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Don't be a financial featherweight

Why it sometimes takes a real daredevil to get the best deals on airline tickets, tires, and other common things we buy.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 11, 2011 10:36AM

This guest post comes from Len Penzo at Len Penzo dot Com.

 

For me, one of the more memorable movie moments of all time is that famous bank robbery scene in "Dirty Harry" where Clint Eastwood's Inspector Harry Callahan character reels off his "Do you feel lucky?" line.

 

In it, Callahan dares an armed bank robber to make a move even though he is looking straight into the barrel of Harry's .44 Magnum. "I know what you're thinking," says Harry. "Did he fire six shots or only five?"  Post continues after video.

Of course, the bank robber decides not to push his luck and meekly surrenders to Harry, only to then find out he made the wrong decision -- Harry's gun was out of bullets.

 

Heh. I never get tired of watching that scene.

 

Sometimes it pays to push your luck

Everybody knows that when it comes to investing, you have to take risks to earn big returns. Likewise, when it comes to saving money, sometimes it pays to push your luck and take a risk too.

 

Unfortunately, many people are so adverse to taking risks that they often end up paying a lot more money than they really need to. I've got names for people like that: currency cream puffs, financial featherweights, monetary milksops, numismatic namby-pambies, peso pantywaists. I could go on but, well, you get the picture.

You can't hang any of those labels on me, though, because while I may be a bit cautious with respect to my investments, when it comes to saving money, I'm more along the lines of what you might call a, well, personal-finance daredevil. Yep. Call me the Dirty Harry of personal finance.

 

Here are several examples of products and services that I generally don't prefer to pay extra for. Yes, I realize I'm taking on additional risk. True, there is always the chance my decisions may not work -- but I think the assumed risk is always well worth the reward.

 

Refundable airline tickets. The rules for "nonrefundable" tickets vary, so it is always important to read each carrier's policy associated with your actual ticket. Yes, sometimes a ticket is truly nonrefundable and you can end up losing all your money. But oftentimes "nonrefundable" simply means you can get a full credit for future use on that carrier minus a $100 change fee.

Whenever I find the price of a nonrefundable ticket to be less than half the cost of refundable tickets, I almost always take my chances with the nonrefundable ticket. With that kind of discount, unless ticket prices are skyrocketing, the odds are fairly good that I can break even by simply buying another nonrefundable ticket down the road at the same price if need be.

 

Event insurance. My on-going Ticketmaster "love" affair has no bounds. That's because Ticketmaster continually keeps the flame alive with services like their "Event Ticket Insurance" that allows ticket buyers to be reimbursed for the full price of the tickets, plus the annoyingly crazy fees, if they can't attend the event for "any number of covered reasons, including illness, airline delays, traffic accidents, and more." I was offered their event insurance for a recent show at $7 per ticket. Because I bought eight tickets, the insurance would have cost me an extra $56. Um, no.

 

Extended tire warranties. Extended tire warranty plans cover what prorated tire warranties usually don't: the replacement or repair of damaged tires and rims from nails, potholes, sharp debris, and other hazards found in the road. The thing is, even though I've driven at least 500,000 miles in my lifetime -- equivalent to nearly 20 times around the Earth -- I've only run over debris that has punctured my tire on two occasions. Not only that, but in my case a $40 extended tire warranty makes zero sense considering a new tire costs me only $75; the cost/risk ratio is simply too high.

Shipping upgrades.Impatience can be costly. Take shipping costs when buying from Amazon. Even though their free Super Saver shipping for orders over $25 promises delivery anywhere between five and eight business days, there have been many occasions when I've ordered items and still got my stuff just as quickly as if I had paid extra for the guaranteed two-business-day delivery option.

 

Organic vegetables. A lot of folks prefer fruits and veggies grown with minimal or no pesticides -- so they go organic. However, when it comes to tainted fruits and vegetables, not all conventionally farmed produce is created equally. It turns out that many nonorganic fruits and vegetables such as onions, sweet corn and avocados are grown with significantly lower pesticide loads than others.

 

That's why, when I buy my produce, I always take my chances and avoid paying the organic price premiums for at least 15 low-pesticide fruits and vegetables. Of course, I always thoroughly wash all of my fruits and veggies, too, regardless of whether they're organic or not, just to make sure they're really really clean. Hey, I may be a daredevil of sorts, but I have my limits.

 

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