The idea is that the total quote is kept the same, but line-items are modified so that most of the budget is focused on one (or a few) items and then those items are delayed/dropped.

In the toy example below, you get tricked into walking the dog, baby sitting, and getting groceries for only $30 if you're not paying attention since the totals are the same.

            PROPOSED PLAN                         COUNTER OFFER
|     Task      |  Fee  |  Date  |  |  |     Task      |  Fee  |      Date     |
| Walk Dog      | $10   | Monday |  |  | Walk Dog      | $5    | Monday        |
| Babysit       | $40   | Monday |  |  | Babysit       | $10   | Monday        |
| Clean House   | $40   | Monday |  |  | Clean House   | $80   | Maybe sometime|
| Get Groceries | $20   | Monday |  |  | Get Groceries | $15   | Monday        |
| Total         | $110  |        |  |  | Total         | $110  |               |
  • 6
    Is this an accounting trick or a sales trick? I guess I'm not understanding the context for use here. If you're altering real numbers to make the books look a certain way, the auditors might not be thrilled.
    – BobbyScon
    Sep 16, 2020 at 2:36
  • 1
    @BobbyScon Fair point, an example context would be a handyman giving an itemized quote to a landlord and the landlord using this tactic to manipulate the handyman into unknowingly agreeing to working cheaper. It is a dishonest negotiation tactic and I wonder if it has a name that can be referenced when we see this. I updated the title to "negotiation".
    – N00b101
    Sep 16, 2020 at 3:47
  • 2
    So in the instance of your example plan vs counter in the question, the landlord would agree to the total cost of $110, but later say "Never mind, I don't want you to clean the house" and essentially get the 3 other services for cheaper than they would have originally? I can't think of a technical name for the tactic, but several less-civilized names come to mind...
    – BobbyScon
    Sep 16, 2020 at 4:16
  • 2
    If it's a proposal for a US (Federal) government procurement, this is 'Unbalanced Pricing' and it's covered by FAR 15.404-1(g) Sep 16, 2020 at 6:24
  • I don't think it works like that. The "Dates" are deadlines for completing the work. If the person completes all the work on Monday, then the full payment becomes due on Monday. Sep 16, 2020 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


I, personally, would call this a bait and switch. It's not really the textbook definition of that, but based on your context comments that's the closest I can think of.

A vendor goes to client and says, "I'll provide these 5 services for $110 total." Client says "I'd like this itemized out". (Which is a reasonable request.) After receiving the itemized list, the client comes back and says "I agree to the $110", but in the contract they send they alter the itemized costs and make sure that the contract only requires them to pay for services actually rendered. Later, the client says "I don't want you to do this 1 line item anymore, and it was $80 of the $110 bill". Vendor, who didn't carefully read the counter-offer (and subsequently signed a contract agreeing to it), loses out.

If the scenario was the other way round where the client was expecting to pay less for certain line items but then the vendor changed the agreement, it would definitely be bait and switch. If the vendor told the client house cleaning was $80 and babysitting $10, but then after the client agreed switched it to $40 for each and cancelled the house cleaning, that would be definitive bait and switch, which is illegal in many areas.

  • I don't think it works like that. If you sign a contract to pay $N for services A, B and C, and services A, B and C are provided then you have to pay $N. Whether you wanted C or not is irrelevant. Sep 16, 2020 at 15:32
  • 2
    @DJClayworth - What I and OP are saying is if C ends up being cancelled or service not performed. There are plenty of contracts where a clause is built in that accounts for a change in project scope after the fact.
    – BobbyScon
    Sep 16, 2020 at 15:53
  • @DJClayworth There are arrangements where the quote is agreed on first, and then the start dates are determined after as a separate matter. Additionally, some arrangements allow for line items to be struck after the fact.
    – N00b101
    Sep 16, 2020 at 23:44

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