In the past, my buying pattern used to be like this – Hmm, it has been a couple of years since I purchased my last laptop / phone / insert some tech gadget here, I think it is time to upgrade. Let me see what the latest and greatest available technology is today in the market. Core i7 with 4 cores and nVidia graphics card is the latest. What is a good laptop brand? Ok, let me buy it. Done! Do you see any issues with this kind of thinking? Well there are a lot of things that are wrong with what I just said there.
For starters, there was no talk of budget for the laptop. Then there are no requirements laid out. What is the primary purpose of the laptop. What do I need for it? More RAM or more CPU capabilities? The latest and greatest may not be the right choice. If it costs me Rs. 50K and gets the job done in 10 mins, while the latest and greatest will cost me Rs. 90K and completes the task in 9 mins, I think I can wait the extra minute and spend less money.
Also, the #1 component always costs a lot more than #2, but the difference in performance is barely anything to write home about. For example Intel Core i7 is not that much faster than Core i5. But I try to buy the best in the hopes of future proofing. This never really worked out as well as I anticipated. Technology changes quite rapidly and the #1 of today will be slower when compared with #2 the next year.
Things have changed quite a bit since I embarked on the minimalism lifestyle though. Now when I buy things, I have a different way of looking at them. First, I have a budget in mind for pretty much anything I want to buy. As an example, for a laptop, the budget is Rs. 50K. Then I have a time duration in mind between buying the same item again. For example, the sweet spot for buying a laptop is 3 to 5 years. So I will absolutely try and avoid buying a new laptop before the 3 years are up since my last laptop purchase.
Then I make a list of things that I really need in the gadget. Going by the same example, I need a laptop primarily for coding. I usually have multiple code editors running along with multiple emulators which all hog memory like there is no tomorrow. So ideally I need a laptop with large amount of RAM or at least the RAM should be upgradable. I don’t need a powerful CPU since my code rarely needs to be compiled for more than a few minutes at a time and at very infrequent intervals.
After making a list of required attributes, I then go for a list of “nice to have” things. These could be a higher resolution screen, or a graphics card etc in the case of a laptop. Then research the gadgets using my spreadsheet matrix which takes into account the budget, required specs and nice to haves. Then I shortlist top 3 from the list and when the time and price is right, I buy one of them. Usually it turns out to be my #2 choice in most cases because of budget constraints :). But I am never disappointed or feel buyers remorse because I have done all my research and shortlisted the 3 very best, all of which meet my requirement criteria.
A really important aspect about buying things is to wait for the right time. I don’t buy things anymore on a whim. I apply the principle of delayed gratification. It means I have to wait until there is a sale like during festival season or something. In my previous life, I would buy the gadget as soon as I feel like I need it and would never wait for offers.
As you might have noticed, I do not put a lot of stress on the brands especially if it is not an expensive purchase like a mobile phone. For slightly expensive gadgets like laptops for example, I do prefer to go with brands that have good warranty and name in the game. For even more expensive ones, I certainly prefer great brands.
All of this logic only applies to gadgets whose technology keeps changing quite frequently. Where the technology does not change as much like a refrigerator or a washing machine, I prefer to go with the best in class for my requirements. I usually have a very generous budget for these kinds of devices because I prefer to buy brand name, expensive gadget and keep it for lifetime if possible with regular maintenance, upkeep and minor repairs as needed. For a good treatment on how I make the choice between buying cheap vs expensive, you can read my previous post on how I spend as a minimalist.