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February 22, 2011

Day 12 of 30: Wedding ask-o-rama

I spent Sunday in my pjs.

After a week of 13 hour days, I took the weekend completely off.

It was amazing.

Coffee...

              leftover pizza...

                               and flipping through wedding magazines!

I also spent quite a few hours online, looking for all the stuff I've been thinking about but too busy to investigate. And made a bunch of calls. Here's the status of those negotiations.

Photographer

An editor I work with recommended a photographer she knows, based in L.A. I saw her website and my heart started fluttering. Her pictures are breathtaking. I sent her an email, and when I heard back my heart sank: the cheapest package starts at $3,000, and if I want an album it jumps to $4,000. That is significantly above my (not yet fully determined) photo budget. All I know is that I can't afford to spend that much on photos. Even if I cut out other options -- and I believe she's worth that sacrifice -- I still can't pull that much together without cutting the guest list in half or doing the reception in my driveway.

But I replied saying I'd love to talk, and on Sunday we connected.

First of all, she was incredibly nice. We completely hit it off. Doesn't make my bank account bigger, sadly, but it was a good beginning!

Second, I found out that she is willing to create custom packages for people who can't pay her full fee.

"Really? That is such a relief! Because I would definitely want to compensate you for your time and talent. Your pictures are so amazing. But if you'd be willing to work fewer hours for less money or you could not include an assistant and take fewer pictures, then that would definitely allow me to make this work. But I also definitely want to make sure you're earning enough because you are so talented."

"Don't worry about it! I'm sure we can work something out."

Gained: A photographer!? I'll keep you posted on how it plays out.
Lost: Nothing.

Afterthought: Glancing at her portfolio, I could sense the amount of thought -- and innate talent -- that goes into framing each shot. That's worth a lot, and she is right to charge as much as she does. (Objections to the exorbitant wedding premium aside, if other photographers are charging 3, 4, and 5k for pics, she should definitely be at least in that range. She's amazing.)

That's why I was careful not to ask for a flat out discount, but to scale down both price and services.

Wedding coordinator

I am not a DIY bride. I'm a bride. 

The "DIY" tag is the latest trick of the wedding industry to convince us that NOT doing things yourself is the default. 

In linguistics they call that marking. In the olden days, most professions were a masculine default, so when a delicate she-creature venture into their territory they added the -ess ending: poetess, doctoress, actress, waitress. Today, some professions still have a feminine default, and you have to add "male" to clarify: male nurse, male dancer.

Same with this wedding lingo: nowadays if you don't add "DIY," the assuption is that you're getting the full package, including a 5k wedding planner. 

Wrong on so many levels.

Ok, rant over. Because...

I have come to the conclusion that I can't do everything by myself.

On the day of the event, I will need someone to cue the band, put a sign up pointing to where the reception is, make sure the food is ready on time. Stuff like that.

So I talked to one planner, and she was energetic and asked smart questions. But $400? For 6 hours? Maybe I don't get how difficult it is or what kind of training you need, but I would have pegged this for a $20/hour job. (Am I mistaken? Any day-of coordinators shooting smoke from their ears? Enlighten me!)

Bottom line: I will have to negotiate, or find someone more affordable or get creative. Maybe a local college student would be happy to make $150 on a Saturday night, bossing people around?

Live music

I had this vision of a gypsy fiddler wandering around the tables during the reception and playing his frenzied tunes. Not gonna happen in Southern California. Instead, I found something else really cool: a Django Reinhardt-y trio. Heard their music online and it was grooveh.

I left a message on their website saying I wanted to book them for a cocktail party, and when he called back he asked me for details.

"A wedding!" he said when I filled him in. "Well why didn't you say so!?"

"Does that mean you have to charge me double now?"

He explained that weddings have a lot more options: a bigger group, more hours, rah rah rah.

I answered that we need to stick to the cocktail option, since I can't pay for live music for the whole evening.

Then he explained their strange pricing structure. Maybe 'structure' isn't the right word, since he seemed to be kind of approximating.

"Between one... to three hours... we charge... $1,200."

"I'm confused. So even if you'd play for 2 hours, you'd charge me for 3?"

He sounded confused that I was confused. "Yes, why?"

"Would you be willing to charge less if it was not the full 3 hours?"

He told me it's not worth it to them to come out for anything less than $1,000, but he'd do two hours for that much.

Doesn't seem like a good value.

They do sound like some cool cats... but I was hoping it would be around $300 an hour for the trio, not $500 per hour for more time than I needed. I don't know going rates, but that's about what I'd mentally budgetted for.

Gained: The option to save $200 on something more costly than what I'd bargained for. I think I could work with him to bring the price down, but if it's not worth it to him, I don't know if I should bother.

Lost: Live music option, for now.

Bartender

I found a bartender on Craigslist and checked out his website. There was one thing I especially liked: he works with the client's alcohol. That means there's no markup (well, a retail markup but there might be ways around that), and we can return whatever we don't drink. Perfect!

We chatted on the phone, and he revealed that he'd be willing to lower his prices if I can't pay the full fee for all the fixings. I hadn't asked yet, but I think he sensed I wasn't going to sign up on the spot and pay full price.

I'm not sure if is business is hurting or if he's just the negotiating type.

Either way, I'm quite persuaded.

Gained: Confirmation that I should negotiate with him. He's sending me a complete quote and we'll take it from there.
Lost: Nothing.

