Updated on 04.26.10

A Friend to Buy for You

Trent Hamm

Annie writes in with an interesting story worth talking about a bit:

I don’t like shopping for cars at all. I always get overly nervous and want to run away and feel like I’m just getting manipulated by the dealership. I knew I needed a replacement car soon and, like you and your Pilot, I knew what I wanted. I wanted a Toyota Corolla made between 2004 and 2006. I did my research and found out what I would expect to pay for this car. What I figured would happen is that I would go to the dealerships in my area, feel really uncomfortable and get pushed into paying at least that much, if not more, and then hate myself about it for a long time.

So I came up with a different plan.

I have two friends (a couple) who are very outgoing and are quite willing to negotiate and play hardball. So I called them up and made them an offer. I told them what I wanted to pay for the car and I said I would pay them the difference if they came up with a car like I wanted that had been checked out by a mechanic and had a good Carfax report. They ended up getting exactly what I wanted for about $1,200 less than what I asked, so they got to keep the $1,200 instead of the dealer. All I did was show up at the dealership, sign a paper, write a check, and walk out with the keys. Even better, they took me out to dinner at a nice restaurant to celebrate the new car.

I might not have gotten the best deal, but it wasn’t anything worse than I would have negotiated for myself. I didn’t feel awful about the purchase and the extra money went to my friends instead of to the dealership and I didn’t have to spend weeks hunting for the right model and I got a nice meal with friends out of it, too. Perhaps some of your more timid readers might find the idea useful.

I don’t see a thing wrong with this and, in fact, I applaud Annie for doing it.

Essentially, what she did was pay her friends for an incredibly useful service. She did not pay her friends $1,200 for the service, either, as she would have likely paid most of that to the dealership. She also has an experience that built a deeper bond with her friends.

Is this a good angle for many people? No. Is it a good angle for some people? Absolutely yes.

The real key to this entire story is that Annie knew herself. She knew what her strengths were (being good with money, since she saved up enough cash to buy the car she wanted, and having good friendships). She also knew what her weaknesses were (negotiating with dealers). She simply took her strengths and used them to overcome her weaknesses.

What are you good at?

Are you good at negotiating? Why not offer to accompany your more timid friends to dealerships when they go to buy a car?

Are you good at carpentry or plumbing? Are you good at preparing documents? Do you have a great deal of patience with children?

We all have virtues that make us stand out, at least a little bit. These virtues have value, whether you directly turn them into cash or not. They can be used to build up or cement close relationships with others. They can be used to barter. They can sometimes be used to earn a bit of extra money.

Here’s what it comes down to. If you have a special virtue, share it. If you’re good at negotiating, offer to negotiate for those you care about. If you’re good at carpentry, offer to help people you care about with their carpentry needs. Sometimes, as in the story above, it can even be lucrative, but usually it’s just a good step for cementing relationships.

Then, when you need something, don’t be afraid to ask for their help in return. Seek the skills of your closest friends and family members when you need them.

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  1. Hannah says:

    Good for Annie. I think she was way overly generous with her friends, they probably would have done her the favor for less than $1200, but I suppose that they were motivated to succeed by her offer. If you have someone like this who can be the ace up your sleeve, use them! They will probably consider it a compliment and be happy to help.

  2. Kelly says:

    There are tax consequence to the transaction described. I hope the friends are claiming the $1,200 as income.

  3. Brent says:

    I am always uncomfortable negotiating. Maybe I should consider a plan like this next time its something big. But I think I might try going half the difference. I mean otherwise its actually more complicated for me.

  4. Chuck says:

    If I were Annie’s friend, I would have some class and only keep half the money. Annie should get some credit for bankrolling the whole operation to begin with. She is already known as a bad negotiator, so I don’t think it’s better for her friends to take advantage of her than a car dealer.

  5. Erin says:

    I think this was genious on her part!! I may have to try this on my next car…my ex is an awesome negotiator.

    Although, I would have had a hard time giving them the entire difference, but it was obviously worth it to her. I would have probably offered up $500 or something like that.

  6. The Dude says:

    There are people who offer this as a service. My father-in-law used a guy who does this part-time. Gave him the make/model/color/rough mileage of the used car he wanted. The guy found him the best deal for a flat fee (think it was $1500 or so) and actually drove the car 300 miles to his house. He even bought their old car for more than trade-in. No shopping around, no searching ads for the exact car you want. They get it checked out by a mechanic, some even offer a short guarantee against a lemon (like 30 days). Sure, the money isn’t going to your friends, but if you’re a bad negotiator and hate hunting around for your next car, they offer a great service. Rather pay a guy like that than a (potentially) sleazy dealer.

