Updated on 02.25.10

Shopping When You Need an Immediate Replacement

Trent Hamm

Yesterday, while in the middle of a conference call, our home telephone dropped dead.

The phone’s small screen went black, came back on, and then refused to connect to the base. I switched to another phone – and the same problem occurred. I called back into the conference call using Skype, but afterwards, I continued to investigate. I ran through every diagnostic in the manual and a few more I found online to no avail.

Something was simply broken with the phone.

I needed a functional replacement quickly. The very next day (yes, that means today), I was scheduled for two additional phone calls that I needed to be on, plus we were receiving regular updates about an ailing relative.

This would have been a perfect excuse to just run to the store, pick up an imperfect quick replacement, and muddle through using it.

Instead, it was an opportunity to figure out what the best method is when you need to buy an immediate replacement for an item.

First, I researched the item thoroughly online. What phones were out there that had the options I needed? I hit Amazon. I hit a few other sites that offered many reviews of cordless phones.

After some deliberation, I found myself with a list of models that I would consider buying. This took about half an hour.

I then hit the websites of various retailers in my area. I searched to find out if they had any of the models in stock in the stores near me. I actually found several different options when doing it, as certain phones were carried by certain chains and a few were carried by multiple chains.

This gave me a list of phone models, prices, and locations in my area from which to make a decision. This list, made in a spreasheet, took about fifteen minutes.

Once I had that list, I read through a few reviews again to help me make my final decision and then moved forward with the purchase by selecting a store and a model to buy. I verified it was in stock before I went to purchase it.

One other big step: I made this trip into a multi-errand stop. I also needed to pick up a few groceries and stop by the post office, so I got those things in order as well. I finished up my shopping list before I left and collected together all of my mail, too.

The end result? I wound up with a pretty good phone at the best price I could find. In other words, for about fifty minutes’ worth of work, I maximized the bang for the buck from my phone purchase (with the caveat, of course, that I needed to pick it up quickly). I also focused on maximizing the value of my trip by compounding it with other stops.

Sometimes, life hands you unexpected expenses. That doesn’t mean you have to stop, throw your hands up in the air, and just pay out the nose for an inferior product. Even if you need to have something quickly, you can still take the time to improve the bang for the buck you’ll get with your purchase.

Good luck!

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Dawn says:

    That is what I had to do for my tv that went kablooey! I reasearched and called around, but I took a couple of days (still have to work) and then got it on the weekend. Well worth the time invested.

  2. Hannah says:

    Have you used yokel.com? It would have saved you so much time in this exact situation! You can search for a product and it will tell you which local stores have it in stock. I found it really useful when my ear buds broke and I didn’t want to go to every store in the area to find the best price, like I would have if shopping online.

  3. I wish I would’ve read this earlier. I have been burnt several times on new phones. My advice: DON’T BUY THE INEXPENSIVE ONES. They are pure crap–and you’ll end up spending more money in short order to replace them!

    Go with a name. Like in the articel, do a little research. Find the best price–for a good phone.

  4. Johanna says:

    I am surprised that, as fond as Trent is of calculating his hourly rate for absolutely everything, he stops short of trying to estimate how much money he saved from those fifty minutes of work.

  5. Gretchen says:

    Nor does he have his mail delivered, Johanna.

    (perhaps that’s not an option at his house.) That part of the post is strange.

  6. marta says:

    Gretchen: PO box, perhaps? I don’t know how that works in the States, but many home-based businesses don’t like using their actual address for correspondence. :: shrugs ::

  7. Gretchen says:

    We just replaced a tv with a blown picture tube and did some online research and a little store comparision.

    What I found most interesting about the whole thing was that
    1. There are no independent TV/small electronic stores, at least around here. It’s chains or nothing.

    2. Once you pick the size, there weren’t many other things to decide.

  8. anna says:

    Trent doesn’t say he stopped to pick up his mail, he said he grabbed his mail before he left his house, which means that he was probably mailing packages or had items that he wasn’t sure of the postage amount on.

    I personally am suprised that Trent’s family hasn’t switched to just a cell phone for each adult. Cell phone plans are getting extremely cheap nowdays and with an hour commute for his wife, you could easily communicate no matter where either one of you is.

  9. Johanna says:

    It sounded to me like the trip to the post office was to *send* mail (since he gathered together his (outgoing) mail before he left). Maybe he doesn’t have mail pickup at his home (not unusual – I don’t either), or maybe he had to have packages weighed, pay for priority mail, or something like that.

