Being a podcaster, especially a technology podcaster, results in many people considering me to be an authority on tech products. Thus, people often ask me for help them make technology purchasing decisions. It amazes me how most of these people lack basic decision making skills. I guess I have wrongfully assumed that this sort of thing was common sense. Instead, I find myself giving the same spiel over and over again. To save myself the effort, here it is once and for all. Scott’s step by step guide explaining how to make a major purchasing decision.
Step 1 – Determine your needs
What is it exactly that you need? “I need a laptop” is not an answer. Do you need to have a computer that you can carry around? How often and how far are you going to carry it? How long do you expect to use it without charging it? What will you do with the laptop? Will you watch movies, play games, or just do office stuff? You can ask these kinds of questions about any product, technology or otherwise.
This is often the hardest part for people. They are used to making decisions like “oooh, that looks shiny, I want it!” This is why iPods sell so well while many people would be better served by a Sansa or a Cowon. This is why people buy SUVs rather than sedans. You ask them what they need, and they immediately say SUV. They don’t say that they need a motor vehicle capable of seating 4 people comfortably, driving X miles per year. To make smart purchasing decisions you need to examine your needs on a more fundamental level. You also need to be able to throw away meaningless wants, such as desire for shininess. Heck, you might even discover that you actually don’t need anything at all! This is the best because you just put your money into savings.
Step 2 – Research, research, research
Once you know what your needs are, you can start researching. The bigger the purchase, the more research you need to do. Buying the wrong computer mouse is not a big deal, buying the wrong car will have you upset for a decade or more. You should research every single product that can possibly meet your needs. Don’t think too narrowly either. You might start thinking about sports cars, but then realize that a sport bike meets your needs. You might start thinking about a giant video camera, but realize that a digital point and click meets your needs. Learn everything you possibly can about what you are buying until you are confident that you are almost an authority on it. If you don’t know more about the product you are buying than the salesmen selling that product, you haven’t done enough research. If you are going to own something and use it, you should know everything there is to know about that product. If you aren’t going to bother to learn about the things to buy, you shouldn’t be buying them.
Step 3 – Consider turning back
It is only at this point in time that you should think about money. Thanks to your extensive research, you should now have a good idea of which products most closely meet your needs. I run into many situations where there simply does not exist a product that meets my needs. Other times I find that every product that meets my needs is out of my price range. In situations like this you must make a decision. Are your needs urgent? Must they be fulfilled right now? Perhaps you are willing to sacrifice some of your needs in order to save money and avoid waiting. If you haven’t yet found a product that is affordable and meets all your needs, return to Step 1 and change your needs.
Step 4 – Shop Around
Once you have determined a product, or set of products, that meet your needs, it is time to shop around. Since you did research, you should know about all the different makes and models of whatever product you are considering. You should also know about what price is fair for these products. Go to every store you can until you find the lowest price you can possibly find. Do everything you can, within reason, to find the best price you can find. If you earn $50 an hour on your job, and you spend an hour of your time finding a deal that is $25 cheaper, you just lost $25. Meanwhile, if you spent an hour looking, and you found a deal saving you $100, you just made money. With the Internet, it shouldn’t take very long to realize what kind of deal you are going to be able to find.
Step 5 – Buy
You’ve got the product you want, you found a place to buy it at an agreeable price. Just buy it already! Too many people wait around too long to buy something. Unless you research shows that there will be big changes coming soon, just buy the product. Don’t give me that iPhone BS. Buying such a product at launch for that ludicrous price was a dumb idea whether they had the price drop or not. Barring these extreme cases, waiting to buy a product usually just means your needs will go unfulfilled for just one more day. You’ll be paying the same price for the same product, but you’ll be getting one less day’s worth of use out of it. If that one day of use will make a difference, buy it. If you are still not confident in your decision, you might have done a poor job of research or poorly evaluated your needs. When you buy, you buy knowing you made the right decision before you take out your wallet.
Step 6 – Enjoy
You bought it, now get your use out of it. Nothing is worse than when you buy something big, and then it sits on the shelf unused. If you do buy something and it remains largely unused, go back and figure out where you went wrong. Most likely you bought something you didn’t actually need. It’s also possible you may have purchased a product that doesn’t fulfill your needs. Think back to why you bought the product in the first place, and do a better job the next time. If you can, return the product and start the process again.
Yes, I know this article is incredibly generic, and full of common sense. It’s so generic that I feel it is almost pointless to write it down. I might as well write an article all about the sky being blue. If you are thinking this is all just common sense, then you do not need to read this. Move on. This is here for all the people who spend too much money on things they don’t need. This is for the people who buy things and then get upset only after making the purchase. This is for people without common sense. Learn to make a decision!