Getting Stiffed

Before I got into the job I’m in now, and before I was in the carpenter’s union, I worked independently a lot, taking side jobs. Let me give you some advice about side jobs, get everything in writing!

A nicely undercut door means the door doesn't annoyingly rub against the carpeting

This was probably 10 years ago now when I took a side job with this doctor who practically lived in a mansion. He had gotten new carpeting in his whole place and when the carpeting guys left, he found that all the doors in his place rubbed on the carpet. What he needed was someone to come in and undercut all the doors in his place… this was maybe about 30 doors.

Since I was still new to the business, I was an idiot. The first thing I did was quote him a cheap price ($850)…cheaper than I should have, but I didn’t really know yet how much profit was normal and what my time was worth. The second thing was that I didn’t get anything in writing. I told him $850 and he said “okay” and I got to work.

I worked hard on undercutting those doors and finished it all in 8 hours. Pretty fast for a job that size and being all by myself. If I’d have taken longer like most carpenters, the mansion owner probably wouldn’t have questioned my $850 price.

But he did question it. He decided to re-negotiate after the job was already done. Since the job was already done and I didn’t have anything in writing, all I could really do was accept the $600 re-negotiated payment he offered.

I didn’t know any better then. I still work quickly and do the job right, nothing wrong with that. But here’s two blue collar tips for taking on any side hustles or side jobs:

  1. Get things in writing…even if it’s just a price scribbled on some paper with their signature, at least then you’ve got something in your hand.
  2. Be confident and forceful in collecting what is owed. I don’t mean forceful as in putting a fist in someone’s face (although seriously, I’d like to do that to some clients), but forceful with your voice and confident in your stance. You’re owed money and they need to give it to you.




Getting Stiffed — 19 Comments

  1. I hate to admit it but I think I might have tried to negotiate a lower price if in his shoes too. $850 would seem like a lot to pay for a day’s work. If that kind of stuff is in writing, it’s definitely harder to get out of paying that price. The dumb part is that other contractors probably would have worked slower to make their price seem more justified. Then you get screwed over for working hard.
    Modest Money recently posted..Blogger Acknowledgement – May 24, 2012My Profile

    • That’s part of why I was so pissed about it too is because I knew if I had worked slower and wasted time and taken 2 or 3 days that he’d have been fine with $850. … which is what most contractors do. But I just can’t stand that mentality!

  2. I worked once for a rock mason. He got shafted once. After that, when he built a chimney he put a piece of glass over the opening near the top. He always got paid because the fireplace would smoke up the house until he dropped a rock in it to bust the glass. You have to protect yourself against greedy people.

  3. That’s terrible! My fiancée is just starting up his own landscaping business and he’s having trouble with confidently charging what he’s worth. He hasn’t come to terms with the fact that he has valuable skills yet. Luckily he does everything by email so all of the quote agreements are in print.
    Jordann @ My Alternate Life recently posted..I’ve Achieved a Goal!My Profile

    • It took me a little while to realize what I was worth and start charging correctly for that — he’ll get it in time, maybe you could show him quotes of other landscapers on things just to show what most are charging? Doing things by email is a great idea…there’s a “paper” trail!

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  5. That’s actually a sad story, but it’s nonetheless a very telling one. Yes, you were young, but certainly not stupid. When you don’t know, it’s unfortunate. When you do know, and still don’t pay attention; that’s being stupid.

    Your advice is correct. Anything that involves money for trade or other goods, always get it in writing. Great point!
    Anthony Thompson recently posted..Self Manager – Success Habits You Should’ve Mastered Before Finishing High SchoolMy Profile

  6. This definitely helps for the homeowner side as well. I had a plumber (who ended up being horrible and who I will never hire again) who charged me way more than we agreed in the beginning. He also took a LOOOOOT longer and I later found out he didn’t know what he was doing b/c I had to get a handyman fix one of the plumber’s mistakes. The handyman worked super fast and was able to fix the problem that was “unfixable” according to the disaster plumber.
    Untemplater recently posted..55 Bucket List Ideas And Tips: Why You Need A Bucket List NowMy Profile

  7. i got stories of getting stiffeed…40 years worth…..good advice, everything in writing…taht is one reson i worked for someone more then for myself….one day i will tell a few of those stories….one was perhaps the day i worked the hardest ever in jmy life, another was when the guy stiffed me on our unemployment in the winter with five kids at home and don’t get me started on bounced paychekcs….a working class hero is something to be….

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