20210522: We All Love a Good Deal

There is an enormous difference between “retail” and “wholesale” pricing. The discovery of this concept, getting a better deal, should be taught in high schools.

I grew up in the Midwest suburbs of Chicago. My parents were upper-middle class, well educated, well traveled. If we needed something, we went to a store to buy it. If it was expensive, it often involved a family discussion or a little bit of shopping around for “best price”, or a wait until we saved up enough funds to meet the sticker price.

The price posted…. was the price.

My parents split up when I was in 9th grade. Eventually, Dad met Kat, and she loved houseplants…. a LOT of houseplants. The pots were expensive. Thus, in the late 70’s, for a grand total of 22 times during my high school years, we made the trip from New Orleans to Mexico, for a family vacation, but mostly for the purpose of spending hundreds of dollars on a vacation, in order to buy cheap ceramic pots. If we had a long weekend clear, it meant a road trip across the flatlands of Texas.

Those were the best of days. ANY road trip was fun with Daddy and our family used ANY excuse for a road trip. One time, we took off with only two 8Track tapes, one of Rod Stewart another of Barry Manilow. Those were the days of 145 miles between gas stations and no radio stations.

I still cringe when I hear “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy”……

We would drive through the night, dip across the border into Matamoros or Reynosa, and wake up to Chicken Tacos, $.25 cents for a solo cup size fresh squeezed orange juice, and Carta Blanca beer. We stayed in a Holiday Inn across the border where the evening attendants put fresh Gardenias on the pillows. To this day, a Gardenia is still my favorite flower. How sad those beautiful and friendly border towns have been reduced to war zones under the control of drug cartels.

But there was an open air market, which was why we were there. Kat would immediately go to work in the market. She was a pro-shopper, and I was in awe. She moved like a lioness stalking her prey. She was a decision maker – no fear. As a teenager, I always had money from great babysitting gigs and a few years later with real jobs, but I was cautious with my money. I hesitated.

The first time we went, my first time in the market, I spotted a straw purse trimmed in a fine silver cloth. I wanted it badly and asked the vendor for a price….. $20. I moved on, too expensive for me in 1977. By the time we were done shopping in the market, Dad and Kat had their arms full and could carry no more. I bought nothing.

  • Dad to Me: Why didn’t you buy anything?
  • Me to Dad: Everything was too expensive.
  • Dad to Me: Okay………, what was too expensive?
  • Me to Dad: Well, I found a purse I really liked but it was $20
  • Dad: Frowning.
  • Me: Sad face.
  • Kat to Me: Was that his finishing price or starting price?
  • Me to Kat: Huh?

The next day, Kat went with me to the same vendor. She waved dollar bills in the air and loudly protested. She walked away and came back again. The entire performance took about 10 minutes. I watched her arms swing wildly. She would hug the man — only to turn on him and shake her finger. It went on and on. She wrangled. It was a great back and forth, like a dance. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I recall she drew something of a crowd.

She got the purse for $2.00…….. and swatted the purse into my chest, as if to say “That’s how you get what you want.”

She brushed by me, but I stood there, frozen. I was thinking of everything I paid too much for over the past 5 years, things my parents bought where they paid too much. How much money had been wasted?? What could we have done better? What could we now afford? The pinball machine in my mind was tilting. I could see myself from above, head down, dusty dirt of the market around my feet, the crowd slowly dissipating from Kat’s performance, everyone else moving….. and me …. stuck in time….. and it happened.

Boom! Lightning strike.

Shaken from the trance, I looked up again and the entire world was bursting with the color of possibilities, all 256 shades of gray + the myriad of a rainbow. It was a wondrous and strange new world.

Moving ahead of Kat and Dad at the market, I tried my hand at the mystical art of haggling…. and had minor successes, which was akin to positive reinforcement. I saved $5 here, $10 there, and came home with all kinds of things. That $2 purse…. I used it for almost 15yrs before it finally collapsed. But this strange new thing called “haggling” was life changing. I asked for a raise from my babysitting job and got it. Wow, it was easy.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for a raise.

