How to Spend a Fraction of What Most People do on Electronics Without Having to Sacrifice Much

Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Technology can be amazing, but it can also be amazingly expensive. Beyond the direct cost of buying it, there are numerous indirect costs – the environmental costs of devices being thrown away, the opportunity costs of the materials and labor being dedicated to production, the health costs of the time people spend interacting with screens, etc. This post probably won’t convince anyone to be a technology minimalist. But hopefully I can give you an idea or two that will help you to slash the direct cost of your technology. And just maybe we can all reduce some of those indirect ones in the process as well.

Buy last year’s technology.

We’ve all seen people waiting in some ridiculous line for the privilege of spending a small fortune on the latest IPhone or some other gadget. That is pretty near the exact opposite of the behavior that’s going to make you successful in life. Those people are guaranteed to pay more than anyone else will for their technology and they are much more likely to have problems with it as well, since some companies are now using their most dedicated customers as beta testers (hell, it looks like Boeing just might be doing it with airplanes now…). If you wait a year (or longer), you will pay less for a product that has had most of its initial issues worked out. Plus, no matter what any marketing department or “fanboy” tells you, you’re not missing out on anything. When was the last time a new smart phone, tv, computer, or any other electronic device did anything worthwhile its predecessor from the prior year couldn’t do? Most of these are extremely mature products now and genuine innovation is rare.

For example, Microsoft Office hasn’t changed in any meaningful way in half the years I’ve spent on this earth. Microsoft just keeps rearranging things, adding bullshit features 99% of people will never use, and slapping an ever growing price tag on the resulting package. A while back, they even decided to drop the whole charade and just start renting the software to people so they can charge more and more, year after year, for the same thing, without even having to pretend that’s not what they’re doing. And while this particular scam may be totally out in the open, there are plenty of similar ones being run by companies that aren’t quite so brazen, particularly in the technology world. The Galaxy S27, or whatever number we’re on now, will be the Galaxy S26 with a few new gimmicks, an even bigger screen (Soon even NBA centers will need special tools to be able to hold the things since even their giant hands will be woefully inadequate – but then, maybe that’s just what the manufacturers have been working towards all along – more accessories to hawk!), and an even bigger price tag. Some people are catching on to this but way too many are not.

Keep it for a while.  

Phones have gotten so expensive that they’re now routinely being financed. Out of morbid interest, I once read the fine print on one of those “offers” and unsurprisingly, it was charging a credit card level interest rate. This is how addicted people are to having the latest, greatest thing – and as I mentioned above, there is usually almost no practical difference at all. If you treat your electronics like assets, as opposed to this year’s disposable fashion statement, like so many people seem to, you’re going to pay substantially less over time and you won’t have to enter into any financing arrangements that should only be available from guys who deal exclusively in cash and whose collection tactics start with thinly veiled threats and quickly escalate to physical violence. Every month you keep something, your denominator goes up and your average monthly cost goes down. I’d say good targets are five years for phones, ten years for desktop computers, seven years for laptops, and about forty years for tvs (possibly a slight exaggeration, but I do feel entitled to expect a somewhat extended lifespan given that mine operates maybe a couple hundred hours a year).

It definitely helps if you aren’t glued to these things 24/7, since the life of usually non-replaceable (in theory at least) batteries is the bottleneck with many devices and more use equals faster death. Maybe try talking to the people around you and, I don’t know, looking them in the eyes while you do it. Or at least give it a try while you’re driving. Seriously, have you ever been driving down the highway and really looked around you? Even for a cynic like me, it’s stunning how many people are staring down into their laps. You really can’t un-see something like that. It’s even worse in public places where people aren’t operating vehicles. It’s almost mind blowing.

Buy refurbished where it makes sense.

I’ve had pretty good luck with this stuff. I’m typing this on a computer I bought refurbished for roughly half what new ones with comparable specs were selling for. I bought a refurbished tv almost seven years ago that to my knowledge, my Mom is still using. I don’t always buy refurbished but when I have, it has worked out well and I’ve saved a lot of money. Yes, there is some amount of risk. But the survival rate of anything is zero on a long enough timeline. With electronics, that timeline isn’t long (especially if you factor in obsolescence) and most of the depreciation happens the second you open the box. My rationale is that if a refurbished item doesn’t fail right away, both future prospects and current value are about the same as an item that was bought new from that point on – except the cost was significantly lower. I tend to be a bird in the hand kind of guy. I don’t know if it still is, but newegg.com used to be a great place to find refurbished electronics. But you can find them just about anywhere now. I got this computer on Amazon. I always recommend shopping around – refurbished or otherwise.

Buy when it makes sense.

I’m no expert at this, but there are definitely better times than others to buy electronics. The deals usually seem to be pretty good at Black Friday and while I would sooner saw one of my legs completely off with a rusty screwdriver (yes, you read that right; think about it – the bits of rust become the teeth of the “saw”) than go to any retail establishment within about a week of that day since it seems to be expanding outwards, most of the same deals are also available online. As far as I can tell, Costco runs its promotions for a few weeks at a time, even during that part of the year, so you can go when it’s not so crazy. I’m no expert in this particular area since I don’t buy this stuff very often. But it definitely pays to do your research on this and act accordingly.

Don’t assume more expensive means better.

I have a Moto X cell phone that I paid $300 for and a Samsung Galaxy S7 work phone that probably cost more than twice that much. I may be crazy, but I prefer the Moto X all day; and it’s over two years older than the Samsung to boot. It just seems to be a more streamlined, smoother performing phone and it has certainly aged more gracefully. As a guy who has owned both Samsung and Vizio tvs, again, the cheaper tv was a better experience for me. While this is an admittedly small sample size and it may only prove that Samsung is an overrated brand, the point remains valid. The highest price isn’t necessarily indicative of the best overall quality. Do your research and you may find you don’t need to spend as much as you think – particularly if you care more about core quality and longevity than what I would consider more frivolous features that operate at the periphery of the product experience. For example, and this is more in my wheelhouse than a lot of this stuff, a BMW is going to offer more cutting edge technology features than a Honda, but the Honda is going to be a far more reliable and efficient car.

In general, technology is a tool that can be used to make life easier in specific ways. It is not a status symbol or a substitute for genuine human interaction. If you maintain that mindset, you should avoid throwing away a small fortune over a lifetime and it really shouldn’t involve much sacrifice. Consider this. If you started today, and you had to have a new IPhone every other year for the rest of your life, you could potentially spend over $25k on this habit where someone like me spent well under 20% of that (and no, I didn’t bother to adjust for inflation – so it will actually be worse than this for you Apple zealots). If you really think you’re getting more than 500% of the value I am, and you really, REALLY value this particular area of your life, then I guess go ahead – with the knowledge that you’re going to make sacrifices elsewhere in some form to compensate for the difference. But I really can’t see anyone making that argument successfully if they’re being honest with themselves. And if you follow one or more of my tips, you can cut the expense significantly even if you feel you would die without an Apple logo on your phone or other electronic devices.

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