The other day, I went out for coffee with my teen-aged son. My son and I went on a Sunday and I was not sure whether the bakery would be open as it was late in the day. My son asked why we were going to that particular bakery; since there is a coffee shop that he knew would be open nearby. I explained that I had seen on a local frugalista website that the coffee was being given away to get people to try to the bakery.
Upon hearing my reasons for choosing that particular bakery, my son gave me a dumbfounded stare and declared that (i) I was really weird for using the word frugalista and (ii) even if the bakery were closed, we could still get coffee at the coffee shop as it was their BOGO hour. I had to agree with my son on the use of the word frugalista but, more importantly, I was really quite pleased that he knew that the coffee shop had a BOGO hour and that we would possibly be arriving during it.
Even though my son may not be researching the best deals that he can find, he does seem to be learning a bit about maximizing the value that he can derive from his earnings now and throughout adulthood. He may not consider himself a frugalista, but he is at least learning that by planning his purchases, he can make his money stretch much farther than it would if he just spent money on full priced items.
There are a lot of ways that I have wasted money over the years, and a lot of lessons that I wish I had learned as a teen. As I look at what my son will be buying in years to come, I hope that he learns the following sooner rather than later:
Bigger does not Mean Better: When I was about fifteen, I bought myself a boom box. I remember going to Service Merchandise and buying the largest “portable” stereo that they had. I knew nothing about the stereo other than its size. I used it for several years but it was far from the best purchase that I could have made. It had more features than I needed and it was far too large for me to comfortably carry it wherever I went. As a result, it generally stayed in my room and I had to rely on my friends to bring a truly portable stereo when we played basketball or football. More importantly, as I learned years later, the speakers on my stereo were inferior to the much better quality speakers that I could have gotten for less money in a better quality stereo that had fewer features.
Appearance is not as Important as Function: I made a similar mistake a couple of years later when I bought a component stereo system. I remember driving to Lechmere (now defunct, but a store that I enjoyed) and purchasing a Fisher component system for $898. The driving force behind my purchasing decision was the color of the system. Again, I should have been paying attention to the speakers more than the color or anything else. The stereo served my needs for many years but, as with the boom box, I paid for features that I did not need and got inferior quality as compared to what I might have purchased.
Start with Low Tech and Work from There: I know that I need billing, time-keeping and other software for my new business, but I have no idea which programs I should be purchasing. If I make a purchase now, before I truly understand the merits of each option and the actual needs that I will have in my office, I will be making a purchasing decision based on guess work. Rather than make an uninformed decision, I am working with the lowest tech options available to me and I will upgrade later when I know what I need. The same philosophy, I have learned, works best for any kind of technology purchase. For example, if you do not know why you would need a particular feature on your cell phone, don’t buy it. If you have lived this long without it, you will probably continue to thrive without it.
Never Make a Major Purchase on the Day that you Decide you Want to Make It: Before spending any amount of money that you consider to be “a lot of money,” sleep on it for a day. Sometimes a deal may seem great on the day you see it but, after a day of reflection, it will not look so great.
Always Know the Return Policy: This is a simple lesson but one that I learned the hard way several times in my youth. Know the return policy before you pay for anything and always make sure you get a receipt. While this should seem like common sense, it is not always the case for young buyers (and some older buyers).
What lessons do you wish you had learned when you were younger? What are the hardest lessons to actually learn? Do we ever stop learning?