from your spouse/partner/buddy/mother-in-law. The idea of a near-sale walking out the door may inspire them to trot out their absolute best price possible.

7. Find a defect
Many stores will give you a break if an item is damaged, dirty or shopworn. Recently I pointed out dirt on a pillow I wanted to buy at Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST) (I was putting a different cover on it anyways) and the cashier took 10% off the price without even blinking. Remember to ask whether the discount subjects the item to the store's "final sale" restrictions.

Save $157.86 just by asking the right way
As an example, I recently looked up prices on a Maytag Jetclean II dishwasher. I went online and saw that Best Buy has it on sale for $719.10, Sears has the same make/model for $783.99, and Home Depot (NYSE:HD) is selling it for $802.10, but is offering free delivery.

There are several ways you can play this. If you can get Sears to price match Best Buy's price, and get the additional 10%, you save $71.38 off the Sears price. But you might cash in even more by asking Home Depot to match the deal at Best Buy and give you an additional 15% discount by buying the floor model. That would lower your price to $611.24, which when combined with free delivery (let's value that at $50), means a savings of $157.86 off the total Best Buy cost.

Or, get something else thrown in
Price slashing isn't your only bargaining chip. Sometimes you can get a store to throw in free delivery on a large item (easily worth $60 in an urban area), gratis accessories on an electronics purchase (such as a free DVD player), or even a break on the cost of installation.

Once you start looking, you'll be surprised how often you're in a position to negotiate. Remember, it literally pays to ask.

Tune in throughout the month for the latest installment of our Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp, as we stay on course to produce at least $2,000 of savings for you.

Fiscal Fitness instructor Dayana Yochim usually brings along a bold friend to negotiate on her behalf. Best Buy, Home Depot, and Sears Holdings are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick., Best Buy, and Staples are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The disclosure policy plays the role of both good cop and bad cop.