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Free vs. Cool

So last week I started off by looking at the Google “coolness” study with the full intention of writing an article that focused on drawing a relationship between spending habits and caring about what other people think but I got a little side-tracked and just started reminiscing about an 8-Bit Nintendo game from my childhood and somehow that article turned in to a video game review with hints of personal finance sprinkled throughout it. (You can check it out here)

Anyway, in this week’s article we are going to get back to my original intent and look at how “coolness” influences buying decisions. Just think about it. How many things do people purchase for the status associated with owning that thing? If I had to take a guess based off of what I hear and see my co-workers, friends and family buying, I’d have to say “an awful lot”.

You can thank every company ever, and their big advertising budgets, for that.

These days we are constantly bombarded and inundated with advertisements and marketing that we don’t even know why we want something… we just do! We buy an item less because we truly want it and more for the status associated with it. (FI Girl went a bit deeper in to this topic with her Buy Experiences article. Check it out here.)

Lucky for me, I seem to have a natural immunity to this type of societal pressure. (Maybe that’s my superpower?) If a friend, family member or co-worker judged me on a recent purchase (or lack thereof) it never bothered me. They weren’t paying for my purchase, I was. I buy things because I have to or because it makes me happy. What other people think is irrelevant.

Everything comes down to a trade of time for money.

Before I buy anything I figure out how much of my time must be spent to earn the $ yo buy the item versus the Cost in $ for the item. Doing that math usually results in my taking “the cheap option” even when I can “afford more”. Keeping spending to a fraction of what we make, over a period of time, is what is enabling us to embark on this early retirement journey, so it makes sense to do the math.

Some of the big ticket items I have saved a bundle on over the years include clothes, technology and cars (just to name a few). All of these things can add up to some big bucks, but in doing the math I have been able to minimize spending while maximizing value in all of these areas. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Clothes 

    My not caring about what others think starts with my clothes. In high school I worked at JC Penny. I got an employee discount on clothes and had first chance at the clearance bin. That was 20 years ago, yet the core of my casual wear rotation is still from that inventory of clothes I scored on the cheap way back then. I have friends who find it hilarious as the can dig up pictures of me from decades ago wearing what I am wearing now. It blows their minds. I own it and wear it as a badge of honor. (Clothes were made much better back then so if you are picturing a ratty, tattered shirt you would be mistaken.)I like to view my purchases in terms of per-use. The more uses I get out of something, the lower the cost per use. A $20.00 hoodie worn 10 times a year for 20 years has a cost of per use cost of 10 cents. Take that clothing industry!The side benefit of not following the rules, is that it forces me to stay close to my high school weight. That means trying to eat better and stay active more than I otherwise would. I mean I don’t want to have to go out and buy new clothes! That’d be admitting defeat and putting more money into the Corporate fat cats wallets!

  • Technology 

    So I work in a technology field with tons of people that have a dire need to own the latest thing. I don’t get it. Having a fancy phone doesn’t make me happier, more interesting or fun. Having a PC, laptop, tablet and all the latest console video games doesn’t enhance my life more than the cost of buying all of those things either.As long as work has had me on the leash with a Corporate phone I haven’t felt a need to have a personal one. I’m too busy working to have much of a social life anyway so why do I need to cart around two phones? Yet, I see plenty of my coworkers doing just this. Between the cost of the phone itself and the voice/data plan, there’s a lot of $ being burned.

    For now, I don’t pay a mobile bill or for any mobile technology. Other than my work phone, I only have a desktop computer at home. I went with a desktop over a laptop because the price to performance ratio is much higher and they typically last longer. I can usually get 5+ years out of a desktop computer. Of course, when we retire we will need to deal with actually paying for a cell phone plan. That’s a problem for “future us” and will probably result in an article where we fully analyze the value / options of all the plans out there (suggestions / experiences are welcome). Regardless, I can see us going bare bones based on exactly what we need rather than signing up for all of the bells and whistles.

  • Cars 

    This is a big one. I have always driven my car into the ground by owning it way longer than I should have in order to maximize the value of ownership. According to various industries that want my money; I know I can afford far more than I actually purchase based on my income and this is especially true for cars.Throughout my adult life I have always owned the most “economical” car compared to my coworkers and employees. My current car is a Honda Civic. I don’t enjoy commuting, cars for me are just there to get me to places as efficiently as possible; From Point A to Point B.

    As of right now, my Civic is about as low end as you can get. It doesn’t have the flashy cameras my coworkers have in their higher end SUVs, it doesn’t synch up with phones or have heated seats and it doesn’t even have automatic door locks which confuses just about every passenger who gets out of my car. With all of this, it’s actually a step up from my previous car, a Ford Taurus, which had external repairs done with duct tape and a heater that didn’t work.

    When it comes to cars, I mostly care about gas mileage and reliability. How it looks and all the extras are irrelevant to me. I don’t want to trade months or even years of my life working away for a “cooler ride”. In fact, I am looking forward to the day when I don’t own a car at all.

  • Retirement 

    We aren’t really sharing this plan with others but we know it is going to come across as very strange when we give up the “big wheel” jobs, sell all of our “stuff” and become traveling hobos. We aren’t doing it for anyone else, we are doing it for us. We don’t need anyone’s approval over what we buy and we won’t need anyone’s approval to head out on this journey a year and a half from now.

So yeah, I would rather be free than cool. How about you?

How does “coolness” influence your buying decisions? Have you ever purchased something because of the status associated with owning that that something? (Thank you Joneses) If you had a choice between being free or cool, what would you choose?

 

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