ALISHA BREWER NELSON: Learning The Fine Art of Haggling

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You know, when you make the decision to move off grid, on top of a mountain, in Montana for the very first time, you expect to be learning a lot of new things. A LOT. But one thing you do not necessarily expect to learn is how many things that you’re bad at. (Oh excuse me, “how many things at which you are bad.”)

For instance, I found out that I was bad at splitting wood, dealing with a real winter and going off grid on a mountain in Montana, but … that’s beside the point.

The thing that surprised me the most though was discovering how very not good I was at haggling. Because we were building our home on a shoestring budget, it was necessary to look for good deals and be able to haggle with the best of them. I turned out to be excellent at finding good deals (whoop!) but terrrrrriblllle at dickering, something which shocked and mystified my country boy husband who had apparently gold-medaled in haggling, who came from a long, illustrious line of champion hagglers.

In the interest of making you haggling-challenged people feel better about yourselves, I will put aside my Scottish pride for the moment and offer a few (embarrassing) examples.

My relatively new husband and I went shopping for a claw foot tub. We found some out in the country. The man gave us a price and as my husband was opening his mouth, getting ready to pull out the big guns of verbal dickering, innocent little me merrily exclaimed, “Wow! That’s a great price!” Butch slowly turned and looked at me with his mouth hanging open and the tub guy snickered. The battle was over before it began. Butch gave me a stern talking to later on, which I didn’t even listen to, so pleased I was at the great deal we just made!

We then went looking for, yes, used toilets. Which we found. When the toilet guy announced the price, I happily piped up, “Well that’s great! We’d pay TWICE that at the store!” Again the look of utter disbelief on Butch’s face, another battle lost and yet another stern talking to.  But it was such a good deal! What was his PROBLEM? Tsk.

We went to a garage sale and I found the perfect rug for our library at which I was completely tickled. It was only ten dollars! I sidled over to Butch and quietly asked (I was learning!), “Why do you think it’s SO cheap?” Butch answered out of the side of his mouth, “I think maybe these people are selling their stuff, trying to raise some money.”

Well. THAT made me feel bad so I walked over and plunked twenty dollars in her hand. Butch later asked me if I haggled her down to five dollars and I sheepishly mumbled, “Uh not exactly.” When I told him what I did, his head popped right off his shoulders and he pronounced me Hopeless. He said, “Your big heart keeps getting in the way.” Well! I should hope so!

I truly was trying to learn though, intently watching the Master at work and learning how to keep my mouth shut until we actually left wherever we were shopping, under a completely unnecessary threat of strangling. Hmph.

I found an old coffee table for thirty five dollars at a yard sale and Butch told me to offer her twenty dollars. I wailed, “Waaa! I feel bad!” He said, “Ok just tell her that’s all the money you have.” I gasped and said, “I can’t LIE!” He rolled his eyes so far back in his head I thought he’d lose them back there. He said, “Give me your money.” which I hesitantly did. He then handed me back twenty dollars and said, “Ok. That’s all you have now so it’s true. Go. Haggle. Make me proud. ”

I nervously got out of the car, walked up to the lady who owned the table and hands clasped in front of me in begging position, meekly squeaked, “Um, you won’t take just twenty dollars, will you? I mean that’s ok if you won’t. I understand. It’s a beautiful table. I’m sure it’s really worth a hundred.” I could hear Butch in the car behind me, beating his head on the steering wheel.

The lady said, “Sure. I’ll take twenty for it.” I almost fainted. I screeched, “Really? You WILL? Are you SURE?!” And then turned around and made a fool out of myself by jumping up in the air, yelling, “OMG! It worked! Woo hoo!”

Butch did this little jazz hands “Yay” sign back at me then bonked his head on the steering wheel again.

Ok, so fast forward fifteen years. I am now, I am proud to say, very good at haggling. I’ll find something I want, swagger up to the seller, plonk down my prize while chewing on a piece of hay, squint my eyes like Clint Eastwood and confidently ask, “What’ll yew take far eyit?” (Don’t know why I have to SAY it like Butch does but whatever…)

So, see? You can get better at it. I did. I’ll even loan Butch out to you if you’d like. All it takes is a little practice, a few nudges and thinly-veiled threats from Butch and before you know it, You TOO will be good at the Fine Art of Haggling!

Alisha Nelson is a city girl learning to live off grid on a mountain in Montana with a country boy. She says it makes for an endless supply of funny stories, even if they weren’t always funny at the time. You can follow her at the Roanoke Star as well as her blog: funnysideofthemountain.blogspot.com