Should I Buy Now, or Should I Wait for Better Features at a Lower Price?

This is one question that, in some form or another, keeps popping up time and time again in all sorts of contexts.

Should I buy a computer now, or should I wait for prices to come down?

Should I buy a new television now, or should I wait for the bigger screens to become available?

From cars to cell phones to woodworking equipment, these questions are asked about major purchases that many of us make.

Whenever I’m asked the question, though, I respond with another:

Do you actually need the thing?

If the answer is yes – that this item fulfills a need in your life that isn’t already fulfilled – then you should be shopping around now rather than waiting for prices to drop.

If the answer is no, why are you thinking of buying it in the first place?

To me, this question is usually only asked when someone is buying something that’s unnecessary in their life. If they don’t have the impetus to actually go out there and actively shop for such an item right now, that means they don’t have a use for that item any time soon.

If you can wait three months to buy an item, then that item pretty clearly falls into the category of a want rather than a need.

So, should I buy it now? If you’re buying something that you’ve clearly recognized as a want, I would suggest that two things be true: one, you have the cash in hand to pay for it, and two, you’re not taking that cash from another need in your life (like paying cash for something frivolous while you have a mountain of credit card debt).

My suggestion is this: once you’ve identified something you want, pick out the specific model you want, find what it will cost, and set up a savings plan to achieve that goal. Set up an automatic transfer of a small weekly amount from your checking account to your savings account and wait until you’ve saved enough to write a check for it.

Once you have that money, you can then re-evaluate the purchase. Do you still want that item? Has the cost of it dropped? Is there a better model on the market now?

If you’ve talked yourself into waiting just a bit longer to see what’s available, I would suggest not buying the item at all. It’s fine to wait if you’re pretty certain that the item you’re looking at will drop in price, but if you’re waiting without any sort of fact-based expectation of that kind of drop, skip the item and use the money for something else.

In short, if you’re willing to wait an undefined amount of time for an undefined lower price for the item, that item is pretty low on your priority list. Find something else that you’re more passionate about to use your money on and you’ll be better off.

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  1. Romeo says:

    Trent,

    I couldn’t have summarized this better — unless the question refers to timing interest rates on mortgages ;)

    How many times in the past year have you heard that rates couldn’t get much lower? But now a 15 year mortgage has fixed rate as low as 3.25%, and I kick myself everyday because I can’t take advantage of it.

    Otherwise, I totally agree with this post in regards to the smaller things in life.

  2. Joe says:

    I agree in general. Buy it now if you need it. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. It’s simple and makes sense. But I don’t agree completely. For example, upgrading a computer might be a “need” if a faster model would make you more productive, but your current one could hold you off for a few months if necessary, so the timing doesn’t have to be “now or never.”

    Furthermore, I was surprised there weren’t any actual tips in this article for predicting when new models would come out. For product lifecycle information on ipods and apple computers, this site is very useful: http://buyersguide.macrumors.com/ and I’m sure there are similar sites for other types of products.

  3. Good post Trent. I do the same with any purchase, most of my purchases are what I need. Most people don’t think that an inexpensive cell phone will lead them to thousands of dollars over the years in paying for a voice / data plan and there are many other examples of this.

    Another good method is when you come across something that you want, give it a day or two and see if you still have that urge to purchase. You may just realize that it was just that an urge and not necessary. I learned this from Oprah of all people!

    Dwight Anthony
    Financially Elite Blog dot Com

  4. LeahGG says:

    I disagree – sometimes, for example, your computer is almost adequate. It runs all the programs you need, but not well. It crashes frequently… etc. And you wonder if you should hold out for the next breakthrough. This is especially true if you’re planning for your next computer to be a mac, since they release new versions with real differences in ways that PCs no longer do.

    I’ve also had the experience where I was borrowing something and I wanted to give it back, but couldn’t until I bought one. Then too, you might want to wait for the next model.

  5. Beth says:

    I agree with LeahGG — I needed a new computer a few months back as my old laptop had been dying for months. I waited until a good promotion to buy and haggled a little to bring the price down.

    When it comes to electronics, there’s always going to be something better and cheaper coming out. The trick is to be happy with what you have, not constantly wanting the next big thing.

  6. I don’t think the post answered the question posed in the title.
    To me, if you’re going to wait for a better price,then in some cases, you’ll be waiting forever (i.e. almost any electronic device)

    Better to find the best price you can at the moment, and pull the trigger.

    Assuming you’ve gone thru all the stuff about actually wanting it and everything

  7. littlepitcher says:

    In almost every case, I wait for better features. I purchased the new iPod Touch for the camera and sold my old one. I’m hoping my laptops will hold out four more years, so that iPad-style tablets with card storage and enough power to run business programs will be available.
    Repairing an item and waiting for the features you want, if at all possible, usually is the best bet. Occasionally you can even find your desired item at an auction or estate sellout.

  8. Amateur says:

    I think it’s also a waste of time to obsess over all the features and be on the lookout for the perfect product at the perfect price point.

    I agree with #7, some things could be repaired while waiting for more money to come in or a newer version to release. In most cases, it’s waiting for more money to come in before really ditching it. I’ve held computers for a long time by repurposing them for lighter tasks or just as storage, backup, or trying out new operating systems.

    Another way to go for some products is buying a refurb unit from the manufacturer or authorized reseller. It is a very good way to get almost a brand new product (open-box) or a product recently returned for a large discount.

  9. Kathryn says:

    “I think it’s also a waste of time to obsess over all the features and be on the lookout for the perfect product at the perfect price point.” @8 Amateur

    I agree. However, my hubbie (who is a “techie”) seems to enjoy it, enjoy the chase. I don’t think he is ever going to find his perfect item, but he usually seems to enjoy checking them out & reading all the reviews.

    I figure it is his form of entertainment.

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