Elizabeth Willard Thames, 35, a financial writer based in Vermont, has learned to always negotiate.
“On large purchases I always say, ‘Is there a discount if I pay in full and upfront?’” The answer she often receives is yes. She asked to pay the total cost of laser eye surgery in cash, writing a $4,225 check, saving her $300. Thames surprised the office with the request, but they were happy to save the time not administering yet another payment plan.
She’s not alone. In Brooklyn, Christina Wallace, 35, rarely takes the first offer as the final offer. She doesn’t just haggle over small tchotchkes at flea markets, either. Wallace said she only ever views the advertised price on big expenses “as the starting point for the conversation.” That’s gotten her reduced hotel rates, airline vouchers after bad experiences and appliances that came in the deal when she closed on her apartment.
Not everyone would haggle in a hotel in front of other well-heeled guests or be bold enough to negotiate their salary during a job interview — many interviewers may not look kindly on such a move — or even insist on a higher compensation from an airline. But these millennials believe that haggling is not a dirty word. They’ve seen their parents and older siblings struggle through the Great Recession and, perhaps, don’t have the same deference for authority than older generations.
While they’ve been raised to fight their corner, millennials arguably also have more reasons than their older cohorts to bargain. Many are coping with rising student debts that have reached $1.5 trillion for all generations, a cost-prohibitive housing market and wages that don’t stack up next to Generation X and baby boomers. “Price sensitivity is important to this generation,” said Bradford Shellhammer, global head of buyer engagement and growth at eBay
There are, of course, less flattering theories. An infamous 2015 Time magazine cover story featured a millennial taking a selfie. It was entitled “The Me, Me, Me Generation.” The article quoted the National Institutes of Health, which said the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older: 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982, it said.
But even if that were true, millennials were the first generation to grow up in an age of Facebook, Snapchat
and Twitter. It may seem churlish to blame an entire generation for growing up with more peer pressure and 24/7 ways to feel bad about yourself, especially if it has its roots in an age of social media. What’s more, technology works both ways. They are arguably more likely than older generations at their age to know whether they’re getting a bad deal.
Some twenty-somethings say they’re learned to be tough customers, not entitled consumers. “My generation negotiates out of necessity,” said Tyler Richard, 24, who had family and friends slammed by the downturn a decade ago. The Peabody, Mass.-based customer-service representative, also knows peers who became skilled fixing up laptops, just so they could use it for job searches. Richard said he and others didn’t have the luxury of taking a “when it’s broke, just replace it” approach to their belongings.
Wallace’s haggling was rooted in an eye-opening suggestion from her high-school guidance counselor who told to ask a college to improve its scholarship offer. Coming of age during the Great Recession, Wallace said her generation was exposed to an “understanding capitalism is probably out to screw you.” And that leeriness, at least for Wallace, could mean a refusal to be a passive consumer.
Christina Wallace’s haggling was rooted in her high-school guidance counselor’s suggestion she ask a college to improve its scholarship offer.
Some people believe that negotiation, like outside of a flea market, is a sign that you’re poor and, if you can’t pay listed price, you ought not to buy it, said Logan Metesh, 30, a writer and historian in Berryville Va., but he’s been brought up in a world of dynamic pricing where the cost of things are constantly changing.
So are millennials more likely to rally against paying the advertised price or the proposed offer? Some commentators have less-than-flattering reasons: Entitlement. One observer advised managers to expect fewer formalities from millennial workers.
Millennials use social media to shop more than their older cohorts, compare prices online and they’re more likely to shop in stores where they can talk price with the sales assistant face-to-face, according to a study by Salesfloor, a web-based platform supplying shoppers with sales associates who help them buy retail goods.
“Millennials tend to reject retailers who constantly push products through messaging and instead prefer authentic interactions with sales associates,” the study concluded. “Millennials are also likely to interact with brands and retailers through social media sites such as Twitter
in order for their voices to be heard.”
There’s more salary transparency, giving younger workers leverage
Some younger workers are honing their negotiation skills at the office. Haggling 2.0 starts in the workplace, built on the heaps of salary information now available and an extremely tight labor market with decades-low unemployment, observers say.
Richard said he stunned his job interviewer with a counter that was about $2 over the offered hourly rate; he got the pay he wanted, persuading his employer because his bid was for his approximate $26,000 student loan debts and living costs, not an idle request. Richard brought up his hourly rate at his Brookstone sales job from around $12.50 to $14.50.
65% of polled workers ages 18 to 34 asked for more pay, while only 55% of workers 35 to 54 sought higher compensation.
That 2013 incident was his first negotiating win. He’s moved onto a new job as a customer-service representative for a third-party insurance claims administrator, but he’s used his skills to counter debt collector demands and even arrange the swap of an artisanal blanket for a “Star Wars” figurine.
Younger workers “are not bashful when it comes to expressing their needs,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half International, a staffing firm headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif. with offices across the world. In fact, he said his company coaches employers to be especially ready for the back and forth with younger job candidates. Younger candidates, he said, know their worth.
Studies support this theory: 65% of polled workers ages 18 to 34 asked for more pay, while only 55% of workers 35 to 54 sought higher compensation, up from 45% last year, according to Robert Half International’s
February survey. In comparison, 38% of workers 55 and above asked for more pay, although that was also up from 30% last year.
Many employees are increasingly confident in asking for more, but younger ones have been steeped in technology skills the market really values, he said.
Paul McDonald, a baby boomer, entered the job market in the early 1980s and he was happy just to have a job.
McDonald, a baby boomer, entered the job market in the early 1980s and he was happy just to have a job. “We were brought up to accept what was given to use, put our head down and do it,” he said. Younger workers also work hard, but they have different expectations.
Many entry-level jobs require different, more technologically-geared skill sets compared to years ago, said Wallace, vice president of growth at Bionic, a Manhattan- and San Francisco-based firm that works with large companies to build startups. Young workers “are showing up with something to offer, and not just eagerness and time,” she said.
There’s a lot more detailed salary information available on jobs and even companies from sites like Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com. This can make for more informed talk about compensation — and makes discussing salary considerably less taboo. “It only hurts you to not know this information,” Wallace said. As an informal career coach to friends, she said she’s helped eight women obtain an extra $200,000 in base or guaranteed bonuses plus perks during their job searches.
One sign that the culture around salary negotiation and transparency is changing: A judge’s order the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to start compiling pay information from companies with more than 100 employees, on top of the race and gender staff breakdowns the companies already must provide. That decision is being appealed.
Richard has no regrets about bringing up salary in a job interview. He said it’s better to get that conversation out of the way earlier rather than later, so as not to waste each other’s time. “In most situations, you have more power than you realize,” Richard said.
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