The trips to the markets all over Mexico honed those negotiating skills. I picked up the cues from body language, learned when to speak and when to be silent – allowing my opponent to negotiate with themselves. I learned, even when I was unsure or scared to death, to project confidence/”no-fear”, just like Kat did that day in Mexico. Step into the ring; enter into the haggling stage. It was fun. The DANCE was part of the transaction.

No dance = No deal.

Since I was doing a little better, gaining confidence, Kat MUST have decided I was ready for her “Grad School Package” when it came to negotiating. Back in New Orleans, Kat had beautiful jewelry and several expensive furs. Sometimes she let me borrow them for various functions and I felt important. One day, we were shopping for a prom dress, but she needed to drop off a jewelry repair. She introduced me to a high-end estate pawn broker down town. Her…..buddy. It was like being handed the keys to a magical new kingdom. I spent so much time there, analyzing, learning the banter, removing things from pawn, cataloging items, that eventually, the owner offered me an apartment upstairs when I was old enough for college. 40ys later, he’s still a family friend.

Never pay retail for jewelry.

One year, the day AFTER Christmas, Kat insisted Grandma and I go with her to shop the malls. I thought she was out of her mind, but at 5:00am, we left the house with every credit card she had. We bought decorations and presents for the following year. We could afford better things for people we loved because we could buy more with the same budget. And every year for the next 40yrs, we’ve done the same thing.

Buy things out of season.

In NYC, I loved the corner vendors and warehouses with boxes stacked to the rafters. Later, I transferred to Miami. One of my first customers was a lovely elder Jewish Grandpa who owned a furniture store. I was 22-23yrs old and had a barren apartment = needed furniture. One day, I sat down on a luscious emerald green velvet armchair in his store, priced at 2 months of my salary. It was exquisite but too rich for my blood.

Over the next year, he “took me to school” on furniture pricing.

Miami was an international city, and I traveled for work throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Everything was a haggle. It became second nature, enjoyable, almost a necessary part of a purchase. Buying something without a haggle was no fun.

At the brokerage firm, I hired a LOT of former F&I (finance and insurance) specialists who worked for car dealerships. Without a doubt, these are the subset of humans who have perfected the art of negotiation. There’s a reason normal people fear car dealerships. Our company had static pricing, there was “no deal”, obviously, but hanging out with them was like grad school for negotiators.

Have you ever been to an auto auction? Treat yourself and go.

When I cashed out and moved back home, I didn’t realize how much the experience changed my outlook. If Daddy and I went to a garage sale, he would move away from me, embarrassed while I tried to get a better deal on……. something. Needed to soften that edge a little bit, but no one can put a genie back in a bottle.

Buying the B&B, we always needed more “stuff”. From Christmas decorations to couches to a truck load of pumpkins to concrete lawn ornament, it was a constant bargain hunting adventure. Often, my girlfriends were with me and surprised/embarrassed I “had the nerve” to negotiate price. They had never done it. Usually, another girlfriend was there, who knew the ritual, would stand back, point at me, and say, “Just watch this.”…….. which was EXACTLY what I thought watching Kat in the Mexico market.

The “embarrassment”, or the intimidation one feels when asking for a better deal, vanishes when the deal is completed. The Zeal for the Deal takes over. The courage/confidence gained is empowering. And haggling becomes a contagious virus. The power of a company checkbook AND the phrase “How much will you charge me if I take them all….“, followed by, “Oh, that’s a little too much….” became our SOP.

My step-son was with me at a garage sale when he was about 7yrs old. He wanted to buy a game, jingling the change in his pocket. The lady wanted $.25 but he offered her $.10………… They bantered a little. It rubbed off on him. The elder woman chuckled; I was proud. Gunner is the same way, buying parts for cars he is restoring.

