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June 07, 2012

Gentle Reader, Remember Me?

Gentle Reader, remember me?

I've been busy with life, or maybe I should say life has been busy with me.

In the past months I've

...lost two beloved family members. My grandma Tzoosh, who was 90 and mercifully held my hand as I got to tell her how much I love her in her final hours, and my aunt Gabriela, who was run over by a reckless driver as she was crossing the street two blocks from her house.

...discovered two other aunts have cancer, my uncle had a stroke and another uncle was hospitalized for an acute ailment.

...surprised my father for his 70th birthday. I showed up at his door unannounced. The first words he could muster, after the gasp: "You're crazy!"

...attended my 10 year college reunion, last weekend, which was 72 hours of euphoria.

...had a frightening revelation about college reunions. As they were playing "Hit Me Baby" someone said, "This is exactly what they played at the 5 year reunion." Which I missed. So basically, we'll be hearing the same songs at every reunion, forever. Wondering if we'll love it or get sick of it. Should have asked the class of '72 how they feel about the Beegees. Oh well.

...received a parking ticket, which was annoying but for once didn't seem like an injustice (see item one).

...been in a plane that was flying frighteningly close to the treetops before we got an announcement from the crew. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I... I... I don't know what's going on!" 4 minutes later we made an emergency landing. Turns out the gears were defective. So glad to be alive!

...contributed research for a NYT piece about Romney, out today.

...traveled to a tiny town in Baja California to interview the writer of Natural Born Killers, who is now a real estate agent.

...become fascinated by a mommy blogger whose life and personality are completely foreign to me. Thanks to the Internet for opening my world to someone I would never know, or probably want to know, in real life: Kristin. (Wondering now if anyone reads my blog for that reason. Somehow, the haters never came out of the woodwork when I've pushed my asking agenda.)

...come to a conclusion: I'm going to drive my car to the ground. So after snapping a few moving pictures of it on a tow truck, I put in $1,400 and bought, I hope, two more years. It only has 160,000 miles. You know how I decided this? I was taking a walk one night around a neighborhood I'd like to live in, and I noticed something. They don't drive beemers. They drive Civics and Camries and Jettas. That's how they ended up living there. By not having a $750 car payment. Also, I love to travel. I really really love to travel, maybe more than I love to eat. So I want to spend my money traveling with Mr. A, instead of driving a nice car around town by myself.

...given a talk about The Daily Asker to a wonderful group of engineers, social scientists and other measurers. It reminded me how much I love spreading the gospel of asking!

...advised a professor about negotiating her salary and benefits during an exciting new job offer.

...watched no good movies in the theaters. Seriously. Nothing good out there. Any recommendations?

...learned to be selective with my time and turn down work when it's not the right fit. Being discerning has been the best move ever for my business, except for actually starting the business. By the way: looking for copywriting, branding, social media strategy or marketing design? Have no fear. Write Brain is here.

...gotten a manicure in Washington Square Park, a sunburn in Cabo San Lucas, a meaningful hug in a San Diego hospital cafeteria, a cheesesteak in Philly's airport, a text message that stunned me before the tears came, and a useful new habit: weekly walks with friends for a happy mixture of conversation and fitness.

and

...asked for advice. Forgiveness. Fair compensation. A couple of discounts. And I forget what else. Because I feel like I've lived six years these six months. Maybe the rest of the year will be calmer. But somehow I doubt it.

2012. You crazy.

Can't say I love you, but I'll never forget you.

La Roxy

December 07, 2011

Replying to Your Comments Here

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Hi!

I tried to reply to comments on the initial car post but they are disabled after 30 days to prevent spam. I tried to go in through Disqus, my comment management system, to reply there but it didn't work. So I'll reply here, instead.




I value your comments and always read them. Apologies if it sometimes takes me a bit to reply -- but I've been looking forward to writing back!



Showing 9 comments

  • Always a good idea to believe your gut. Going against yourself, you'd have beat yourself up for sure.. Well done.
  • You are right to remain firm on your budget for a new car.  Aside from the purchase amount, there are other costs that need to be considered in maintaining a new car. In the long run, your finances can be affected by any unplanned expenditure.
  • Oh well, some negotiators are like that. They want to grab their customers the easiest way possible, and sometimes their methods are a bit harsh. But that's how business is. You have to be knowledgeable so you won't be fooled.
  • Anggiet
    My son was rear-ended and had to purchase another used car within a very short time period (he was loosing the rental car). I swear, I had the easiest car buying experience ever. I found cars he could afford from looking at dealer websites. He test drove many cars and decided on one. I contacted the dealer via email and said very simply, he will get $1900 from the settlement of the wrecked car and can qualify for a(nother) $10,000 loan. That's all the money he has, no more, no less. The car he likes must be $11,900 out the door. The asking price was $14,000 something.  The next email I got was, "We got permission for the car to go at $11,900 out the door."  I went with my son to look at the car and the paperwork was signed that day, and true to their word, it was $11,900 out the door! Wish all negotiations were that easy!
  • Thanks for writing!  I wonder how many people do buy cars under pressure. It was pretty hard to walk away, and I'm used to negotiating. Yikes. Something about car dealerships, I guess...
  • Bluemizloo
    Good Girl!  You go...and you went.  A car is transportation.  Paying for bells and whistles is just plain foolish, esp if you don't want the bells or the whistles..
  • Rikkidb
    Congratulations on walking away! I probably would have thought "well, it's not THAT much and they did come down a bunch" and then had buyers remorse the next day. Good for you for sticking to your guns! Especially since they could apparently come down $250 more.
  • JessB

