Why You Shouldn't Barter In Mexico

[twitter]Before we left on our spring break trip to Mexico, my mother mailed the boys 100 pesos each to spend on a souvenir while they were away. Zacharie had his heart set on a flute. I don’t know why, he just did.

So, wandering the market on Isla Cuale  in Puerto Vallarta, we were on the lookout for one. And nothing. Then, a young girl, maybe 8, chased us down the path. “Amigo, do you want a flute?”, she asked.

We walked back with her to the stall run by her parents and my son picked out a blue one and immediately started playing it.

“40 pesos,” the man said. “30?” my wife responded.  “Okay.  30.”

This was the equivalent of going from $3.50 to $2.50. It may be “the game” to feel like you have to barter in Mexico when you’re shopping, but it’s not a game I am comfortable playing.

Earlier in the week, we had crossed the street to Walmart to pick up some sand toys for the boys to have for the week on the beach. We accepted that multinational’s sticker price without opposition when we reached the till of the largest retailer in the world and we didn’t budge at what they asked.

Yet when it came to an exchange with an 8 year old girl, we were thrilled at saving a dollar. I felt dirty.

Later, after being pestered for the 50th  time by a peddler on the beach, my wife relented and asked about the cowboy hats. She’s not a fan of the one she has, and being from Calgary, one needs to be comfortable in your hat.

“250 pesos, senorita,” he said when she asked how much they cost.

After hemming and hawing and making him run back up the beach for more options, she settled on the original one she had seen and paid full list, about $20.

“I felt guilty making him run back,” she confessed.

How To Barter  In Mexico

When the man selling superhero kite/parachutes offered his wares for 120 pesos each or 2 for 200, we didn’t blink at handing him the bill.

We’re talking about quarters, dimes, and dollars when we barter in Mexico on the beach or in the market. We are shaving points off a purchase where the savings don’t really matter to us, but do matter to the seller.

When I buy a car, I’ll try and work a few thousand off it, it’s a big ticket.

But a 40 peso flute from an 8 year old girl in Puerto Vallarta? She could use that dollar more than me.

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Why You Shouldn't Barter In Mexico - Buzz Bishop

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  1. Stay At Home Brad February 20, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Have you seen The Life of Brian? The guy selling fake beards was mad when Brian wanted to pay the asking price and not didn’t haggle with him. Maybe it’s a real thing that happens.

  2. Stephen Fung February 21, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Not bartering in a place where bartering is a way of life is wrong. Stop inflicting our 1st World “stuff” on people. Now those vendors are going to think that they have OK prices, when in reality, they could ask for MORE and come DOWN to their original prices when they hit the next family. You just cost them additional profit 😛

  3. Buzz February 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I have no problem giving a guy who walks 14k on a beach selling hats $20 instead of $16 for his wares. Consider it a tip.

  4. Stephen Fung February 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    ^^ Then buy something else and don’t barter for that. The idea of tips, in many places (not here of course), are considered charity or a handout. It may be taken as you thinking the guy can’t support his family doing what he does. Some people are very proud of what they do, even though we might not choose to do what they do.

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  6. Ryan Biddulph May 17, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Buzz,

    Neat topic! I never barter because it annoys me, yet, I know that receiving any money for a sale is like gold to some of these folks. Here in Bali, 13,000 Ruppiah, or 1 USD, is 2 dinners, or motorbike fuel for like 2 or 3 days. So when they get even 13 K for a barter, they are excited. Even if it means little to us. Neat, to see both perspectives, and to analyze our Western Guilt too LOL.

    For me, I hate the hassle. Set prices are efficient and allow money to change hands fast so people spend and make more money. Seems like it works for me. But other folks – tourist and tout – enjoy the bartering, so I guess more power to them.

    Thanks for the share!


  7. Terry at TerryTreks May 22, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    I don’t like being ripped off and having to pay 2x or 3x the fair price for essential things like taxis. For nonessential souvenirs you can consider the extra cost a donation or a tip, but this just encourages locals to rip off foreigners. If you want to fight poverty, give your money to a worthy charity that works in the area.

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