That’s my boy…… Teach your children to negotiate.

For the construction company equipment, farm equipment, cars for friends, deals for the city, I bought. For larger contracts, the paperwork and bottom-line numbers/negotiation went to me. Even my ex-husband gave me that gold star, but allow me a moment to digress.

When we were married, he did a LARGE addition for a local atty/Chairman of the Board of our bank/member of our church who had daughters older than me…. who was the notorious town Scrooge. The guy was a multi-multi-millionaire but stingy…. He would not pay my husband what he owed us on the final bill representing our profit on the job. No complaint, no point of contention, he simply would not pay the bill. About the same time, I sold my Grandmother’s house. He handled the deal, and paid me too much out of escrow. Bwwhahhaaaa. I knew what that meant.

Never, EVER, give up a strategic position.

The next day, he figured out the error (only an extra $2K on a large house deal) and called me immediately, demanding I pay back the sum, asap.

What do you suppose I did? What would you do?

When the phone call came, I was working in the garden….. and busy, and annoyed by his “doth protest too much” behavior. I told him I would be happy to repay the amount, to cover HIS error, as soon as he paid the $9,131 he owed us on the final bill……. I was very polite, calm and monotone.

All hell broke loose. He came unglued. He was shouting in the phone. In my mind I could see his red face and his nose all squished up. The thought made me giggle. Yep…..Strategic position = confirmed. I had him by the balls. He demanded I ….. jump. Nah, I’m not jumping for a deadbeat who won’t pay their bills….. He had treated my husband badly…. which was dishonorable…..but he had the gall to think I was being the a**hole, which is pretty much what I said to him.

Twenty minutes later, Mother-in-Law called in a dither. She handled the books for the construction company. Apparently the atty called MIL to sick her on me. And how do you suppose that went? I called his office back and left a message with his secretary. Paraphrasing, “Please tell Mr XYZ that calling a woman to do his dirty work, because he refuses to pay his bills, is not a characteristic of a respectable southern gentleman.” The atty was also a well known chauvinist, one of the rare few I’ve met in my life. He got the message. More fury, seething, and stomping of feet. I moved on with my day, forgetting about the incident until I was making dinner…..

Hold….. hold…. until you see the whites of their eyes.

Husband came home, “Honey, what did you do to Mr. XYZ the atty?” Apparently, he called my husband to complain. Husband was MAD AT ME. I wasn’t supposed to speak to Mr XYZ in that way. I swung around and damn near spit. “Are you kidding? He’s owed you the 9K for over 6 months. You’ve complained to me about it incessantly. I want my money. Don’t you?” What the heck????? I refused to budge. It’s negotiation class #101. I had him over a barrel. His IOLTA account was out of adjustment and a serious infraction for an atty. And I knew it. He had to pay the debt.

And he paid the bill, the whole amount, and I paid him back the $2K.

Don’t ever be intimidated when negotiating and YOU have the upper hand.

And winning, winning, winning makes us all smile. In fact, you’re gonna win so much, you’re going to call the President and say, “Mr President, PLEASE make it stop. I can’t take this much winning.”

But you’re still smiling.

Truth is, we never really know what a child will use to spark their creativity, curiosity, or better yet, a child’s courage to try something new.

When is the moment of inspiration?

Gosh….. It’s like trying to pick the precise place and exact moment of a lightning strike.

Never in a million years would I have chosen an ad hoc trip to Mexico to buy cheap ceramic pots as a hinge point in my life. Yet, what Kat did opened a whole new world for me. She showed me “another way” and bestowed a valuable skill in the best way possible. It was a PERFECT illustration in the art of negotiating, expertly timed, intensely personal (I wanted that purse), delivered to a novice (me) in a way a teenager could understand. The impact was immediate…. just like a lightning strike.

No business school could have done better than Kat in a Mexican market, arguing over the price of a straw purse.