    Woot! You go girl! I loved your response - if it was no big deal, why didn't he drop the price?

    Can't wait to read the next post with reflections, etc.
  • Marsha_calhoun
    Congratulations for sticking to your guns.  You were right.  There is no point in paying extra for something you don't really want, and the salesman was just trying to bully you.  Maybe next time he'll think twice.



Juho, Ivo, Rikkidb and Marsha, you're right that buyer's remorse for a car has got to be one of the worst ones out there. No return policy, usually, and big chunk of change. Thanks for reading and for encouraging me to stick to my guns.
Tyra, Thanks for your comment. You sound like you've done a lot of negotiating. Any tips about car buying you want to share with readers in comments or as a Q&A for a future post?
Anggiet, that is amazing. Total success story! You were his negotiation guardian angel.We could all use one. I hope your son is doing well after his accident, and thanks for sharing this happy ending
Loo, you're right, it's just transportation, but oh how I love bells and whistles! Like a good radio and steering wheel radio controls and soft beige leather seats. But yes, it's important to say no when a dealer is trying to sell me a feature I sort of want, let alone one I don't want. Next time, saying no will be even easier!
Jess, Thanks! Sorry the next posts took a long time, but I hope they're worth your patience. :)
Next up, back to The Car Quest.

THE CAR QUEST. Part 2. Have an Identity Crisis

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I read the behind-the-scenes Edmunds series. I studied specs and reviews of dozens of cars. I talked to friends who drive my top candidates. I knew my budget. I knew what general features I most wanted (leather), what was optional (moonroof -- sigh.) and what I'd skip (spoilers, GPS).

I was ready.

Except for one thing.

Which car did I most want??

Which really translated into: WHO AM I??

source: Round About Show

For some people a car is wheels and a seat. They think it says nothing about them.

I say, that says something about them.

I'm the kind of person who gleans meaning from a hairstyle, the kind of cocktail someone orders, a person's ringtone or lack of one.

So am I a mid-career professional looking to impress someone, anyone, with her ride? For a while I started to think so, but then I realized there's no one to impress but myself (and my pocketbook), since I don't usually do business with image conscious types. Forget that.

Am a mother (not yet, but buying a car with that in mind) looking for a roomy backseat and a quiet cabin, perfect for sleeping triplets? (Hey, gotta be ready for anything!)

Or am I an ambitious young professional looking to maximize gas mileage, zip through traffic in a cute little thing and be comfortable along the way?

Do I love to pass people on the highway? A little too much.

Would I be comfortable driving something boring safe and slow, in exchange for a roomy interior and cruise control? Er, maybe!?

So there it was, an identity crisis -- sporty, stately, kid friendly, city friendly, all or none of the above?

Mr. A tried to help. He knows a ton about cars, and he knows a ton about me. :) He drives a Civic and has been very pleased with it. I asked him to help me narrow down which of the following cars packs the best balance of sexy features, comfortable drive, affordability and a solid repair track record.


Recap:

Me: What do you think between the Mazda 3 or 6, the Hyundai Elantra, a VW, a Toyota, a Volvo, another Nissan, or, what else?

Him:  How about a Honda Civic?

Me: I tried one and didn't really like it. It was a 2012 model, and those are getting bad reviews.

Him: How about a 2011?

Me: No, I want something... different. More energetic, more alive.

Him: Like a Civic? It's super reliable. You'll never see them on the side of the road.

Me: I think I'm leaning toward the Elantra.

Him: Why don't you test drive a 2011 Civic and we'll go from there?

Me: Thanks, darling! I think we narrowed it down!

Next step: Unleashing the internet negotiation elves.

THE CAR QUEST. Part 1. Watch A Witty Video

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It's been a month since I almost bought Toyota Camry, and I was hoping to kick off this series with good news about a new dark red sedan I bargained down to the price I was shooting for. Instead, my wizened white Nissan is still chugging along and I haven't yet found the right car for the right price. 