Question: Any suggestions for signature cocktails?

Day 11 of 30: Preserve this coupon?

I went out to dinner Saturday with my aunt. We ended up at a pizzeria in her neighborhood.

At the end of the night, we wanted to use a coupon, but there was one problem: on the back, there was a coupon for a different restaurant she liked.

"Don't worry, I'm sure she will figure something out," I reassured her about the waitress.

When our bill came, I explained our dilemma and wondered if there was any way she could use one side, or make a copy, or something, to keep the back intact.

"I'm not sure, but I'll ask."

Love it when people say that!!!!

She returned with their coupon blacked out, and the back in perfect shape.

Gained: A free entree or 20 percent off of my aunt's next dinner on the town.
Lost: Nothing.

Day 10 of 30: Asking for a better future




Friday morning I had a phone conference with Vickie Pynchon and Lisa Gates, the life forces behind She Negotiates. We've been talking about ways we can collaborate, and one idea we came up with was A National Day of Asking.

Imagine if every year, for one day, women decided to ask for something important to them. Imagine that they not only ask, but have the tools, information and strategies to make the request effective.

Imagine that billboards, bus stop ads, TV commercials and a viral online campaign raised awareness among the women who don't know how to ask for what they need, or that it's even an option.

Ask their bosses.
Ask their husbands.
Ask their doctors.
Ask their neighbors.
Ask their children.

For help.
For access.
For information.
For opportunities.
For fair pay.

Imagine we could somehow reach the women who don't have laptops and internet connections, who have 4 kids to care for and are exhausted and such hard workers. What would it take to prompt them to think about these issues. To act?

What if we made it a Global Day of Asking?

Imagine that around the world somehow -- but how? -- women got the courage to ask, for one precious day, for what was most precious to them.

Imagine that they could ask  -- what a dream -- safely, without fearing for their lives.

Imagine that in the direst situations, they do not ask, but demand.

Delhi.

Kandahar.

Uruguay.

Seattle.

Rome.

Addis Ababa.

The issues will certainly be different, but common in in the core message: "Hear my voice. I have something to ask of you. This is what it is."

How can we work together to stop the car thefts in our neighborhood?
Would you mind critiquing my resume?
Please let me stay in school?
Put a well in our village?
Can you give me a 20 percent raise?
I will not give you my passport.
I will not get in the car when you've been drinking.
I will not allow you to do that to her, ever again.

Just writing these words, I comprehend I can't comprehend the obstacles. Traditions, threats, violence, gaps in finance and education. But then I think about Egypt -- the ultimate ask: regime change -- and the writings of Nicholas Kristoff, and the book that set off a powerful chain reaction in my world, Women Don't Ask.

We can do this.

To make this happen, we'll need resources. Money. Access to important, connected, powerful, dedicated and influential people.

Oprah.

Kristoff.

Ellen.

Bill and Melinda Gates.

Lady Gaga.

Larry Page.

Angelina Jolie.

Katie Couric.

Carla Bruni.
Rachel Ray.

After the conversation, we each tweeted a big request: Can anyone put us in touch with any movers and shakers?

Today, Vickie heard back from Gloria Feldt, author of the must-read No Excuses, that she'll try to connect us to Mr. Kristoff.

What about you, gentle reader? Those of you reading this blog regularly or stumbling across it by searching for 'salary negotiation' or 'talk down cable bill' online (two common routes into my blog) are already victors. Congratulations for thinking about these issues. For being here.

Is there some way we could work together to help the others? If you're interested, or if you have any resources or ideas, I would love to hear from you. 

Gained: Planted a seed
Lost: Not a thing. I just feel like I'm losing time, not acting this instant. But such an endeavor will take months of hard work.

February 21, 2011

Day 9 of 30: Discount on a group of hotel rooms?

Ah, behind! Apologies, gentle reader.


I took the weekend off and threw myself into wedding planning. And I was in more of a digging/researching/calling mode, and less of a storytelling mode.

In light of this, I'm putting of the asking challenge deadline by one more day. So if you haven't asked yet -- to give or get money, in any amount -- go for it on Monday! And share your stories at this link.

Ok. So, back to Thursday...

I called a hotel to ask about discounted rates for wedding guests. I'd gone once before and talked to the manager, and he told me to call back and they'd set up a good rate.

First, I asked what the discount would be if I reserved rooms for a small group for two nights.

"We can do 10 percent off."

"I see. Well, when I came by to visit the manager told me he would give me a great rate. What if the group were bigger -- like, 30 or 40 people?"

"Still 10 percent."

"Really? I'm wondering if there's any way we could work better something out, maybe if we rented it for more than 2 nights? Some people are coming for a longer time and I'm also trying to find housing for them."


"10 percent off is the max."

"Not even if I rented out the whole hotel, or rented it for more than 2 nights?! What if I rented out the whole place for a week?"

"No. That is our group rate."

Suddenly the collaborative, consensus building nice girl slinked away and out came the bedouin camel trader. With suspenders.

"I'd like to bring you business, a lot of business -- possibly rent out your whole hotel for several nights, but you've got to give me a better price. Ten percent is not good enough. I want to bring you tens of thousands of dollars of business and all you're give me is ten percent? I need a better rate to make this work. What is the best rate you can give me? It has to be better than 10 percent off."

"No, that is our summer discount."

He had a point. Summer = big bucks for San Diego beachfront hotels, which this was.


