There are two things I really hate. The first? Owing people money. It makes me cringe. The second? Negotiations over money. It also makes me cringe. I’m terrible at negotiations. If I’m in a really touristy area, and locals stop me, trying to sell me a souvenir with, “For you!? A special price, pretty lady! Only $20 American!” I usually respond, “Twenty dollars? That’s ridiculous for a shot glass with a picture of a sombrero! I’ll give you $19!”
I’m terrible at it.
But I’ve learned how to negotiate over the past few months, not because I wanted to, but because I thought I had to. I’ve also learned since this pandemic started that honesty is truly the best policy.
It’s been seven months since I forced myself to be brutally honest with people about money and payments during this pandemic.
First? My gardener. I truly wasn’t over the shock, when in March, everyone raced to let people go, and I had lost five paying jobs in less than 72 hours “temporarily.” (Um, how long would you describe the word “temporarily?”) I wrote about giving to charity to feeling like a charity case here. Less than 48 hours after that firing spree, my gardener showed up unannounced, as he always does each spring for years, and started to do gardening stuff, like putting down new soil. I heard his loud crew outside my house and my immediate reaction was to close all the shutters, race upstairs and hide in my shower for the next six months, so he couldn’t give me an invoice. I had no idea, at the end of March, if I could pay him for his weekly services.
Admittedly, I thought it was pretty ballsy for him to just start, without asking, considering how many people had just lost their jobs so suddenly. He was carrying on like business as usual. I do need him. I live on a corner lot, with large spaces of grass in the front, on both sides of the house, and in the backyard. And, no, I couldn’t just buy a lawnmower and do it myself. Are you fucking crazy? I have gotten over the fear of blowing myself up as I put gas into my car, but I have not gotten over my fear of loud lawnmowers with blades.
I had to come out of hiding. It was time to be brutally honest. With a pit in my stomach, I went outside. He greeted me fondly, which made it even harder for me to tell him the truth. Again, I hate owing money.
“I can’t pay you right now,” I told him. “I will, of course, pay you. It’s just a matter of when,” I said, adding jokingly, “Plus, you know where I live.” (Although it’s not a joke. He does know where I live.)
At that point, I had no idea how long I’d be unemployed, and how long the money in my accounts would last. I was doing everything in my power to not dig into my life long savings — like most, losing almost 30 percent of everything I worked for my entire fucking life — which was meant for a possible boob job, sending my son to a private school, and early retirement.
My gardener understood and even thanked me profusely! He told me he has to chase down some clients for months and months, even Pre-Covid, including neighbours who have Porches and Range Rovers in their driveways, because they probably didn’t want to pay him, or couldn’t, but couldn’t find it in themselves to be honest, instead probably hiding in their showers. Every Wednesday, since the pandemic hit, he has shown up with his crew, making my lawn pretty. Never once did he ask for payment.
Then there was my trainer, who I consider a friend. He lost all his clients — clients much more wealthy than me — who literally ghosted him. I can understand why. I also don’t understand why. Why couldn’t they be like me, who told him honestly, “I can pay you half. I promise, when I know where I land in the next couple of months financially, I’ll go back paying your regular rate.”
My trainer accepted my negotiation (Woot! I did it!) For him, and for so many others, making some money was better than making no money. He, too, appreciated that I was honest, from the start, instead of clients, who could no longer afford this luxury, going AWOL.
Yeah, Yeah. Poor Rebecca. She can’t pay her gardener or personal trainer. Well, I’ll be honest and say that just like you, I’m trying to keep my spirits up, and if that means a groomed lawn and a workout that brings me a little bit of joy, so be it. (I’m still a vain mom, but I’m not yet getting manicures or pedicures or ordering from Starbucks, so glass houses and all!)
My daughter’s 17th birthday, too, is this week, and reaching out to my favourite jeweller who also happens to be a friend, I included in my text, “Pandemic prices!” basically telling her to only show me items that are “reasonably priced.”
Interestingly, after months, I’ve gotten much better at being honest with people. It’s still not the greatest feeling in the world, but you know what? I am not embarrassed. If someone doesn’t want to give me a discounted service or act in good faith, after I tell them my “pandemic price point” and try to negotiate, that’s fine. That’s up to them.
The importance of being honest, nowadays, flows over into other parts of life, where nothing is normal, including the common cold, a nightmare I wrote about here. Even with my wonderful hairdresser, who opened for business weeks ago, I was honest that I still felt uncomfortable going there, opting instead to ask if she could continue to make me curbside pick-up hair dye mixes to do at home. Even though she has taken every precaution, and then some, she immediately said, “No problem. Everyone has their own comfort level. You need to be comfortable.” My hairdresser came to Canada with $12 in her pocket, didn’t speak a word of English, lived in shelters, and now runs one of the most popular salons in Toronto. Of course I want to support her! She deserves it! She trusts I will be back, and I will when I feel comfortable, split ends be damned.
I was also invited to a wedding, about a month ago. I love weddings! This wedding was outside, almost everyone was wearing masks, and we were sitting at least two meters apart during the ceremony. But when it came time for dinner and I saw the set-up, I immediately said to my guy, “I can’t. I can’t! There are too many people I do not know! I need to get out of here now!” I felt horrible, especially since the groom is one of my guy’s closest friends.
I would have left like a coward, without saying goodbye. Who wants to hear that guests don’t feel comfortable? I wanted them to enjoy their night. It wasn’t like the bride and groom would be looking for us, asking, “Where are Neil and Rebecca?” Unlike me, my guy has manners. He insisted we say goodbye. Pre-Covid, if I wanted to leave somewhere, I would usually “blame” my children — A plus of having children, at least Pre-Covid, is that we could use them to get out of things and go home early.
“I’m really sorry,” I said to the groom. “I don’t feel comfortable. I have to be around people who have immune issues so I need to be careful.” The groom was totally understanding! In no way did he force us to stay or make us feel guilty for leaving at 8 p.m. You can’t argue against someone who is being truthful about their comfort level during a pandemic, or else you’d be an asshole.
I also wanted to see Carla Collins taping a comedy special. I did RSVP and asked, “How many people will be there?” Unfortunately, they couldn’t provide me with “numbers” leading me to write back, “Maybe next time. I really don’t feel comfortable just yet.” Her publicist was also completely understanding and admitted she would have cancelled it if they weren’t so far along into their planning.
Also, I have no fucking idea of how I’ll feel when I wake up anymore. I have cancelled plans, last minute, telling the truth; “I’m in a shit mood. Can we reschedule?” Again, everyone I’ve bailed on has been completely understanding, because guess what? They have had their own shitty days and have also bailed for “being in a bad mood.”
It’s just so much easier to be honest. I don’t want to hide in my shower. I don’t want to owe money. Weirdly, for the first time in more than six months, I’m actually coveting this purse! Pre-Covid, I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying it. Alas, I had an honest talk, with myself. To myself, I said “Nope!”
Happily, last week, I wrote my gardener a cheque for the entire amount I owed him – six months of work – because I felt I could. Now, the only time not to be truthful is if someone asks you if they look fat. Otherwise, pull up your Big Girl Underpants and tell the truth.
It does set you free, and I’m being completely honest.