But I'm a lot closer!!

Here is my approach, so far.

Part 1. Research

source: Consumerist

I've spent months looking at cars, test driving, figuring out my needs and wants, and reading about how car sales work and how to negotiate.

Here are the three most useful shopping tools I've found.

1. Truecar.com suggests a car's price based on what people have actually paid and gets dealers in your area to offer a lower than MSRP price online. Not necessarily the lowest you can go, but definitely a better place to start.

2. In this video, Rob Gruhl teaches aspiring hagglers some car buying ninja tricks. Witty and informative. Worth every second.


3. And in this series of articles on Edmunds, "Confessions of a Car Salesman,"a reporter goes undercover to learn the insider tricks of car dealerships. For example, remember that worksheet they always bring out with four squares? Here's how dealers use it to squeeze you out of every cent you can pay:

The next step in my training involved the use of the "4-square work sheet." Michael told me the 4-square was my friend, it was the salesman's tool for getting "maximum gross profit." As the name implies, the sheet is divided into four sections. When you have a prospect "in the box" (in the sales cubicle) you pull out a 4-square and go to work. 
[...] 
The process begins by asking the customer how much they want for a monthly payment. Usually, they say, about $300. "Then, you just say, '$300... up to?' And they'll say, 'Well, $350.' Now they've just bumped themselves $50 a month. That's huge." You then fill in $350 under the monthly payment box. 
Michael said you could use the "up to" trick with the down payment too. "If Mr. Customer says he wants to put down $2000, you say, "Up to?" And he'll probably bump himself up to $2500." Michael then wrote $2,500 in the down payment box of the 4-square worksheet.
I later found out this little phrase "Up to?" was a joke around the dealership. When salesmen or women passed each other in the hallways, they would say, "Up to?" and break out laughing. 
The final box on the 4-square was for the trade-in. This was where the most profit could be made. Buyers are so eager to get out of their old car and into a new one, they overlook the true value of the trade-in. The dealership is well aware of this weakness and exploits it. 
The opening numbers were now in place on the 4-square. At a glance, Michael said, you could see the significant numbers of this deal — purchase price of the car, trade-in, down payment and the monthly payments. As you negotiated you could move from box to box, making progress as you went. It allowed you to sell a car in different ways. For example, if the customer was determined to get full value for his trade-in, you could take extra profit elsewhere — in the purchase price or maybe even in financing. 
The first numbers that go on the 4-square come from the customer. The down payment and the monthly payment are only what they would like to pay. Now, it's time to get the numbers that the dealership would like the customer to pay. These numbers are called the "first pencil" and they come from a sales manager in the tower. Michael said that the first pencil was the dealership's starting position. "You have to hit them high," Michael explained. "You have to break them inside — make them understand that if they want our beautiful new car, they're going to have to pay for it." 
[...] 
This reminded Michael of something and he laughed. "Here's another thing. Never give the customer even numbers. Then it looks like you just made them up. So don't say their monthly payment is going to be $400. Say it will be $427. Or, if you want to have some fun, say it will be $427.33."

The whole series takes a while to read through, and it was written 10 years ago, but it was a worthwhile education. (More on the Four Squares of Death at the Consumerist.)

So that was my basic training. Next step, deciding which car to buy.

November 07, 2011

Annual performance review time? Read this before you meet with your boss

Source: art.co.uk

Lisa Gates has a powerful new post up at Forbes

She tells the story of a woman who obtains a few choice concessions at work by asking for them -- telecommuting and bigger, better responsibilities. But then, as soon as you can say "annual performance review," her boss decides things aren't working out and takes back those perks. He also tables the discussion of her raise.

Before you call him a jerk, consider what the employee should have done differently. Here's Gates's post. At the end she provides a script for how the situation should have unfolded. 

Have you turned a "no" into a "yes" at work? Care to share any tips with the rest of us?


Back to car negotiations in the next post.

November 03, 2011

How I almost spent too much on a car I didn't want

I write to you as the proud owner of a...

1995 Nissan Maxima.

That's right. After a day of test drives and dealer chats, and several weeks of research and calculations, I drove away last Saturday from a Toyota dealership with my old car... and a big load off my shoulders. I started the day sure I'd buy a car, or at least come very close. What went wrong? It was a combination of 3 things:

1. I didn't get the price I wanted.
2. I didn't get the price I wanted.
3. I didn't get the price I wanted.

Mr. A and I visited four dealerships, test driving and talking numbers: Hyndai, Honda, VW and Toyota. Some salesmen were eager to negotiate, and others were as starchy as their shirt collars. The day ended in a Toyota showroom, where negotiations broke down over a big comfy Camry and we were invited into the sales manager's office for one last attempt.