But now I have a point: As I spoke my mind, I felt kind of a rush. I felt like I was making a great proposition: I bring you clients for a whole week, and you give me a better than standard discount. I felt secretly impressed that I sounded the way I've heard some men talking into their cell phones: confident, trading millions with the click of a button or an imperious bark. "You have to do better. I'm not budging unless you come down to 2...Then you can keep waiting...I'm not playing around...I don't care!!...No. Get your numbers straight and stop wasting my time. 2! I said 2!!!!!!! Ok. Get back to me in 30."

The hotel employee was utterly disinterested by both my friendly and tough approaches, but I wonder if I'd been a man -- would he have been more open to that hard negotiation style?

After my year of daily asking, I found out that when I took the wheeling and dealing approach (W 'n' D, below) I was not very successful. In fact, I was even more successful I was a total, all out bitch. When I tried to be a cool confident brash negotiator, people recoiled. (More analysis here.)





I'm tempted to try one more time, not for the discount but to test if
  1. approaching him in person
  2. establishing rapport
  3. learning about his objectives (maximize profits? fill hotel room quota? get better travelocity ratings?) and
  4. asking in a warmer 'feminine' way
could make a difference. Now wouldn't that be interesting? [drumming fingers together ominously]




Gained: a glimpse of myself as a ballsy wheeler-n-dealer
Lost: belief that it's the right approach for me. darn! it was kind of fun!!

Friday through Sunday posts, coming Monday. Now: zzzz.

February 17, 2011

An Invitation



There's this saying about good vodka: The first drink with water, the second drink without water, the third drink like water.

I think this definitely applies to asking. Do it once out of curiosity, do it again for practice, and by the third time, you'll find you're hooked.

Gentle Reader, I am writing to you with an invitation to join me in this month of asking. I've created three requests we can do together, each with a different purpose or focus. This one is money oriented, but the rest will cover other areas (career, convenience, etc). They're all easy and fun -- and designed to help build confidence, put a little cash in your pocket and make you a savvier negotiator.

Here we go:

Sometime between now and Sunday at midnight your local time, ask for one of two things.

A) Ask to save money -- any amount -- from one transaction. This can be a cash discount, free dessert at a restaurant, 'sale price' before or after the sale, on the phone or online or in person... for ideas, look here.

B) Ask to give money -- any amount -- to a stranger who doesn't look like he or she would "need" or want to accept it. Giving cash to someone asking for money is easy, so that's not what we're doing. We're going to be asking someone who gives no clues about his or her financial needs to accept $5 (or whatever amount you'd like)... since that's a little trickier.

If you're curious about doing it yourself instead of reading about it, if you've been thinking of starting to ask but unsure when or why or how, if you want a prompt, if you want to do something together with the rest of this community and want the group's support, or if you already love negotiating and want to come along for the ride, this invitation is for you!

Especially for those who are afraid to try or haven't asked yet, these exercises are meant as an opportunity to jump in. Blame me if you have to. Just ask!! 

And for experienced negotiators, feel free to expand or tailor these as you'd like. Increase the dollar amount or complete both challenges.

(If you're not comfortable or ready yet, no worries. There will be more opportunities soon, including some collaborative projects I'm developing with the creative forces behind some other negotiation/business blogs.)

As you get results, please leave a comment here. Write in with questions/concerns. Feel free to comment on each other's stories and make it a fun conversation.

CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT YOU COME UP WITH.

image source: istockphoto.com

February 16, 2011

Day 8 of 30: Yet another miraculous save for the car that refuses to die (AKA: Cash discount?)

I heart this icon.


Exactly halfway to my meeting yesterday evening, 7 miles into a 15 mile trip, my car stated wobbling and the check engine light started flashing. I was in the car with a colleague, so we turned around, headed back to the office and took his car instead. Made it to the destination only 10 minutes late.

I was thrilled.

Miles, my trusty Nissan, just hit 150,000 miles, and after a few mishaps and miraculous saves by Mr. A (for which I truly am grateful), it seems to have another five good years left. I am very attached to this car. We've been on 4.5 cross country road trips, including two moves. It's a comfortable extension of my purse, with a spare pair of shoes and bottle of wine waiting for any eventualities. It has endured being towed and ticketed, with the dignity of an aging patriarch.

Ok, that makes no sense, but I’m not going to delete it. Moving on.

I love the dear thing.

But it’s time to say good bye.

I started considering my options. Mazda 2? Cute, compact. Just no horsepower. Would I really miss that? Maybe, but how could I argue with that pricetag ($14k new). Or a Mini? My cousin is in love with hers, and I could definitely see myself zooming around town in the dark red one… Or go upmarket and test drive a used Audi, to see what that German engineering is all about.

Then Mr. A presented a more sensible idea. Repair it. Sell it when it’s driveable. And certainly don’t buy a car under duress. (This short and funny video has a lot of fantastic advice. Mr. A is right -- I definitely don't want to need a new car.)



This morning, he dropped it off with Les, who is the most reliable mechanic we’ve encountered in San Diego and a few blocks from our house. He gave an estimate that was, unfortunately, not over my budget or tolerance level, so I decided to pay up for another round of repairs.

Just over an hour ago, I picked it up. It was the fuel injector.

The invoice said $319.80.

“If I pay with cash or a check, how about a little discount?”

“We’ll make it even.”

“$300?” I confirmed.

“Yes. If you pay check or cash. Credit card companies charge me 2 percent. That’s on top of the interest they charge you.”