  7. I think this plan is terrific. As Trent mentions, each of us have our strengths and weakneeses. If we learn to understand our strengths, then we can leverage our strengths against our weaknesses.
    This thought goes all the way back to 1893 and Durheim’s “Division of Labour” – specialization of cooperative labour in specific, circumscribed tasks and roles, intended to increase the productivity of labour.
    Do what you’re great at and outsource the rest. Often, it will be in your best interest through better quality and/or better value.

  8. chacha1 says:

    I think this is brilliant. Our last car-buying experience was pretty painless – we were paying cash, we knew what we wanted, and we found a motivated seller – but the one before that was TORTURE. The salesman actually held my driver’s license hostage while he tried to oversell us … for hours!!

    If we are ever financing a car purchase again we’re very likely to use our credit union’s car-buying service. But cash is king when it comes to negotiating – and, of course, being equipped to stand your ground with salespeople notorious for aggressiveness.

  9. Steffie says:

    Please remember that just because someone is good at carpentry or whatever, this does not mean that they want to do it for everyone who asks. Some people feel that it’s ok to ask the mechanic to do work for them on the weekend for free because that’s what he does during the week so he must like to do it all the time. Perhaps on his downtime he likes to work in the garden or do nothing at all related to his ‘day’ job! I heard a saying when I was younger, ‘The cobblers kids are barefoot’. He was so busy with others that he forgot about his own family. Sometimes I have to remind my man, who is generous to a fault, that we need stuff done at home first.

  10. Crystal says:

    I usually help with the car buying of all my family and most of my friends.

    Since I work with F&I guys and see their systems, I know that everything is negotiable and can get better deals than most. It really does help to know what the average fill-in-the-blank really cost the dealership…I can usually get any car for just a little over the actual cost and huge discounts on any add ons that are wanted.

    Anybody that buys add-ons, there are 50%-500% profit margins for everything from Lojack to Dent Shield…keep that in mind…you can negotiate the price.

  11. traci says:

    Great job, Annie! We do a similar thing for Christmas gifts. My Mommy and I HATE shopping! So we pay my aunt a small fee to do it. She gets great presents for all of my cousins and puts the charges on her cashback credit card. We pay the bill (an amount we already agreed on) plus the small fee. She gets the fee and the cashback from her credit card. Everyone is happy.

  12. Wow I would have never thought of that! What an awesome idea!

    My husband is really good at negotiating that sort of thing which is nice because I SUCK at it. I’ve got a built in solution to my problem but if I didn’t this would be awesome.

  13. Harrken says:

    What a great ideal. If anyone who is good at negotiating is looking for a business ideal here it is.

  14. J says:

    Steffie’s comment reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw on a pickup: “No, I won’t help you move”.

    You do need to be very careful and maintain decorum when asking for favors. I’m in IT as may day job, and luckily I get very few requests for help. I have co-workers who are constantly being solicited for “favors” while they are trying to get their real work done. Far too often, the favors are never returned, either.

  15. Leah says:

    Steffie, I think the key is that you still pay for services (at least in some way — bartering is still trading). You can trade babysitting for computer help or carpentry for electrical work. Or you can pay. But it’s nice to be able to ask around with people you know first — you never know when someone can do a job really well, cost a little less, and help deepen a friendship. Of course, that’s assuming everything goes well. In Annie’s case, paying for skills really worked well because she knew these people did work and would have a good outcome.

  16. I think it’s not so much about giving help to “anyone”. Trent and the letter-writer were both referring to close friends. Sure, especially in a big office you can get asked for ‘favors’ by every proverbial Tom, Dick and Jane. Most of those will never get returned, you’re absolutely right! That’s why I refuse to do ‘favors’ for folks who aren’t close friends I can rely on. If they aren’t willing to pay at least a discounted rate for my ‘favor’ then IMO they don’t value my time and skills enough for me to worry about it.

  17. Cade says:

    Great post, Trent. Good for Annie. What I liked is that she made good on her promise of paying the difference with no hesitation on her part. Can you imagine how much more solid that made the friendship when she didn’t flinch or try to renegotiate the terms? She got far more out of that deal than just the car she wanted…and her friends got far more out of it than a substantial commission.

