3 Hidden Decisions that Destroy Your Budget

by David Ning · 52 comments

Growing up, everyone around me thought our family was rich. We drove nice cars, dressed neatly and never hinted at our money woes. It was strange because we couldn’t be more middle class when it came to our household income but the truth didn’t matter, there was no point denying.

One day, I asked my mom about this, and she told me that though we didn’t have doodles of money, we stretched every dollar like it was noodles that wouldn’t snap. Here were a few of her tricks:

1. Don’t Buy Everything

I forgot where I heard the quote first, but I love the saying of “You can have anything, but you cannot have everything.” We often bought quality goods that lasts for a long time without showing wear, but we were never allowed to buy everything we have our sights set on. We force ourselves to contemplate again and again whether something was really worth our hard earned dollars before we made the purchase. Strangely enough, not taking our wallet out as often made every purchase more special too.

The 30 day rule helped, but just the fact that we didn’t buy everything right on the spot cut down the majority of our spending.

2. Never Spending More for the Same Thing

We just got used to spending the time to look for bargains and see if we can do more with less. If there was another item that costs less but offered comparable benefits, we usually opted for the cheaper version. Not only did it save us money over the long run, the research involved in the whole process also made us more aware of the quality of the items we were buying, helping us narrow down the vast number of choices out there.

It didn’t start off that way though, as we were paying for features we didn’t even want (or know about) like everybody else. Eventually, looking back at our past purchases helped. Did we really need to spend that much on the TV we bought when something much less would have worked just as well?

3. Don’t Keep Buying the Same Thing Over and Over Again

Buying quality products isn’t enough. You still have to take care of what you purchase if you want it to last. Cherishing what you have also helps reduce the chances that it gets lost and needs to be replaced.

We owned a nice car, but we drove it for 10 years. Let me give you an example of how the math works to illustrate my point. Let’s say you changed a $30,000 car every three years. Usually, the typical car you buy would depreciate to roughly $10,000 – $15,000 after three years. Let’s tilt the numbers to your side and use $15,000. This means that you are still losing $5,000 a year. After 10 years, that’s $50,000, enough to buy a much more luxurious car.

This works for cars, but it pretty much works for everything too. Instead of replacing your computer all the time, why not take care of it by cleaning it up every once in a while? How about your clothes? If you wash them as instructed by the labels, they will last longer and look nicer. Shoes? Take some time to clean out the dirt before it starts chewing into the fabric. The list is goes on and on…

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea October 8, 2010 at 8:21 am

I’ve actually become really good at number 2 here.. comparing prices before I buy. I used to be a bit of an impulse shopper but I suppose there is really no excuse for no comparing now… the comparison engines make it waaaay too easy for us.

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MoneyNing October 8, 2010 at 8:11 pm

That’s absolutely true. The comparison shopping engines is sooooo quick that it makes buying most things at a brick and mortar store almost obsolete.

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Robert October 8, 2010 at 9:11 am

Your third point is especially valid for electronics, namely televisions. In my household, we buy a television and use it until it breaks, which is usually 8-10 years. I recently upgraded to a television with HD and, even though it doesn’t have LED or 1080p, it’s still a darn good TV. If I try to keep up with the newest, most expensive technology, I’ll drown in debt within half a decade.

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MoneyNing October 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm

I’m always amazed every time I go to Costco and see all these people carrying out those HDTVs. How many of these do they really need?.?

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margaret jacobson May 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm

I wonder if they want it OR they need it? I only watch TV for free – online, library, basically the news on my tablet.

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Jenna October 8, 2010 at 10:40 am

I agree with number two. It’s pretty these days with the internet and smart phones to be able to find the cheapest price. Plus, you feel even better when you actually make the purchase.

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Sean Browne October 8, 2010 at 11:22 am

This is great advice and insight on how to enjoy the really good things in life without putting a dent in your pocket. But for certain items, going with the lower priced item sometimes has a noticeably lesser quality. But for a majority of things spending money on quality items is the way to go and not purchasing everything that is on sale.

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Steve Jobs October 8, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Those are wonderful tips and actually work if coupled with self discipline. But one thing I would like to point out is the computer. We know computers can last two to four years max but the software won’t last that long. Computer usability is two years, if you don’t upgrade, you will be left behind in terms of its usability.

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MoneyNing October 8, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I don’t believe computers simply lose its usefulness after 2 years. For the majority of the population who’s computer usage is checking email and surfing the web, computers last an amazingly long time.