"So you've been here for HOURS, TRYING to buy a car," the manager said, like the high school principal who pops in on detention challenging his problem students to behave. Drained, disgusted, but institutionally trained to persevere.

"Oh, and here I thought you were trying to sell us a car," Mr. A answered. Good one, amore!

"I see there's a difference of (he looked down, calculating)... of $500 between the figure you wrote down and what we're asking. Over the life of the car, that's $7 per month. Now you're a coffee drinker, right?"

"I am," I answered.

"So give up two lattes a month! You want to walk away over $7! That's NOTHING!"

"If it's nothing, why don't you go for the price we wrote here?" I asked, pointing to the figure.

"I'm giving you a great deal here."

"Not good enough."

"I'm not going any lower. That's my final offer."

Thoughts raced. Should I go for it? Was it a good price? It was so close to the price I told them I wanted. But it didn't feel right. Was I wrong? We'd gotten them to drop from $23,500 to $19,500. But the car had some features I didn't want, which I'd still be paying for. And it was a 2011 model, which I was confident another dealer would be willing to offload for less as next year's cars arrive. And, between you and me, I wasn't really into that car. Not enough to deserve spluring.

"Thanks but no thanks."

We walked out and I suddenly felt liberated. I had come this close to buying a car with features I didn't want for more than I wanted to spend.

Five minutes later, he called back offering to lower the price by $250. I passed.

In the next post, a few reflections, resources and suggestions.

October 21, 2011

To blog or not to blog?

I've been composing Daily Asker posts in my head for the past six months, and the whole time I've wondered if I should start writing them out and hitting "publish" again. I keep mulling it over, remembering what I loved about writing here and considering the reasons I stopped. Here's a pro and con list.

CON

Busy. Working as a freelance reporter, getting a copywriting business up and running. I simply don't have the time to write the kind of posts I'd like to. (Rebuttal: You never have time. You make it.)

Ethics and conflicts. I'm a freelance reporter. I have been since 2004, long before I started this project. I've been careful to avoid conflicts of interest, both with the blog and my copywriting work -- e.g. asking for a company to cancel a late fee, and then writing about them in the business pages. In the complicated, fuzzy media landscape of today does it even make sense to "pretend" to be objective and disinterested regarding all matters? Of course it's important to avoid sleaziness, or the appearance thereof, particularly in the areas I regularly cover. So what effect does this blog's coverage and focus -- helping negotiators of all kinds (people buying and selling goods, services, skills) -- have on my credibility as a reporter, now or down the line?

Need to earn a living. Currently, my professional endeavors aren't the kind that lead to retirement before age 80. There are those pesky nonbillable hours, and the myriad (enthralling/exasperating) time suckers that go into building a business. So I keep wondering how I can justify devoting time to this when there are bills to pay. There the usual ways to monetize a blog, some more attainable and attractive than others. Start accepting ads on the site. Write a book or an e-book. Teach workshops. It's the same problem thinkers and writers are having everywhere. Ironially, I get paid good money to write blog posts for others. (Rebuttal: Even without an income stream, even if this blog remains a hobby, it's a way of giving back, a way of helping and sharing -- all wonderful and worthwhile.) 


Curious about impact. Does this blog make a difference? Am I contributing something worthwhile to the interwebs? I have to ask myself this, to make sure I'm not just better off keeping a journal.

PRO

Important topic. The gap between reality and potential for many would-be askers out there is too great. I want to help others become better negotiators.

Passion. I'm still obsessed by this subject. I love asking and telling stories. Why not keep doing both?

SO...

In case I do revive the blog, here's a question for you:

What's most interesting, enjoyable or useful for you? i.e. What do you want to see here?

A) Stories about my asking and negotiation adventures, with occasional reflections/insights (which continue, even if undocumented). (Example 1. Example 2.)

B) Practical, how-to posts about haggling, salaries, and other real life asking/negotiation scenarios. (Example 1. Example 2.)

C) Interviews or Q&A's with experienced negotiators in the career, political, retail, psychology and other fields. (Example)

D) Updates from the gender and negotiation front. Reflection on & links to news, commentary, current events, freshly published studies.

E) Reader-centric posts about asking dilemmas and victories. You tell me your situation and I post recommendations/results for all to see. (Example)

By the way, I'm test driving cars tomorrow. I've done my research and mapped out a negotiation strategy. Now it's time to see how low I can get the price on a new or gently used Nissan or Hyundai. Which means it may be time to put on hat again. For any blogger who's made a similar pro and con list, what conclusion did you reach? How do other bloggers out there decide to stay the course, start a new project, or jump ship and spend all their free time hunting down lost Netflix DVDs and eating Toblerone?

YOURS,

La Roxy