The other day I was perusing another personal finance message board when I came upon, of all things, a debate about the merits of Blu-ray versus standard DVD. It came about because someone was mad that they were being “forced” to buy a combo pack that included both formats because the movie studio refused to release the DVD-only option. The person was upset that they had to pay the higher price when all they wanted was the standard DVD.
Anyway, the Blu-ray camp was defending the higher resolution and better picture, while the DVD camp was saying that the difference wasn’t enough to matter to them, or to make it worth shelling out more for the player and the movies themselves. At some point in the argument, one poster threw up their virtual hands and said, “Oh, for crying out loud. Blu-ray players are dirt cheap. Just buy one, get the [dang] movie, and be done with it. Stop whining about something that’s so cheap!”
At that point I just shook my head. (Remember, this was on a personal finance board where the careful spending of money, not the random blowing of money, should be the priority.) Sure, you can occasionally find a Blu-ray player in the $40-50 range, if you’re willing to choose the cheapest, lowest quality option. But if you want one that gets good reviews and has more functions (like internet streaming that might allow you to get rid of cable which would be a money saver), you’re looking at paying closer to $100 or more. That might be “dirt cheap” to someone who has a large income or a lot of extra cash lying around, but it’s not an inconsiderable amount to many people. And if they don’t feel like the picture gain is worth it, then it’s money wasted.
I see this a lot with other things. People have encouraged me to get a smartphone by telling me that they are “dirt cheap” now. Well, they may be but given that I have no use for the features of one, any amount spent on a smartphone would be a waste of money to me. The same is true of stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, tablet computers, new cars (how anyone can think of this as dirt cheap still escapes me), kitchen gizmos, and swimming pools, all things that people have encouraged me to get at one time or another. Over the years, people have told me things like, “Oh, you should upgrade this because prices have come down so much.” Or, “Those are so cheap now it doesn’t make sense to keep the old one.” And, “An upgrade doesn’t cost as much as you think. Get with the times.”
While these people may be well-meaning, what they fail to appreciate is that, in most cases, I don’t see the need or have the desire to buy whatever it is that’s so “cheap.” I don’t like stainless, don’t care for granite, have no use for a tablet other than to play with it in the free time I have too little of as it is, and I don’t want to tear up my yard with a pool. As for Blu-ray, I guess I fall into the camp that says the picture gain isn’t important enough to me to make it worth the price. (Not that it’s not better, just that it’s not important to me.) So no matter how cheap this stuff is, it isn’t going to make me happy. I prefer to keep what I have because it meets my needs without a lot of extra features I don’t need or want, and it keeps my costs down. If, at some point, I see an upgrade as worthwhile, I would certainly consider it. But that time isn’t now.
This is how a lot of people get into trouble, though. They hear the chants of “dirt cheap” and figure, “Why not?” Then they pay for something that they didn’t really need or want. And these upgrades often come with costs of their own. The tablet and cell phone needs apps and a case. The Blu-ray player requires an HDTV and then the movies themselves cost more than standard DVD’s. The pool has upkeep costs. And so it goes. If what you already have meets your needs and makes you happy, it doesn’t matter how “dirt cheap” the upgrades/new items are. Spending on them is simply wasting money.
If you want to save money, don’t listen to other people who try to pressure you into upgrades. While it might cost less today than it did a year ago and be “cheap” in that sense, it’s not worth paying any price if it’s not something you need, want, or which will make you happy. If you don’t see the extra features as worthwhile, the “cheapest” thing you can do is say no. The good news is that if it’s cheap today, it’ll likely be cheaper next year, especially in the case of electronics. Just hold out until it’s the right time for you to buy.
(Photo courtesy of Gerry Dincher)