Take A Chance, Save Some Cash

In recent weeks I have written about some heavy subjects, so today we’re going to have a little fun, and save some serious money, all while getting things done.

Growing up, my father was a regular reader of Consumer Reports magazine. He was a firm believer in the philosophy of the well-informed consumer. Many an appliance and car salesman would tremble when my Dad pulled the rolled-up issue of CR from his back pocket to close the deal. This level of being informed was more difficult before the Internet, but it taught me about the power of information when making purchasing decisions.

Google changed the game changed dramatically, and with nearly endless volumes of information at our fingertips, the average consumer now has options previously not even in the realm of possibility even twenty years ago.

Based on this vast (albeit somewhat noisy) world of data I bring you two stories of well-informed chance taking, resulting in both functional success and discounts equivalent to literally “pennies on the dollar.”

Snow Blowhard

As many of you know, I’ve been a bit of a job hopper, and as a result I’ve never developed much of a social life with coworkers. My wife on the other had has worked as a pediatrician in the same hospital for nearly two decades. Because of this I find myself in social situations with her colleagues on a regular basis.

We moved into our current home in August of 2002. We have a 2-car garage and a driveway measuring approximately two cars wide by twenty-five yards long. I have never been a fan of having my driveway plowed, partly because of how it looks, but more importantly because of the damage plowing does to the yard.

Spring is messy enough – I don’t need to add yard repair to the list of annual tasks.

At the time we moved in, my wife Emily was able to “take call” from home. What this means is, when she is “on-call” she can come home and sleep in her own bed, but at any time the phone could ring requiring her to return quickly to the hospital. When you combine taking call from home with the snowy environment in which we live, things start to get a little tricky. More than once in the first winter here I found myself shoveling the driveway in the middle of the night so my wife could get back to the hospital.

When that first winter came to a close I mentally committed to purchasing a snow blower before flakes flew again.

A few years before, when we were still in our old house, my wife’s work held a holiday party at a local restaurant. It was a typical affair with drinks at a bar and appetizers a plenty. At one point in the evening I found myself hip-deep in a conversation with the boyfriend of one of the doctors-in-training. A few weeks earlier this doctor had purchased a house with said boyfriend. So, there I am talking with the boyfriend and he is going on-and-on about how great the house is and describing in great detail all the things he is going to do with the house.

You know that guy at a party who talks at great length about things he is going to do, but you have a sense he isn’t capable of doing any of it? This was that guy.

One of the things he was very excited about was the brand-spanking new snow blower that came with the house. According to his energetic monologue, it had tons of power, headlights, heated handles, electric start and much, much more. I smiled and nodded like a good “husband at his wife’s work party” should, and when the evening was over we went home, though I did share a bit of my conversations with the boyfriend.

So, there I was in the summer, leading up to the winter, for which I had promised myself a snow blower. I would occasionally look over the classifieds in the newspaper, but none of the available options struck me as a great value. Most were too small to be effective, and those that weren’t were either too expensive or too old.

If you’ve ever struggled to start a lawnmower in the heat of the summer, coaxing a snow blower to life in sub-zero temperatures is even harder.

One day over dinner, my wife mentioned that the aforementioned doctor-in-training had broken up with the bloviating boyfriend, and as a result she was selling her house. Without hesitation I replied, “tell her I’ll give her $500 cash for her snow blower.”

My wife raised one eyebrow (as wives sometimes do) and said, “you’ve never even seen it, how can you make such an offer?”

I simply recounted what the boyfriend had said years ago, surmising that even if he was exaggerating by half, $500 was still a great deal. I also figured if she was selling the house she needed cash, and to a cash-strapped person, $500 is $500.

Emily made the offer, it was immediately accepted and two days later my son Lewis and I went to pick it up. It turns out the boyfriend hadn’t been exaggerating one bit, and the snow blower was everything he had said. Furthermore it had hardly been used. It looked showroom new.


My Airens 1028, clearing a path for more than a decade.

We loaded our new manly tool (an Ariens 1024 to be precise) into the back of the minivan and headed home. Just for fun, we stopped at Home Depot to see what a new one was going for at the time… $1,300!

My wife no longer takes call from home, but we’ve used the snow blower every winter since and it has never missed a step. With 3-4 inches on the ground I can clear our driveway in about ten minutes, in the dark, with toasty hands.

Rack Em Up

In early 2015, we took possession of a 2002 Chevrolet Suburban. As a twelve-year-old car, it was in need of some attention, but after a few weeks of work, I was able to bring it up to snuff and make it our own.

One of the things the car came with was a Thule sport rack. This rack was attached to the factory roof rack, but since it had no specific accessories for bikes, skis or anything else I opted to remove it and stash it in the garage.

This year, for the third year in a row, my wife and I planned a February break ski vacation as a family Christmas gift. In previous years we had gone to Greek Peak and Holiday Valley, but this year we planned on kicking things up a notch, making plans to journey to Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid – home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics.

This was the first ski trip using the Suburban, so I decided I should get ski attachments for the Thule rack. Emily does not ski, so I would need the ability to carry five pairs of skis. A quick Internet search showed I was looking at approximately $239.00 plus tax and shipping for a new unit.

That cheap little voice inside my head told me I could do better.

I hopped on Craigslist, but there was nothing local suitable for what I needed to do, so on to eBay I went. I immediately found exactly what I was looking for; two pairs of racks that hold 3-pairs of skis each. The asking price was $19 for both pairs, plus $17 shipping. $36 sounded like a much better number, but there was a catch.

According to the eBay listing, the racks were locked and the seller had no key.

At first this was a deal breaker for me, but I did a little digging and learned that Thule only makes 250 different lock combinations. If you lose your key, all you do is go to the Thule website, fill out a form, provide the number stamped on the lock cylinder and they will send you a new key for something reasonable like $10. Even if I couldn’t get a key, I could always drill out the locks and use the racks without locks.


The ski racks as they appeared on eBay

Furthermore, the eBay listing had one of those “make an offer” buttons… so I did. I offered $15, plus the shipping. They countered with $17, and the deal was done – $34 all in.

The racks arrived a few days later and once I had the code in hand I went to the Thule website. Unfortunately, they informed me my code was too old – rats! Not willing to give up, I kept researching “Thule lost key” until a came across a third-party company that also sells keys. I emailed them and they were “pretty sure” they knew which key I needed. They would sell it to me for $4, but if it didn’t work they would refund my money, so long as I was willing to return to the key at my own expense. Game on!

Four days later the key arrived and when I first tried it, it wouldn’t budge. Thinking the locks might be a bit sticky, I sprayed silicone lube into each, and what do you know – the key worked.


The fully functional ski racks mounted & loaded.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece called Secret Insurance where I was on the other side of a “take a chance” sale. In that case I had a broken TV I didn’t have the skills to deal with, but someone else did. I got some cash and the other guy got a deal, win-win.

The point here is a simple one, if you need something and are willing to take a chance, and maybe solve a puzzle or two, you can save a ton of money. In the two examples above I got $1,539 worth of value for $538 – that’s 65% off.

Two-thirds off is a deal even my Consumer Reports reading father could get behind.

Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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