Updated on 06.13.11

15 Shopping Rules of Thumb

Trent Hamm

I recently read a wonderful post over at The Technium containing twelve simple shopping rules of thumb for various products, mostly technology related. Some of them are great. A few of them are outdated. I find I use some of them myself; here are the ones I really find value in:

Pay for RAM, not speed. The speed of the computer chip does not matter; the attention-span or RAM memory does matter.
Pay for components, not cables. Buy the best components, and the cheapest cables.
Pay for speed, not channels. For cable internet, with enough speed you can watch TV channels on the internet for free.
Pay for sensor size, not pixel count. On today’s cameras you’ll have enough megapixels; better quality comes from larger sensors.
Pay for reliability, not mileage. On a car, you’ll spend more of repairs and maintaince over its lifetime than you will on a difference in gas.
Pay for comfort, not weight. A bicycle’s feather weight is moot once you add water bottle, a bag, any extra clothes you wear, while its comfort never disappears.
Pay for glass, not shutters. In professional cameras, great lenses endure, while the camera bodies change and go obsolete.

(I included the two photography ones because I’m related to multiple professional and semi-professional photographers, so I’m at least a bit knowledgeable in the field.)

These simple rules of thumb for purchases can be a great starting point for the research that you do when deciding what products to buy. They don’t point you straight to a product, per se, but they tell you which features are more likely to give you value for your dollar when you do make that purchase.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been accumulating a number of these “rules of thumb” for more common household purchases. Here’s that list – hope it helps.

Pay for location, not square footage. A home in a good location will always retain its value. On the other hand, lots of square footage mostly means room to store stuff you don’t really need, you often have to be far from your job in order to have a huge house, and there are tons of empty McMansions sitting in the suburbs that are unable to be resold due to the housing glut.

Pay for utility, not quantity. If you’re buying kitchen implements, you’re better off buying basic tools that really work for a lot of things rather than tons of tools for specific things. You don’t need more than three knives (a paring knife, a chef’s knife, and a bread knife, along with a honing steel). You don’t need more than two pots, one saucepan, and one skillet – you can make about every dish imaginable in those four things because they’re so flexible.

Pay for hardware, not software. Most of the applications that people need for their home computer have quality free versions online. Need Office? Use OpenOffice or Google Docs. Image editing? FotoFlexer (and other such tools) do almost anything a home user would want to do.

Pay for the beans, not the coffeepot. My wife uses a cheap old coffee pot that she’s had since we were in college. The coffee you put into the pot makes all the difference, not the pot itself, according to her. A $200 coffee pot with bad coffee beans will still make you a poor drink.

Pay for speed, not size. If you’re buying a new computer and are comparing hard drives, get the faster one rather than the bigger one for home use, as it’ll speed up your computer substantially and you don’t really need another 80 GB. The fastest ones are the solid state drives, but if you’re buying a regular hard drive, get the one with the fastest RPMs. Get the smaller drive, too. You can always buy a far less expensive external USB drive for file storage if you manage to fill up your main drive.

Pay for reference, not entertainment. I only buy a book if I know I’m going to return to it again and again. For books that don’t fall into that category, I check them out at the library or swap them online.

Pay for energy efficiency, not features. When you’re buying a large appliance, the energy efficiency of the appliance outweighs virtually every feature because of the enormous amount of energy used by the appliance. For example, an older refrigerator can use as much as 1,400 kWh of energy per year, which adds up (at $0.12 per kWh) to $168 a year. A newer refrigerator may use as little as 200 kWh of energy per year, which adds up to $24 per year, a savings of $144 per year. Over a twenty year lifespan, that’s $2,880 in savings, far more than the cost of the fridge itself. Similar calculations are true for other large appliances, such as washers, dryers, furnaces, and A/C units.

Pay for freshness, not convenience. Paying for convenience with food is usually a very poor bargain and often results in either bland food or food loaded down with so many chemicals and artificial flavorings and preservatives that you don’t even want to imagine what it’s doing to you inside. Buy fresh foods, take them home, wash them, and prepare them simply. Knowing how to use a slow cooker in conjunction with fresh foods is a life changer, because you still have the convenience of coming home to a hot meal that’s ready to serve, only it’s made with fresh and naturally flavorful ingredients, without lots of preservatives and the like, and for a lower cost.

To close, here are two bonus tips that can be used to evaluate even broader choices in your life.

Pay for experiences, not things. A thing is something that takes up space in your house. An experience changes who you are as a person. One cannot be replaced, while the other can easily be replaced. Give me junky furniture and a lifetime of memories.

Pay for what you need, not what you want. This is the best tip of all. Figure out your actual needs before you ever go shopping for any item, then seek out the least expensive option that matches your needs. Your wants mostly just cost you money without giving you anything you need.

