Updated on 06.05.14

Consider Last Year’s Models (14/365)

Trent Hamm

A few weeks ago, I found myself at a local department store looking at microwave ovens.

Consider Last Year's Models (14/365)

While I was browsing the ovens on sale there, I couldn’t help but notice a few things.

For starters, there were quite a few display models of microwave ovens right there at eye level. They had various features – wattage, size, and so forth – and had various prices on them, as you might expect.

What was particularly worth noticing is that down by my feet, there were a few additional models. They were kind of jammed in there, without nearly the space devoted to them as the models on top. They also had fairly low prices on them.

Ordinarily, I might have ignored these models, writing them off as being generics or poor models simply because of how they were displayed. Instead, I took a closer look at them.

It turns out that they were more or less identical to the models that were on sale above. The same brands. The same features. Much lower prices.

I went home and did a bit of research, only to find that these models that seemed perfectly fine had merely been replaced by newer models. What had changed? In most cases, very little had changed. The styling of the microwaves changed a bit. In a few cases, there might be a few new programming modes.

Very rarely were there any real functional changes when one model replaced another. Mostly, the changes were in the form of non-essential features.

Why, exactly, would you want to pay double the price for a couple non-essential features on a microwave oven? Simply put, you wouldn’t.

This phenomenon is true with many products you purchase. Why buy a current model year car when you can buy the previous model year for significantly less money? Why buy the shiniest, newest music player when the previous model does the task wonderfully (and for much less money)?

There’s only one caveat to this, and we covered it in an earlier post in this series: do the research. It’s always worthwhile to find out what exactly changed between the models. A surprising amount of the time, virtually nothing has changed, but every once in a while, you’ll find a model that made genuine changes (for better or worse) to key features of the item. Being aware of such changes is worth the bit of time it takes to type the two model numbers into Google to figure out what really changed here.

If you keep your eyes open for older models, you can often save significant money without losing a single feature that you care about. That’s simply a financial win for anyone.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book 365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Kate says:

    I 100% agree with you on this. We have been shopping for a new mattress for months, but I decided to wait until this weekend to buy it knowing that the stores are putting the 2011 models on clearance. I was able to get a mattress set for less than 1/4 its original price!

  2. valleycat1 says:

    This works great with cars too – especially if the particular model you want is being discontinued & they’ve already put the new heavily redesigned version on the lots.

  3. Becky says:

    I think this advice works for just about anything except the latest gadget – I wouldn’t necessarily go for a soon-to-be discontinued model of cell phone or tablet as those types of items are very feature-rich as the models change.

    But an appliance – large or small – doesn’t generally change that much. Also agree about the mattress (#1) and car (#2).

  4. Rebecca says:

    Great advice. I want to replace my old microwave (from the 90’s) as the inside is starting to rust. All I do is make popcorn, heat things up, and toss in a potato from time to time. I don’t need a million settings, and if I got a much smaller model, I’d have room for a small toaster oven too. I think it might be more efficient to have a toaster oven rather than use my big oven to cook a few french fries or 1 piece of fish.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    #4 Rebecca – we didn’t replace our microwave when it died almost 10 years ago and haven’t missed it at all. We had mainly used it for heating water for tea, steaming veggies & occasionally heating leftovers. For awhile we kept our large toaster oven but it took too long to toast or bake (too large). Now we just use the regular oven or stove top & have a toaster & electric kettle. We’ve found using a stovetop popcorn popper (the kind with a handle you turn) is faster than the microwave & the popcorn tastes better.

  6. friendlyfire says:

    Absolutely this can yield big savings. One common temptation is of course to spend on appliances (for example) with bells & whistles you’ll never need or appreciate (two different things). Generally IME the model that is 1 or 2 steps “down” from top of the line is a good buy – for me.
    One caveat (and this is where good research comes in) *sometimes* there are serious flaws in the older models – either because of bad design or because they’ve not kept up w. technology. Even simple things like microwaves can be irritating if there are features you do not happen to like or which make the appliance less pleasing to use.

    If you’ve checked all that out then by all means enjoy the savings!

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