“Well thank you very much for the discount. I know you do a great job on my car.”

I wrote him a check, he gave me the keys and I zoomed off to a café to do some writing.

Lost: Hope that I’ll buy a new car before the weekend.
Saved: $20. I guess every breakdown can have a silver lining.

Question: Does any car, past or present, have a special place in your heart? Let's wax poetic for a moment! (Sigh. Letting go of Miles will be so hard. Yet so easy...)

Day 7 of 30: Can we say the daily (on average) asker?

I worked 13  hours yesterday, which was Day 7 of this month long askathon: late meeting, some extra work that landed on my lap unexpectedly and the usual workflow.

In the olden days, if meetings started after business hours, I'd take that time off earlier in the day. Long lunch. Come in at noon. That's what my bosses instructed me to do. Now my boss is this deadline driven beeeyatch called La Roxy, and she didn't give me any time off. "You'll sleep when you're dead!" she hissed.

...Not complaining. It was actually a very satisfying day. Just a preface to let you know that...

My ask Tuesday fell short.

I asked the priest, via email, what time the wedding ceremony should start, so I can send out invitations. We'll be meeting later to talk about details, but I wanted to get that info as soon as possible.

Not hall of fame material.

But, for whatever it's worth: On Sunday and Monday, I asked a total of six times and only reported two. And those other requests were ambitious, things I never would have thought to do before The Daily Asker. Two were on a professional front (rate negotiations) and two on a networking front (asked to connect with two interesting people in my field).

So I think it's ok to relax for one day.

But. Gentle Reader. Fear not. I decided to ask daily again because I'm feeling like I need to reach out again in ways I haven't been doing, recently. One day of relaxed asking does not mean lower standards, overall. So I hope you won't tune out if these requests lately haven't been THAT inspiring. We have 23 days left. I'm asking more than I'm reporting and being selective about which stories to share. And I'm just getting started.

Gained: Nothing yet; waiting for his answer.

Lost: 120 seconds composing the email.

February 15, 2011

Day 6 of 30: Challenges of hiring, or what HR and surgery have in common

When human resources meets surgery...

Today I placed a help wanted ad. What I got was a reality check.

My dad called this morning. He was taking a walk during his lunch break and wanted to talk to me about something.

"So.... how's business?"

"Business? Fine. Why?"

"Are you getting enough work? Or are there any troubles you want to talk about? With finding clients, or maybe getting new projects...?"

"Mmmm, not really... everything is fine."

"Let me tell you why I'm wondering. I noticed an uptick in your blogging, and that made me guess that you mush have some time to kill."

"Oh, the daily asking again? No worries, everything is ok!"

Actually, I'm having the opposite problem. Things are bordering on crazy busy. These extra hours asking and blogging are coming from the sleep department. I got enough sleep during grad school.

But after we hung up I started thinking... for a few months I've been saying that when the time comes, I'll have to hire someone. Not full-time, since that would be a huge jump for me (i.e. doubling my business's man-hours). But a few hours per week, to start. Right now I have just enough work to be stretched comfortably thin, but if I add even one more account things will start to get hectic.

I decided now would be a good time to collect some resumes. That is how I ended up posting my first ever help wanted ad, on Craigslist.

Since I've never written such an ad before, I looked around online and then realized that I needed to do something to single out the candidates who were applying in bulk from the ones who actually had some enthusiasm and spunk. So I decided to invite them to answer one of 3 questions. Here's what I asked at the end of the ad:
Send your resume and a brief answer to one of these questions: 
1) What's one way you wish Facebook or Twitter were better? 
2) What's your dream job? 
3) What are your 3 favorite brands? 
There are no right or wrong answers. We just want to get to know you! 
So far, I've gotten about 40 replies. A few have blown me away with their professionalism and eloquence. These were all from bright college students or recent grads, aching to bite into something challenging and rewarding.

More than a few were disappointing. Grammar mistakes. txt speak. Form letters: "Dear Hiring Manager: I am applying for the position of marketing specialist. I am confident I would be a great fit because..." A few sent a resume with no answer. If they can't follow that simple instruction, why should I believe they'll be any different on the job?

Then there were the applicants that came out of left field (one science major, one with extensive quality control experience), hinting of pinkslips past. These were heartbreaking. How long had they been unemployed? Why this job, for this pay? I'd actually love to hire someone with an unexpected background -- that experience would add depth and maybe help me connect with clients in a different market -- so I wasn't worried that they couldn't do the job. I was just worried about if they had a place to sleep.

Suddenly all those articles in the news about hiring trends and unemployment, the diverse challenges faced by Baby Boomers and recent graduates, hit me like an icy, raging river. Abstract and incomprehensible, until you get thrown in the middle of it.

I guess working in HR is like being a surgeon. Over time you get used to seeing the bloody entrails normally tucked behind smooth surfaces. Give me a job. Give me a chance. This is my story. This is where I worked, lived. My dream job is to design clothes. Make movies. Work for Facebook. This is the font my career counselor told me you'll like.

As a reporter, I'm tougher. I've interviewed parents of murdered children and the family of a man on death row. It's not that I wasn't affected, but over time I came to accept the horror as a fact. Not ok, but there.

I guess I thought hiring someone would be different. 

Lost: Blissful oblivion about the harsh realities of this employment market and $25 for the ad.