Those who need to upgrade usually are those who keep upgrading their software, namely, the guys who play computer games or professionals who always want the latest processing intensive applications like Photoshop or ProE.

Computers are more powerful than most people think and if they will just take the time to reinstall the operating system (if they are running Windows), it will run almost like new.

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Andy Barker November 14, 2010 at 8:03 am

I completely agree, MoneyNing. Just reinstalling the OS will help tremendously to improve the performance of your computer. Also, a cheap memory upgrade is easy to do and will speed things up considerably. I’m still using my 4-year-old desktop PC and I have no need for a new one. I’ve added more memory and even upgraded the processor in order to make photo and video editing faster.

Yes, a brand new computer would be nice, but I can’t justify spending the money to replace the perfectly good computer I already paid for. I’ll have it another couple years I’m sure.

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Cec November 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I”m with you on this. I have a laptop that is almost 5 years old, and I’ve been able to upgrade it to Vista and then Windows 7, and keep the software updated. Only things I’ve had really upgrade was more ram and a bigger hard drive, and its running pretty good.

I do realize 5 years on a laptop is pretty good, and it might have some hardware issues start to crop up soon. But I think next time I will go for a desktop to replace it, and then a netbook/basic laptop for when my current notebook finally bites the dust.

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Brandon January 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm

I have an 11 year-old laptop. A 7 year-old laptop. And a 7 month-old desktop. (I have them all for various, entirely valid reasons.)

They all still run fine for what they’re used for. Take care of your things, and they will last you a long, long time.

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Brent August 24, 2011 at 9:50 am

I recently retired a 9 year old laptop (IBM ThinkPad) that was the cat’s meow back in its hey-day. And the primary reason for letting it go to charity was the keyboard getting damaged. I upgraded the memory once about 4 years ago.

I also just acquired an HP desktop from 2003 running XP Home; it works OK for what it’s used to do (i.e. email, web browsing, and occasional picture viewing). No hardware upgrades.

OsamaBinLogin May 7, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Often the biggest thing you can do to rejuvinate your old computer is to get more ram memory. For a laptop I usually buy the laptop with whatever it comes with, then years later, upgrade it to the max (cuz often you have to throw away the old ram – not too cost-effective to upgrade in steps). If you can see how much ram is unused during times of slowness, that should give you a clue (mac: Activity Monitor > System Memory, and look at the size of the green pieslice. If there isn’t any, that’s the problem.)

If your disk is slow (if you can hear it or feel it or watch the little light) AND you’ve recently run out of disk space (even if you freed up some space since), try defragging your disk. When space gets tight, it dilligently starts using up the little snippets of space all around to make room for your files – but that makes a lot more work when it tries to read back that file.

Alternative: Buy a new external disk, about 2x to 6x bigger than the disk you have. You WERE running out of space anyway, right? Keep around the old disk, all your stuff is there. Slowly move stuff to the new disk. Not the system – don’t try moving that. but you can try installing your system new (or the new version of your OS) on the new disk, although you might have to reinstall a lot of other stuff on top of it. Take small steps, take your time (months), and don’t delete the stuff on the old disk until you know it works well on the new disk. The more stuff running on the new disk, the faster everything will get. No fragging problems cuz of the wide open spaces on the new disk.

When buying a new machine, don’t get the top-top-top of the line, get a notch or two lower. You’ll get 90% of the performance at 70% of the price.

written on my circa 2004 mac G5

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John G. May 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Absolutely true.

With some basic maintenance and the timely updating of key software pieces, a good PC will last for years & years. The “average” home user – especially if they’re “40+” does not need a top-of-the-line PC for what they typically do.

I have a 2.66 GHz Pentium 4, with 1.5 GB RAM, running XP Professional, and two HD’s totaling about 1 TB of storage. I never have trouble with anything I want/need to do. The daily boot-up might take a bit longer than I’d like, but so what ?

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Tisha October 18, 2010 at 11:35 am

I disagree. With some forethought, and realizing the “need” to have the hottest/newest games is not a need at all, a computer these days should easily last 6 years for most people, if chosen and treated with care.
My current laptop was medium-range price when I bought it (on sale, of course, after much shopping around), but I bought a brand that has been reliable for me, and the pieces I spent the money to upgrade were those that I knew I would need to make the laptop stand up to improvements in technology.
This laptop is now 4 years old, and still is more than enough power for all but the most high-tech software and games, which I don’t need. the Windows, Office, and games I have are plenty for what I need to do. I don’t :need: the fancy graphics card, the fast processor, etc… sure they’d be nice, but not indulging in them gives me quite a lot of extra cash for other things I’d rather do or have.
This year, I expect to spend about $100 on parts upgrades to keep it useful to me for at least another 2-3 years.