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  1. Brett Slater says:

    GREAT post… The “Experiences vs. Things” tip is a huge one… One I’ve been trying to live by for the past few years. And now, in the middle of preparing for a cross-country move, the Great House Purge we’ve been undertaking is a great indicator of how much stuff you simply don’t need in life… Thanks!

  2. Luke G. says:

    “Pay for experiences, not things.”

    You beat me to it! I was thinking about blogging about this very subject. On all the trips I’ve taken, I’ve come to treasure the experiences for more than the trinkets I’ve brought back. They almost always seem to end up in cold storage.

    On the last few trips, I’ve started to buy photo frames which mention the destination I was at. Then, I can shove a photo of us having some memorable experience in it and be putting the souvenir to actual valid use.

  3. Becca says:

    The RAM over processor speed is good advice, but keep in mind that can change over time as one technology outstrips the other. Processor are currently much better than RAM, thus you need all the RAM you can get to keep up.

    Ten years ago, RAM was comparatively more advanced, and you needed all the processor speed you could get to make use of it.

    I actually bought a laptop this weekend and it has 8 gigs of RAM. I’m drooling over the prospect. (I would normally not pay for that expensive a computer, but Father’s Day sales meant I got it 50%, thus dropping a very nice laptop into my price range.)

  4. Michelle says:

    A bicycle’s weight can be important if you’re biking uphill a lot and carrying it up and down to your office and up and down to your third floor walk-up apartment.

  5. Michelle says:

    People with crappy coffee makers always think it’s the beans. It’s really not. Good beans with a good coffee maker (or any type, be it drip, stove-top or counter-top) make good coffee.

  6. Tanya says:

    I have to disagree with you on the kitchen tools advice; what if you want to make pasta? Boil potatoes? You need more than a saucepan and a skillet. I think wiser advice here might be: Based on how much you cook and what you cook, choose a few good tools. I agree with you that there are a lot of gadgets out there that take up space and take your money (hard-boiled egg peeler, anyone?) but don’t contribute much to your well-being.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I agree with Trent that the gist of this article is the final point – pay for what you need, not what you simply want.

    The main thing I disagree with here is Trent’s toss-away comment about preferring “junky furniture.” We use our furniture every day for hours at a time (i.e., it is a major part of our experience of life & future memories), so we don’t buy junky furniture.

  8. Courtney Sperlazza says:

    On the bike: pay for durability and safety. Carbon fiber is popularized by racers for being lightweight, but it snaps. When 1.5sec doesn’t male a difference, get steel. It will last. And buying once is always better than buying over and over!

  9. Michelle says:

    Valleycat1, you’re right: SIMPLY PUT, the final point is the entire post but simply put. I will enjoy reading all the comments though. I’m sure many (me included) feel like his idea of what you need and don’t need just don’t apply across the board.

  10. moom says:

    I disagree on bicycles. Weight is very important. Especially the wheels etc. But you also want some comfort. Still comfort can be added in good shorts and gloves etc (talking about road bikes here).

  11. Cass314 says:

    The coffee maker is actually really, really important. The quality of the brewing devise is less important (though it still can be important, especially if it’s plastic and can leach a plasticky taste into your coffee; and don’t get me started on percolators), but the quality of the grinder is huge–and the choice of electric vs. burr grinder even moreso. True, a wonderful set of equipment will get you nowhere with crappy beans, but the equipment matters a lot.

    My advice would be–the cheapest good quality (glass or ceramic or stainless, or a similar long-lasting, non-leaching material; if you go french press make sure it’s easy to clean and the screen is firmly attached) french press or drip cone and thermal carafe, and a high quality burr grinder, even if it costs more.

    Then, buy the coffee beans you think taste good. These don’t have to be super expensive, as long as you like them. You’ll pay more than Folgers, but you don’t have to go all out, either. I’d recommend seeing if you can get a few cups’ worth of several different beans of varying types and price ranges and find out what you like before you go all out on the really expensive ones. Some people can taste a difference, and some people can’t (and some people can, and like their Peets better).

  12. Johanna says:

    Wants/needs: Can’t your life also be enhanced by things you want but don’t need? I’m always puzzled by this “never buy anything that you don’t need” message. Maybe we have different definitions of “need.” (I tend to think of “need” as meaning “need to survive” – so, food, water, clothing, shelter, and that’s pretty much it.) To me, the key is to make sure you’re not indulging in wants at the expense of needs, or indulging things you want less over things you want more.

    Experiences/things: Sometimes an experience comes in the form of a thing (or, to put it differently, you need to buy the thing in order to have the experience). You buy a CD to get the experience of listening to it. You buy a piece of artwork to get the experience of looking at it in your home. You buy a chair to get the experience of sitting in it (and also looking at it). Sure, if you’re buying things that are just “taking up space” and don’t translate into experiences at all, then maybe you’re better off not buying them, but I don’t think that’s the case for most of the things that most of us buy.

