Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions.

This week’s episode starts with a discussion about how to negotiate.

Then we pivot to this week’s money question from a listener’s text message. Here it is:

“I have a question about my car’s value. I track my finances through Mint and they add the value of your car as a part of your net worth.

I’ve tracked my car’s value since May 2020, and it has fluctuated significantly. It slowly decreased in value since May 2020. Then in February it dipped to $6,440. Now it is back at $7,900. I always thought that your car’s value always depreciated. Why is the value fluctuating so dramatically? Thank you for your help!”

Check out this episode on any of these platforms:

Our take

Negotiating prices can save you money, but it requires skill. When you’re going into salary negotiations before starting a new job, for example, wait for your potential employer to make the first offer, and be polite yet firm when countering their offer.

If you’re haggling at a flea market or a peer-to-peer app like OfferUp, realize that your relationship with whoever you’re talking with can make or break the deal. Your personal relationship may be less important, however, when you’re negotiating the terms at a car dealership or with a mortgage lender. Whether you’re haggling for compensation, the terms of a mortgage or the price of an item you’re buying online, go into negotiations hoping to make a deal that will make all parties happy.

When it comes to understanding why your car’s valuation may be fluctuating, look to the market and other factors that are driving up used car prices. Effects of the pandemic and the chip shortage continue to drive up car prices. Because we’re in an unprecedented moment in the used-car market, try to hold off on buying a car if you can. If you’re coming off a lease, though, you might have a unique opportunity to cash in the equity of your leased car toward a newer vehicle or even sell your leased car.

Our tips

  1. Understand the moment. The current market is unprecedented, so know that even the pricing guide may be off.
  2. Delay if you can. If you don’t need a car right now, wait until early next year to buy.
  3. Think about trade-ins. If you’re coming out of a lease you could have a lot of equity, so make sure you use it.

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

Episode transcript

Liz Weston: Welcome to the NerdWallet Smart Money Podcast, where we answer your personal finance questions and help you feel a little smarter about what you do with your money. I’m Liz Weston.

Sean Pyles: And I’m Sean Pyles. To send the Nerds your money questions, call or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373, that’s 901-730-N-E-R-D, or email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. And to get new episodes delivered to your devices every Monday, be sure to subscribe. And if you like what you hear, please leave us a review.

This episode, I’m joined by our occasional co-host, Sara Rathner, to answer a listener’s question about why their car’s valuation has been fluctuating. One hint is that it might have something to do with chip shortages, the state of the used car market and this lingering pandemic.

But before we get into that, in our This Week In Your Money segment, Liz and I are talking about how to negotiate — whether it’s a raise at work, a mortgage or maybe just some furniture that you’re buying online. And Liz, you actually recently wrote about negotiating in your column. So what do you think folks should know?

Liz: The most important thing to know is that the best negotiations can be win-win. You always think when you’re seeing somebody haggle over — I don’t know, an item at a flea market — that if you’re really hardcore and the guy walks away weeping, then you’ve done the right thing.

That’s actually not it. With most negotiations, you want to preserve the relationship. The relationship is more important than whatever you’re talking about. Not always, but often. So keeping in mind that you want a result that benefits both parties can really help set you up for some success.

Sean: I really liked, in your column, you wrote, “You don’t have to be a jerk to be persuasive.” And I think that’s very true, in part because people aren’t going to cut you the best deals if you are a jerk. As you said, you want to make it so you guys are both getting what you want. They want to sell whatever they have to give you. You want their item. At the end of the day, they want to at least break even, get some kind of profit. And you want to still have some money in your bank account.

Liz: And when you’re talking about something like negotiating a salary, for example, here’s where relationships are really important. You obviously don’t want to be a jerk, because then you’re not going to get what you want.

Sean: Yeah, like maybe the job at all.

Liz: Exactly. But interestingly, most people don’t negotiate their salary. I didn’t realize that. But there’s some fairly extensive research that most people just accept what they’re given. I always think women get the bad rap that we don’t do that, but apparently most people don’t do that. And most managers expect you to. So they’re not expecting you to just grab the first offer that’s on the table.

Sean: So how can people go about negotiating a salary at a new job?