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Mark October 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I disagree as well. My current computer has lasted 4 years and is still working fine. I do not use it to download a lot of games and movies. It is just used for work purposes.

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Revrant February 21, 2011 at 3:04 am

I wouldn’t be that extreme, I had my computer for four and a half before moving up, but I’m a gamer. I believe the author means maintain the computer rather than ditch it when it gets dusty or slows down, keeping a computer ten years is rather ridiculous to suggest, only a bleeding edge computer could possibly last that long.

Even then, it would become bogged down by the demands of a newer OS that would be required to run the latest necessary software, if we’re gauging this from a casual user’s perspective.

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Rob March 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm

As long as one performs proper and regular maintenance on a computer, it can last for years.

First bought my Desk Top in 1998. I’ve added RAM, and had to replace the hard drive once. Was running Windows ME, now it has XP. I use it for games, internet, and downloading music. The case is crap, but the guts still work fine.

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lori October 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm

What exactly is proper and regular maintenance?

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Blake May 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm

If you can only get 2 years out of a computer, then you are doing one of three things.

1. You are operating at the cutting edge of technology (more than the company I work for that designs missiles (we get new computers every 3 years)).

2. You are gumming it up with so much spyware, useless software trials and promotional packages that it slows to a crawl and you think the only way to fix it is to buy a new machine.

3. You are not spec-ing your computer properly when you buy it.

I still use a 5 year old computer I bought in college. At the time it was a very high end machine, and now it still holds its own. You can buy a new computer now (a lower end model) with exactly the same specs.

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clean credit report October 14, 2010 at 6:18 am

This is such a really nice post not so long but seems so right. I like number 2 and you were right. We can all compare prices but we should also ensure that we will not sacrifice the quality and usability of a particular product.

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Olivia October 14, 2010 at 8:03 am

Another thought is to buy less. How many chef’s knives do you regularly use? How many pairs of black shoes do you wear? To narrow your purchases down to essentials coupled with your “buy quality” suggestion saves a bundle in cash and leaves you with plenty for your needs.

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Chris November 9, 2010 at 11:23 am

Too true.

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TwinsMama October 14, 2010 at 12:28 pm

#2 is great. For some products I’ve often found myself researching the best deal for so long that I eventually no longer want to buy what I was looking for.

Works great for our family.

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Stella October 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm

My car is almost old enough to vote and when my 20+ year old TV finally bit the dust, I replaced it with a 27″ TV I got for $40 off Craigslist. Cha-ching.

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Andy Barker November 14, 2010 at 8:06 am

HA. Awesome, Stella.

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Lucky7 October 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I’ve taken to shopping at the local Godwill store. Although I rarely find clothes that I want for me and my kids, I have found some wonderful electronics for my kids: Leapster handheld console and 6 games for my 4 year old daughter for $19.99, replacement cell phone for my son (the exact brand that broke) for $9.99 (had it turned on and added to my plan for free), elaborate painting and coloring kits for my 9 year old, backpacks for school, a pair of nifty boots for my daughter, and various things for myself (a window airconditioner in good condition for $19.99–it only needed freon). The list goes on and on. If I need something, I look there first. After that, I hit the dollar stores for household goods and check sale ads at other stores.

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Stuey December 28, 2010 at 8:02 am

I with you Lucky 7. I love the Goodwill and other thrift stores. I am lucky enough that one is 5 minutes from my work and I can go on my lunch break if I want to. I buy all my dress shirts and childrens clothes there when they are on sale for $0.99, which is usually once every week. I am very particular when it comes to shirts, but I usually can find some great Banana Republic, Polo, Brooks Brother, etc. shirts for one dollar. And they are in great shape and usually come from the local dry cleaners who donate them if a customer forgets to pick them up (they still have the laundry tag on them) I havent bought a shirt from a regular store in years and find it hard to even go to TJMAX to spend 20 on one shirt. You would be amazed at what you can find, if you are willing to look. My 3 year old gets new $1 “fancy dresses” every other week because she loves them and they are great quality. For a dollar you cant go wrong and she can dress how she wants, plus I dont really have to worry if the clothes get too dirty. Her favorite is a beaded bridal flower-girl dress from Davids Bridal that only cost us $3.00. Much better than the cheap princess dresses you see for $20-30 at Kids R Us.