Yes, Kat was brilliant, but my girlfriends and my sons are getting better all the time.


17 thoughts on “20210522: We All Love a Good Deal

  1. Thanks for the great story Daughn!

    About Rod Stewart, I always liked his [i]early[/i] music, these are just a few that come to mind πŸ‘πŸ˜

    Handbags and Gladrags (1969)

    Gasoline Alley (1970)

    Country Comfort (1970)

    Stay with Me (1971, Rod Stewart + the Faces)

    Maggie May (1971)

    Mandolin Wind (1971)

    Reason to Believe (1971)

    You Wear it Well (1972)

      1. I think I’m partial to Maggie Mae if I had to choose just one, but Stay with Me rocks, and Mandolin Wind is sublime, Handbags and Gladrags is raw and poignant (for lack of a better word)… I like ’em all… every note is ingrained in memory, even if I haven’t heard them in years 😎

        It’s the raspy voice and the use of acoustic instruments, the sound of that era, that gets me every time 😁

        Here’s one of them now…

        (sorry about the ‘Trial Version’ graphic in the middle of the screen, it’s the clearest video I could find!)

        1. I enjoyed that very much. Looking through YouTube, there are so many great ones. I’d forgotten about “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It” and “I Was Only Joking”

  2. Sounds like my sister. She went and brought a second hand car. Paid the deposit, got her reciept,signed the paperwork .
    That was Saturday. She was to pick up the car Monday after transfer of registration, instead they rang her and said there was a misunderstanding – there were two second hand Toyota’s for sale. The salesman had inadvertently given her the price on the cheaper car for the more expensive vehicle. $10,000 difference. She thought she had a good deal but yeah it was too good to be true. She got off the phone crying and told my dad. He was an accountant and gm of a large petrol bowser/ cross country pipe line co. ( eventually a subsidiary of Exon.) He was completely unmoved. Asked her if she had her reciept-yes. Did you pay cash-yes. Was the salesman employed by the car company? again yes.
    Told her he would deal with it. Rang the company, spoke to manager. The deposit had been paid to an offical company rep and a reciept issued. They would be picking up the car that she had purchased at the agreed price as the company had no legal leg to stand on.
    And they did

    1. I shall. I promise. Been super duper busy lately. Way too many fires to put out.
      I found this one in a draft folder last night. It was almost done, just needed a finish.
      Kat was a magical person and the world was better for her.

  3. Being a native New Yorker… I smiled throughout your post. Everyone “deals” in NYC. It’s no fun to just pay upfront.

    I saw how you slid in the “deal” and POTUS towards the end of the post – and the smiling over so much winning.

  4. An inspiring story, Miss Daughn! Kat and you perfecting the Art of the Deal! DJT must have been watching you ladies!!πŸ˜‰πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜

  5. An inspiration, Kat was, and YOU following in her footsteps πŸ‘πŸ‘β£οΈβ£οΈβ£οΈβ£οΈβ£οΈβ£οΈ

    “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒ

  6. You get inspirations in weird places all the time.

    One time, I did a job interview for a Controller position with some company doing party supplies. It was bankrupt but a guy from the UK had been brought in to put the thing upside right.

    He asked me, as an interview question, what was the most important thing to bring to a creditor negotiation. I was a young pup, so I fumbled around with something like “situational awareness of financial position.” Before he showed me out the door, he was kind enough to tell me the right answer.

    Talking to a creditor when you’re bankrupt, you absolutely have to hold that your word is your bond. If your word’s no damned good, both you and the enterprise are just going to be ripped to pieces. He even gave me an example — the party company had leased a bunch of delivery trucks from a leasing firm and he had told them that they were going to cancel half the leases or he’d ensure they ate them all. They sized him up and canceled half the leases, and he made sure they did ok.

    Haggling is the natural center of human interaction. While “posted prices” can be a timesaver, it does not reflect economic reality, and never has.

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