    Outstanding display of integrity by Annie.

  18. B says:

    You have to be careful. I read a story about how someone decided to make more money, so they brough people places in their car. Well, they got fined for running an unlicensed tax service.

    Who knows, maybe her friends who did this service for her maybe broke some sort of law that requires licenses to conduct transactions for people.

    Mandatory licensing programs stink.

  19. And for everyone who said they would give the person a flat fee, say $500 – well, in this case she basically treated them as commissioned salespeople. She was willing to pay a specific amount, so instead of potentially paying them $500 over the cost of the car, she in essence let them determine their ‘fee’! This was great for her friends, IMO, since it gave them extra incentive to make money on the deal. Without it, she most likely would have ended-up spending about what she wanted on the car plus a flat fee above. That’s the only other way I can see to do it.

  20. Maureen says:

    Way to go Annie!

  21. Bob says:

    I think this is an incredibly good idea. I would feel honored if a friend or family member asked for my assistance with something like that. I think Annie made an excellent business deal and the fact that her friends got to benefit from it is just icing on the cake.

  22. jim says:

    I think Annie’s strategy there is a winner. Personally I might adjust it to split the difference and give the friends 50% of the money rather than 100%.

  23. Pattie, RN says:

    Wonderful idea…maybe I should look into going with friend’s to their medical appointments to translate and ask questions! (which I already do for my immediate family, the latter as a labor of love, of course!)

  24. JB says:

    @15 — I think there’s a plus to naming a price and allowing the negotiator to keep all the profit. Not only is there a psychological plus for the negotiator (“I’m going to get more money if I negotiate well”), it removes doubt from the buyer who’s delegating the negotiations (“Could I have saved more if I got a different negotiator?”). Since it no longer matters whether the negotiator goes 5% or 50% under the expected cost, you have more stability, and possibly save a friendship (they’re not “that couple that didn’t get as much of a discount as they said they would”, they’re “the couple that got my car at the price I wanted”).

  25. JB says:

    On the subject of favors from friends–probably the worst is constant pro bono tech support, if you’re a computer professional. I’ve spent entire visits home fixing family computers (once with my girlfriend in tow, who refused to be separated from me), and, in some cases, not getting as positive a reaction as I’d wish.

    Please, if you’ve got a relative that always fixes your computers–getting him to configure your malfunctioning router or make your seven-year-old computer work again is worth at least a plate of cookies or a meal out. Also, don’t hover over his shoulder–that makes things really, really stressful.

  26. cb says:

    My amazing mother is a master-negotiator! She does it just for the fun, down to “the zipper sticks on this skirt that’s on sale for 60% off; can you give me another 10% off on top?”

    So, she’s not only gone to car dealerships/realtors on behalf of her own kids, but with several of my little sister’s friends, as well. And by “my little sister’s friends” I mean women in their early thirties with houses, husbands, and children.

  27. Kai says:

    for the commenters concerned that this encourages people to take advantage of their skilled friends, I think it’s a different case.
    She asked them if they would be willing, and offered to pay them. They could have said no. This was really employing a friend for a one-time job – not just expecting your lawyer buddy to go to court with you. I think it’s quite different.

    I agree – this sounds like a brilliant idea. She knew what she was willing to pay, and didn’t care strongly about getting a better deal, but did strongly want to not have to go through the negotiation process. By employing a friend to do it, everyone wins.

  28. Ely says:

    I did something similar when I bought my car. I took a friend with me who knew cars and had a lot of car-buying experience. There was no price negotiating but he did get me a better interest rate, and it was a way more comfortable experience having him there rather than going alone.
    I think what Anne did was brilliant and I wish I had friends like that! :D

  29. Alissa says:

    I’m pretty sure that a favor means doing something for free. The friends got $1200 out of the deal, so it wasn’t exactly them just being nice. If I had a pickup, I’d help anyone move for $1200.

  30. Pop says:

    There are actually third-party negotiators who you can hire to do the negotiating for you. Though it seems like going to a friend would be preferable, I wonder how well the third-party guys do.

  31. Brittany says:

    Man, Steffie. She paid them $1200. How your comment at all related to the topic?

  32. Ben says:

    I wasn’t as generous as Annie – two cars back, I took a friend to negotiate and gave him half the difference between the marked price and the price he managed to negotiate.