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Lucky7 October 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Ooops. Meant to say GOODWILL Store. :)

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Greg the electrician November 13, 2010 at 6:58 am

Expendibles in the household cost a lot of money: toilt paper, towels, soaps and detergents and so on.

We wait for the best sale and buy 3 of the Largest packages…Then, using a Target Card, if the sale is there, another 5% is saved…plus a bit more for a reduced Sales Tax.

Buying a real good used car is much cheaper of course. You may not have to carry Collision on it, unless there’s a loan…so that’s an important savings. And put $100/mo away for repairs, etc. That money will grow and if not used that much, will be a down payment towards another car.

IRS allows about 50 Cents per mile for a deduction, if available for you. Anyhow, that is the actual cost of running your cars. So, keep the miles down by doing round trips, instead of doing a bunch of short trips

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Tuesdie March 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Greg my husband and I have recently started couponing (he’s having the time of his life) what we’ve found is that no one should ever pay for tooth paste, deodorant, bath gel or air fresheners (FREE) You should never pay more than small change for shampoo, conditioner and laundry detergent. Check CVS, Walgreens and RiteAid sales paper every Sunday morning and use the coupons in the paper. Also check out coupon matching sites, (raininghotcoupons.com is our favorite) there are people with blogs that tell you how to make the deal at these drug stores. Get reward cards. Good Luck

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Cec November 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm

It amazes me how many people regularly buy new cars. Myself and my family usually only buy newer used cars 1-3 years old, and keep them until they are at least 10, that is huge savings, both on insurance and car payments. In fact, my dad repairs his cars as a hobby and can usually keep a car going for 15-20 years.

It also amazes me how many people buy and re-buy electronics. I’ve had the same 23-inch tube-type TV that I won in a fund-raising raffle when I was in high school. I’m finally thinking it is time to replace it, if I can find a decent TV in the 37-42 inch size range for about $400 on one of these after Thanksgiving/before Christmas sales – and that will probably get me by for the next ten years or so.

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Joann December 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I totally agree with you. In addition, I would like to add that don’t spend more than a $100 on one piece of clothing, bag, wallet, shoes. I see people pursue the luxury brands of clothing, and they just keep buying more and more. It just doesn’t make sense to me that why you need to carry a $300-$1500 handbag when there is no cash in the wallet? I am happy with the same pair of good Cole Hann shoes that I bought 10+ ago from an outlet store, cost only $40 (dollar valued back in those years) and I got the outer soles replaced for $15, I am wearing them in the office everyday now that people just can’t believe me, they still looking great. This is what I call value and quality. Btw, the same shoes helped me to survive the 911 escape.

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mn December 20, 2010 at 11:17 am

I agree, we can live like kings with a lot less. I haven’t had cable in years and am doing fine without it. My life is busy. I come home from work, take care of hw and family stuff and it’s almost time for bed. We watch shows on netflix and even if we are a couple years behind when the show went off the air, we still have fun watching them. Having been someone who only bought cheap stuff, I did realize that at times, it is imp. to at least look the part and buy quality stuff. So I bought comfortable shoes that were expensive but I wear them like anything and they are lasting a long time. I needed to evolve with the times. If I’m applying for jobs in the city, I need stuff that goes with the city. I recently had to buy a work appropriate purse. I bought one for $10 on the street. It is serving its purpose. I finally bought an expensive coat and don’t regret it bc winter requires warmth. This is the stuff I no longer wish to skimp on. I used to never buy things for myself, money was always tight. I’m trying to instill that in my children who seem to want everything all the time. I let them pick out some clothes from the mall but most times, I don’t take them. Saves the battle, esp. if your 8 yr old grabs a $60 leather jacket, and won’t listen to the fact that your bank account is at $100. It’s a balance of life. We buy cheap art supplies and do home activities. I am using bank points to go to the movies this holiday. For fun, we put up lights in our house, turn up the music and have a party. Life is about moments and memories. It is hard to get into it sometimes, but the mind can really overcome some hardships if you let it.

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Ron Stransky December 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I am sorry but a 6 year old laptop is no longer any good, even if it does run perfectly. Go buy a new computer. You will be glad you did

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Janet Stein January 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

There is a difference between a computer that simply works versus a computer that has the best technology and peak performance. Time is money and my time is valuable. I am too busy to be slowed down or disadvantaged. I want speed and the best software and programs available to do my job.

