Purchasing Choices, Debt, and the Planet
Not long after getting married, my husband and I went looking for an receiver so that we could connect all of our electronic A/V devices into one unit, as well as getting surround sound. We started out by visiting an audio visual store on Boxing Day, and choosing an Onkyo receiver that came with surround sound speakers. About a year later, we realized that it was missing a couple of key features that would make our lives a lot easier. We again went shopping. This time, we walked into the store with a planned budget, found which models they had in stock, and slowly worked up from the upper-mid-range model to the top-of-the-line model, because, you know, the one up does *this thing* as well. The price was double the first purchase.
About two and a half years later, we again found ourselves in an electronics store, this time to choose a new receiver, in a different brand. We had researched the available receivers in all brands, figured out what features we needed, found which stores carried the desired model, and priced out the alternatives to find the best deal. The third receiver was just a little over half the cost of the second. We moved the second one to the basement, sold the first, and we haven’t been shopping for a receiver since.
Our refrigerator was beautiful. French doors, deep and wide enough for a large pizza box, bottom drawer freezer, and very adjustable shelving. One day we found it dead. Stopping by our electrician neighbour’s to ask if we could store some things in his fridge until we could get a repair, he offered to take a look at the fridge. He pulled off the back electronics panel and noted that there was a blown fuse. The fuse was soldered in. He removed the fuse, added clips, and replaced it with a new, removable fuse. Voila! The fridge lived! The only problem now was that the lights weren’t turning off when we closed the doors. We looked online and found out that we were lucky. Really lucky. A new electronics panel cost over $200. All for a fuse that should have been made removable from the start. Even more critical, the fridge hadn’t been properly designed for the installed lighting. With high-draw, incandescent lights, many people had found the lights stayed on, heated up, and actually caused the refrigerator to melt, the food inside to cook, and fires to start. We immediately went out to get some LED lights for the fridge. No more issues.
Our economy is based on disposable products. New shirts every week, new phone models twice a year, and new cars, available on lease, so that you never have to see them get old. New fads in televisions (3D TV, anyone? Curved screen? 1080P resolution that you still can’t get from most sources?). Companies no longer build consumer products to last, relying instead on developing new products so that consumers will buy new ones before the previous ones fail. Even women’s t-shirts are cheaper and thinner, using less cotton fibre. While these shopping habits may provide a lot of excitement for consumers and keep them buying, it leads to an increased desire to always have the latest, the best, and the most trendy, regardless of when we last purchased. The result is a cycle of increased manufacturing and resource use, increased consumer debt due to purchasing, and increased waste as consumers discard (in one way or another) their old, and yet still relatively new products. Many of these items are not recyclable or have limited reuse potential.
I can’t say we’ve never repeated the above mistakes, but we’re learning. We understand how bad this cycle is for both us and for the environment, and we are working much harder to plan our purchases to meet our needs and last, not to buy the best and have to repurchase in a year or two. How are we trying to break the cycle?
- Continue using existing items as long as possible. Repurpose them if you can’t use them for their initial purpose.
- If you see something in a store or flyer or online, consider whether you actually need it before deciding to buy. Consider whether you felt a desire to purchase before seeing the ad. Sales is all about creating a perceived need or desire to have/use a product in order to fit in. Don’t let those tactics catch you. Even something as simple as putting the chocolate bars and gum by the checkout, where you’re more likely to stand looking around until the craving hits causes increased impulse purchases.
- If you decide to make a purchase, understand your current and future needs vs. wants – Plan to meet all of your existing needs and expected future needs, being as realistic as possible. Understand which features are desired vs. needed, and decide which you can live without. Even if your plan is to buy what you can afford now to meet your needs and then work your way up to something more suitable, plan ahead for how much you will be able to sell the item for and how you plan to upgrade. We did this with an open cargo trailer that eventually turned into an enclosed trailer purchase by selling the first for the same price we paid after time had passed and we’d saved up more money.
- Research products before you ever enter a store. Learn about the available features and prioritize. Compare brands. Check out prices. Considering the cost of features and your use of them, again decide what product(s) meet your needs.
- Once you’ve decided on a product, shop around. Do as much price comparison as possible before ever leaving your home, as well as checking store stock. Make phone calls if you have to. Look for coupons and promotions. When you enter the shop, pressure tactics (ex. “This is the last one,” or “We have a special promotion for this other model.”) are more likely to cause you to make a purchase when you shouldn’t.
- Once you are sure of whether to buy, what to buy, and where to buy it, go for it!
What have you done to cut down on unnecessary and impulse purchases? Comment below.