Liz: Well, the thing with all negotiations is most people don’t prepare enough. Over-preparation is really key. You go on salary.com, Glassdoor. Robert Half, the temporary services firm, they have a salary guide. Just look up what other people are making, what’s the going rate. Talk around your workplace, if you can. If you’re already there and asking for a raise, it’s kind of a different situation than if you’re trying to get in. But do all the research you can and have a game plan, actually write down what you want and how you’re going to ask for it.

The next most important thing is go for salary first, go for the dollars before you start talking about things like extra time off or extra benefits. Because those are fairly easy to give you, the money is hard. Get the money down first and then ask for the rest.

Sean: I think it makes sense to negotiate the big-ticket item, like your salary, first, and then you can get into smaller things like PTO or insurance. So that way, whoever you’re talking with doesn’t feel like they’ve already given you the good stuff if you negotiate the little details first.

Liz: For this article, we interviewed Kwame Christian, who’s in charge at the American Negotiation Institute. He said, “If you start off with the creative options, then they feel like they might have given you enough. And money is exhaustible, the other stuff is basically inexhaustible.”

Sean: That also speaks to the psychological element in negotiations, where they’re going to give you some perks no matter what. But you want to play a pretty tactical game of communicating and getting what you want first, and then you can have cherries on top of that.

Liz: One of the other things that Christian said was, “If you are the one that has more information, you make the first offer. If the other person has more information, they make the first offer.”

And how that usually plays out is if you’re trying to get a job and negotiate the salary, wait for them to give the number, because they know more about the situation. If you already have the job, then presumably you know as much as the other person, so you can be the first one to name a number. You can ask for the raise, but wait for them to make the job offer.

Sean: I also want to talk about negotiating when you’re buying a car or a house, when you’re shopping for a mortgage. And, for me, last year, when I was shopping around for mortgages, I spent a lot of time haggling and negotiating in a way I never had before. I took a lot of time being pretty methodical, where I first started to understand the market of different mortgage lenders that are around and what they are looking for in a potential borrower, in terms of credit score, debt-to-income ratio, things like that.

And that took a lot of time. So I gave myself time to do this research and to know what they were wanting out of a potential borrower. And then I got my money in order and made sure I was in a pretty good position overall. And then I applied to five different mortgages.

That’s maybe extreme, and I maybe wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t locked down in my house during the pandemic. But I think that’s something that anyone who’s shopping for something like a car loan or a mortgage can take a little bit of time to do. It’s not going to take you weeks. You can dedicate a Sunday afternoon to doing something like this. That way, you have different offers from different lenders. And you can begin to negotiate with the one you think might be your preferred lender — things like closing costs. For example, I was able to save over $1,500 in closing costs by going back and forth with my preferred lender.

Liz: That’s great. And I don’t think a lot of people understand that they can do that, that there is a lot of negotiating room when you’re shopping for a mortgage or shopping for a car — that’s another area — there is where the relationship maybe matters less. It’s not like you’re trying to preserve relationship with a future boss or negotiate with a partner.

But still, the ability to be nice, to ask for what you want, to be clear on what you want, and also to have a bottom line, a walk-away point — that is so important. Knowing the most that you want to pay for a car, or the most you want to pay for that mortgage, in various forms, is super important. Because walking out the door is the most powerful thing you can do sometimes in a negotiation.

Sean: Especially at a car dealership. I will say, when it came to my mortgage negotiations, they were asking me for receipts every step of the way. So if you’re going to say, “Oh, I have a different offer from elsewhere,” you better actually have that other offer, because otherwise your argument kind of falls apart and then you have less negotiating power than you had to begin with.

Liz: But Sean, I think you did a lot of haggling when you were getting furniture for your new house, right?

Sean: I did. I was prowling this app called OfferUp, where people post their own items. I’ll admit I was kind of inspired by the show I watched a lot during the pandemic called Flea Market Flip, where two teams go to the flea market, they buy a bunch of stuff, they flip it, and they sell it at another flea market. And they drive really hard bargains. They will super low-ball people and ended up getting a good deal.

