A Story About Undercharging



Back when I was studying business and food science in college, I worked as a landscaper during the summertime. Landscaping was a beautiful way to be surrounded by flowers and earth, and it was also the way that I was able to stash enough hundred-dollar bills in a tin can to pay to study overseas the following year. (If you’ve known me for a while, you likely know that I spend most of the money I earn on trips to Europe. I have no shame.)

One day, another gardener who worked at a very large landscaped property with me asked if I wanted to assist her at a few other landscaping jobs. I was excited and willing to help, and said yes right away. She asked me what my hourly rate was, I told her, and then she gave me a day and time to meet her for 6 hours of work.

As I was getting dressed in my sweatshirt and boots on what would be my first day at this new job, the phone rang. It was the gardener who had hired me. After confirming the time that we would meet, she quickly blurted out: “But I just can’t pay you your regular rate.”

My heart dropped. I was leaving the house in 30 minutes to come work with her, and only now was she telling me that she couldn’t pay me the rate that I had shared with her several days before.

In an effort to keep this job opportunity, I caved and told her that she could pay me $5 per hour less than usual. She agreed, and hung up the phone.

I immediately regretted the decision to undercut myself.


Once I was at the worksite for this new job, I found out that this gardener had also hired a young man I knew to help with our gardening project. He had a truck with him, and worked all day alongside us. In the back of my mind, I often wondered how much he was getting paid. Was he earning more than me because of his man muscles and the ability to haul more tree trimmings than I could? I never asked him for those details, but always wondered if he had firmly asked for a better wage than I had requested, and if he had been granted that wage.

On the days I worked with this team, I was upset with myself for not standing up for what I was worth …


I never expected it to turn out this way, but both the gardener who hired me and that other young man are no longer alive. With their passing, I knew that I would never have a way to resolve my frustration by speaking with the main gardener, and no way to find out if I was paid the same as the young man on the job. I’ve had to let the situation go, while also learning what I could from it.


I now know that:

~ 1. It’s better to lose out on a job than to reduce your fees and feel resentful of the lower rate you receive.

~ 2. If you identify as a woman, and are working with a team that has a man on it, it’s okay to ask your boss if you are being paid the same as a male who has a comparable workload. It’s not a comfortable question to bring up, but these days it’s one way to support gender equal wages. (I also think it would be especially powerful for a man to ask his employer if all of the women with similar skills are being paid similarly to him.)

~ 3.  In fee or salary negotiations, I shouldn’t have been so quick to reduce my rate. I should have first asked this other gardener what she was able to pay me. For all I know, maybe she just needed to pay me $1 or $2 less than my regular fees, rather than the entire $5 per hour that I took off of my rate. Maybe I could have ended that summer feeling more fairly compensated.


It’s my hope that sharing this story will assist you in standing strong in your fees the next time that a work opportunity comes your way. You do good work, are worth it, and there are always people out there who will pay you fairly for what you provide.


© 2017 Ava Waits

Ava Waits is an inspirational speaker, business mentor, sales trainer, and author of the forthcoming book, A Woman‘sTreasure: Grow A Business Where Making Money Feels Like BlissShe believes that making money should feel like bliss, and through her work, she provides innovative sales and marketing guidance to entrepreneurs and companies worldwide.

As a speaker, Ava has been interviewed on television and radio, and has been invited around the country to inspire and train audiences at business events, women’s organizations, and financial companies. She has presented at Rick Steves Europe, United Way, the Women’s Day of Empowerment, Mother Earth News, the National Association of Professional Mortgage Women, and many others.

Find out more about Ava at www.AvaWaits.com.

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