Gained: A few promising possibilities. 

image source: wired.com

February 13, 2011

Day 5 of 30: Super duper discount on gorgeous antique wedding rings?

 

A few months back, I outlined the terms of The Wedding Asking Challenge: Try to negotiate every essential component of the grand fete. Exceptions will be made for exceptional values. Money saved will be invested, not turned into sangria the weekend after the wedding. (Actually, that does sound tempting...) Bottom line: I refuse to pay the bridal premium -- to the best of my ability. For, like any lass in love with dusty rose and silk organza, I may end up springing for a few little luxuries just because it's my wedding.

Swooooooon!

A recent objective has been to find wedding rings. I looked online and in department stores including Bloomingdale's. I stepped inside a few insipid chain stores and made a rapid u-turn (Whitehall, Zales and the like) and I spent a good 10 minutes inside one super mega discounter. The lowest price I could find there was $450 for his n' her simple yellow gold bands. Online, Overstock and Amazon had some sets for around $350 with the width and carat that worked. But while Mr. A liked the idea of expedited shipping, I wasn't convinced.

Then Alex, who is half of a fantastic couple Mr. A and I have befriended over the past year, told me where she found her stunning white gold Edwardian wedding band.

The man with the treasure box.

There this antique store in Ocean Beach, a neighborhood in San Diego lined with second hand delights, where a nice man has a treasure box  FILLED with gorgeous rings. Antique rings, diamonds and silver and ruby. 

For INSANELY low prices.

If she were typing, I bet Alex would have used ALL CAPS to convey her devotion to and enthusiasm for this place. So I think it's fair to do the same.

Today, I went in with Mr. A, and her words rang true. It was AMAZING!!

Ken, the ring man, took out the solid little box that must have contained around 300 rings. He told me to take a handful, put them on the counter and sort them into "no" or "maybe." I couldn't believe what I was seeing: An exquisite gold and diamond band for $65. A delicate garnet solitaire on a 14k gold band for a pittance. One ring from the 1890s which I won't describe because it was so beautiful. And so cheap. And so mine. Wait. Wedding bands. Self control. Self control.

Mr. A started valiantly by my side, but after about 70 rings he took off to check out the vintage telephones and gadgets.

Meanwhile, I went through the box and ended up setting aside about 20 "maybe" rings. I separated those into "Not really" "Maybe maybe" "Possible" and "Probable."

Next we looked for matching rings for him, and that further narrowed the options down. All were yellow gold and simple, with at most a milgrain design on the rim.

As I was trying them on again, Mr. A found something unbelievable: a ring from 1880. Inside, the worn inscription read "June 30, 1880" beside two sets of initials.

"I love the 1880s!" I exclaimed. (It meant it. Of all the decades of the 19th century, I have a strong preference for three: the 1830s, the 1850s and the 1880s. For aesthetic reasons, mostly. And a few technological / legal / political reasons, too.)

"My friend in Spain lives in a house from the Roman times. The walls are Roman and the roof was from 1650. So he'd say 1880 is like new. But for these parts, that ring has history," Ken told us.

That ring was also more expensive than the rest -- $195. It still cost less than most rings of that size and weight I'd seen anywhere else, but more than the others in this store. Mr. A found an almost identical band (which would have to be resized, adding an another $30 or so) and we agreed it was time to make the purchase. Which meant it was it time to ask.

"Can you give these to us for a better price?"

"No. I absolutely cannot. On gold, I don't negotiate one bit."

Whaaaaaa?

Ken!? Kenster, Kenerino, my buddy, my friend? We'd been talking for at least an hour about rings, and design, and history, and weddings, and married life, and male/female ring choosing rituals. (FYI: Women spend hours imagining what each ring will say about them, about their relationship, how the ring will sit on their hand at age 80. Men just grab the simplest thing they can, as fast as they can, and hit the door.)

That was the last thing I expected, in the heart of Ocean Beach. This was negotiation central! I'd bargained down things left and right in this neighborhood, for years! But come to think of it, the shopper right before me tried to get the price down on another ring by asking to pay cash and skip the tax. Ken refused.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I just don't negotiate for gold or silver. My prices are already lower than anything else you'll find."

Indeed, as I was inspecting the rings, he mentioned that whatever he pays for an item, he doubles to set his price. The standard jewelry retail markup is five times the wholesale purchase price, not double, said he. "I keep my prices low because I'm not like the other guys. They want to sell you one big ring, once in your life. But me, I know there are anniversaries. And birthdays. And babies coming. I want to be the place you come back to again and again."

Ken seemed to really know his business and love his work. And when he looked into my eyes to answer questions, his gaze was unflinching. I trusted Ken. I wanted to buy my wedding ring from him. I could tell Mr. A felt the same way.

We stepped aside and conferred. There was another set of rings, also lovely, but without that patina. Those other rings fit us perfectly, so we wouldn't have to resize anything. Together, they would be $60 cheaper than the antique set. (Or $90 cheaper, if you counted the sizing.)

"What's $60 over the course of a lifetime? Get the one you want more," Mr. A told me.

"Yes, but marriage is also about being responsible, not giving in to whimsy."

"That's true too. But please, don't hold back because of the price."

I kept trying them on, asking him to try them on, even placing them on his finger myself to see which one slid more willingly, in preparation for that sacred moment in the church...  I just wasn't sure, I wasn't sure... but the more I thought about it, the less I felt I wanted the old, expensive ring...