And I was furnishing my new house. I didn’t have a ton of money that I wanted to spend on furniture. So I figured, “Might as well try this.” I would see an item, like a beautiful rattan rocking chair, that was like, my dream item. It would be like $150. And I did not want to spend that. So I would start the negotiation at half of that. And I was kind of doing an experiment to see how low I could get a price from someone. And I actually ended up getting that rattan rocking chair for half of what they originally listed it at.

Liz: Wow.

Sean: Yeah. And I got a lot of things like that. Sometimes there was back and forth, and other people weren’t really willing to negotiate because it had just been listed. But at least, on apps like that, I found that if the item has been listed for a couple days people are more likely to drop their price. And if you’re also just a nice person, people are more likely to negotiate with you. I would let them know a little bit about my backstory and try to build a personal connection, as much as you can over an app like that.

To me, I think it worked decently well. But one thing that’s interesting about this, and it also relates to my mortgage story, is that I have only ever really haggled like this over the internet.

Liz: Ah.

Sean: The idea of haggling in person is really scary. I tried it one time at a flea market when I was studying abroad in Rome. And I’m sure there was a language barrier going on, but I just felt very intimidated and ended up just walking away. And I still dream about that leather jacket that I didn’t get.

Liz: Oh.

Sean: But I know that you have experienced haggling in person. So what do you think people can do? How can they approach this?

Liz: And I’ve done a lot of overseas haggling as well, because going to flea markets is one of my favorite things to do abroad.

Sean: Oh, yeah.

Liz: I think keeping in mind that you may not walk away with the biggest bargain you’ve ever had, but there is always negotiating room. And I think starting at half, sometimes that can be a little bit extreme. And if you have any idea of the range of prices you can know when something is way overpriced. But, again, it’s kind of feeling your way.

Liz: You can start with the 50%, see what the reaction is, and then go from there. If somebody turns away and refuses to talk to you, it’s like, “I’m sorry, I’m new here. I don’t really understand the pricing.” That can bring them back. But they’re expecting you to haggle. You just don’t want to be a jerk about it.

Sean: One thing that I’ve come to with haggling like this … and if I could go back to my younger self, haggling in Rome way back when, I would tell myself to keep perspective and recognize the charade that is haggling. There’s a bit of a song and dance to the whole thing. They have something and you want it but you don’t really need it necessarily, but they want a certain price and you have a certain price in mind too. So there’s a dance involved.

And so you just engage in a little bit, being aware of that. I think that will help, at least me, keep my perspective and know when to walk away or know how to engage in a way that can help us both get what we want out of this deal.

Liz: I think that’s perfectly said, that’s exactly what you’re after. And also when you’re doing this in a flea market context, typically you’re doing it a bit for entertainment as well.

Sean: Yeah. Yeah.

Liz: So enjoy the process, it’s kind of fun.

Sean: I’m thinking that, come spring next year — because at this point, a lot of the flea markets around here have shut down — I’ll probably dive in, get some little knickknacks for my house, and take on negotiating in person.

Liz: There you go.

Sean: OK. And with that, I think we can get on to this episode’s money question segment with Sara Rathner.

Liz: All right, let’s do it.

Sean: This episode’s question comes from a listener’s text message. Here it is:

“I have a question about my car’s value. I track my finances through Mint, and they add the value of your car as part of your net worth. I’ve tracked my car’s value since May 2020, and it has fluctuated significantly. It slowly decreased in value since May 2020. And then in February of 2021, it dipped to $6,400. Now it is back to $7,900. I always thought that your car’s value always depreciated. Why is the value fluctuating so dramatically?

Thank you for your help.”

Sara Rathner: To help us answer our devoted listener’s question, we’re joined once again by autos Nerd, Phil Reed.

Sean: Hey Phil, welcome back to the podcast.

Phil Reed: Good to be with you guys. Thanks.

Sean: I’m glad to have you on right now because there is a lot of uncertainty and weirdness happening in the car market right now, especially around used cars, which I think might be coming into play with our listener’s question.

Can you explain what’s happening with cars and car valuation right now?

PhilMuch of it stems from a shortage of microchips, which are used in the production of new cars. There was a lot of shutdowns during the pandemic. And then, apparently — I learned actually that they don’t stockpile parts. So when this shortage hit, it just meant that fewer new cars were coming onto the car lot. That also put a lot of pressure on the used car. A lot of people didn’t drive during the pandemic. Now everybody wants the pandemic to be over, whether it is or not. So there’s been a lot of people that say, “I’m going to get that car now and I want to go on a road trip.”