    Freshness/convenience: Having some convenience food in the house *can* be a bargain, for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking a full meal (and didn’t have time to set the slow cooker in the morning), if it saves you from the temptation of going out to eat.

    Speaking of slow cookers, I’ve never owned one, but I’m having trouble seeing the appeal, convenience-wise. It doesn’t save you any time on the prep work (washing, measuring, mixing, and chopping), and it shifts that prep work from the evening (when I tend to have more free time) to the morning (when I tend to have less).

  13. lurker carl says:

    “A home in a good location will always retain its value.” Really? Today’s good location becomes tomorrow’s ghetto as the local economy morphs over time.

    Expanding real estate thoughts onto things versus experiences and needs versus wants to a larger scale. Most of Trent’s photographs show nice stuff in the background, not junk. I suppose all that was purchased before the financial meltdown and doesn’t count. Does this mean the big, custom built (McMansion) house in the country has downgraded to a used single-wide and stacked cinderblocks? Probably not, although I’m positive it would provide a lifetime of memories.

    Like justifying a new Prius and the $200 casserole dish and refusing to replace a failing business computer, I detect a lot of hypocrisy in this post.

  14. Katie says:

    My opinion is that a slow cooker is mostly useful for things like meat (and perhaps also dried beans) – it would take a couple of hours to make beef stew when I got home from work, but if it’s going in the slow cooker all day, I can have it on a weeknight (versus it being exclusively a weekend thing). But I also tend to have more time in the evening than the morning; I don’t think that’s true for everyone and some people do want to have dinner ready the instant they get home, in which case a slow-cooker for things that wouldn’t otherwise take a long time to make makes sense.

  15. Cass314 says:

    I agree with #9 on wants/needs. Frankly, if I never bought anything I didn’t actually need for basic survival, I’d be starved for experiences, I’d own two pairs of pants, I’d only eat rice and beans and be far less healthy than I am, and I’d generally feel so deprived I’d probably eventually snap and go out and buy something totally outrageous.

    It’s important to know that the want you’re buying is a want, but if you’ve taken care of your needs, are working on savings and retirement, and can legitimately afford it (not just “can afford it because I’ve got 200 left on my credit limit”), what’s wrong with buying something you want?

    As for slowcookers, you don’t save on prep-time, but depending on what you’re making you can save a lot on cooking time. If you come home to your slowcooker being done already, it also cuts down on the tendency to start snacking because you won’t be done with dinner for x amount of time.

  16. josh says:

    Most of the posts on TSD are great, but you should really avoid giving computer advice.

  17. Johanna says:

    @Katie: Yeah, I see the usefulness of a slow cooker for things like tough cuts of meat. For dried beans, my understanding is that what you really want is a pressure cooker (although I don’t have one of those either). For those who want dinner ready the instant they get home, another solution would be to prepare the whole meal the night before, stick it in the refrigerator, and then heat it in the microwave.

  18. Nate says:

    My dad always followed the “pay for experiences, not things” rule. I now have lots of great memories of things we did when my brother and I were younger (and older), instead of a bunch of worn-out things.

    But bike weight can be very important if you’re competing or putting serious mileage on technical trails (or pavement, for a road bike).Comfort is a function of fit and gear.

    I also have a lot of great memories of bike rides with my dad, including a 121 mile day…

  19. Johanna says:

    And before anyone jumps in to say that the phrase “rule of thumb” has something to do with men beating their wives, I’ll point out that that’s a myth (although the long history of domestic violence being tolerated is, unfortunately, very real).

  20. Adam P says:

    @Joahnna…I think with the slow cooker what I do is do all the prep the night before then stick the slow cooker filled with whatever in the fridge. In the morning I pop it into the heater and turn it on and off I go. I don’t have time to brown and chop and wash and peel in the morning, who the hell does? Trent I guess since he works from home.

    I use mine and all but it’s hardly a life changer. Good for pot roasts and some other things I guess tho.

    @ This Article…really have do disagree with the buy experiences not stuff. Sometimes that is true, sometimes it isn’t, and what is more important is the buy stuff you need over things you want.

    And yeah, Trent’s refusal to replace his failing work computer is pretty indefensible given some of the things he has splurged on.

  21. Reid says:

    I have to disagree with the RAM over processor Speed. Ram is upgradeable, in the vast majority of circumstances, the processor is not. Also, memory over 4 gigs is useless unless you have a 64 bit Operating System. and What good is 8 gigs of ram if the processor is so slow that you don’t feel like you can run more than an app or two?

  22. David says:

    If you can find one, and if you like shallow-fried and sautéed food, get a sauteuse rather than a skillet. Though the bard knew whereof he spoke when he said:

    Old Nick was summoned to the skies.
    Said Peter “Your intentions
    Are good, but you lack enterprise
    Concerning new inventions.

    Now, broiling is an ancient plan
    Of torment, but I hear it
    Reported that the frying pan
    Sears best the wicked spirit.