And then Mr. A shared one more thought: "Actually, I feel that if you want history, you should find it in your family. We will make our own history."

With that, we purchased the rings we preferred. No negotiation, but I am certain we made the right decision.

Closing thoughts:

1) Buyers: Before negotiating, distinguish between emotional/sentimental purchases and impulsive ones.

By 'emotional' I don't mean hormonal or impulse driven, but those that are guided by sentiment, nostalgia, desire, or any other warm and fuzzy feeling. Emotional attachment is worth something. Impulse, not so much.

If the age/year truly mattered in my conception of marriage, then that 1880 ring would have been worth the extra money. But Mr. A's probing comment made me realize what truly matters to us: starting something fresh. I can get something from 1880 -- a map or a book. It doesn't have to be my wedding ring when there's something equivalent in quality and comfort, for less money.

Same goes for any other purchase you ascribe a certain sentimental value to: your first home, the pen you'll be proofreading your novel with, the hotel you stay at the day you accept the Oscar (and other big moments we all routinely face): What matters, truly, and what's just impulse? What connection to that object, experience or service will give you a lasting dividend, and what will fizzle by dawn? Knowing this will help you know when to put your money down and when to walk away.

2) Sellers: When you offer something of true and legitimate worth, not lowering your price can make the buyer value you even more. 

This depends on how you do it. Ken spent a whole hour proving to me, in subtle and obvious ways, that his jewelry is worth every cent. Since he also knows his product is worth every cent, he refused to budge. In a way, that makes me prize the rings even more: I know I got a good deal, because I got a great value.

Lost: One negotiation victory.

Gained: Took one more step toward turning my treasure of a fiance into my husband.

image: ffffound.com

Day 4 of 30: Rule #281 of negotiation: Persevere!!! (And if that fails, grovel.)

My new umbilical cord.

Saturday morning, Mr. A and I had an hour to kill before I was heading to a cupcake tasting and he was going to do some errands. 

"Let's get you a new phone!" he said with the glee of an engineer about to spend the next six hours fondling tiny, shiny smartphones.

"Ok," I answered, with the resolve of a woman determined to make the trip last shorter than an hour.

(My old phone stopped charging and it freezes a few times per day. For the past two weeks I've been holding the charging wire into the phone and pressing it down with my thumb. It was time.)

We went to the Sprint store near our house, and there the decision came down to two Blackberries: the Curve and the Bold. If you ask the experts and forums and chip processors, there's a world of difference between these phones. Screen resolution! Processing speed! Megapixels! Network capabilities!!

But between you and me, they were exactly the same thing, with one exception: the Bold was $200 more, and it had a better keyboard. 

Is a better keyboard worth $200?

I was actually torn, because I type A LOT on my phone. As a reporter, I sometimes take interviews or notes on my Blackberry, if for some reason a notebook isn't accessible or strategic. I tweet for clients, I spend a fair amount of time on Facebook... I get unlimited free text messages -- and I use them. I'm like a tween with a Roth IRA and a house lease.

We quickly checked prices online and saw the Bold was on eBay for $190. Not a great bargaining chip.

"Would you do a better price if I paid cash?"

"I can't do that, sorry!" 

By then J, the salesman, had spent half an hour showing us phones. He really wanted to close the sale. So I said we'll pass, took Mr. A's hand and started walking away.

And then I turned around and quickly asked, "Well what's the best you can do? Because $200 is more than I expected to pay coming in today. But if you can make me a great deal, I will walk away with the phone right now."

"I can't give you a discount on the phone. That's not where I have the option. But here's what I can do: If you stock up on accessories, that's where I can definitely cut you a deal!"

"I'm listening."

"If you buy the car charger, the Bluetooth and the carrying case, then I can do it for..."

Mr. A cut in. "You have a Bluetooth headset. You have two. You never use them." 

But maybe I should get a case, to get a bigger discount? Wait a minute! Buying more things to get a better discount is not the way to save money. I really did not need a case.

"No Bluetooth, and no case. How much is the charger?"

"$35. But if you get the phone, I can give it to you for $20."

"We'll take it."

As J started on the paperwork, I started regretting settling so quickly. $15 off of a $235 purchase? Not bad, but still: I should have asked back. These retorts started buzzing around in my head:

a) "$220 for both is a good place to start, not finish." Smile. "Now how can we get that combo down to $200?"

b) "Thanks, but I'll be honest, I'm not biting yet. That's not even 10 percent off. This is a big purchase -- can you knock off $20 from the phone or charger -- whatever is easier for you?"

c) "$15? How about you throw in the charger for free?"

d) "If you're interested in selling accessories and extras, how about this: If you can give me a 10 percent discount on my bill for the next six months, I will buy the phone and charger at full price."

e) "Is there anything else you can do to bring the price down? Talk to your manager or maybe let me ask him?"

f) "I think we're going to think about it... I just don't have that kind of money after all. Sorry to waste your time!"

Ah! Why did I cave so quickly?!

The transaction was almost done. J finished inputting my info and was about to run my card, when out of nowhere I blurted, "Can you please please please please please please please do the charger for $15? Not $20? I have this compulsive need to negotiate and I feel like $20 off would be so much better."

He looked at me and squinted. Not annoyed, it seemed... just, evaluating...

"Sure. I can do it for $15."

"Oh my god! Thank you!! Do you think I'm the most annoying customer in the world?"

"No. I understand. $200 is a lot to spend on a phone. I understand why you're negotiating."

