Personal Finance 

Appearances and Reality Part. 2

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This is a guest post by Figure Eight, who apparently looks younger than she is (lucky!), and she blogs over at Figure Eight (blog has since been removed).

Earlier, I wrote about how people often assume I’m much younger than I am. For years, I’ve gotten the “So where are you in school?” question—despite the fact that I’m more than a decade out. When I was five years out of college and working in journalism, my summer intern invited me to her college graduation party. Her family was also celebrating her younger sister’s graduation from high school—and her father mistook me for one of her sister’s friends. “So where are you going to school next year?” he asked when he answered the door.

I suspect this works against me, probably more often than I even realize. Flexo from Consumerism Commentary mentioned in the comments that he is frequently taken as younger than he is at work, and that’s happened to me, too.

But if it’s going to happen anyway, I figure I might as well use it to my advantage. Done the right way, it can be a disguise. Inside, I’m smart and (if I do say so myself) relatively savvy. Outside, I look like an innocent. (And apparently I look a little dumb, because back when I was a high school senior and I told people where I was going to college, more than one of them told me I must be mistaken. I think it’s the blonde thing.)

But I digress. The first time this tactic occurred to me was six years ago when I bought my first car. At the time, I had just switched from journalism into business, and money was still a somewhat terrifying subject for me. The idea of buying a new car made me hyperventilate. So I spent three months doing research while a coworker drove me to work every day. ( has a great breakdown of the car buying process. I was planning to lease the car, mostly in a misguided attempt to avoid the impact on my net worth, and it explained each aspect of the leasing contract so you could avoid hidden fees.)

After a few months of this, I was ready to buy…but there was a second hurdle: the salesman. I knew these guys were trained to separate me from my money, and I kept watching it happen. No matter how much I knew, I found myself doing stupid things like putting $1000 down over the phone after just calling a dealership for information. All my friends had horror stories about being held captive at dealerships–about prices changing, and features they’d agreed on disappearing.

As I thought about it, I realized I couldn’t beat these guys at their own game. They were too well trained, and would probably see me as an easy mark. And so I decided to move the source of my knowledge outward, away from me, and make it appear to them to be someone they couldn’t access or manipulate. I wrote a letter and faxed it to five dealerships, including all five of the dealerships at the top of the letter, so they would know they were in competition.

I told them I was in the market for a specific car, and detailed the features I wanted. Then I told them that my father had very generously offered to make the payments (a lie, but one I figured was in the same category as: “I just need to check this price with my manager”), provided I received a deal substantially similar to the one he had recently received for the same car in Chicago. I listed every aspect of the deal: The purchase price, the residual price at the end of the lease, the mileage per year, etc.

I got three calls back, and I went with the lowest price offered and put my deposit down over the phone. My insurance agent went to the dealership and arranged whatever he needed to arrange. That night, when I showed up to pick up the car, I brought a cell phone with me. My plan was that I would check the paperwork, and if the numbers were different than what we’d agreed on, I’d say: “I’m sorry, I have to call my dad,” and then go outside and make a call. I figured that the sales guys would look at me and believe it, and I would either get the car at the price I wanted, or I would go somewhere else.

As it turned out, I didn’t even have to do that. When I showed up, the sales guy had the car out front. He showed me all the features, and how everything worked. When we went inside, all the papers said what they were supposed to, so I signed them and drove my new car home.

Figure Eight is a New England-based writer and editor who’s been reading financial blogs almost as long as they’ve existed. She was recently inspired to start her own blog, which covers financial subjects, but from the perspective of finding out how to cultivate an enjoyment of what you already have.

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