Stop Thinking About True Value and Just Buy What You Need

by David Ning · 13 comments

Often times when we buy a product, we get confused with the purpose of the purchase. Sometimes, we buy something out of impulse, sometimes it’s based out of necessity but most of the time, it’s only because we can.

When we set out to buy, we seldom know what we are really looking for other than something general like “I need a refrigerator”. What ends up happening is something we are all familiar with. We go into the store and talk to the salesperson about fridges. Almost always, we learn some “must have” feature that now becomes the anchor of our search for our perfect refrigerator. After a while, we end up buying a nice (but way too expensive) refrigerator and we justify it by saying “This is the best value I could find”.

Confusing Necessity with True Value

The situation is even worst when I am actually somewhat familiar with the product. When I buy a computer, I end up buying a better one than I originally intended because I can understand the sales pitch about the extra features. I tell myself that “oh yeah, that faster processor is extremely important” only to forget that I was buying a laptop for my wife whom only wants to occasionally surf the web.

Expensive Doesn’t Equal Quality

More expensive equal better, or at least that’s what we think. After all, there must be a reason that it costs more, or so we though.

We think this way because we are the consumer. Let’s for a minute assume the role of the business owner. We sell a product because we want to make money. The higher the price, the more money we make because our cost is somewhat fixed. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that we try to market the product as expensive as possible? Now think back to our perception of price and quality. Where does quality come into the price equation?

True Value is Personal

It’s not how many features you get for your dollar but how many dollars you give for the features that you need. Who cares if that iPod has a huge screen when you only wanted to listen to music?  Sure, that LCD TV has 1080p output and it’s only $150 more, but what is 1080p again?

Value is becoming a sales term and I don’t like it.  You shouldn’t either.

How to Pay Less and Be Happy

Here’s one tip that everyone should follow when they need to buy something.

Before you do any research, sit down and figure out what you specifically need the product to do and write them down first. Then, do your research and find the least expensive product that can get the job done.

Forget about the new LCD display on the side door that tells you when the ice cubes will be ready. Just say “No Thanks”.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Witty Artist says:

    Like you’ve said, the most important before going shopping is to know exactly what one’s want. Put down the budget and the features you want to find on your product. And another important aspect (maybe even more important) is to
    know how stick to your choice and not give in to the temptation of buying something more sophisticated just because is more shiny or it has a special color or something.

  • Matt says:

    The worst part is realizing that you didn’t need the latest and greatest after the fact. I’ve done this more than once and I kick myself in the butt after the purchase has made it home. I’ve started really questioning why I was making a purchase and the larger it was the more I questioned my motives. Good post.

  • Andy @ Retire at 40 says:

    True, there are many ways we decide to spend more once we’ve entered the shop, when in fact all we really want is to keep food at or below a certain temperature. I guess planning and deciding on features before you go shopping is the best way to do it.

  • Win Free Stuff says:

    The best thing that has happened to me is finding those deal forums online, which saves me a lot of money. I purchased a laptop for my wife that is PACKED with features, but hey, technology moves so quick that it would pay for itself after 5-10 years of using it.

    -Mike

  • Pev says:

    Very true, I hate it when I go to buy something and the sales person is trying to advertise the add on stuff. I’m also a sucker and don’t know how to say “NO.” So now I just avoid going to the store all together and just do the homework and order online – which has been working very well. 🙂

  • Craig says:

    The great thing about the internet is that a consumer should never go into a store to purchase a big pricey item again without having done some prior research. They shouldn’t be sold on a product, they should walk in knowing exactly what they want. They can do research, get numbers, recommendations. I did this when buying my TV, any other big purchase should be the same way.

  • Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas says:

    Excellent points. I think you can also splurge on something if it is something you have wanted for awhile (thought about and researched it) as long as you’ve save up the cash and making that purchase won’t impinge on other financial goals or your ability to pay your bills.

    After being out in the working work for several years, I was carrying around my same Target purse that I’d had since forever. I still love that bag, but have been looking for something more classy and work-appropriate with enough space. Las Fall, I spotted a bag at Cole Haan that fit all my dream wants (because of course this purse is moreso of a want than an absolute need). But the price was something I really didn’t want to pay. So I walked away, with my mind on it and thinking that I could really manage that price, but I really didn’t want to spend that much. AFter shopping around and not finding anything that caught my eyes, I find that purse one and a half months later for 50% off. It was still spendy… probably more expensive than the total of all the purses I’ve ever owned previously, but I snatched it up quickly. Hehe. But I had a limit (like was mentioned) and when that was met, I knew I needed to go after it (since that purse was still on my mind and I had the reserves for it and it would be a timely, elegant addition to my wardrobe). So basically I don’t think you always have to buy only to the level of “need”, especially when purchases are well thought out and are something of “value” to you.

    But of course, I agree, why buy “extra” when you can do just fine and be happy with a more basic model of something else. Every situation/purchase is different it seems.

    • Kate says:

      I got a very nice, pricey purse at a Consignment Shop for considerably less than it cost in the boutique where I saw it originally. On the other hand, I saw a really nice purse at that same shop that cost $238! And that was in a Consignment Shop!

      One thing I always think about when buying something expensive is, “Would someone stick a gun in my face to get this?” Unfortunately, where I live this is a consideration.

  • marci says:

    I would add one more thing to your list…. what is the top dollar you are willing to pay for that item? Then take that list shopping with you, and DON’T give in to temptation.

    And when you find the item that meets all the criteria, be prepared to buy it on the spot. You’ve already thought about it and decided it was a need or it wouldn’t be on the list.

  • Sara Aase says:

    This is great analysis, especially the part about seeing the transaction from the seller’s perspective. Takes practice and feels awkward at first, but ultimately clarifies your goals and prevents second-guessing.

  • I really do struggle with this myself. It’s a constant push and pull, “I want this”, “I don’t really need this.” “Is this feature important?” Hard to keep it in the fore front of your mind when you’re in the store full of bright, shiny, new, neat things.

  • tom says:

    You are right Marci, having a list is good, along with a budget figure in mind or actually on hand. I know I have gone into stores with the intention of buying things but walked out with nothing because I thought to myself that I should first make the money or I can spend this money on something else.

  • tom says:

    There is a difference between need and want. This is where people can’t even distinguish the difference.

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