Buy Only What You Need and Upgrade Only When You Need To

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I’ve had a personal buying philosophy in place for several years, but I don’t know if I’ve ever blogged about it.

When shopping for something, do your best to buy only what you need and upgrade only when you need to.

Far too often we get ahead of ourselves in an effort to be prepared for every single eventuality.  Unfortunately, that can be a very expensive endeavor.

Real Life Example: The Gym Membership

When we moved to Cheyenne, my wife and I decided that we’d do our exercises by taking advantage of walking/running on the greenway that is just a couple of blocks from our house.  We’d considered getting a gym membership, but didn’t want to pay a monthly fee until we proved to ourselves that we’d actually exercise with the free option before pursuing a paid option.

Well, we’ve been doing the free option, and now it’s starting to get cold so we decided to find a gym where we could get a membership.

The YMCA in town has a bunch of exercise options.  There’s a gym, swimming pool, weight room, racket ball court, and more.  A family membership there would cost $55 per month.

The local regional medical health center doesn’t have a swimming pool or racket ball court, but they have plenty of aerobic classes and exercise machines.  The cost of a membership for my wife and I would be $30 per month.

Applying this personal buying philosophy, we’ve decided to start with the cheaper gym membership option.  If we find that after a few months we’re faithfully going to the gym and wanting to take advantage of the extra features at the YMCA, we could ‘upgrade’ at a later date.

Lesson: Always try the cheaper option first and then upgrade according to your usage and needs.

Real Life Example: Home Entertainment Center

After considering the cost of a TV and cable, we decided that we didn’t want to pay for either of those things since we don’t watch TV enough to justify the expense.

We decided that instead of buying a TV, we’d watch TV/movies on one of our laptop computers hooked up to an external monitor (that we got for free with a brokerage account sign up).  It didn’t take me long to decide that I’d rather have Netflix for $7.99 a month than watch free stuff on the computer with advertisements.  Honestly, there’s a time savings (42 minutes to watch a TV episode that is 1 hour on TV), and there is a materialistic benefit.  Advertisements on kids TV shows are all encouraging them to buy something else – the latest toy.  Anyway, we tried a cheaper option first (free), then upgraded to the next cheapest option.

We tried watching our family movie on the laptop with the monitor, but found it hard to hear. (Every Friday night it’s a movie and homemade pizza.) We decided to order speakers.  Again, it would have been possible to go ahead and get a TV, but for the cost of speakers, we have a set up that we like enough for our infrequent movie watching.

Real Life Example: Prepaid Phones

Another thing we did when we first moved was that we started off using prepaid phones for the first few weeks.  We had planned to give it a month or two trial, but unfortunately Verizon was changing their pricing on phones with data plans, so we shortcut the trial process.  In the end, it cost us more by having a prepaid phone for two weeks and then getting a cellular plan, but still I’m glad we did it because if it had given us everything we needed in terms of phones, then we could have saved a lot of money in the long term.

Start Small and Upgrade Later (if desired/needed)

Far too often our first inclination is to go out and buy the latest and greatest.  Start with a basic version of something to see if that will meet your desires/needs.  If you’re finding it insufficient in some way, then you can go ahead and upgrade.  But by applying this small extra step, you can easily save yourself thousands of dollars a year.

When was the last time you bought small?  How frequently do you find yourself wanting to upgrade?


  1. Mary C says

    Great article, Craig. When I moved last year, I had hoped to watch TV only on an antenna but soon discovered that the area I was living wasn’t picking up many channels. Since I already had a TV and had previously had cable included in my rent, I didn’t have a subscription to any plans. I had used the antenna at a previous place I lived and picked up over 22 channels but now was living in town and I only got 3 channels and the clearest was in French….:-) (I’m in Ontario, Canada). Since the phone company I had been with didn’t offer service in my new area, I bit the bullet and bundled things together with a local cable company for internet, cable & telephone. Now that my year is winding down, I’m starting to look for a better option and hope I can find some savings.

  2. Gary Williams says

    Good advice and what I try to do.

    Being frugal is valuable to me with a limited retirement income and is good Stewardship to God.

    RE: TV – I bought “Rabbit Ears” at Wal-Mart for $20, (if they didn’t work I could have returned them. I only get 5 stations, but I can catch the news and an occasional show of interest and sports.

    RE: Gym Membership – I’m on SS & Medicare with a Humana supplement. They provide “Silver Sneakers (SS)” which is FREE membership at the local Gym and with I travel I go to YMCA that offers SS & got for free. Google Silver Sneakers & you’ll there are thousands of places to go. Good tip to share with seniors — surely I’m not the only Senior Citizen who gets your Blogs.

  3. says

    Excellent article! Good read! Exactly what I learned from my dad, only buy stuff when you need them and when buying, buy the sturdy ones that would last. If an item is expensive but it’s known to be durable, buy it instead of choosing the cheaper but low quality item. You’ll end up buying 20 times of that cheaper item, ending up to be more expensive.

  4. says

    Really solid advice! We generally don’t have the desire to upgrade. I guess we are pretty easily satisfied, but we are not influenced much by others’ lifestyles and purchases. We are centered on our family values and put our money towards those things.

  5. Dave says

    Upgrading is expensive since it involves multiple purchases. I recommend extensive research, buy what is best for your needs, and then stick with your decision. Do not second guess yourself. If you make a mistake learn from it but do not waste money changing it. Live with your decisions. Make the best of it.
    Be slow to make spending decisons. Practice developing sales resistance.

    • says

      Upgrading is only more expensive when you decide to upgrade. What about times when you decide what you bought is sufficient for you needs?
      One of the challenges in buying ‘what is best for you needs’ is that sometimes you never know until you try something. I’d rather try a cheaper option first.
      With the gym membership example I did save hundreds of dollars because I decided that I wasn’t going to commit the time to drive to a gym every day. It would have been a big mistake to pay for a year of gym membership without at least trying the a cheaper location.

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