  10. Kai says:

    Mail pickup at the house exists? Where? I am unfamiliar with this…

    I think this is strongly lacking in consideration of the worth of the 45minutes spent.

    the trip out was necessary, and combining it with other errands is great. But the 45 minutes of research has a time cost as well, and that is missing from this equation. Did taking 35 extra minutes save you enough to be worth it (assuming that ten minutes of looking would be a basic need)?
    On an expensive purchase, 45 minutes of research probably saves a lot. But on a phone, which are usually quite cheap, I think it might be more questionable.

    Now, if this was an exercise in process, then it might be worthwhile for future use, regardless of savings on this one in specific.

  11. Brandon says:

    So how much $$ did you save (per hour) on buying the phone? And what type of phone did you settle on?

  12. Gretchen says:

    Ah, I misread!

    (But the post office will pick up your packages if the postage is not paid in stamps. I think you have to tell them you need pickup. _

  13. triLcat says:

    I find it odd that you don’t have one normal old-style wired phone in the house that you can use in an emergency.
    We have a decent dect phone for household use, but the one on my nightstand is a regular corded phone of the type that cost $10-12 about 20 years ago (seriously, I know that it was in my parents’ house before I left for college in ’95.) It’s also useful if there’s a power outage and you still want to use a landline.

  14. Robin Crickman says:

    Rural mail routes have pickup of letters and
    packages (with appropriate postage attached).
    Carriers will even bring stamps if you order
    them (and prepay via credit card). On our farm
    the rural carrier will even bring large packages
    up to the house; sometimes its nice to live rural.

    Trent, I hope you ailing relative is better soon.

  15. Jane says:

    Yes, you should always have a corded phone for emergencies. Plus I find that they last forever, even the cheap ones. We actually only have the old-fashioned phones, since we live in an old house and don’t have phone lines that close to outlets. Darn those people in the 1920s who didn’t anticipate cordless phones and answering machines that would need electricity!

    Trent had me up until the spreadsheet, which I thought was a little much. I might do that for a larger purchase to comparison price, but not for a small purchase.

  16. jgonzales says:

    You can now buy postage online if you know the weight. Personally, I don’t use many stamps so when I do need one or two (about once a month) then I simply run to the post office and buy/mail out stuff directly. While I know I can buy a book of stamps, I never do because I can’t justify to myself spending X number of dollars now when it will cost the same amount buying them individually over time.

  17. Bill in NC says:

    Private mail boxes (PMB) are also popular here in the U.S., and give you a street address for package delivery.

    And I keep my cordless phone base (multiple remote handsets) on a large UPS (which also powers a DSL modem) for use during power failures.

  18. sandra jensen says:

    So what did you get – I also need a new phone!

  19. A great point made above is that the most important thing to first calculate is how much your time is worth because for some people spending 50 minutes to research is a great money saver while for others they would in fact lose money and probably give themselves a headache to boot. Great tips though!

  20. Rosa Rugosa says:

    Yes, three cheers for the inexpensive landline that lasts forever! In fact, we only replaced the rotary dial phone because it had yellowed so, and it looked awful after we painted the kitchen. So now we have the basic $11. touch-tone phone. We also have the three handset cordless deal, but those things just aren’t built to last . . I would never rely on one as our primary phone, and we are happily cell-free.

  21. J says:

    Also with the corded phone, you always know where it is. No running around the house trying to find a handset!

  22. Maureen says:

    I agree about the corded phone. When the power goes out it’s the only one that works! Now that the crisis has past, keep your eyes peeled for a cheap one at the thrift store. Doesn’t your house have extensions in various rooms?

  23. This is exactly how it should be done. There is a huge difference between an emergency buy and an impulse buy.

    When this happens, do what research you can, and make the best (quick) decision you have with the info available.

  24. Kathleen says:

    Not to be rude, but researching a phone replacement is absolutely NOT worth 45 minutes (or more) of my time. If you go to Best Buy, most of the phones will be of a sufficient quality and decently priced for anyone’s needs. While I agree with this approach for bigger items where you might be able to derive a few hundred or thousand dollars in savings (large TVs, stereos, cars, etc.), the time trade-off doesn’t seem worth it for smaller items.