So car values have actually gone through the roof. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I interviewed a veteran and he said, “I’ve been in the business for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Sean: Well, especially for used cars. It’s really surprising because I bought a car last May, it seemed like it was the bottom of the market before people began to really buy used cars again. And in the time since I purchased my car I’ve put around 10,000 miles on it. And I got a valuation for it a few months back and it had increased in value by $4,000, which I thought was shocking considering how much I have driven it, and that it’s a year older, all of these things.

Phil: Oh, shocking in a good way.

Sean: Yeah. Yeah, for me.

Phil: To this listener’s question, it’s never fluctuated like this before. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the value of your car because cars will depreciate not evenly. In other words, if you picture it as a curve, it doesn’t go down gradually — it’ll kind of flatten out and then drop off.

There’s a couple of times in a car’s life when it depreciates more quickly. After three years, which is when a lot of the leased cars are turned back in, that’s a time when it takes a hit. And then at maybe five or six years, it drops off again. So tracking the value of your cars is a good idea.

But the problem in this climate is that, let’s say you look up your car and it’s like, “Wow, I can get a lot of money for my car.” Well, if you try to replace it, now it costs a lot more to buy the replacement car. So it’s a push.

Sean: I was reading an article on Kelley Blue Book, and they found that older, less expensive used cars are vanishing from the market. It said that, “At this time last year, 18% of the used vehicles a dealership had were priced below $15,000. And this year it was only 1% of available vehicles that were below that price point.”

Phil: Well, a lot of that has to do with affordability. I mean, there’s a lot of people shopping for second cars, maybe shopping for a car for their teenager. And they’re trying to shop in that price bracket. But also, that bracket has moved. So the cars that were $10,000 last year are probably costing at least $15,000 this year.

Sara: I was wondering, because this listener mentioned that they track their car’s valuation on a regular basis as part of their net worth. That’s actually something that I’ve never done. I’ve never factored my car’s valuation to my net worth normally because I drive really old cars. I figured they’re not worth much.

If somebody is listening at home and wondering, “Wow, should I have been doing this all along?” What advice do you have for how often to track and how to get started?

Phil: So if there is actually equity in your car, meaning that, let’s say you bought a $25,000 car, but you put down, we’ll say $10,000, and you began making your payments. Two years later, you’ve got maybe $10,000 worth of equity in the car. And that’s something that you could do something with if you wanted to. You could use it to buy a new car. You could just sell it and start cycling or something like that.

So technically it is equity, but of course equity is never money until you actually need it and use it. If you’re driving really old cars, it’s pretty hard to track your value. I don’t know that it would be very significant. Part of the problem is that when you get to a certain point in a car’s life, it is basically fully depreciated. In other words, it just sort of flat-lines. And then there are so many other factors that are more important. How many miles does it have? What kind of condition is it in? How has it been maintained? Those kinds of things will be really important.

It’s funny, Sara, because you say they’re not worth much. Well, any car that’s running is worth a lot. It may not be worth a lot in cash, but certainly for convenience — it is getting you to work, all of those really important things. Because I hear that a lot from people, it’s like, “My car is not worth anything, so I’ll probably donate it,” or whatever. Which is fine if you have that need. But you should never just think, “My car is not worth anything.’

Sara: That is a really good point. I never really thought about it that way. The value in just being able to get from point A to point B is huge.

Phil: I had a friend who was raising a daughter himself. And they would take the bus two hours to get her to school in Los Angeles. And I loaned him a car for awhile. It was a really old, ratty car. Nobody would buy it. It gave him maybe three hours back of his life every day. That’s the kind of value that people don’t think of.

Sean: I have a question back around equity. We think a lot about equity of a used car, as you were mentioning. But you were also recently telling me about equity of a leased vehicle, which is something that I wasn’t familiar with previously. Can you explain how that works?

Phil: This is something that doesn’t occur very often, but it’s occurring big time right now. If you lease a car, the leasing company, in other words, the one that writes the contract and holds the title, makes a prediction about what the car is going to be worth at the end of the lease three years later.

