Rainbows on the Road

The other day, as my daughter was on her way to the car when I picked her up from daycare.  Along the way, she noticed something on the ground.  In the excited voice of a 4 year old, she said “Daddy!  Look!  A rainbow!”, and then pointed at the spot on the ground she was looking at.  As I got closer, I found that she was looking at a spot on the wet ground where some sort of oily fluid had likely leaked out of the bottom of a vehicle.  Of course, oily fluids, on wet ground tend to separate out into what you and I would probably best describe as an oil slick.  But, to my 4 year old, it was a rainbow on the ground.  As we drove off to pick up her brother at school, I began thinking about what had just happened.

The thoughts were amplified when she noticed another “rainbow” on the ground on the way into the school.  On our way back out of the school, with her brother, she excitedly called her brother over to show him what she had found.  My son is 6 (nearly 7), and so has a slightly more advanced knowledge of the world than his sister.  I fully expected, in the way that only a brother who doesn’t understand a 4 year old is likely to do, that he would quickly dismiss it for what it was, an oil slick on wet ground, and that her excitement would quickly dissipate.  Instead, as she pulled him over and pointed it out, saying “Look!”, he quickly said “A rainbow!”.  He saw it too.

Rainbows on the RoadAs parents, we’re always so excited to teach our children new things.  We’re often quick to correct them when they don’t get something right, or don’t understand it.  They saw a rainbow.  I didn’t.  All I saw was an oil slick.  Obviously, I saw the resemblance.  But, I knew what it really was, so the wonder that my children had for it was lost on me.  But, it kept me thinking.

How often do we take what we know, and use it as a filter for the world.  Surely, that’s what knowledge is for, right?  I know that 1+1=2, and that certain letters spell words, and that drops of oil on wet ground make a oil slick.  Yes, it’s colorful, but it’s an oil slick, not a rainbow.  How many times do we become so certain in our knowledge, and the filtering that we use it for, that we fail to see the rainbow?

How many people out there are so set in the knowledge that a bank is the lender, and use that to filter the idea of peer-to-peer lending as a sham, without allowing for a little of the rainbow to shine through?

The point is this: If you never question what you think you know, how will you ever know if you’re wrong?  Sometimes the formula and constants change.  Sometimes, the environment itself is what has changed.  Heck, look at the newspaper industry.  How long did they refuse to see the emergence of blogs (like this one) as a major change in the dynamic of how people get their news?  Some of them still refuse to see that rainbow.

If you do one thing to improve your personal finance today, question what you think you know.  Most of the time, you’ll still be right.  But, maybe, just maybe, you’ll see a rainbow instead.

What are some rainbows that you’ve found by questioning what you thought was true?  What methods do you use to find the rainbows in your life?

Original Image credit:Oil slick. @blackmetalbike by Growinnc, on Flickr

Looking for More Ways to Save? Try Asking for Discounts

There are plenty of ways to save on a daily basis–clipping coupons, resisting the urge to buy something, packing your lunch instead of eating out, etc.  There are many ways to live a more frugal life, and chances are, you incorporate the ways that are easy.  You know, the ones that don’t cause you to change your lifestyle much.  Things like giving up cable and getting streaming through your Xbox instead.  That’s fairly easy and doesn’t change your lifestyle.

Another easy way to save that doesn’t change your lifestyle is to ask for discounts.  Have you tried it?

Asking is surprisingly easy, and even more surprising is how often you actually get the discount.  You just have to get up the nerve to ask the first time; once someone says yes, you’ll gain confidence, and it’ll be easier to ask next time.

Ask for the DiscountWant proof that asking is as easy as I say?

Credit Card Fees

A few years ago, I made an online payment to my credit card on the day it was due, which was a Saturday.  The web stated that any payment made on the weekend wouldn’t post until the next business day.  Yep, my on time payment was counted late, and I was charged a $25 late fee.

I called the company and asked them to remove the late charge.  They did immediately.  Why?  Two reasons.  First, I asked.  Second, I never make late payments, so they rewarded my good payment history by removing the late payment.  I’ve had this happen to me 3 times in about 10 years of credit card usage.  Each time I called and they removed the charge.

Credit Card Interest

We’re paying down debt, and one thing that slowed our progress was our credit card APR of 13.99%.  I called to ask to have the rate reduced.  I had to talk to a supervisor, but she lowered our rate to 9.99%, and she gave me enough reward points to cover the cost of our annual fee.  I saved a few hundred dollars right there in about 10 minutes, just by asking.  (But when I got an offer to move my balance to a 0% APR card a few months later, you better believe I did it.)

