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Finding an expert in any area is easy.  The problem is not breaking the bank to do so.  You can pay car dealers to fix your car or pay big fees to financial advisors to manage your investments, but if you can get the same level of expertise at a lower cost, you’ve not received value for what you’ve paid, and you’re out that money.  Finding expertise at a low cost is tricky.  You can always find someone willing to do it cheaper, but if they really don’t know what they’re doing, this can prove even more costly in the long run.

So, how do you strike this balance?

Look to the monkey.  I’ll start this off by asking a simple question.  Stick with me.  Here goes:

Do you know how to peel a banana?

The answer is, of course.  I can’t imagine anybody reading this has not peeled a banana in their life.

But, then I’ll ask another question:

Do you know the right way to peel a banana?

Most everybody, again, will answer yes to that question, but they may in fact not be correct.  If you look at the right way to peel a banana, you would likely want to look toward a banana peeling expert.  While you and I have peeled many bananas, I would not call this my area of expertise.

A monkey, on the other hand, well most monkeys would gladly list ‘Banana Peeling’ on their resume if they were so inclined to have one.  Which, I don’t think most monkeys are because they’re too busy peeling bananas…like experts!

Most people peel a banana the same way. You grab the stem (where the banana is bunched with other bananas) and yank down.  Most of the time, this breaks the banana, then you repeat this a couple of more times until you have a delicious banana ready to eat.

It works great, but that’s not how monkeys do it.

If you watch a monkey peel a banana, they do it the other way around.  They pinch the bottom of the banana until it pops open, then they peel it upward from there.

Since monkeys are banana peeling experts, it makes sense to consider some of the reasons why this is inherent and might make for a better process.  Here are two reasons I came up with that makes the monkey peeling method a superior method to the traditional human method:

  1. It works all of the time – Peeling a banana from the stem, like most people do, works most of the time.  But, we’ve all had situations where you yank the stem and it rips off before anything gets peeled, leaving a very difficult path to getting the banana peeled.  Squeezing it will pop the banana every time.  Monkeys know that they can achieve success 100% of the time, which is certainly more preferable than even a 95% success rate that stem peeling would offer.  For a species who takes banana peeling very seriously, this speaks volumes.
  2. Ease of eating – By peeling a banana the monkey way, they can hold onto the stem while they eat the banana.  When we peel by the stem, at some point we have to take some part of the banana out of the peel (or squeeze it up, which can be messy).  Any monkey knows that this is a waste of time and adds extra steps to the process of eating a banana.

So, when it comes to banana peeling, trust the expert.  Trust the monkey.

Taking it to the next level: Making wise money decisions.

Now, as entertaining as banana peeling is, the sad truth is that changing the method by which you peel a banana is not going to save you money nor will it make that much of a difference in your life.  So, why did I just waste a bunch of time talking about it?  Trick question, because it’s not a waste of time.

The idea is to take some of the fundamental principles that monkeys peeling a banana can produce, and apply those to other areas in which it could make a dramatic impact on money decisions.

Here are a few principles that you can take from the monkey example and how these can directly play a role in making better use of your money.

  • Re-define the word expert – When I started off this post, I made clear that you can find an expert in just about any field, and you’ll likely have success if you hire one of those experts.  The issue is that most experts want to be paid for their expertise, especially if it’s their line of work.  The flip side of the coin is that if you ‘go on the cheap’ you can get burned by someone who really doesn’t know what they’re doing and will just end up costing you a bunch of money. The trick is to expand the definition of ‘expert’ to go beyond ‘professional’ but to leave out ‘idiots’, ‘crook’, and other undesirables.
  • Create boundaries within your circle of trust – One of the things I have endeavored to do over the past few years is to understand more about how cars work and how to keep them properly maintained.  I have switched from getting new cars on a regular basis to committing to keeping cars longer.  This means that many things that I never had to really consider now might come into play.  So, rather than align with a dealership or even a car repair shop, I looked for someone in my circle of friends and family who was a car expert, and found that my father-in-law fit the bill.  He has taught me a tremendous amount, and now I regularly check various fluid levels, I know what they mean, and I know what to do if anything is irregular.  I’m by no means an expert on any systems in my cars, but I have a basic understanding and it’s because I identified and worked with someone that understood and was willing to explain these things to me.  Same goes with computers, as I’ve moved away from being an expert on what hardware is leading edge, I know my dad is still there to provide that guidance.  Chances are, if you’re looking for someone that can provide expert type advice, you can find it.  Look through your LinkedIn, your Facebook, your blog buddies, wherever, and someone might be a direct source of information you're looking for.  Also, keep in mind that referrals are key. You may not have a friend that is an expert, but a friend of a friend just might.  So, it never hurts to ask.
  • Offer your expertise – If you are looking for an expert in a particular area, turn the tables, and identify what areas you might be considered a semi-pro expert.  Do people seek you out for certain advice?  If so, make yourself available for it, and even put yourself out there on social networks or otherwise (provided you have the time).  This will lead to several benefits.  First, you’ll continue to brush up on your skills.  Second, you’ll be known as someone who is willing to give and take expert advice, making yourself a lot more attractive to someone whom you seek advice.

Decades back, when the small town way of life was practically the only way of life, this is a key to how people survived.  You had people who were well defined in certain roles, and even if they made a living off of it, a lot of the advice and expertise that they dispensed was free.  Look at how much community there was in those days.  Look at how much information was built and passed down from those people.  While our fast paced world makes it tempting to skip right past that history lesson, the truth is that if you find a subject or two, find an expert or two, and create a relationship to gather some of that expertise, it’ll be much more meaningful and long lasting than just by looking up something on Google.

Readers, how do you identify non-professional experts in your life?  What are some direct and indirect savings that you’ve received and that you’ve provided as an unofficial expert?