To buy or not to buy?

I was addicted to online shopping for several weeks. [Read my previous post: I'm addicted to online shopping.] I'm happy to declare that I've kicked the addiction. So, what happened?

When my first few items arrived, I was delighted. But after that, the thrill of receiving my ordered items diminished. I also realised that I didn't actually need all those things.

I don't regret buying my handphone and ipad case. But I'm not sure whether I should have bought the handphone case, portable backup power device and bluetooth headset. By the way, I've not received my bluetooth headset after a month and I'm doing fine without it.

There are endless possibilities of items you can buy. How you decide which to buy (or not buy)?

There are 3 categories of items. (Some may be free):
1. Things that change the way you do something
2. Things that change the speed of doing something
3. Things that have esthetic value or influences how you feel

Now, let's take a smartphone for example. In the past, we'll have to check emails on a laptop or computer. It's worth paying for a smartphone because it enables us to do things differently: instead of checking emails at home we can retrieve them on the go, emails can be pushed to us instantly, you no longer have to print out your emails if you wanted to take them along with you, you can watch videos while commuting, you can find your way using GPS instead of turning your map around to figure out the right direction to walk, snap photos and have them automatically backed up to your online storage or shared folders. I had a smartphone but it was running out of space to install essential applications such as email applications, dropbox, maps and QR code reader. It was also too small for reading e-books and the camera was not good enough to capture good quality photos. I bought a dual-core China phone for USD135. So is it worth upgrading a normal phone to a smartphone? Of course, because it changes the way I do things. I would classify this type of purchase as a "need".

But the smartphone can also be single core, dual core, quad core, etc (octa-core soon). The applications would run faster (#2). Is it worth upgrading a single core phone to a quad core phone? I'd say No, unless the lack of processing power stops you from changing the way something is done. I don't always buy IT products with the highest speed and power. I don't think it's worth paying the premium to have the latest and greatest items.

How about buying products that look attractive? I admit I am often tempted to buy things that look nice. Just as it is with finding the right man, it is very difficult to find the right item that looks nice and has the functions that I want. But I can tell you this: I would never buy an item which I find unattractive no matter the greatness of the function - same decision-making logic as with finding the right man.

Internet and Mobile Subscriptions
Did you think that over the years the price of a mobile phone subscription or internet subscription would be reduced? I certainly thought so. But that's not the case. The prices have gone up! A standard mobile plan would have cost less than SG$30 per month. Now, $30 only buys you a subscription without caller ID (caller ID is available as an add on for SG$5.25). The cheapest fiber broadband plan is SG$50. The telcos add more services such as 4G/fiber broadband which supposedly mean more value. But with more users and the price of their hardware being reduced and the government paying for the laying of the optic fiber cables, shouldn't their per-user cost be reduced? Of course! But they need to make more profit!

Anyway, is it worth paying more for higher speed internet? I'd say No - unless the lack of speed changes the way you do things. E.g. if you do online gaming or if you have to pre-download a movie 2 days in advance before you can watch it VS watching it instantly now, I think it's worth upgrading. But if it's just a small difference between downloading time, I don't think it's worth it.

Note: I'm comparing the "standard" user requirements 5 years ago and the standard now. Nobody compares the old computer specs vs new computer specs price when talking about prices of computers.

Luxury Items
Let's consider another of my recent purchases as an example. I bought a Mulberry Alexa bag during my UK trip.

I bought it because (#3) it looks nice, it's light-weight and it suits my personality. (I never liked LV bags because they look stiff and are too heavy). However, the side effects were negative. The unwanted effects were: I had to be more careful about handling and keeping the bag (I have a cat that loves scratching leather and a record for peeing on bags), there is a screw to turn, a 2 magnets to pull apart and a flap to open, to close the bag I have to align the 2 magnets and turn the screw. I usually use bags that open at the top with a zip and leave the zip open. Although I liked the bag for it esthetic value (#3), I didn't like the negative effects on (#1) the extra "work" to maintain the bag and (#2) the speed of getting to the items in my bag.

I classify high-end smartphones such as the Samsung S4 as luxury items. The functions are definitely better than China phones or the lesser models from the same manufacturer but it takes a bit more effort to maintain the phones and to prevent theft. The luxury phones cost significantly more than the lesser models. The resale value of the luxury models tend to be higher. I know many people get a certain satisfaction from the esthetics and they feel good about having the latest gadgets.

I feel neutral about luxury items. The quality is usually good. It think it depends on how much it changes the way you do things or the way you feel and whether you have money to spare.

This must be where I spend the highest proportion of my money. It changes the way I feel about the world (#3). I think it's totally worth spending on!

In summary, :
1. Things that change the way you do something
: Worth buying 2. Things that change the speed of doing something
: Not worth buying 3. Things that have esthetic value or influences how it makes you feel
: Ok to buy if you have money to spare, otherwise you'll feel worse about not having money!


David said...


An interesting series on on-line shopping. You stated. "I was addicted to online shopping for several weeks.

Being addicted for a few weeks is simply not possible. At best you went through an intense interest in online shopping. Perhaps it had some theraputic value for you.

Your reasons for why and what you purchase make a great deal of sense. My wife chooses her hand bags for light weight and utility. Similar to you she has a variety of sizes, a couple for work days, a couple for shopping, and several for travel.

Reasons for smartphones are all over the map. The GPS function is useful, as recently our Garmin GPS, which needs its map data base updated could not find a location we sought. My Galaxy Note 2 found the location, and got us there from where the Garmin left us lost.

Travel is worth saving for, if one likes traveling. Not everone has wanderlust, some people would be happy to spend their lives never venturing more than few kms from home.

I would like to visit parts of Asia, and SG some year. However my list of places to visit in North America is not complete.

Happy shopping and safe travels!