Buy One Step Down

It’s natural to want only the best for your money. Anything less and we feel like there’s something better for us out there, and we’re probably right. Unless we’re blessed with unlimited funds, there will always be something better.

Consider the idea of anchoring–when stores, telemarketers, or other sales people tout your savings compared to the “retail” price. In the case of chasing the best, instead of a price as the anchor, you see your ideal, and feel like you fall short.

What a depressing state of mind to constantly be in.

I think that one of the best ways to save money is to stop this mental process, and come to a relative peace with what you’re able to afford. The reason is that the best of anything will always have a disproportional premium to the extra “features” it offers, simply because it’s the best. This applies to nearly everything we pay for, not only technology.

Consider this when evaluating some of the purchases I discuss later in the post.

Reworking Expectations

The first expectation is that you can afford the best, which is rarely the case. The second expectation is that you can afford second-best, which for most people is still rarely the case. That’s why the best will often have a relative definition–what may be best for me may be completely different than the best you can afford.

Finding a relative sense of where the best lies for you in some of your spending categories is the first step to achieving control over always chasing that benchmark. For example, you might dream about owning a Porsche, but if the best you can afford now is a Mustang, the latter is a better route to creating a realistic frame of reference.

But that doesn’t mean you’re going to buy the Mustang. Instead of always shooting for the moon, what if we came down a step–and bought the next-best thing instead? Would we be able to enjoy some of these benefits?

  • It’s still a high-quality product or service; second-best in its class, in fact.
  • It’s no longer the best, eliminating the high price premium.
  • We can afford to upgrade it (if it is something upgradable) more often.
  • We have more funds to spend for things than enhance the primary purchase.

The last expectation is that you can afford to do this with every spending category in your budget, which again is rarely the case. Most people have to selectively prioritize what they want the best of, and what they’re willing to downgrade. It’s in these choices that our lives are often defined, for better or for worse. Consider:

  • Buying the best food you can afford vs. Buying the best car you can afford
  • Paying for the best vacation you could take vs. Buying the best computer you can

What would you select? Why? Examining these kinds of relationships is painful and necessary.

Into Practice

What could this look like when put into practice?

  • Food: The best you could afford is probably local, organic produce and animal products. Next-best? Consider buying “bulk organic” or simply local, as many farmers who don’t have the “organic” label still follow healthy farming practices.
  • Cars: Instead of buying at the top of your income, consider looking at smaller or less expensive models in the same line, or skip the extra package upgrades and settle for the base model.
  • Vacations: If you normally stay at 4-star hotels and can afford them, what if you stayed at a 3-star place this time? Would the extra money give you the ability to enjoy more things on vacation?

Pick your priorities. Determine what the best looks like. Take one step back. Do this regularly enough and you might find your definition of best changes, too!

4 thoughts on “Buy One Step Down

  1. My approach is similar yet different. I do not buy a lot of products, but I try to buy the best, most appropriate item I need. I will shop it online to get a lower price. I bought a bicycle helmet last week and bought it online and saved $20.

  2. On a much smaller level, I faced this same issue at a gas station with one of those drive-through car washes. They had 4 car wash options, priced at $7, $8, $9, and $10. I opted for the $9 one, though I put an extra dollar in the machine when I started to drive-through. I guess I was originally thrown off when I first looked at the prices, and didn’t want to pay in the double-digits, but that, once I was closer to the wash, I perceived the value of the extra dollar?

    1. Similar to the pricing of most fast food and cinema food–on a recent trip to the movies, I noticed the prices for the three different sizes of popcorn were $5, $5.50, and $6. Value-wise, you’re definitely getting more at the super-large, $6 level. The only thing holding me back is the fact that I simply don’t want to eat that amount.

  3. I try to make sure that I am paying for functionality more than anything else. Why pay for a sunroof in a vehicle that I am not going to use? But I do value extra air bags and anti-lock brakes.

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