Gained: $20. (Also, hit my original target of 10 percent off the phone value -- even if it was deducted from the charger.)

Lost: 2 minutes of negotiating: 1:45 in the first conversation, and 15 seconds in the groveling segment.

Reflections:

1) When I told him no Bluetooth and no case, he still gave me a deal on the charger. That shows he was very willing to negotiate. I'm glad I didn't assume buying all 3 was a prerequisite for a discount!

2) I sometimes must remind myself that buying more JUST to get a bigger discount is no deal. I just wanna make that explicit, here, since I almost fell for it.

3) If you don't care how awful you look, negotiating in this style is easy! Not sure how effective in the long run, but this time it worked. If you have an ounce of pride, though, there are ways to be a lot more classy than whining please please please please please please please please! That's something I'll be exploring in the next 26 days of daily asking.

Now it's your turn: I invite you to think of something pricey you'll be purchasing soon (next six months) and leave a comment with one argument you can make for bringing the price down. Regular commenters, I always welcome your contributions! And if you're shy or lurking on the blog, I'd love to hear from you. 

Please please please please please please!

Day 3 of 30: Pushing my luck with credit card policies


Here's something I'm not exactly proud of, but in the name of transparency I'll spill the beans.

(Just one request first, Dad: No lectures please! ;) )

I have a Visa card with a due date on a random/weird day of the month, aka nowhere near the first. This month I completely forgot to pay. The next day, Mr. A noticed an online alert that I had a late fee. Curses!!! 

(Usually this isn't a problem, Mom, because I pay bills on or around the same day, but this one completely fell under my radar.)

So on top of the balance of $89, I got charged a late fee of $8 and a $2 finance charge. Dumb dumb dumb.

After a quick poll on Twitter, Facebook and this blog where readers voted for what I should ask, I ended up calling my card company with these two requests:

1. Can you please move my due date to the 1st, so I never forget again? ("Sure!")

2. Can you please remove one or both charges? It slipped my mind and I will be more careful now that the due date is the same as every other bill I have.

The agent said she'll try. Then she disappeared for a minute, leaving a soothing Mozart piano sonata on the line in her wake. She returned with bad news: "I took off the fee, but the computer put it back on. It showed that in August, you had a different fee reversed. I'm sorry! I really tried! You can try calling again later, it might work then!"

She was so sweet.


Gained: Nothing.

Lost: A little under 10 minutes.


Whitney Johnson, who writes a creative, practical and inspiring blog called Dare to Dream, asked me how I felt when I got rejected. 

After I ended the call, Whitney, here's how I felt: I felt like I deserved it!! I felt kind of naughty. Bad naughty, because I should not be racking up these idiotic fees in the first place. Not once but twice in a calendar year? LAMEEEEENESS.

But also I felt kind of good naughty, because at least the reason the computer said no was that I'd previously asked. I guess of all the reasons to get rejected, that's the one I should be the least unhappy about?!

image source: 123rf.com

February 11, 2011

Day 3 of 30: Cast your vote

Last time around, I lived my life and asked as things came up.

This time around, I'm going to get interactive. And that means I need your input, gentle reader!!


So here's my question: It's 5:15 p.m. in California and I haven't asked anything yet. I'm wondering  what to go for:

A) discount on dinner and/or a movie? I'm ordering takeout and watching a movie with my mom.

B) remove yet another fee? I was late to pay a credit card this month (lame, I know), so now on top of the $89 balance, I have an $8 fee. I could tackle this today... or another day... or next month...

C) something fun/random/crazy? I'm not sure what, but we'll never know unless we I try.

Leave a comment below and let's see how the day evolves!

And there will be more opportunities for interaction through this month of asking.

I'd be thrilled if you left a comment whenever you have a question about how/why I did or said something, a similar experience, a reaction, or an idea for doing things differently. For updates on the askings as they unfold, follow me on twitter (@dailyasker) and search for the #AskDaily hashtag. I may seek your advice, "live tweet" my requests and invite you steer me toward new challenges.

And most exciting, this month I'm going to create a few situations where I'll invite you to ask along with me. Once in a while, I'll come up with a scenario where everyone can do their own version of this adventure. Perhaps we'll all ask for a retail discount on a given Wednesday, or ask someone to accept $5, or ask for a recurring bill to be cut in the final week. Details TBD.

So I hope you'll use my month of daily asking as an excuse to try asking on your own! And if you know anyone who'd be interested in this project -- a workmate, a friend or family member -- maybe someone who is a little reserved when it comes to asking or who would benefit from seeking a raise or more recognition at work or home, please consider sending along this link.

Onward!

image source: atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com

Day 2 of 30: Make an exception for the exceptional Mr. A?

After work today, Mr. A met me at home and we took off to the gym. This is a rare occurrence, since I'm not one to work out in general (make that one heck of a pricey gym membership come to think of it) and he prefers to play tennis or do athletic things for fun.

"So you're asking daily again," he murmured on the drive down.

"Yes!"

"Why... daily?"

"It's time to get back to the basics. I just feel this is the right time, for some reason. For fun! For adventure!"

He laughed nervously.