    Go get one, fill it up with fat,
    Fry sinners brown and good in it.”
    “I know a trick worth two of that”
    Said Nick. “I’ll cook their food in it.”

  23. Andrea says:

    @2, Michelle – I agree completely. It’s one thing if you can just park your bike in a garage without carrying it anywhere, but if you have to take it up and down steps, etc., the weight of the bike is a big deal. I have a lightweight road bike and love it. I am sure I would be much less inclined to drag it in and out of my apartment if it weighed significantly more than it does. Not to mention, if you take care of the bike and do regular maintenance, it is going to last a long time, thus making the extra money spent at the time of purchase worth it.

  24. jim says:

    “Pay for RAM, not speed. The speed of the computer chip does not matter; the attention-span or RAM memory does matter.”

    This interpretation is a little too simplified and could be confusing. The processor does matter. There is a big difference between a 1 Ghz Atom and an i7 Core. The original point was made in the NYT article and they say that if you’re paying for an upgrade to a specific unit then more RAM is better money than faster speed CPU. You get better bang for the buck by paying $40 to upgrade from 4GB to 8GB than spending $40 upfront to go from 2.8GHz i5 to a 3.3GHz.

    As worded in the original NYT article it makes more sense:

    “PAY FOR PC MEMORY, NOT SPEED When buying and configuring a new computer, companies often give the option of upgrading the processor and adding more memory, or RAM. If it is an either/or proposition, go for the RAM. Processors are usually fast enough for most people; it is the RAM that can be the bottleneck.

    Here’s a side note on RAM: Do not buy it from your manufacturer; RAM purchased from online retailers is just as good and considerably cheaper. Check out retailers like Crucial (for Windows machines) and Smalldog (for Macs). Each will tell you what kind of RAM you need for your machine, and they often sell it for more than half off the manufacturer’s retail price.”

  25. OTCW says:

    I’d be much happier with a router table versus a trip in a hot air balloon. I’d don’t get the whole experience over stuff argument

  26. MikeTheRed says:

    I think people get too caught up on defining need vs want and where to draw the line on purchases.

    An item can most certainly be a “want” but may provide you with sufficient personal pleasure and value that it becomes a worthwhile purchase for you.

    As an example, I just put down $400 on a pair of new iPhones for my wife and I. This is absolutely well beyond the “need” category, but the features the iPhone provides us are sufficiently valuable to us that the purchase is worthwhile.

    We also have no consumer debt, a year of expesnes in an emergency fund, healthy retirement accounts and growing savings in other locations, so buying this “want” isn’t going to cause hardship or drive us into debt.

    Since clearing entering my “post debt” life, I am realizing TSD is still very much focused on the “get out of debt” phase of personal finance. Once you’ve made the better choices and are on the better path, content here seems to be increasingly less relevant.

  27. Marsha says:

    I disagree with the experiences over things point. I think you need to have a balance between the two. You can certainly overdo buying things, but you can just as easily overdo buying experiences. I’ve bought items that I didn’t end up enjoying, but I’ve also bought experiences that I ended up regretting wasting the time and money on. At least the physical items have some small resale value.

    I enjoy having a comfortable home with non-junky furniture, particularly my cushy bed that I experience 8 hours each night.

  28. Gretchen says:

    A comfortable bike is a lighter bike. It’s just better quality, which becomes evident with every mile (again, road or hybrid bikes). I’ve never riden a high end mountain bike.

    Don’t agree with the mini kitchen setup, though. 3 knives, sure. But more than 3 pots. They are just used for different things.

  29. jackowick says:

    I think a lot of people are jumping on the smallest bit of the advice for the sake of disagreeing and feeling “right”. Like bicycle weight. Sure you can buy a lower weight bike if you need to go up and down stairs, that’s part of one person’s specific needs. But the point is that you would want something comfortable when you’re riding for hours a day (look up seat numbness issues and you’ll see the importance).

    In recent years (as a bike rider who has paid obscene amounts for my road and mountain bike components) there are some very cheap mountain bikes that are almost dangerous. They can claim to be lightweight and have those low low low end full suspensions, but more moving parts, cheap ones to boot, are more fail points. If you are riding in the city or pavement commuting, you do not need to spend the money on a full suspension thinking it’s more “comfy”, especially on the low end Walmart bikes. Buy a rigid frame and get a good seat. A good seat will make up the difference.

  30. Wendy says:

    I appreciate the gist of this article and agree to focus on what’s important when spending money. But…

    These rules are great for Trent and his lifestyle but to say “need” implies some absolute rule rather than “most people don’t need”.

    3 knives sounds fine if you’re one person in the kitchen. When it’s two of us cooking it’s more efficient to have more knives so we’re not waiting on each other (or washing endlessly mid-prep). Do we need more knives? No, we need 1 knife, but having more makes it possible for us to live the life we want more easily.