Grocery Store Purchases

Asking for discounts isn’t limited to credit cards.  If I see something at the grocery store that is at the sell by date, I’ll ask someone in that department to discount it.  I’m only successful here about 50% of the time, but still, that’s half the time that I save more than I would if I hadn’t asked!

Garage Sales & Craigslist

I love shopping garage sales in the summertime.  If things are already priced dirt cheap, I don’t haggle, but if the price is too expensive, I have no problem asking for a lower price.  Most of the time people will say yes because they just want to get rid of their stuff.

Likewise, people on Craigslist expect you to ask for a lower price than they have listed.  Just don’t get ridiculous with the amount you ask.  That can be insulting for the seller and usually won’t lead to a deal.

These are just a few examples of how I’ve saved by asking for a discount.  However, any time I think asking might lead to a discount, I ask.

What was your most successful discount you got just by asking?

DIY Projects that Sound Scary, But Aren’t

In the world of frugality, there are few things that will save you more money than learning a few DIY skills.  From simple things like replacing the light switch cover, to more difficult things like wiring electrical, the savings of doing it yourself over hiring a professional to do it can mean hundreds and even thousands that remains in your pocket.  It also seems like the more money a DIY project can save you, the more likely you are to find people who think the prospect of attempting it to be scary.

While I can’t advocate trying something that you’re completely uncomfortable doing, and uneducated about, I think both situations are completely solvable.  Learning what you can about a task can make it something that you’re far more comfortable doing.  We live in the information age, with access to so much more information than any other time in the history of our species.  We have the ability to learn things by watching videos on YouTube.  We can access websites that will have all the detailed instructions for a repair project, or new project.  Many of those have step-by-step instructions.  In short, there’s just no excuse for at least attempting to learn how to do the project and then deciding whether it’s something you want to tackle or not.  Sometimes, you decide it’s not something you want to tackle.  And that’s O.K. too.

So, what are some DIY projects that sound scary, but really aren’t all that bad?

  • DIY Projects that sound scaryPlumbing – Ok, I have to admit this is one of my least favorite project types to take on.  I do take them on, but it seems like every time I do, it takes me a few times to get it right.  And a few extra trips to the hardware store.  At it’s core, plumbing isn’t all that complicated.  The water starts in one place, and you place some pipes to move it from the starting place to the ending place.  For me anyways, it’s all the different fittings and fixtures that seem to always give me trouble.  My kitchen sink was a notorious problem project for me.  I redid that mess three times before calling in the big guns (my dad) when we remodeled the whole kitchen.  I was slightly reassured when even he made a few extra trips to the hardware store.
  • Electrical – If plumbing is the project type I dislike but do, electrical is the project type that I dislike and usually don’t do.  For some reason, I just have a really hard time getting my head around the way it works.  Outlets are easy, I suppose, but then you start getting into switches, circuits, and crazy electrical diagrams.  One day, I’ll take the time to do the right research and learning and actually feel confident enough to take a few of these project on.  I know they aren’t all that scary, I just don’t understand them.
  • Appliance repair – With some of the newer appliances, all the gadgetry can be a daunting adversary.  Fortunately, in most cases, the real machinery of the appliance hasn’t changed much over the years.  There’s just new, smarter, brains driving the machine.  Which means, if the issue isn’t with the brains of the appliance, you can easily find and fix the problem.  In the last year, I’ve repaired our fridge, coffee machine, and dryer.  And a little maintenance to your appliances goes a long way.  Sure, the coffee maker could have easily been replaced, but I was able to fix it and we still use it today.  A few spare parts and some time saved us the expense of a repair technician coming and fixing the fridge and dryer and there are plenty of guides to be found online that give instructions on some simple appliance fixes.
  • Tiling – When we remodeled our bathroom, we decided that we wanted to tile the floor and shower splash.  I’d never tiled before, so it was a somewhat daunting task.  I spent a little time going over instructions and videos on DIY Network’s site to get a general handle on it, then went and bought the supplies and did it.  Like many things I do for the first time, there are plenty of things that I would do differently, but the end result was that the floor and splash got tiled, and several years later, it still looks great.

I suppose the point isn’t really to list out all the projects that might sound scary to a DIY homeowner.  It’s really to point out that a lot of the projects that you and I might think are scary to take on really probably aren’t that hard.  A little time spend learning the techniques and basic principles of the project will likely lead us to being able to learn the skills needed to complete the task.  Even if it takes a couple extra trips to the hardware store.