“I Spy” a Saving Opportunity

I spy

Just in case you have spotted me checking out all the library books I can find by Walter Wick, best known as co-creator of the I Spy books, I have a confession to make: they’re not really for my kids. I did check out the first one for my son, but while I learned he was too young to concentrate on the detailed compositions long enough to find all the hidden objects, I simultaneously found myself as addicted to these photographic games as I had once been to Minesweeper.

One night after about an hour of discovering thimbles used as firewood buckets and matchstick curtain rods, I began to think about how the process of finding hidden objects in Wick’s books is a lot like finding opportunities to save money. (Incidentally, if you’re too embarrassed to be seen reading children’s books, online gaming sites usually offer some hidden picture games, such as Mystery Case Files: Huntsville, to which these principles also apply.)

In hidden object games, the objects are part of a bigger picture — whether a junk drawer, a town square, or a busy highway. In the same way, opportunities to save are part of something bigger — both our overall financial health and the specific everyday activities that make up our lives — going to the grocery store or library, taking care of household chores, entertaining our families.

Like the hidden objects in Wick’s books, saving opportunities are in plain sight, but we often miss seeing them, even when they should be obvious. For example, my family buys canned fruit that’s in natural juice instead of syrup, but we have been known to pour the excess juice from the can down the drain and then go out to buy canned juice to drink. For a long time, we missed the opportunity to save at least some of the money we spend on juice because we simply didn’t see the liquid surrounding our fruit as a beverage. Taking a moment to question each of your habits may be all that’s necessary to spot a saving opportunity.

Sometimes when I find a hidden object in an I Spy book, I am surprised to find it is not what I expected. The riddle mentions a bat, so I look for a piece of baseball equipment and completely overlook that flying animal right in the middle of the page. I had been looking for something specific, but it wasn’t the right thing. Likewise, with saving, you may be diligently pursuing one specific way to save money only to find that you could save more doing something slightly different. For example, you might spend several hours searching for a lower price on a home insurance policy just like the one you have only to find that your existing insurance company offers a different plan or option that is even more cost effective for your particular situation.

Even when you’re looking for the right thing in the I Spy books, you might find yourself wondering whether you’ve already spotted it without realizing you have. (“That looks like a donkey, but is it really the horse I’m trying to find?”) I find that if I’m not sure about an object, it usually isn’t what I’m looking for. When I find the requested object, I know it. The best savings opportunities are much like that — you will know them when you see them. If you find yourself wondering whether an opportunity will really save you money or is just a gimmick designed to look like a saving opportunity, it is probably the latter. Think through the outcome of any options you have, and then trust your instincts, particularly if your instincts have been good in the past.

Nearly anyone who takes the time to look can find the hidden objects in Walter Wick’s books. In fact, my three-year-old son loves to spot Seymour, a bead character in Wick’s Can You See What I See? series, and he can usually find the little guy faster than I can. Looking for hidden objects takes no special training, though patience and observational skills are a plus. Likewise, most savings opportunities are available for everyone who has the persistence and discipline to look for them and take advantage of them. I spy one right now!

Image courtesy of Marc Shandro

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5 Responses to “I Spy” a Saving Opportunity

  1. ben says:

    Habit is one of the biggest money wasters we all have. It really does pay to look at the way you do things from an outside perspective from time to time. Not doing so ensures that you throw away money.

    By the way, that’s a great photo!

  2. Alexandria says:

    There have been studies that show this too. “Lucky” people are less creatures of habit and more likely to look for opportunities where most people miss them. For example, they are more likely to spot cash on the ground where others would just walk by and not see it.

    Good analogy. I have to say I love I SPY too. I think the kids are getting sick of it, but it’s always my first choice. Guess I am not the only one. 😉

  3. bitina says:

    I understand the philosophy, but how do you actually do this? If you don’t know how to look in the right place, how do you find it? You make it sound easy, but if it were, then we wouldn’t have to look. It doesn’t do any good unless you can teach people how to find these hidden things. If you can’t teach how, then they will always stay hidden.

  4. Shannon Christman says:


    A lot of it comes with practice. Be observant of the world around you, discipline yourself to ask, “How can I save in this situation?”, and don’t give up if you don’t see the answer immediately.

    The more you look, the easier it becomes to find saving opportunities.

  5. Yes, it really does come with practice and being the the frame of mind. We are always looking for savings opportunities in everyday things and have a lot of fun in it.

    My sister is especially good at coming up with ideas for things to do or make from old things. She got into it from reading “The Borrowers” series by Mary Norton. After reading those books a couple of years ago, she started seeing multiple uses in everything. I’d recommend these books to those who wish to get into the mindset of “borrowing” everyday objects to work for you in unconventional ways.

    She wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago on uses for cardboard food cartons, one of which was turning a Jell-O box into a notebook for me to use as a shopping list notebook, as I do all the shopping in our household and it’s a small size that can fit in my pockets.

    She also recently built a desk and decorated the drawer with a knob salvaged from a steam iron that had be dropped (and broken), Anise spices (which sort of resemble sea stars), and swirls drawn with hot glue. You can see a picture of it in her post called The Frugal Art.

    I’ll have to check out the I Spy books next time I’m at the library. We somehow missed those while growing up. We really enjoyed Where’s Waldo, though. :)

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