    Johanna – another slow cooker lover to say we do lots of dried beans in the slow cooker. We don’t have a pressure cooker. I love that I don’t have to soak them so I put them on in the early evening and they’re done before I go to work. It’s one pot to clean just like on the stove but the work happens while I’m sleeping.

    We use the slow cooker for alot of meals too so it’s great. All of them can be done without a slow cooker but, for us, wouldn’t happen as often without it. Now we can have those meals during the week rather than reserving for the weekend.

  31. Andrew says:

    “Needs” and “wants” can be hard to define.

    About ten years ago, I fell violently in love with an oil painting I saw in the window of a city gallery. It was breathtakingly expensive and I told myself that I couldn’t afford it.

    And yet–I “visited” that painting almost every day. I changed my regular walking route just to look at it. And I was distraught and close to tears when I saw that it was no longer in the window.

    As it turned out, it had just been moved into the interior of the gallery. I knew then that, money and practicality be damned, I had to buy it.

    I have looked at the painting every day since. It brings joy to me every time I see it. Was it a “need?”” No. Was it “the least expensive option?” No. Was it indispensible? Absolutely.

  32. krantcents says:

    A couple of years ago, my wife and I were in Amsterdam. We went to a restaurant for pancakes, the experience was beyond words. I will never forget it, but it was expensive!

  33. valleycat1 says:

    More OT re slow cookers – Our slow cooker died last week. In thinking through the decision whether to replace, I realized I mainly used it because I have it. And am in the same situation of not having as much time in the morning to get something going.

    Instead of buying another, we’ve decided to put that $ toward our savings (toward an admittedly more expensive deep covered enameled pot we can use in the oven for the same types of things, as that will be more convenient for me. We were planning to get the pot anyway, and for our purposes a slow cooker would duplicate that.

    As far as needs vs. wants, my first comment @ #5 was mostly about what Trent’s main point was. But I do more loosely define ‘need’ as something I’ve thought through rather than a more impulsive ‘ooh, I want that’ purchase. So, we don’t really NEED the added pot, but we’ve reached a conclusion that it will fill a hole in our cookware that we want to fill.

  34. The best one I think you covered is pay for experiences, not things. I’m more of an experience type of person. Sure, I love gadgets and technology, but I enjoy experiencing something as opposed to buying something. The marginal utility (ha, econ) of purchases isn’t as much as going somewhere and seeing something.

  35. Jake says:

    Great advice, Trent, have a MacBook Pro I bought in late 2006, and was getting sick of watching it beachball everytime I turned it on!! I decided before just buying one of the new ones to try to max out my Ram from 1GB to the maximum size of GB. For 100 buck that was the best investment I could make for my mac, great advice!!

  36. Stephanie PH says:

    One of the things I like best about this blog is that it encourages the examination of my own financial practices and habits. I try to take the ideas that I think might work for me, share some with my friends and family, and leave the rest. Not every choice I make and opinion I hold coincides with Trent’s, but I never thought that was the point. This blog would be far less interesting if I already did everything Trent suggests.

  37. Lisa says:

    My mother always told me, when buying clothes, furniture, almost anything, “If you don’t love it, don’t buy it”. She was right. I don’t use or enjoy what I didn’t love in the first place.

    Could be good relationship advice too, come to think of it…

  38. SwingCheese says:

    Also chiming in on the slow cooker, with an angle that I don’t think has been mentioned yet: it is a lot cooler to cook something in the kitchen with a slow cooker. Where I live is quite hot and humid in the summer, and when I’m trying to avoid using the air conditioning, the slow cooker makes it possible to make dinner without heating up the kitchen (and the living room) to 90+ in the process. As a result, I generally only use it in the summer.

  39. almost there says:

    #22, Andrew, I agree. Back in 86 we saw a hand made Koa wood rocking chair at an artist’s Guild shop in Hawaii. It was $1300, pretty pricy for us at the time. We told each other that it was a want not a need and it couldn’t fit in our 700 sq ft town house. I have regretted not buying that ever since. Especially since one cannot find one like that for such an inexpensive price. I settled for a $43 rosewood rocker purchased in Hong Kong and though it is nice it isn’t Koa wood. Sometimes one has to purchase the wants.

  40. valleycat1 says:

    #28 – I agree, but if it’s that hot I’m not wanting anything I’d be making the slow cooker anyway, or interested in cooking much of anything. Summers are extremely hot & dry here & we don’t have central air, so we basically live on salads and cold drinks once summer sets in.

  41. Nick says:

    I’m a little surprised at some of the negative reaction in the comments. Rules of thumb are not intended to be all-encompassing or infinitely applicable. As Jack Sparrow would say, they are more like guidelines.