These prices have been very stable for decades. So if you lease a Honda Accord, they know what Honda Accords are going to be worth in three years. But nobody knew the pandemic was coming, so now that those $30,000 Honda Accord — so at the end of the lease, they said, “It’s going to be worth $15,000,” actually now it’s worth like $20,000. Now that money is yours.

Now, how do you turn it into money? That becomes a little bit sticky. It could be that you buy it and then sell it. And you can sell it at the higher price point. You can sometimes take it to places like CarMax and they’ll do all of the paperwork and give you the equity.

But the point here is that you should know about it, because you don’t want to just say, “Well, my lease is up. I’ll turn it back into the dealer.” They’ll be licking their chops when they see that, because they know they can turn around and sell it.

Sara: Yeah, exactly. A used car coming off of a lease is like a unicorn at this point, it’s been so well taken care of, it’s relatively new.

Phil: That’s actually sort of the tip for shoppers, which is looking at that three-year-old car, that’s kind of a sweet spot. They’re coming off lease, some of them may have extended warranty, some miles left. Some of them come off with pretty low miles because they don’t want to exceed the mileage allowance. So you can usually pick up a pretty good one.

Now, back to the lease question though, in some cases, what you might want to do is just extend your lease. You can often extend on a month-by-month basis at the same monthly payment. Because this situation is going to keep going through the fall, possibly early next year, to really get back to where— the word normal doesn’t mean much anymore, it would seem — but stabilize, I guess, the whole pricing situation.

So if you try to capture that equity, you’re just going to turn around and lose it when you buy the new car. But in rare cases — if it’s a second car and you can do without the second car — go ahead and sell it now and then wait and replace it in five or six months from now and then you will have captured the equity that’s in it.

Sean: So I have a question to you on the idea of returning to a “normal” and when that’s going to happen, potentially. I have a friend right now who is desperately hoping to buy a car. And everything is pretty expensive and she’s not super keen on spending all this money, especially if she gets a loan and would potentially be underwater in a year, year and a half, when car valuation goes down a little bit.

So I guess it’s a two-part question. First, when do you think things will begin to stabilize a little bit? And what is your advice for people who are looking to buy a car right now?

Phil: Well, I just wrote a column, it was called something like: “This Is the Worst Time to Buy A Car. But if You Have to, Here’s What You Can Do.”

One of the important things, is don’t assume anything. I mean, you hear a lot of news reports that all the prices have gone up. But it hasn’t gone up evenly. There are certain segments of the market that haven’t gone up. There are dealers that are perhaps overstocked with a certain type of car. So this is where your own personal research and work will benefit you greatly. Even the pricing guides these days are probably out of date, not completely accurate. So the only way to do it is for you to become an expert on the market in this three-week period while you’re shopping.

So, first of all, I mean, I wouldn’t rule out buying a car now, because it’s probably going to be at least five or six months before we do get back to normal and prices do start coming down. Another possibility for your friend is to shop out of the market that she’s in. So if it’s really expensive wherever she is, try another city. You can always buy it. And if you buy a new car you can have it serviced at any dealership in the franchise.

And it depends on the type of car. Subarus are very popular in the Pacific Northwest and New England. In Texas, not so much. Pickup trucks are very popular in Texas. Think about where the car is not popular. Think about where the inventory might be good. And know that there are a lot of tools that are going to save you lots of time. You can usually search inventory that car dealers in your areas have. In some cases you can search an entire area.

Sean: How do you do that?

Phil: Most dealers these days are posting almost everything on Auto Trader. So if you just do your make and model of the car that you are looking for, set a distance, and then just broaden the distance until you find what you want.

It’s a little tricky when you begin to shop for a car out of your area because you want to make a deal that they’re going to honor when you get there. I always feel a little nervous about that. So you want to deal with somebody that you have confidence in. You want to get everything in writing before you make that drive or fly to the distant city and drive home.

Sean: That makes sense. Because I recently went into a car dealership and I said, “Can you match my car payment or make it less?” They said they couldn’t do that until they had a soft agreement from me to maybe buy this car. They completely roped me in. And I left feeling a little bit scammed and a little bit duped, that I thought I was having a normal conversation around just what this car could cost, and then three hours later they were trying to get me to sign papers to lease this car. To the point of finding someone you can trust, it’s not easy to do.

