The mission: Bit short of the readies? You could always haggle. Nicholas Barber did, and he has the burger and chips to prove it

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Indy Lifestyle Online
his is the age of the consumer.

Choice is infinite, competition is

bloodthirstily savage, and if I offer shopkeepers less money than they're asking, they should be grateful I'm offering them anything at all. That's the theory, anyway, and I have an ingenious plan to see if it holds water. I'll check how much a particular item costs and transfer a slightly smaller amount of change into a particular trouser pocket. When I get to the counter, I'll pull out the change and tell the vendor- in-question that, oops-a-daisy, it's all I've got on me. Simple.

I test this scheme in a newsagent. With pounds 2.16 at the ready, I take a copy of The Face - priced pounds 2.40 - off the shelf. "That's pounds 2," says the woman at the cash register. Not what I was expecting to hear. "Are you sure?" I say.

"Yes, pounds 2."

"I thought it was more." This isn't how haggling is supposed to work.

"It is pounds 2, isn't it?" she says, frowning at the magazine cover through her glasses.

I point at the price, "I think it says here somewhere ... "

"You're right," she exclaims. "It's not pounds 2, it's pounds 2.40!"

I take a deep breath. "Would you accept pounds 2.16?"

She looks as confused as I am. "I can't, love, it's not my shop." And I leave, much to the relief of us both.

Things go more smoothly at a nearby Tube station, where the attendant lets me have an 80p ticket for 71p, and beams with such avuncular kindness as he does so that I can almost forgive the London Underground for those many hours I've waited for a delayed eastbound Circle Line train.

I'm ready for the big one: McDonald's. Call me a bigot, but I've always assumed that the McTeenagers in blue McBaseball caps were neither equipped nor encouraged to make decisions on their own, so I'm expecting some confusion. I order a Medium Vegetable Deluxe Meal, priced pounds 2.88, and just as the McSerf is scooping fries into a cardboard envelope, I call out, "Excuse me, would you take pounds 2.60?" And, by goodness, he would! He eyes me suspiciously for a brief moment, then hands me my "meal" without a word. I can hardly believe it. A saving of 28p, just like that! I swear I'm never paying full price for anything again.

To celebrate, and to wash away the taste of the Vegetable Deluxe, I retire to a pub, and order a pounds 2.45 pint of lager. I count out pounds 2.30 worth of change. The young barmaid pours my drink, and as she asks for my money, she smiles as if I am her closest, most beloved friend. I stare at the coins in my sweating hand. "I've only got pounds 2.30," I mumble. Her smile crumples. I have betrayed her. There is a gut-wrenching pause. The pint of lager bubbles accusingly. Then it gets worse. A man standing nearby slides a 20p piece along the bar. "Have that on me," he says. The barmaid smiles again - at him.

I shuffle away, a pathetic, indigent alcoholic, and I decide that haggling is a Faustian bargain. This afternoon, I've saved 52p. But the price I have paid in dignity, dear reader, can never be reckoned.

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