  42. Lisa says:

    I think the commenters have a lot of good points. I wanted to say that as far as using Open Office, it has some issues compared to just using the expensive alternatives. I have had issues with filling out forms in it, like a job application that I had to submit online. Also, for some reason it’s impossible to use bullet points and then save as a word document (this is on my Mac, Idk about Windows). And the themes that come with the “Powerpoint” are really boring.

    On the location v. square footage thing: I wonder how many people actually shop for a house based solely on square footage? Also, some of the locations that retain value are too expensive to live in in the first place.

  43. Des says:

    I think the square footage vs location thing can really depend on the situation. For us, we chose a sub-800 sf house on three acres in a great part of town because we plan to live there for the rest of our lives and we reasoned that you can always add on to a house, you can’t add onto the land. But that doesn’t mean that is the right decision for everybody. If we had many children it might be more valuable to us to sacrifice location for a larger home with more personal space and more bathrooms. Or, if we entertained frequently it would be difficult in our space (I know because we have tried. No one wants to stay when they are crammed in like sardines). Or, if we were pastors and had bible studies and youth group meetings at our house, we might opt for something larger.

    There are a myriad of reasons someone might choose a larger house, it isn’t always because they want to fill it with stuff. They might want to fill it with people, thus creating those valuable experiences you speak so highly of. Also, unless you plan on flipping your house it is advisable to choose your primary residence based on your lifestyle, not what will appreciate fastest. It is your home, not an investment.

  44. Jamie B says:

    I agree with most of these, but I have some comments.
    I don’t like the disregard for oil consumption in the car mileage one, but I have found that a more reliable car (like our old Dodge Neon or current Chevy Aveo) are usually pretty efficient as well (the Neon got WAY more mileage than a Prius, and actually had some power behind it, lol).
    The kitchen implement one is exactly right for a single person or a childless couple, but a family will usually need doubles of certain things like pots and knives.

  45. Amyk says:

    @Andrew #22, I had a similar experience. Bought a painting for $600 in 1994, when my take home pay as an entirely self sufficient graduate student was $601 per month. Turned out to be the best investment I ever made. Similar paintings by this artist are now in the $15,000 range and $600 won’t even get you a print. Plus, I have enjoyed this painting every day. Sometimes you have to pursue what you love!

  46. AndreaS says:

    Johanna: Kudos, great thought that things are also experiences. I like to buy things that give permanent value to my life. I try to buy at a price that I could always resell and recoup my money if I changed my mind. This might be quality items purchased at yard sales prices, or mid-quality antiques. Things also include tools that help me save money. I am selective about what I bring into my home, so I do not mean buying a constant stream of useless new junk.

    The problem with experience experiences is that they can’t be re-experienced except as a memory. Once the money is spent, that experience is gone. I get it that some vacations are memorable long term. But going out to dinner is not that memorable a year from now. If you spend the same money on a flowering bush, you can experience it year after year.

    This reminds me of a pattern I see very often. I see many people who live in dreary unpleasant places: messy, rundown, cramped. Every year they go off on an expensive vacation to get away from where they live. In my area, I know people who also own a summer camp within an hour of their regular home… because they don’t like their regular home. It makes more sense to me to spend your time and money to make your regular home so nice, it is where you want to spend your vacations.

  47. Katie says:

    AndreaS, I think that’s really an individual thing. For a lot of people, traveling has nothing to do with the pleasantness or unpleasantness of the surroundings themselves – hell, I often stay in really rundown places when I travel – it’s about things like the experience of putting yourself in a totally different place and the new experiences/learning and the mental distance from normal life. All of which can be very refreshing and invigorating in ways that have nothing to do with how nice either your home or the vacation destination is.

  48. jared says:

    i have to disagree with the ‘pay for reliability not mileage’ bit here; or at least point out that finding a car with high mileage that is NOT reliable is pretty hard. my 2001 honda insight is still trucking along with fantastic mileage (average is 55.6 miles per gallon over 130,000+ miles) and reliability has been superb – i’ve paid for very little in repairs as opposed to my previous gas guzzling cars (Jeep CJ-7, Camaro, even my old Nissan Pulsar cost more over time and burned fuel at a relatively alarming rate of 30-odd mpg).

    and at that, that car really only cost me $14k brand new – that was back in 2001 when there was a $7500 tax credit (read: if you owe nothing they give you $7500 bucks) on a $20,500 new car.

    tiny? yes. affordable, economical, and reliable? compare my 2001 insight to ANYTHING on the road and it will win on those three metrics. luxury? no. size? no. but honestly, why pay for size when 99% of the cars i see driving on the road have one person and a laptop in them, burning 10 gallons of gas each week just to get to work and back, and eventually needing repairs at least as soon but often sooner than my car?

    oh, and finally, the insight has an all aluminum body – no rust. my wife’s old dodge neon was similarly priced when new in 2000 and was rusted out and not worth repairing by 2007. my insight can’t rust out and is still worth a large chunk of change for resale or trade-in and therefore is worth paying for minor repairs still today, a decade later.

    not to mention that dirty hippy in me that’s glad to burn barely50% of the fossil fuels i’d have otherwise wasted in a desperate attempt to get places quickly.

    i say, pay for what helps you sleep at night. in the end everything has costs: some are more upfront than others. high mileage cars put the costs up front. low mileage cars spread it over over time;in some case over a period longer than your lifespan.

