Strap on your physics boots, Funny Money fans, because we're taking a dip into quantum mechanics, as well as auto fuel and the canned goods aisle.

Our topic is Werner Heisenberg, the renowned theoretical physicist (and money management expert) and his Uncertainty Principle. Heisenberg's principle applied to subatomic particles, but it's been widely interpreted to mean that the act of observing something influences the thing being observed.

I think all it really proves is that Heisenberg didn't have a dog, a car or a wife.

Consider: If the dog observes you long enough, you'll feel guilty and give the hound some of your Cheetos. If the mechanic observes your car, he's sure to find something broken. And if you observe the cute waitress for a bit too long, it will certainly influence your wife into giving you the stink-eye.

I've got a coupon -- I'm certain

When it comes to saving money, the Uncertainty Principle can put some real certainty into cutting your spending. Once you start looking at where your money goes, ways to save will jump right out, as I found when I started the family budgeting experiment that grew into my new book, "The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese."

Take the grocery store sales slip. Normally, I just glance over the thing to see how much I saved. But tucked under the total for "KR 2% FNLY SHRD CH" and "KENS DRSG" I noticed something called "fuel points." Like many supermarkets, my Kroger gives me discounts that can cut the cost of gas by 10 cents a gallon, meaning I can use a credit card to get rewards points and still pay the cash price. For my daily commute in my (t)rusty 1995 Roadmaster Estate Wagon, that's $72 in savings a year.

Spring-rolling in the savings

Flipping the register receipt over, I next found a gallery of colorful ads for nearby businesses. The offers ranged from 15 percent off the bill at a Mediterranean restaurant and a $19.95 full-service oil change to haircuts for $8.99 and $5 off at the dry cleaner.

The best deal was 10 percent off at the Thai restaurant down the street. I put several of those coupons in an envelope in the car and, once I remember to use them, it'll save about $3 off my order of Gaeng Pha-Naeng, which means the spring roll is free.

So take a lesson from Prof. Heisenberg. Observe your own spending and you, too, will find it influences your savings. I'll be saving even more as soon I remember to use those coupons I clipped, which will make my spring rolls just like neutrons -- free from any charge.

(Brian J. O'Connor is an award-winning columnist for The Detroit News. Contact him at or visit