And I understand why. For anyone who came to this blog after July 1 2009, if you haven't dug around much you should at least know now that Mr. A was an all star trooper. Whenever I confessed at 11:30 (p.m., that is) that I still had to ask, he jumped into the car with me and we headed somewhere, anywhere, askable. He's come along on detours and suggested asking techniques, he's been a sounding board and a partner in crime. And proofreader -- can't forget that. His friends used to keep up with the daily blog so they'd know what he was up to. Plus, on those desperate days when I really didn't know what to ask for, somehow Mr. A was always a prime target for some odd or spontaneous request. I'd get that glint in my eye and he knew to duck for cover.

In other words, when La Roxy announces that she's asking daily again, it kind of means that Mr. A is along for the ride... for better or worse ;)

Case in point:

We got to the gym, and I realized I left my access card on a different keychain. Also, Mr. A isn't a member, and we were prepared to pay the entrance fee when out of the blue I tried a different approach.

"Hi! I forgot my key thingie, so can I give you my name or ID?"

"You for got your key thingie!!" the guy behind the counter gasped.

"Yes! Sorry!"

"I don't think you can set foot in here without that. Kidding. What's your address?"

After he cleared me, I asked for one more little favor...

"Can I bring in a guest? He's not a member and we're not going to work out for long..."

"Normally it would be $15, but, since I'm at the end of my shift," he lowered his voice here, "go for it."

We waved goodbye and I had a good session on the elliptical, watching the situation unravel in Egypt on CNN.

Saved: $15.
Lost: 1 minute.


Afterthought:

So far, Days 1 and 2 aren't reaches. Nothing I wouldn't have asked for before. Nothing bold or inspiring. This last one wasn't even an explicit request: "Let him in for free?" But it was a suggestion, a hint, and it got the result I wanted. In any case, it's feeling great to stretch these muscles and remember what it's like to do it daily. I haven't hit my stride yet, but once I'm back in that mode, I'm so curious what each new day will bring...

image source: panik-design.com

February 10, 2011

Day 1 of 30: Made small talk with credit card rep. Result? Fee removed.

Before the call with Amex (goal: remove a mysterious service fee that has creeped onto the last few statements), I wrote down these six words on a blank page. Not sure that I needed a reminder, but it felt good to see them as I spoke:

what i want: remove all fees

I called and explained the situation. The agent asked if I had previously asked for it to be removed, and I said, "Something like that, since I never signed up for this service. So yes, it's there by mistake."

As he was looking up my account, there was a  pause in which he asked, "How is your day going?" Instead of the conventional "fine, thanks," I told him the truth: "I'm having an amazing day. I'm in California where it's warm and sunny, and I can't believe this is February. Where are you?" He answered Virginia, where it's 30 degrees. I apologized for gloating and told him I took a nice road trip through Virginia once. Then, he told me about the cruise to the Bahamas he just finished, and I congratulated him on his weather coping mechanism.

Then, action: "I have found your account. I do see this fee has been applied twice. Now this service is very useful, and I recommend you don't cancel."

"Thanks, but I'm not interested. I never sign up for 'extra coverage services' like that. It's not my style."

"Well, it's useful because in case of loss of income, or if you were to get injured or married or divorced, this will cover payments. We will actually reduce your balance by up to $500. I really recommend you think about leaving that on there."

I told him I don't need that kind of protection, because I can get free 'coverage' in an emergency from Mr. A or my parents... and then the ask:

"So I'm wondering if you could take me out of the program and even remove those two fees?" 

"Let me take a look here..."

"Of course. I know you aren't required to do that, and this kind of great customer service is why I decided to get an Amex card."

After a pause:

"I will be able to take care of this for you. And thank you for letting me give you more details about that  protection service." He said he'll put a note in my record to make sure the service ends and no new fees get applied in the interim.

"Thank you!"

"That's what we're here for. To take care of you guys. Thank you for being a valued American Express customer."


Thanks for making me feel valued, Amex!


Closing reflections:

1. His question, "How's your day going?" wasn't just small talk. He was testing my mood. Was I angry with Amex? Curt? Would I be nice to deal with or use half an hour of the supervisor's time? 


2. This wasn't a very challenging request, but it still could have gone either way. (Unless Amex is really gentle on fees -- I don't know their policies that well.) I do think that establishing rapport with the agent from the first minute or two set the tone of our whole conversation. Plus, that opening back and forth SO beat 40 seconds of silence or worse, hold music.

3. When he thanked me for listening to his brief spiel, this showed that his real objective was to share that info and try to convince me to stay. If I hadn't listened or been rough, he might have said, "Eff you too," and not canceled anything. This way, we both got what we wanted.

Gained: $24.60 and knocked something off my to do list
Lost: 10 minutes
Question: Have you been successful at knocking off a fee? What strategies did you use?

Day 1 of 30: Here we go. Credit card company, cancel this random fee?

The problem with deciding to ask daily around 11:30 p.m. is that it limits your options. Then I spent an hour and a half waiting before I hit publish, just to make sure I was going to do it.  Now it's 1 a.m. and I feel I should ask before I go to sleep, or it will all be very anticlimactic.


Fortunately, that's where my previous procrastination pays off. I signed up for a credit card a few months ago, and it claimed it has no fee. But every month, an "account security fee" has appeared.

For weeks, Mr. A and I have bounced around this privilege.

"Are you going to call and deal with this?"

"Sure."

Later:

"I didn't have time."

"I'll call."

"No, I will."

Later:

"Have you called?"

"I've been busy!"

"I'll do it."

Well thank you, random impulsive noctural decision. Time to take care of business. AmEx, here I come.

image source: benjii.me