Phil: I like to tell people, “Do everything that you can do remotely. Because once you’re physically in a car dealership, they’re experts at trying to get you to stay there. And you’ve lost a lot of your leverage.” I always tell people, “Go through the internet department.” The vibe of the internet department, which basically just works in parallel with the sales force. Those people, they know they’re talking to a more informed shopper. And probably the most important thing for you to do, as a car shopper, is to show that you’ve done research because they will perceive that. And then start with a phone call.

I mean, one of the things I find is people don’t really trust their intuition. You have a rapport if the person responds well to your questions. And if you ask for figures and they give you the figures, and solid figures, you’re on your way to a good deal.

In your case, Sean, perhaps it turned into a little bit of a shell game. Here’s the price of your car. Here’s the price of the lease. Here’s how much down. And all of a sudden your head’s spinning, right?

Sean: Right. Especially because they were trying to put my car’s equity toward the down payment on this car. I would have been making a substantial down payment. But, of course, in the conversation with them, they made it seem par for course in how you are leasing a car from them. And, of course, they’re going to take the $4,000 my car has in equity and apply it. It just ended up being a bad situation.

So that’s just a good lesson in being as prepared as possible before you go into a dealership.

Phil: Well, and the good news is you left.

Sean: That’s the thing, is know when to leave, too.

Phil: Yeah, that’s called negotiating with your feet.

A tip for listeners is that we have a lot of calculators on NerdWallet to design your own car deal, decide how much you’re going to put down, decide what the purchase price of the car is likely to be.

Sara: Something about financing. Earlier in the pandemic, especially the outset, I was seeing these crazy 0% interest deals for 72 months on auto financing. Are those even out there anymore or was that just a flash in the pan?

Phil: That’s what they call an incentive. And there are different types of incentives. There’s also cash back, which a lot of people are familiar with. Now, because of the historically low interest rates, there are more 0% financing and low-interest financing deals than there are cash-back deals.

Of course you have to have top-tier credit. But if you do, these are a good reason, a good incentive, to do that. I don’t think that 72 months is a good idea. For a brand-new car, five years is about the most that you want to go. For a used car, try and pay it off in three years. Those are benchmarks for people to work with.

Now, this is back to the listener’s question, because of depreciation, your car usually — I’ll stress, usually — is losing a lot of value. So you’re paying it off as it’s losing value. And you want to stay ahead of that and make sure that you have equity, you’re not upside down.

Sean: So Phil, as a final question: What do you think people who are a little bit confused by their car’s fluctuating value right now should keep in mind?

Philip: Well, keep in mind this has never happened before. Fluctuations will probably begin to level out. But this is a time where, if you can take advantage of this situation, if you can go without a car for four, five or six months, maybe this would be an interesting experiment for you. Maybe you could go ahead and sell your car. There’s a lot of places to do that, Carvana, Zoom. Also CarMax will give you a solid quote and write you a check and do the paperwork.

If you can do that, take that money. Maybe you can Uber and Lyft around. And then you can evaluate your situation at the beginning of next year.

Sean: All right. Well, thanks so much for chatting with us.

Philip: Oh, my pleasure. Good to be with you guys again.

Sean: And with that, let’s get onto our takeaway tips.

Sean: And Sara, do you want to kick us off?

Sara: Number one, understand the moment. The current market is unprecedented. So know that even the pricing guide may be off.

Sean: Next up, delay if you can. If you don’t need to buy a car right now, wait until early next year.

Sara: Finally, think about trade-ins. If you’re coming out of a lease, you could have a lot of equity. So make sure you use it.

And that’s all we have for this episode. Do you have a money question of your own? Turn to the Nerds, and call or text us your questions at 901-730-6373, that’s 901-730-N-E-R-D. You can also email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. Visit nerdwallet.com/podcast for more info on this episode. And remember to subscribe, rate and review us wherever you’re getting this podcast.

Sean: And here is our brief disclaimer, thoughtfully crafted by NerdWallet’s legal team. Your questions are answered by knowledgeable and talented finance writers, but we are not financial or investment advisors. This Nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

Sara: And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.