The Thrifty Geek: Five Steps To That Next Gadget Buy

Let’s face it: we’re in a difficult economy, we geeks. We covet the expensive, the shiny, the technologically advanced, all in spite of our financial situation. Sure, some geeks are lucky. They’re good with numbers and programming and, in spite of economic woes, can manage to get by and drive new cars and snatch up every single new piece of tech thrown at them. But for many of us, especially those less than ten years out of college in lower-paying jobs, the temptation to buy things you can’t really afford is strong. And sometimes hard to ignore.

But that’s not to say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Okay, so it might not be the exact cake you wanted, and you might have to wait for it, but it’s still cake, right? And chances are, by the end of it, your cake will be far better than you initially thought. Because it won’t be borrowed cake, or cheap cake: it’ll be your cake.

Wait, we’re talking about gadgets here. Just to be clear. (Mmm… cake.)

So here are five steps you can take toward purchasing that gadget you’ve been dreaming of. While the approach is different for everyone, I think these are broad enough for a wide variety of circumstances.

1) Take a good, hard look at your expenses. Honestly, this is scary; but it’s also the most important component to finding financial happiness. Yes, there’s a chance that you’re going to look at your budget and see just how badly you’re off. It might send you running for the hills. But that’s okay. When you come back out of hiding you’ll realize that as a geek information is your greatest weapon, data your shield. Getting a good idea of where your money goes gives you the opportunity to see where you’re spending too much (or not enough). Ignorance, which no geek should ever practice, puts you in a bubble of false comfort: and trust me, that bubble will burst. Remember kids, knowing is half the battle.

2) Budget it out. Consider your expenses in comparison to that big purchase you want to make. Need a new laptop? Well, how important is that data plan on your cell phone? Are you making calls primarily from home? Can you do without GPS for a few months? With data plans upward of $30 a month, that can add up fast. How about cable? We get by fine here on Netflix and Hulu, and save ourselves a good $50 a month that way. If you’re a coffee shop nut like I used to be, start making coffee at home. For what you pay at the coffee shop you could be drinking delicious, designer coffee at home and save a few dollars per day. Most people have lots of expenses that are just fluff; in comparison to getting the big stuff you really want, it’s not that much of a sacrifice.

3) Wait it out. Let the money accrue. Don’t get greedy or look for the easy way out. Don’t take out a loan from grandma. Don’t lean on your credit cards. It may seem like a good idea at the time. But if you’ve read this far in the article, and you are considering budgeting out a tech purchase, chances are you probably can’t afford to put it on a credit card. And who wants to be indebted to family members? I made the credit card mistake at least three times after college, and I am still paying for those computers. Those little minimum payments look so benign—but after paying them month after month after month, they really add up. Yes. Waiting sucks. Seeing your friends with new stuff sucks. But getting your financial life in balance and still getting the gadgets you want is far better.

4) Research it. This is as important as looking at your finances in the first place. Do not go willy-nilly into your purchase. Do not just grab the first phone that looks shiny enough. Do not purchase from just any store. You’re making an investment at this point, so research is of the utmost importance. The best part is that this step gives you a total license to drool. Yes, go to Best Buy. Go to Costco. Go to Wal-Mart if you want. Fiddle around with every similar gadget to the one you’re looking for. Find out what the company warranties are, find out what the merchant’s warranties are (and if they charge extra, how much they cost). Check out Consumer Reports. Ask your friends. Look at reviews online. Know your approach even before you roll up to buy. That way you’re in control, not your impulses. And your impulses probably got you into trouble in the first place. Not to mention your impulses are exactly what merchants are hoping to exploit. They want you to be confused; they want you to panic and buy more than you need. It’s what they do. But you, my friend, you are not that person. Not today.

5) Buy it. Yes! With cash. Take it home. Nuzzle it. Cry a little. Sure, the quest felt impossible. Epic, even. But now that crazy gadget is yours. Whether it was $100 or $1,000, an iPad or a robot, it doesn’t matter. You had a journey, man. You can now sit comfortable knowing you did everything in your power to research a top-notch product, simultaneously getting a better grasp on your financial situation. We’re geeks, we’re not blind consumers. We’re better than that.

As I mentioned, I’m far from innocent in this financial indescretion. And I’m now in the perilous situation of having a four year old computer hinting to me that it’s really not planning on sticking around too much longer. I’d like to say that working as a freelance writer puts me in the “immune to the financial problem” category, but it’s just not so. In fact, I’m probably worse off now than I was the last time I bought a computer. So, instead of going the easy way out, I’m trying to implement all these tips myself. I’ll keep you posted.

Any other financially-challenged geeks out there have some words of wisdom to share? Sound off in the comments.

By: Natania Barron, contributing writer.

[Image CC-attr-2.0 by AMagill]