  25. Whirlmind says:

    It would have been better if you had put up your background material collected during your research also, with the links, brands and the spreadsheet. I know this may be out of place for the flow and style of a blog post of a lay user. Which is why I suggest, may be you should have a separate section linked from your blog, (may be a Google Sites page ) where you put up your “scrapbook” contents that lie behind a particular blog post. At the end of the post, you can say, to know more detail, click here to go the scrapbook page. Obviously, the scrapbook would be something that wouldn’t need any embellishment, writing style etc and can just be a notepad file or a spreadsheet.

  26. Sandy says:

    Won’t you only know what a good decision you made after several years? How can you make sure you got the best deal? Really, we still use the same landline we’ve had for years (another plus..they DO last for years, ours is 20 years old!)We’ve bought other models for different places we’ve lived, but they all seemed to die, except the good old-fashioned kind.
    Do a report on this after your new phone been in your home for a decade or more.

  27. Hope D says:

    I bought a new phone in November. I did the research. The phones I bought were well reviewed. They are awful. We have a corded rotary we use in emergencies, and I agree having a corded phone is smart.

    I think Trent was smart in the time spent researching the phone, because He probably got a good one. He hopefullly won’t have to replace it real soon. He also did not have to go stand in the store and try to pick one out. He will also have a phone with the features he wants and no buyer remorse.

    I agree with another poster about the spread sheet. I wouldn’t have done that. But Trent does them often, so it’s probably like making a list for me.

  28. Nancy says:

    This will sound incredibly old fashioned but we still have a couple of corded phones. They are not as tempermental they still work when the electricity is out, and can be found at yard sales. My daughter recently moved and her phones quit working right after she moved. We gave her a corded one until she had time to get a new phone. Granted we use cordless phones 99% of the time but they are great as a backup or in a lesser used part of the house.

  29. Karla says:

    @Johanna (#4)

    My thought exactly!

  30. Mel says:

    I disagree about 45/50 minutes being too long to spend on research. The last time I bought a cordless phone, I spent at least half an hour deciding in the one shop I had easy access to – not to mention the frustration and stress of having the assistants offer to ‘help’ (they basically read the boxes to me), and having to make a decision on the spot.

    That was maybe a year and a half ago, I’m now looking for a new one. I will definitely invest the hour in research this time around!

  31. Kathleen says:

    @Mel — I also just don’t see how it’s possible to spend 30 minutes trying to pick phone in the store. Walk in, read a few boxes yourself, and pick. 5-10 minutes, max. And how is it “stress” to have a salesperson attempt to help you? If you don’t want the help, just tell them you’re fine on your own.

    Maybe I’m just coming from a different perspective than many other people, but I don’t think these very small choices need to take much effort or thought — and they certainly don’t rise to the level of stressful.

  32. John S says:

    For those of you who can’t understand why it’s worth spending 30-60 minutes researching a telephone purchase: This avoids some risk of buying a crappy phone that either a) isn’t ideal for your long-term needs, or b) is poorly manufactured and might break again soon.

    The reason Trent can not compute the exact savings from the research is that he does not know if/when the new phone might break. For example, if his research steered him away from buying a phone that reviewers say broke within the first year 75% of the time, then his projected “savings” would arguably include 75% of the purchase price of the theoretical replacement for *this* new phone in a year or less,(which he now, theoretically, does not have to purchase.)

    Or are you suggesting Trent should build into his calculations the assumption that any new phone, of any brand, will never break? Or that they will all experience the *exact same* failure rate? If that were true, then yes, product research would be somewhat pointless. But we all know that isn’t true, so once again, we are back to the point where I fail to understand your objections to doing the research.

    Isn’t it enough to just acknowledge and accept that doing a modicum of product research is nearly *always* advisable, when purchasing something over X dollars that you want to last? (Everyone can define X for herself.)

    If you still can’t get behind that concept, then to each his own, I guess. Some of you are asking Trent to quantify the unquantifiable, which seems more argumentative than helpful.

  33. John S says:

    Also, regarding the cell phone use as the primary phone: If Trent regularly has conference calls, this is not a feasible alternative. Just a few conference calls per week can easily add up to 1000 minutes in a month by themselves. Therefore, cell phones aren’t usually a good alternative for people who work at home.

    That said, I use my cell phone as my primary phone, and I work at home. I use Skype for all my daytime calls, though. Why not? I’m right here at the computer anyway. I suppose Trent could adopt this practice too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *