How can I become a better consumer?

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
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miamivice
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How can I become a better consumer?

Post by miamivice » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:21 pm

I find that I'm a better saver than consumer. That is, I'm always happy when I stick $100 (or $500 or $1000) in the bank. But when I purchase an item (again, for $100, or $500, or $1000) it's a mixed bag as to whether that purchase was something that I actually use, and is fun to use.

Case in point: Years ago in college I saw a classmate with a PalmPilot. Decided I had to have one too. Purchased it brand new, played around with it for a few weeks. Eventually, decided it wasn't purposeful and threw it in the drawer unused. Eventually sold it on eBay for a fraction of what I paid.

Lesson learned at that point was to resist the urge to buy things.

Since then, I've made a handful of decisions where I've purchased things that haven't been quite right, or other things not quite right with them, and regretted the decisions later. (This isn't a huge number of things, perhaps $5000 total in my lifetime).

As my assets have increased, I am interested in being more of a consumer and less of a saver. But I really need more skill in making better purchasing decisions.

I am wondering what others do to help make better purchases, with less buyers regret.

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arcticpineapplecorp.
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by arcticpineapplecorp. » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:37 pm

I'm not much of a consumer, but if I was I would listen to Clark Howard's radio show (or podcast):

www.clarkhoward.com

I feel the way you do about many purchases. I find that experiences tend to be more meaningful than stuff. This doesn't mean a two week trip to Tahiti. It could be as simple as having friends over for dinner (even pot luck). Stories told, memories created, laughs. That sort of thing you remember long after.

It's called the Easterlin Paradox. it found:
...money buys happiness, but only up to a point. Initially, happiness with purchases was ranked about the same. But over time, people’s satisfaction with the things they bought went down, whereas their satisfaction with experiences they spent money on went up.

“It’s counterintuitive that something like a physical object that you can keep for a long time doesn’t keep you as happy as long as a once-and-done experience does. Ironically, the fact that a material thing is ever present works against it, making it easier to adapt to. It fades into the background and becomes part of the new normal. But while the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity.”
source: https://www.fastcompany.com/3043858/the ... -not-thing
"Invest we must." -- Jack Bogle | “The purpose of investing is not to simply optimise returns and make yourself rich. The purpose is not to die poor.” -- William Bernstein

annielouise
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by annielouise » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:39 pm

Here is one thing we do:

In our budget (excel) we have a tab called "buy/fix". In that we have sections like "electronics", "furniture", "appliances" etc. (The "fix" part is for planning house repairs and updates, but is used the same way.). In each section we list items we want to purchase in the near term and then we give them a 1,2, or 3 priority ranking and an expected price. We also look at how long we've owned the current item (ideally from our inventory spreadsheet, but that is still a work in progress). Going through this exercise, helps us avoid many impulse purchases.

It's not perfect. I regret the Ring Doorbell purchase every single day!

fposte
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by fposte » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:54 pm

Can you look at how you purchased the things you regret and the things you don't and see if any patterns appear? It could be that your perceived "fun" reward is a bad predictor, or that you buy on impulse, or that you buy because of what other people have.

I actually find a lot of enduring satisfaction in many things and not just experiences. For me, however, impulse purchases are verboten. I break the rule occasionally and mostly regret it when I do. I don't have to research a $5 purchase across twelve sites, but I also can't pick it up just because it looks good and I was shopping. I also get pretty reliable satisfaction out of things that either solve a problem (one-hand-usable paper towel holder) or have an ongoing enjoyable element to their use (in 20 years, I've never gotten tired of sitting on my velvet sofa).

barnaclebob
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by barnaclebob » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:55 pm

I try to make sure we have a need for somthing and then buying it vs seeing something cool and then trying to find a need for it. And yes im using the term "need" loosly

I just bought a house and had a lot of projects to get done. I quickly realized that having a miter saw would cut the time of those projects in half so I bought one. The need came before the product.

With your palm pilot did you have a need for a hand held organizatio. Thingy or did you see the thingy and then think you would use it to keep you organized?

When I see people buy an alexa I shake my head because I wonder how many people really needes a voice activated search device or music player vs how many people thought it would be cool to use.

azurekep
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by azurekep » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:11 pm

miamivice wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:21 pm
I am wondering what others do to help make better purchases, with less buyers regret.
1. I care a lot about security and privacy. Before buying any new technology-related item, I check it for it's potential for degrading security/privacy. That rules out about 90% of the technology things I might buy. :P

2. If there's a technology item that is steeply discounted, like maybe 70 or 80%, I might buy it just to play around with it and learn the technology. I did that with a Windows/Lumina phone. I soon disabled the internet connection, but was left with a very nice camera. Even if the camera was bad, the miniscule price paid for the phone was worth the experimentation and thus my buying it. Again, the key is steep discount.

3. II dislike returning things via shipping. It's not that much of a hassle, but I consider it a hassle anyway. That means when I order things online, I read all the reviews, search the reviews for issues of concern to me, and when it comes to ordering clothes, I pay special attention to the sizing aspects, body measurements and so on. That minimizes the risk of having to return an item.

4. Thorough research, as in #3, tends to dampen the knee-jerk enthusiasm I might have for any particular item. I usually uncover flaws through reading the reviews. The flaws become a threshold to overcome and not everything makes it. So again, the time spent researching reduces the risk of a bad purchase.

5. I hate the algorithm games Amazon is playing. I won't play along. If I buy an item and it immediately goes up, or over time the price doubles, I wlll not buy another of those items. I like price consistency and will take my business elsewhere or do without. On the other hand, on a rare occasion, the price may actually go down by 50%. In cases like that, I'll load up.

6. I don't like a lot of "stuff" or clutter. I'm mindful of the fact that if I buy something I don't like and I'm too lazy to return it, it will just clutter up the house. That lessens the potential for impulse buying.

The rules may seem pretty strict, but I'm generally very happy with my purchases and I like seeing the money saved from not buying things in a kneejerk way.

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hand
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by hand » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:14 pm

The key to my consumer happiness has been recognizing 1) that there is often a disconnect between the marketing spiel and the reality of a consumer product and 2) that "quality" (longevity / freedom from degraded performance) is a feature that is important to me, but often lacking from mass-market race to the bottom consumer products.

To address, I find myself researching more and buying significantly less.
I see others scratching a similar itch without the hassle of the research by buying into "premium" products, though this often comes at a cost and with some interest in signalling wealth to others.

PVW
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by PVW » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:30 pm

From your experience, what purchases have been worth the cost?

I once attended a lecture titled "Knowing yourself is harder than you think" (or something like that). The gist was that people have a difficult time predicting how they will act or feel about something they haven't done yet. Evidence from social experiments suggests the best way to know yourself is to focus on similar experiences from the past and how you reacted to them.

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Pajamas
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by Pajamas » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:41 pm

miamivice wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:21 pm
Lesson learned at that point was to resist the urge to buy things.
That's how to become a better consumer. The assumption that more things is better is not true for most people in industrialized nations at this point. More things is worse. That includes everything from food to clothing to automobiles. You probably don't need anything extra around your waist, in your closets, in your living room, etc. and would probably be happier with less. The Earth is also limited in what it can provide us and consumption is killing off the plants and animals and poisoning the air, water, and soil.

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DaftInvestor
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by DaftInvestor » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:44 pm

$5,000 in a lifetime sounds admirable.
It sounds like you could teach the rest of us.
What problem are you really trying to solve? Do you believe you will be happier if you learn to "consume" more?

To me its a matter of pursuing your pass-times and hobbies and consuming to support those. If you like photography you can buy a nice camera, etc.

Fallible
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by Fallible » Tue Jan 16, 2018 2:00 pm

i usually ask myself if I can afford it, if I truly need it and why, how I'll use it and how much. I also will surf the Internet for information on it, such as ratings from reputable consumer publications like "Consumer Reports," etc. A good consumer of anything is a properly informed consumer and here's more on that:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue ... f2db755b9b

And here's a quote from Warren Buffett that I like because I love finding good bargains: "Whether socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down."
Bogleheads® wiki | Investing Advice Inspired by Jack Bogle

livesoft
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by livesoft » Tue Jan 16, 2018 3:12 pm

I have a few rules:

1. No new technology unless an old piece of tech gets tossed. This means constant number of devices which is basically laptop and phone. No new gizmos.

2. Only buy food, so it comes in the house and out of the house via the toilet. Otherwise, no new stuff in the house.

3. One can spend on things that won't end up in the house, such as vacations and restaurants.

4. OK, replacement clothes are allowed, but only when clothes are tossed. I got some new socks for Christmas, but I had tossed old socks. My son went skiing and I lent him my long underwear from the 1980s.

Since I'm not buying anything, there is nothing to research.
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bloom2708
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by bloom2708 » Tue Jan 16, 2018 3:22 pm

Maybe your goal is to be a "worse" consumer. Not a "better" consumer.

Put a plan in place to wait 10 days before you buy something. Default to not buying it.

If it passes the 10 day muster, then something has to go out.

The perfect consumer would be consuming everything. Well, at least from the perspective of the people/companies selling the consumable items. Everything you see, read, do, touch is working at separating you from your money. Today's money and future money.

I want to be a worse consumer. Don't buy it. Check Craigslist or LetGo for a used one. Look, touch, don't buy.
"We are here not to please but to provoke thoughtfulness" Unknown Boglehead

azurekep
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by azurekep » Tue Jan 16, 2018 9:44 pm

livesoft wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 3:12 pm
Since I'm not buying anything, there is nothing to research.
I do a lot of replacement buying and it can be preety cut and dry. But
if you wait too much time between replacements -- and you're buying online -- you have to do research all over again. Like when your favorite running shoes or jeans or whatever have been superceded by new models. Even the sizing gets changed.. That means you have to read the reviews to figure out whether something runs big or small, or redo the body measurements because size X is now called size Y. Or they've changed from US sizes to European or UK sizes. :shock:

For me, there have also been NEW things I decided I had to have -- not as an impulse buy but something thought about for a long time -- and these have required research. One was a stand-up desk But I bought it on the cheap. Not one of those pricey models that are sold to corporations, but rather a tall table that did the trick. It was surprisingly dificult to find a tall enough table and one that was decent looking. It took a lot of research, but in the end, I paid about 50 bucks and have used it ever since.

Another example of something brand new... after ignoring a foot injury that a doctor never fixed ("Take two NSAIDs and resume sports/running in two weeks"), I went DIY and spent a lot of time researching, then buying a few inexpensive "accessories" (like toe spacers) that not only helped rehab the foot but made both of my feet stronger than the world has ever seen ever before. Again, it took a lot of research, but I got my money's worth.

goodlifer
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by goodlifer » Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:32 am

A handful of things to regret is really not that bad at all, unless you are a teenager!

Buy what you love and you never waste money. I can't tell you how many times I have spent a good chunk of money on things like purses and shoes just because I saw it and loved it. Sure, I try them on extensively before ringing the register. I'm positive that the employees assumed I was trying to work up the nerve to steal the last purse I bought since I walked around with it on my shoulder for almost half an hour, but I didn't bother with looking up reviews or price comparisons because I knew it was "the one". Plus, there are a lot of fakes of the brand I bought and I wanted an authentic one due to the quality. Buying a cheaper one online probably would have lead to wasting my money on a cheap fake. If the price went down right after I bought it, I would have brought my receipt in and asked for a price adjustment. If I didn't get an adjustment, oh well. I still love what I bought.

Change the way you think about wasting money. I bought a $50 bottle of wine to share with friends, and it turned out that the wine was awful. No one liked it. I still had a great time and my friends still make jokes about how bad it was so I figure that I spent $50 on a fun night with friends, not that I wasted $50 on horrible wine. I took a gamble one time buying a somewhat expensive perfume online. The description and reviews made it sound wonderful, but it made me stink. I wound up giving it to a friend of a friend, who raved about it for a long time. It turns out that she was depressed and needed a little pick-me-up, and didn't make the kind of money where she could afford to just buy a bottle of perfume she liked. So I have no regrets buying the perfume. I just don't buy scents online anymore!

I'm lucky that buying the wrong thing that can't be returned is a rarity for me. If you can't return it and you no longer like it, sell it right away and then consider it a learning experience. If you don't absolutely love it and don't need it right now, there is always time to stop and think if you really want to buy it.

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lthenderson
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by lthenderson » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:17 am

miamivice wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:21 pm
I am wondering what others do to help make better purchases, with less buyers regret.
1. Wait awhile before making the purchase. Spur of the minute purchases are almost never ideal. If you had waited a month before buying the palm pilot, the "need it" feeling might have gone away.

2. Like someone mentioned above, thoroughly research the item and read through the reviews. I have always found the best reviews are the middle of the road reviews, i.e. 2 to 4 stars on a five star system. They seem to provide more honest feedback and a list of pros and cons.

3. Watch videos of the item being used. These days Youtube is full of "unboxing" videos of people opening up the package and setting it up for the first time as well as others using the item as it was intended to be used. I find these videos extremely helpful especially after reading the reviews and it helps in comparing things that you wouldn't be able to while just shopping online or staring at a rack of them in a brick and mortar store.

4. Budget you money. This helps eliminate spur of the minute decisions. It also helps prevent regret because you can always tell yourself that you were going to spend the money anyway even if you didn't get as much out of the item as you first thought.

azurekep
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by azurekep » Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:28 pm

lthenderson wrote:
Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:17 am
3. Watch videos of the item being used. These days Youtube is full of "unboxing" videos of people opening up the package and setting it up for the first time as well as others using the item as it was intended to be used. I find these videos extremely helpful especially after reading the reviews and it helps in comparing things that you wouldn't be able to while just shopping online or staring at a rack of them in a brick and mortar store.
+1

YouTube videos -- unboxing or otherwise -- are great. I tend to forget about them in the midst of doing more "active" research, reading reviews and so on. But often the best knowledge can be had by just "passively" kicking back and watching a guy open a box on a video...and point out the features.

This is especially useful with electronics, but I found it worked well when buying some cross trainers. I wasn't sure from the pictures on Amazon just how they would look. YouTube videos showed people walking in the shoes, which made a difference.

TallBoy29er
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by TallBoy29er » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:02 pm

Ever had something, then gone without it? We had access to a gym with a Stairmaster, used it every time we were there. Gym went away. Missed the Stairmaster. Then we bought one. We use it every day (sometimes twice, w/ two people).

Evidence of past need, or sleeping on it for many nights and still pondering, to me show signs of potential future use.

And paraphrasing a concept from Livesoft, we have a rule of not bringing things into the house unless we get rid of something as well. It works wonders.

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Sandtrap
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Re: How can I become a better consumer?

Post by Sandtrap » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:11 pm

Not sure if this is common. . . .
Both DW and I, the deeper we are in retirement the more we save. . .the more we save the more we have. . . but, the less we need to bring happiness. . and the simpler life becomes. . . (rinse repeat).
j :D

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