Handling Door To Door Solicitors

My wife has a serious weakness for youths who tell her a hard knock tale, and it rarely comes up with such vigor as when teenagers come door to door. They tell her a tale about a troubled life and how they’ve found a program that keeps them out of trouble – and it involves selling magazines! She’ll listen for a while, let her sympathies run wild (whether they’re founded or not), and wind up buying a vastly overpriced magazine subscription.

There are a lot of problems with this whole scenario, which my wife and I have talked about many times:

First, you have no idea who door to door solicitors actually are. They can claim any number of things, but how do you know what they’re raising funds for? Sometimes, it’s easier to tell – they’re selling t-shirts for the local high school, so you can be fairly sure it’s a local cause. But when a random person comes by selling magazines, how can you know in any way who they are?

Second, their offerings are often obscenely overpriced. A recent solicitor was offering Wired subscriptions for $38. Considering you can easily find a subscription to that magazine for $10 (and you can find it cheaper than that if you search a bit), this is just highway robbery.

Third, they’re interrupting your life. Solicitors that come to your door are eating your time. If you’re not highly interested in what they’re saying, they’re on your property devouring your time. That’s a waste right there.

In a nutshell, door to door solicitors are in the same group as telemarketers – you have no way of making sure they’re actually who they say they are and are representing who they claim to represent. Thus, my approach is to handle them in much the same way I handle a telemarketer – tell them to go away by default, and follow up of my own accord if I’m truly interested.

My game plan: as soon as I identify a non-local solicitor, I usually quickly and politely say I’m not interested and shut the door. Even if the charity or organization is interesting to you, it’s not worth the potential risk of giving any information to an unknown person or group.

If the solicitor is local, I’m far more likely to consider it – for example, if the boy next door is selling candy bars to pay for part of a class trip, or a high school student is selling an Entertainment book to buy uniforms for their team. This is easier to do if you live in a smaller town and you actually have a high likelihood of knowing the solicitor’s family and friends.

If it’s a religious missionary or a political person (I live in Iowa, so I occasionally get people promoting a presidential candidate), I usually debate them, though you may wish to treat them like other non-local solicitors.

Although my wife’s heart is in the right place, I encourage her to find other ways to help children in need, not via a door to door marketer.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.