What’s Your Shopping Strategy?

Your bratty nephew just threw a football at your two-year-old LCD TV, creating a big crack in the screen. The guy at the TV repair shop says it’ll cost about $200 to fix; you can buy a brand new TV of the same model for $300, or you could go shopping and upgrade to the newer, bigger, flashier model for $200 more. Or, you could simply make do without a TV for a little while, a move which – at least for now – would cost you absolutely nothing.

What’s your shopping strategy when something you own gets broken or becomes lost?

Why Your Shopping Strategy Matters

If you don’t know your shopping strategy ahead of time – like before you end up with a broken appliance or tech gadget – it could cost you. The above scenario actually happened to a good friend of mine last year, the week before the Super Bowl. He’d never considered his options until he saw that crack in the glass, and – given the big game – felt compelled to go big as well. He acted on adrenalin instead of thinking through his options, and impulsively upgraded to a bigger TV just a day later.

When his credit card statement arrived a few weeks later – well after the Super Bowl – he regretted his spur-of-the-moment decision.

The Decision to Upgrade

Of our four options, this is almost always going to be the most expensive. Because of that, you need to have a good reason to upgrade your broken appliance, phone, laptop, etc., such as:

  • You were already budgeting for an upgraded model anyway; you’re simply moving up your timeline
  • You can’t find a comparable model of your old, broken, or lost item, rendering a replacement impossible
  • It’s something you use on a regular basis and absolutely couldn’t go without for more than a few days
  • There’s some kind of short-term deal that makes upgrading a more cost-effective option. Even though my friend regretting his splurge, it would have cost him even more had he waited until after the Super Bowl (it’s a well-known fact in the electronics industry that TVs tend to go on sale right before the Super Bowl)

You’re eligible for a free upgrade, negating the cost entirely

Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to upgrade. If your budget is already tight, stretching it even farther to accommodate a new purchase you weren’t planning on can bust it entirely. Or if you’re feeling pressured to make the pricier purchase, take a step back and sleep on it for a few days to make sure it’s something you want and not a commission the sales person has to have.

The Decision to Replace

Again, before making the decision to replace a broken or lost item, you’ve got to weigh your options,
and ask yourself a few questions:

Is the product protected under a warranty, which could get you a free replacement?

Is the product still relevant? This is particularly crucial if you’re talking about electronics, which can become obsolete mere moments after you buy them. Skip replacing an item if it’s already several model years old or if newer technology has already bypassed it. What’s the price difference between the old model and the new model? It isn’t as always as big a gap as you may expect.

The biggest question in deciding whether or not to replace an item is whether or not the original one you purchased can be salvaged, leading us to…

The Decision to Repair

You may think this would be one of the cheapest options, but not so fast. Depending on the item in question – and the damage done – repairing it could cost almost as much as replacing it. For example, if the compressor on your refrigerator goes, you could be looking at up to $700 to repair it, about the same price you’d pay for some brand new (although not brand name) appliances. Or consider a car with a bum engine, which may run you thousands of dollars in repairs – a fruitless endeavor of your old car is only worth a few thousand in resale value. However, if you did have a warranty or extended coverage on the item in question, it may cover the cost of repairs.

If you do decide to go with the option to repair, be sure you go to a certified repair shop that specializes in that type of item. Often times, work done at these repair shops will come with a warranty on the work done, protecting the investment you made in repairing the item for up to a year or two.

The Decision to Do Without

This is usually the cheapest decision, and the most difficult to make as well. When we’ve already lived with something – whether it be a smartphone or a microwave or a car – going without it for even a short time can leave us feeling a little empty.

But there can be good reasons to do without, even if it goes against your consumer-driven, materialistic instinct:

  • You know the item is going to be on sale in the future. For example, say you accidentally lost your iPhone 4S back in September – before the launch of the new iPhone 5. In this case, it makes total sense to wait to replace that 4S until after the new one hits the market, sending the price for the older (but not obsolete) model down.
  • You never really used it to begin with. I once had a TV in my bedroom, which I rarely used. Had that TV gone on the fritz, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to repair, replace, or upgrade it. You think your life could be improved by living without it.
  • Maybe you live in a bike-friendly community, or a city with a great public transportation system; yet, you never take advantage of it because you’re always driving. Going without a car – even temporarily – may give you the impetus to try out new things and create better habits.

The Choice Is Yours

Ultimately, I can’t tell you what’s the best choice for you. It depends on your lifestyle, your financial situation, and your priorities. A decision like this will also vary depending on the item in question; I could probably go without a TV for much, much longer than I could go without my iPhone.

How do you decide whether to upgrade, replace, repair, or do without a product?

4 Responses to What’s Your Shopping Strategy?

  1. I watched my husband go through this process recently. I destroyed his smartphone in August and it took him until just two weeks ago to decide what to do. At first we tried to repair, but then decided to upgrade (because of non-availability of old models/eventual need to upgrade anyway). But because it took so long to make the decision about what to upgrade to, he ended up doing without for several months. I didn’t know a person could get along in modern society without a cellphone (tongue slightly in cheek) especially after having had a smartphone for years but he did it for several months!

  2. Christian L. says:

    Daniel,
    I usually downgrade. My smart phone recently died and I decided to use my old slide phone. Yes, it doesn’t have any fancy bells and whistles, but I don’t care.

    I’m happy to be disconnected from the Internet and email when I’m off the clock. Plus the phone is a tank with great batter life, so it has its pros.

    When nice things break or die, I realize how unimportant they are to me and have no problem downgrading. After all, I can do much more with the money I save.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  3. Since we still live with a ton of hand-me-downs, our general reaction is to see how long we can live while looking for a great deal on an upgrade. :-) We’ve done that with nearly everything so far. When our tv finally died, we upgraded to our 47″ LCD four years ago. The same thing happened with our computers.

  4. My decision to replace usually happen only when it is impractical to do a repair. But as much as possible I want to maximize usage for many many years before replacement. It’s really quite hard to weigh things and make a decision. Thanks for the tips.