*** To my readers, this is what's known as a green vegetable post. It's not terribly appetizing, but it's good for you. So while the subject matter may be a tad dry, just force it down. Dessert will be along soon enough. ***
I don't know a single person who likes being presented with choice. Don't get me wrong -- we like having options. We're often frustrated if we feel we don't have enough options.
But choice? Choosing implies that you are giving up one item for another. Choosing brings to mind trade-offfs and compromises. And, really, who wants to accept that if they don't absolutely have to?
Still, frugality is all about choices. It's about deciding what is a priority and what is not. As we all like to remind the rest of the world, being frugal isn't about depriving yourself. It's about choosing how and where you want to spend your money.
The angst of choice
When I started talking about choosing, I'm betting that at least a couple of you felt a quick hint of dread. Why wouldn't you? Choosing often means research and critical thinking. It's tiring and can lead to arguments, if two people have different priorities.
But lately it feels like all I have done is make choices about various things. Even items we end up not buying can require a conscious decision to abstain from purchase.
And all that can feel pretty onerous, until you realize that it's just a larger scale of what you already do automatically.
Making the choice
Decision making is actually a pretty simple process. It's the same steps, whether you're considering buying a house or just choosing between generic and name-brand canned fruit.
The stress of the choice is entirely added by us. And, sometimes, for good reason. Certainly, there are much bigger consequences to buying a house than choosing to spend 50 cents more for the name-brand peaches.
Still, it's good to remember that the complex emotions come solely from your own head. Because if you can step out of that momentarily and look at the facts in an unbiased way, you will often find the choice is a lot simpler.
- Identify pros and cons of each option
- Compare these to your priorities/needs
- Decide which one is closest to that need
It sounds simplistic, but it's true. If you are looking at the store-brand peaches vs Dole, you note the follow:
- Dole is a known quantity (or, rather in this case, quality)
- The generic is cheaper by 50 cents
- You then consider any past experiences you've had with that store brand.
You then assess your goals:
- To have a can of peaches to eat
- To spend as little money as possible.
- To have the peaches be something you enjoy (or you've wasted the purchase price)
Once you compare all that, you come to one of two conclusions:
- The other store-brand items were perfectly tasty; you want to save fifty cents. You buy the generic.
- The last store-brand item wasn't as good as the name-brand. You'll pay the extra fifty cents to ensure quality. You buy the name-brand peaches.
That's it. Those are the only steps you ever have to take to make a decision. The only variable is how many options you have and the pros/cons of each scenario.
Below, I go ahead and use an example of a real-life, more-than-two-options, decision. If you're already sick of financial decision-making talk, feel free to stop reading here. If you're curious to see just how my twisted lil mind works, read on. (Though in this case, it was a relatively straight-forward deal.)
On Thanksgiving, I had to make a decision about whether to take advantage of Black Friday computer sales.
Our computer was running increasingly slowly, thanks to a virus that we thought had been removed. (You get what you pay for, I suppose.) The computer refused to defrag, which is probably why it was running more and more slowly.
I had to decide whether to try to buy a new one, which would solve our computer problems but exacerbate our financial ones, or to try to stick it out with the old one, which might be fixable.
If we chose to buy, there were three choices: a laptop for $300 (after rebate), a desktop for $500, or just buy a new hard drive.
The pros of keeping the computer we had:
1. Not spending any money. This had a lot of weight.
2. We have some Microsoft support time, so there was a chance it could be fixed for free.
3. It has Windows 2000 on it, which Tim needs to play his Magic game online. None of the computers on sale offered anything but Vista
The cons of keeping the computer we had:
1. It was running like molasses, causing aggravation for Tim
2. It is already 4 years old, and who knows when it will choose to die completely.
3. Waiting until it dies might mean missing out on a good computer sale now.
The pros of the laptop:
1. It was much faster and nicer than our current model
2. It was very affordable
3. It would fill a need we had -- namely, a good working computer
The cons of the laptop:
1. We would have to put it on a credit card.
2. Laptops are harder to get fixed except by professionals
3. It was a limited-quantity item, which would mean getting to Staples at around 4 a.m.
4. It ran Vista and we weren't sure if there was an option for Windows 2000 to be installed instead.
The pros of the desktop:
1. Much faster and nicer than our current hardware.
2. Easier to fix than a laptop
3. Was available all day online
4. Came with an LCD monitor and a printer we could sell to off-set cost.
The cons of the desktop:
1. We'd still have to put it on the card
2. It cost more than the laptop, and we couldn't be sure the monitor & printer would sell
3. It also ran Vista and there was no way to request Windows 2000.
The pros of buying a new hard drive:
1. Much cheaper solution than the other two.
2. Would still get us a much better computer.
3. We could install Windows 2000 on it.
The cons of buying a new hard drive:
1. Still spending money
2. We were visiting the in-laws, so there was no way to know what would be compatible with our current hardware.
In order to compare more easily, I drew out a table because, yes, I am that nerdy. I made a category for cost (to buy or fix), the chance of getting Windows 2000, speed/memory space, and a few other points, such as potential resale value of the monitor and printer with the desktop.
In the end, I decided to risk waiting. I simply couldn't justify putting more money on the card without seeing if the computer could be saved. Also, with the economy in the shape it is, I figured there will be plenty of sales to take advantage of, if we do have to replace our desktop.
But until I sat down and compared, line-by-line the pros and cons of each scenario, I was unable to form a decision. Once they were written down, the choice was relatively clear. (I say relatively because it was very tempting to just get the desktop. So it was hard to not rationalize buying it.)
I hope this example helps you with future decisions. I know it's a little dry as subjects go, but it's an important one nonetheless.
In the end, I decided to wait and not put anything more on the cards. It took a few hours of staring at my table and comparing the different scenarios.
So that's it, folks. The veggies are done. So stop trying to feed them to the dog under the table. And I'll try to get some ice cream posts in soon!
If you need a nice palette-cleansing course, may I suggest checking out the Carnival Debt Reduction, which includes a piece of mine.