Blogpost, self-reliance

Haggling: An Underdeveloped American Skill

During my trip to Ecuador in college, I had the opportunity to visit Otavalo Market. It’s a relatively famous market where the indigenous people of the region come to sell their wares. Many of my experiences in Ecuador were memorable and this was just one of them. Early on during our time in Otavalo, I saw a blanket that I wanted to buy. My friend asked me, how much I was willing to spend on it? I said around 60,000 sucre ($1=1,700 sucre). When I inquired about the price, the woman said “Sesenta mil” which was exactly what I wanted to spend. I commented back that it was very expensive. She instantly dropped the price to 45,000 sucre. After delaying for a moment, I thanked her and walked away. I knew that I would be back but I didn’t want to carry the blanket for the next few hours and walking away was bound to drop the price some more. After eating lunch and walking around a bit more, I returned to the woman’s stand again. She remembered me and offered the blanket for 40,000 sucre. In the end I bought the blanket for 36,000 sucre (just over $20 compared to the $35 that I had originally had in mind).

None of these are the actual blanket. This photo was taken in Salasacas. I’ll post a photo of the real blanket at some point.

The skill of haggling is not one that is largely applicable in modern American culture. Prices in stores are usually fixed and people wait for a sale to get that reduced price. I learned how to haggle at flea markets when I was a kid. It’s not an overly complex skill. Mainly it is a balancing act between the seller and the buyer assessing each other and the value exchange. It’s completely possible that the woman in Otavalo was happy to get the 36,000. The 60,000 was an ideal number that she would love to get but didn’t hold out much hope for it. I’m sure that there was a number that she would not have gone below but we never got there. Haggling on either side of the equation takes a bit of self-knowledge. Understanding your minimums and maximums while gauging the other person and the value exchange. This is why I believe that it is a valuable to skill to at least encounter, if not develop.

In a fixed price world, the customer can often feel powerless. Their options are binary: buy or don’t buy. The world of haggling represents a much more accurate picture of two important aspects of life: exchange and relationship. We have become far too comfortable with the idea that other people determine the value of most things. The self-agency that haggling requires is not the “end all be all” of human existence but it gives practice to that thought process. Recognizing that each of us has value to offer and that walking away is sometimes the right move are both lessons that haggling teaches. The reason that I’ve continued to use haggle rather than negotiate is that same idea of personal separation. Negotiating is done in board rooms, at conference tables and in skyscrapers. Haggling is done at flea markets by 10 year old kids. It’s accessible to anyone regardless of education, standing in the community or lineage.

At this point, I’ve gone an awfully long way to “sell” you on an idea. The next step is for you to determine your own value and the value of others. As a buyer and a seller, you need to decide your worth. Don’t let people devalue who you are. This is not particularly a monetary thing. It goes for any exchange that you might have with someone. Do each of you value the exchange at the same level? If not, perhaps it is time to walk away. You have something to offer. Don’t devalue yourself because of past transactions. The past does not equal the future. Get what you’re worth and don’t overspend your attention, emotion or money on the meaningless and frivolous (even if everyone is buying them). Develop your haggle muscle because the price you pay in most things is really up to you.

Going once, twice, SOLD!

Pete