    For my current car, it was slightly different – the price was already ok, but I was short of cash. I borrowed money off a friend, and payed him interest which was half way between what I would have paid for a loan, and what he was getting in a savings account. Win-win.

  33. deRuiter says:

    Great idea Annie! I love negotiating and am really good at it. It’s my theory that any woman in a car dealership doesn’t get the best deal, NEVER. Suggest for a woman you research the prices and what you want, go to dealership and look around, and don’t waste your energy being insulted that the men who do the selling ignore you or ask when your husband’s coming. Negotiate the best deal you can and get it in writing. Come back next day with a man and have him offer $500., $1,000. or whatever less and you will get the car cheaper. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes it’s pointless to get irritated about how things are, and better financially to do what has to be done, pocket the money, and move on. Most men are pleased and flattered to do this without being paid, they enjoy the contest, the sporting aspect, the ability to “win” savings for the woman, it’s a male thing, why they watch so much competitive sports on TV as opposed to women who do not.

  34. Janie Riddle says:

    I am impressed that Annie was wise enough to realize the value of her friends talent and time.
    I am also impressed that her friends valued their own time and talent and then shared with a meal. This needs to be taught. We seem to either say no because others have wanted help with no return or we say that is ok and next time hide ourselves or wear ourselves and ruin friendships. Thanks Janie

  35. Pieces says:

    We’ve used a third party for every car we have purchased–both new and used. They are called car brokers and charge a flat fee for the service. It usually only costs a couple of hundred dollars. They find exactly the car you want and do all the negotiating. You just go to the dealer, decide if you want that car and sign the papers. If you aren’t happy with the choice for any reason the broker find another car for you. I would highly recommend using a service like that.

  36. DiscoApu says:

    The only problem I have is that its a slightly positive sum gain for Annie. She got a nice dinner and made her friend happy. I think a 75 for the friend and 25 for annie would have been a good split.

  37. Steffie says:

    To #19, the post started out with someone being paid for a service but ended up with giving your services/talents away for free. Even ‘good friends’ can sometimes take advantage of your good nature.

  38. reulte says:

    I’m sorry Steffie, I don’t see where the services were given away for free. As far as I can see, they were give the difference of $1200. Am I missing something?

  39. SLCCOM says:

    If a salesperson holds your driver’s license hostage, ask for it back. After s/he blathers on for a few more minutes, ask for it back again, and add that if you don’t get it back, you’ll be calling the police. If s/he continues to blather, call the police and have the salesperson arrested for false arrest.

    Then inform the dealership that you wouldn’t buy a vehicle or even a fingernail clipper from them, and be sure to inform everyone you know and write a letter to the editor with your experience.

    Nobody forces you to be held prisoner for hours unless they have a gun.

  40. SLCCOM says:

    Er, false imprisonment.

  41. prodgod says:

    I’ve used a broker before and it was fine for finding what I wanted, for the price I wanted, BUT, it was definitely not just a matter of then going into the dealership and signing A paper. There was still a mound of paperwork and they were still trying to upsell the add-ons at every corner. The only help the broker provided was the legwork and the price negotiation. Any time a dealership is involved, there will be business as usual.

    And regarding cash being “king,” that hasn’t been my experience for a least a couple of decades. Sure, cash is still king when buying from a private party, but really, what else would they accept? When it comes to dealerships, cash has no added value when negotiating. On the contrary, dealerships WANT you to finance the car because they make money on the points.

    Just my experience. :-)

  42. sally says:

    I’m glad this worked out so well for her. But what about next time? Will these friends be around in 15 years when she’s looking for her next car? At some point, you need to learn how to do the things that may make you uncomfortable so that you can be a self sufficient adult.

  43. Georgia says:

    deRuiter #20 I have a friend who is just the opposite of what you describe for women. She & her husband went into a car dealership to trade and get an upgraded pickup. Her husband was clueless. She had researched (CarFax,etc), even to finding a vehicle the same of she wanted, but 60 miles away. She told them what she wanted and how much she wanted to pay. At first, they laughed at her. But she insisted. Showed the ad for the vehicle that was $1k lower than they were asking. She said she would prefer to deal locally, but if they did not deal, she would go 60 miles to get the vehicle and also go there for checkups and repairs.

    When she left, she had what she wanted at an even lower price (she got a higher $ on the trade-in). Also, when they left, the salesman told friend’s husband to never bring her back.

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