  49. Amanda says:

    I NEED more than a pot and a saucepan. I guess everyone’s needs are different.

    My take on experiences/stuff.

    I find that some people get so wrapped up in their stuff that they don’t have enough money left for trips. If that’s how they roll, fine. Personally, my home is comfortable. I don’t have the finest furniture, nor the cheapest junk. I tend to buy used but some was bought new and we’re going into the 10th year of having it. It still works for us.

    If I have a choice between upgrading furniture and going on a trip I’ll live with what I have. That might not be someone elses “cup of tea”.

  50. William says:

    Good stuff, however there are two points of clarification:

    – Use LibreOffice (https://www.libreoffice.org/), not OpenOffice. Long story short, Oracle messed up and all the active developers forked the project and moved on to LibreOffice.

    – It is much more cost and performance efficient to get a SSD hdd for ~$100, and buy an external USB for mass storage (music, photos, etc). An external hdd for media is more useful in households with multiple computers as well.

  51. William says:

    I forgot to add, there is also a NY Times article about increasing happiness by spending money on experiences rather than objects (written during the ’08 recession):

    “On the bright side, the practices that consumers have adopted in response to the economic crisis ultimately could — as a raft of new research suggests — make them happier. New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.”


  52. Eivind says:

    speed vs size for computer-storage is odd advice. Obviously you should but a disc that is sufficient size for the things you intend to save on it !

    The only tricky thing is to estimate how that demand will grow over your expected use of the device. For example, my digital photos is the major thing I store on my computer, and they current add up to about 75GB, but that amount is currently growing by 20GB/year, and will grow even quicker if I buy a new higher-res camera.

    I also need some space for the OS and programs, let’s say 25GB.

    Thus you end up with 75+25+20*x which is 200GB if I guesstimate that a laptop is used for 5 years. Since storage-needs tend to grow, and the price-differential is small, I’d thus not want a laptop with less than 350GB storage.

  53. Regarding the fridge and kw/h.
    Interesting analogy but a bit flawed. You can’t simply multiply the 1st year savings by the # of years you own the appliance. Like any mechanical or electric device, the efficiency of the device will reduce over time and so will the power savings.

    I have no idea what the precise rate of energy saving depreciation is, but it does exist. Either way, using a NEW model will save over the old model. Just don’t go and pay $2000 for it or those savings are almost negated. Unless of course, you are trying to do the right thing for the environment, and I wouldn’t hound ya for that ;).

  54. Bill Ambrose says:

    Junky Furniture ? please. what a waste of money.. cheap furniture needs constantly replacing, looks shit is never worth anything to anyone, and makes the place where you spend a lot of your time irritating and depressing.
    Quality furniture costs more, lasts forever and increases in value over time. Your living area is enhanced.
    Buy one Good chair, rather than four shit ones (same goes for knives)
    .. and give me a light bike over a ‘comfy’ bike anyday. what on earth is a ‘comfy’ bike ??

  55. Bill Ambrose says:

    otherwise excellent !! (soz)

  56. SwingCheese says:

    @valleycat1 – lol, that’s true. And that’s why we’re having salad tonight, actually. Bring on the humidity :)

  57. Sam says:

    As a person who works on other peoples computers daily, I don’t think a small HD is good advice.
    More & more folks are discovering how to download music, TV, home videos, pictures, etc and the default location is the HD. Just because they don’t know how ot do it now doesn’t mean they aren’t going to figure it out inthe next year or two.
    Yes, you can get a an external one or a handful of flash drives(and try to keep track of them) but the average user doesn’t understand or understand how to save/back that stuff up to the external instead of C:

    Yes, people need to back things up however, there’s something to be said about keeping all the apples in one basket until your ready to do your canning.

    Also, you can add ram up the whazoo but if you have a gunked up system it won’t make much difference. Maintenance needs to be on the list (for more then PC’s). At least have a free anti virus like AVG. At least every 6 months run a disk cleanup, defrag a few times & then run a scan disk to check the integrity of the system files (on a evening you don’t need to use the PC).
    If you have the Mac, verify the disk permissions – I’ve avoided several reloads with these steps & people who say their machine runs like new after I’ve been by.

    And I second #9 – my neighborhood was a great desirable, nice place to live & is now getting rougher & rougher. Everyone who could leave has – forclosures litter the place. I wish I could go somewhere better for my family but I can’t sell my house…

    And I second #5 – I grew up with family antiques. Moved out bought cheap furnioture thinking I was being thrifty. When a new chair broke as I sat in it, I knew it was time to seek out antiques & items made before planned obsolescence. I will only allow furniture that can be beaten thoughly and still stand. Anything I buy I try to make sure I’ll be OK with owning it forever. I do make the occasinoal mistake but that comes w/ being human.

