Why don’t we know how to haggle?

Recently, I happened to be involved in salary negotiations for a new job (yes, I’m moving on to a new company, folks!). Very concerned about the number of vacation days I got more than the salary itself, I found myself breathing heavy at the prospect of having to put my foot down to state what I wanted for my new position, despite the fact that I wanted it very badly, so that I would come into the new situation happy. To negotiate properly, part of you has to admit that though you want something badly, you’re going to have to put your foot down and not accept an offer you are unhappy with, even if it means giving up on the opportunity at hand. Fortunately for me, it did not come down to that–in fact, this particular company, right off the bat without me asking, was offering just the amount of vacation time I was going to push for, minus one day. I suppose a person really good at haggling would have pushed for that one day; I, however, just let it go as “close enough.”

The whole salary negotiation process caused me to reflect on how Americans, in general, are really not taught to haggle. Yet, in order to not get screwed, we have to haggle in many situations involving large ticket items–houses, cars, even job negiotiations (though with jobs the object is to bring the salary up rather than the cost of something down). Does anyone out there feel they are good at this? I know I suck completely. I dread the moment when I have to pull into a car dealership and try to negotiate a good price on a car. I feel like I’m somehow cheating the company by asking for something at a lower price. When I’m in salary negotiations for a new job, I always feel like I’m being a complete asshole. Am I really worth the price I’m asking for? Will I live up to such high expectations?

In the end, because I’m so tentative, I end up screwed. I know for a fact that in one of the prior jobs I held, I was getting paid about 20K less than coworkers in my department in similar positions with comparable experience. I did not find this out until I was leaving the job when a former manager informed me because he felt bad that I’d been working for them for peanuts and he was really powerless to improve the situation at that time. This knowledge helped me adjust myself up in the next job I held. But for all I know right now, I could still be selling myself short and never even know it.

I know I’ve been screwed with vehicles just because I was tired of trying to push the negotiations–in other words, I just gave in because I wanted the vehicle and I didn’t care anymore that I was getting gypted. I was tired of talking to the smarmy car sales guys and playing along in their little game of back-and-forth with the manager to get them to lower the price of the car at hundred dollar increments. At some point, you do need the car and you don’t have time to continue revisiting the uncomfortable situation. Again, people better at haggling and with less emotion involved would have done a better job, but it’s hard for me to separate my emotion from the situation and they know that. (I suck at poker too.)

I’ve been on the other end of negotiations, however, when selling a house. I’ve hardlined my price and got the amount I wanted for the property. Still, it was hard to hold out when I just wanted someone to take the property off my hands. The mortgage continues to demand payment while you’re trying to get the house sold, and sometimes you give in a little there because you just want to not worry about the extra property anymore.

In my international travels, I’ve learned that a lot of places in other countries expect you to haggle their prices down, and when you don’t, you’re paying way too much for an item. These people make a killing out of us stupid Americans who aren’t used to this style of purchasing. We take things at face value–the tag says $50 and we just hand over $50. It makes us uncomfortable to ask for less because we feel, on some level, we’re cheating the seller out of the worth of their product, forgetting that they’ve probably bolstered the price expecting you to talk them down.

I don’t know why we’ve become so “polite” in our shopping style. At one time in history, a system of bartering goods and services is what kept our economy going. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could call a company and negotiate your gas or cable or electricity price? I guess if there’s a competing company, you can do this in a way… For example, when Time Warner screws my cable modem connectivity over and then says they won’t send a technician out for two weeks (and then that technician fails to show twice), I could, if I were good at haggling, threaten to have my service disconnected for DSL. Of course, I’m far too polite for this, too worried about being “that asshole customer.” So, basically, I end up getting mowed over by high price and lack of customer service, allowing a band-aid to be applied because at least it’s working now.

I just wish I could be a good consumer without feeling guilty. Having also been on the receiving end of an angry customer’s blasts, I know all too well what support staff is thinking at the other side of the phone and I just can’t help but think of that whenever I’m in a haggling situation. People tell me that I need to look out for myself and my needs, and I agree. But I just can’t help feeling guilty when I try to push an issue, whether for my own standards of living (such as the case with salary) or an item I want or need to purchase…

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8 thoughts on “Why don’t we know how to haggle?

  1. You wanna learn how to haggle? Start holding garage sales. Seriously. That is the secret. Trust me, I'm married to a professional flea market & garage sale junkie ;)

  2. I’m not good at haggling for a salary (saggalary?) either. I’m getting better, though.I’ve been told the key is to be comfortable with your lowest price… so when you go to an interview, just be very comfortable knowing that no matter how great the job is, you won’t take it unless you get $x and Y vacation days. That way you know what you want and its easier. You don’t have to beg for a salary, you can just state calmly, “This is what I need in order to take this position” and then its not emotional, you just say what you need and they either take your offer or not. You are offering to them, not the other way around. Have it all worked out in your head. What would you do if they offered you 40K? 50k? 60k? Whatever. Maybe you’ll take the lower salary only if it has great vacation days and other perks. Map out all the scenarios in your head beforehand, and know what you would do with them.If they offer you 30K but you know your living expenses are 35K, its a no-brainer, you just can’t afford it.The best is to look for a job while you currently have another job. You just have more leverage. You can always walk away and they know you aren’t desperate.Basically: What’s its worth to you?Research market rates. I think monster.com has a salary calculator, where you can compare how much people in your field earn in your locale. If the company isn’t offering you a salary in that range, just say–“I’ve researched market rates for salaries in the area, and this position comes up short. Could you please explain why?”Companies, of course, don’t want you to know what others are making, because the less information you have the more leverage they have.Of course, if you are miserable in your current job (and they probably know that since you are taking the time to look around) maybe its worth it just to switch for peace of mind. Another thing I noticed is that even with vacation days that’s not the whole story. In my current job, we get a poor offering of vacation days. HOWEVER, they are very lenient with coming in late, taking a morning off for a doctor’s appointment, or just running errands… taking a 2-hour lunch when you need to. So even though official vacation days are small, they are flexible about these off-the-record time offs.Anyway, congrats on the job, hope you work out well there working out well there. ha.

  3. Diane,Could Jeff go haggle the price of my next car for me? Maybe I could pretend he’s my husband or something…? ;) I mean, seriously, I cant haggle!

  4. Hey Mars Girl, I read your story on last years Roscoe Ramble and really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am planning on riding the long route this year and maybe I’ll see you out there. Take care and I hope your riding is going well. Lou

  5. Haggling in today’s job market would seem to me to be almost a fruitless pursuit with the current job market climate. There are some cases where you can if you have some special talent no one else readily can provide but is in great demand. The key is to have that skill that is wanted but almost unavailable. I mean it is really an employer’s market out there. They do not really have to give in to anything right now if they don’t want to knowing that a line of you is right outside their door who more than likely will take the job you rejected. It’s not the employer worried about not finding someone to fill the position. All the weight is on the job seeker to find a position being offered that matches closely to what they want. Take what is offered or leave, it seems right now.I myself dislike public utility companies or service companies that have no competition and dictate to you what you will get. I mean it is such a crock! They have the land carved up into I get these poor bastards and you get these poor bastards and boo hoo if they don’t like it. For most people you have no choice in power, water, phone, gas, or cable. They each have their territories staked out and claimed like some middle ages landowners. Sure, TimeWarner knows you can disconnect their cable service and go to DSL but they don’t care. Because they know for most people they are they only option for high speed internet. And they know you’ll be even less happy with DSL and its problems.

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