Apple rolled out the iPhone 6 this month and—to a technofile like me—the goods are tempting: a larger screen, a better camera, and all my credit cards synced up to one device.
Some people are born with an inner sense of frugality that makes it easy to resist trendy products. To others like me, the allure of shiny new gadget is kryptonite.
Every time I talk myself down from my last techy infatuation, the market drops yet another “best” graphics card, camera, or cell phone. And I admit that I’ve succumbed more times than I’d like.
If you find yourself lusting after a new phone before you really need it—as in, does your phone still make calls and send texts, then you don’t need a new one—here’s a method I’ve used to abstain from unnecessary upgrades.
Find three clear reasons NOT to buy it
The first two questions I ask could be considered counterintuitive to what most would call rational financial thinking:
- “Is there a better model for which I could be saving?”
- “How long until the next best thing comes around the corner?”
Notice how I bypass “Do I really need this?” or “Shouldn’t you be saving for retirement/honeymoon/anything else?” I do this because in the moment of temptation, the signals my brain is pumping about the benefits of delayed gratification are completely overwhelmed by my impulsive desires.
Instead, if I consider whether the tempting product is really the best one I could buy, or investigate if something better is around the corner, it tends to ease my purchase impulse. I may decide to hold off and save up for the next model, or wait until the next generation is released. The majority of the time, letting the moment pass brings me to back to my senses and I don’t end up buying the item at all.
Lastly, the question that has the greatest impact on my purchase decision is:
- “How long will I actually use this thing?”
I liken this to the rationale my buddy Rich uses when he purchased a $500 pair of Alden shoes. Sure, the cost seems extreme in the moment, but if he treats them well, Rich will be wearing his Aldens after I’ve gone through half a dozen pairs of discount rack wingtips.
This rationale may not resonate with you when you consider the current model cycle for smartphones and DSLRs, and that’s the point. If you’re pragmatic in your approach to this question, you might surprise yourself with how differently you see your relationship with technology, and how long you actually hold on to your now “antiquated” iPhone 4S or Galaxy S III.
If you’re still not sure you can convince yourself that you’ll be holding onto the device for a while, or if the item in question doesn’t promise a long life, consider this question:
- “What will this replace?”
Dave and I grew up in a household filled with artifacts our parents collected from their travels and past houses. As a result, my nature is biased towards collecting, not replacing.
However, when it comes to my tech stuff, changing to a replacement policy has provided a benefit beyond just having less clutter. It can have a cost benefit as well. For example, when I first upgraded my iPhone from a 3GS to the 4S, I was able to sell my 3GS for $150, slightly reducing the gross cost my iOS habit. Trade-in programs and plenty of eBay buyers are making it easier to get top dollar selling your old phone.
On the flip side, I was able to use this logic to talk myself out of purchasing a tablet not too long ago. The impulse was strong—I had even made my way to the Apple store after work to seal the deal.
As I stood at the counter, I talked myself down as I realized that I just wouldn’t use the damned thing enough to justify the $500 expense. It wasn’t going to replace my computer, or phone, so there wasn’t any real cost reduction to consider. Nor was there a chance I was going to be using this thing on a regular basis after three or four years.
Now, if I were truly inspired, I could have celebrated my triumph over impulse and dropped what was about to be a wasted $500 in my Roth. Sorry, I’m not that kind of guy. Instead, I’ll hold onto it until the next best thing comes around, and I’ll either end up with something new and shiny, or yet another anecdote in the ongoing saga of my struggles with financial responsibility.