  58. HonestB says:

    I used to agree with you about the bike, then I got an aluminum frame. It’s worth it when you have to carry your bike up and down stairs (like I do to get it out of my apartment), not to mention the lighter the bike, the more stuff you can carry on it. Of course if you’re just getting started cycling, don’t buy anything fancy. Get something used. But if you’re taking a bike out everyday, getting a lighter frame and wheelset might make your day a little easier.

    Propably more important than anything else though is get a bike that fits you. I’m always amazed at how many people I see struggling to get around on bikes that are just too big or too small for them. A great bike that doesn’t fit you isn’t going to do you any good.

  59. Ack Grud says:

    My thrifty grandfather had 1 rule WRT purchasing something he needed (and, therefore, would use often) or intrinsically valued:

    “Buy well, and you only have to buy once.”

    Meaning that, if you buy an item of excellent quality/durability– though you might pay significantly more for it– then chances are that you would never be forced to repurchase said item…unless your sneaky little grandson took a kleptomatic shine to it. *cough cough*

  60. Cass314 says:

    @ Sam above:

    I dunno. I’m using a five year old laptop computer (needs to be replaced, for other reasons, but I’m waiting till July when my job will give me $500 toward it). It’s got 120 gigs. On it I have several computer games (including big ones), my music collection, photo albums, work data, and all the other junk that accumulates over 5 years. It’s still got disk space left. The model I’m looking at to replace it is customizable, and the least I can put in it is 500 gigs. There’s no way I’m springing for 1000 when I don’t use 120 now. I might, however, spring for the faster disk speed (since I’m not yet wholly convinced on the reliability of SSD, which is also an upgrade option).

    And if all else fails, I have a 500 gig external I use for backups. So unless you do a lot of artsy stuff, have a huge music collection, or process a lot of data (I know one guy with 2 terrabytes, to store confocal microscopy images from work) whatever comes on a standard laptop is going to be more than enough for you–let alone whatever comes on a desktop these days.

  61. Andy Bell says:

    The refrigerator example overestimates by double the least efficient model available. US Federal standards in place since 2001 would place a the range from 606 kWhr/yr (20 CuFt) to 393 (12 CuFt) k/Whr depending on size and configuration.
    Energy Star models are 20% or more efficient than than. You would have to be digging grandma’s fridge out of the garage to find one using 1,400 kWhr/yr.
    The yellow energy guide labels are on appliances for a reason. Read and understand them when comparing models in the store.

  62. Tab says:

    Clock speed by itself may not be so important because processors are fast enough now that faster clock speed may simply mean the processor spends more clock cycles waiting for a process to reach it. However, some of the slower processors are slow because they have less cache and that can cause slow performance.

  63. I really really like this list. Particularly, I like “Pay for reliability, not mileage” and “Pay for speed, not size”. I often look too much at the hard numbers like mileage, ignoring the reliability. Time to recalibrate my car shopping. I also 100% agree with the hard drive one. Much better to get a smaller capacity SSD than a huge 5400 rpm hard drive.

  64. Bill says:

    Storage is pretty cheap aftermarket.

    the 1TB (yes, 1 terabyte) hard drive in my laptop cost all of $80 on sale.

    now I can download all my Tivo shows! (since i’m over-the-air only – shows run almost 7GB/hour)

  65. Sara says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the last two kind of conflict with each other. Experiences are rarely things you need. And I’m with AndreaS about the fleeting nature of experiences. I think it’s really a matter of personal preference, but I like to spend money on things that I can enjoy for a long time rather than experiences that happen once and are over.

  66. Amanik041 says:

    you’re completely wrong about ram, cpu is much more important. after you get 4-6 gigs of ram any more ram is just useless. it’s your cpu that makes your computer faster

  67. Davina says:

    I buy really good furniture that I love and think I’ll keep all of my life. It’s beautiful and comfortable and I feel at ease when people come to my home. Cheap stuff doesn’t last and bugs my eyes.

    For instance, I bought a $6,000 Drexel Heritage couch on sale for $3,000 20 years ago and am now reupholstering with high quality fabric bought from the manufacturer off the internet at half price. A retired professional upholsterer working from his garage will provide the labor for $450. Thus I’m getting a beautiful, very comfortable, redone couch for about $1300 and no tax. I’ll hang on to the couch the rest of my life and never pay current retail for a couch again.

    I once bought three Drexel Heritage end and coffee tables on sale for $1,000. Ten years later when I realized they were hideous, they sold for $1,000.

    With a couple of exceptions, I don’t much enjoy travel and come home feeling that I didn’t have much fun for the money spent. Time in my comfortably furnished home is happiness for me.

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