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GJ February 1, 2011 at 1:25 am

I agree with most of the ideas and suggestions posted here and in the article and have taken things a few steps further. On the automotive side, I always purchase used. When it comes time for repairs, I have learned to do them myself. With the money that I save on labor, I set aside some to purchase tools but never exceed what it would cost to have a mechanic do the work. The last desktop computer needed I built myself. Instead of purchasing a run of the mill consumer grade machine, I was able to build a gamers dream for the same price. This machine has been rocking along for seven years and is still better than most current models being sold today. Thrift shops and yard sales are my way of saying thanks to the corporate entities for shipping our jobs off shore. I take satisfaction in knowing that my dollars are going to people here in the US. I haven’t seen the inside of a mall in over a decade. We take a lot for granted in the US, especially how wealthy we all are in comparison to most of the world.

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Suzan February 21, 2011 at 6:20 am

Once a week, we go ‘junkin’, seeing and picking up stuff that we need that other people throw away – you would be surprised to find all kinds of good serviceable things that you could either keep or sell. Shopping at Goodwill, using as many coupons as I can, and tight budgeting gets us through – I am on disability from S.S. and cannot ‘work’ extra, or get a raise, so I have to save on things anyway with a fixed income. It’s tough living like this but it can be done – just no fancy cars, or ‘dream’ vacations…my current car was 9 years old when I bought it in ’09, and do the work myself, saving lots.

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guy March 5, 2011 at 11:58 am

I really enjoyed the first few suggestions… the car idea. that’s great… I usually only purchase a car that’s about 5 to 8 years old. purchased a van for $1500 all I have done is new tires and brakes been driving for 7 years… so what if it has 300,000 miles I do take care of my things. We grow most of our food… have only 4 acres sell enough surplus to purchase item of food we can’t grow. i raised 6 children and never made more than $20,000 no education also was able to send all the children to college… we own our home debt free… told our children when they got married.. live on the man income use wife income to get home debt free. having a debt free home is like having a second job and not have to go to work. also grow as much food as possible. on our little place we have a pond.. good for fish.. fun to play in.. raised ducks, geese we build our place adding rooms as the children came… had a big play room.. just for family fun… been married now for 52 years and still so very happy…. living debt free

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Jim March 27, 2011 at 6:51 am

I use #2 frequently. The $25 a year for consumer reports online has saved me loads over the years. As far as computers, I have a laptop and a desktop. The laptop was 2 years old when I bought it for $50. The previous owner had got a virus on it and didn’t want to spend the $90 to have it reset. My desktop is 6 years old and still runs great. I back up everything on it every month just in case it dies. As for TV’s, I refuse to buy a new one until one of mine dies. The one in my daughters room is 16 years old. One in the family room for playing video games, I bought used a few years back when someone had to have a new flat panel tv.

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John March 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Great article and good advice. I DO have to disagree with some of the posters on a couple of things, though. I bought a brand new Kia Rhondo. I made a great deal on it. I also included a 100,000 mile warranty that includes included oil changes and a bunch of other maintenance. I take it in every 3 months. I’m not mechanical, so I can’t fix it myself. The included maintenance more than pays for the cost of the warranty, and, if anything breaks, I don’t have $3500 in unexpected bills like I did on my last used car. I’ll never buy used again. Re computers. I have a 4 year old desktop that works just fine. Laptops, however, are necessary for my business. I used to buy used, but was having to replace them every couple of years. We just bought a new Macbook for my wife and a Toshiba Satellite for me in the last 2 years…and neither is close to wearing out. Used is NOT always better, esp. in cars and computers.

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KeepingYouInCheck March 31, 2011 at 11:32 am

Goodness, John. Sounds like you really needed that warranty on the lesser-reliable Kia (compared to a number of other leading imports).

Ron Stransky’s suggestion concerning new computers, is apparently borne out of a bit of technological ignorance (‘doutless, he’s unaware of the huge chipset defect issue associated with the latest, and otherwise greatest, cutting-edge Intel Sandybridge Processor powered PCs). Relative to computers, MoneyNing is right on.

. As for the suggestion

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Hsiaoshuang April 21, 2011 at 6:51 am

The 3 Rs that my grandma taught me in the 1960s: reduce, re-use, recycle. We were dirt-poor then but we survive without much physical suffering; most suffering that I encountered as a kid was mostly mental (the “shame” of walking to school because I wanted to save on the busfare, etc).

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Faye Pirkle May 7, 2011 at 8:10 am

Two ways I save money are: Throwing away the many catalogs that come,
and drying clothes outside, which saves about $40 a month on the power bill. Oh yes, and I also shop at Goodwill. Very few of the items in my closet come from retail stores. I paid $4.29 for a beautiful dressy top to wear to church. I have gotten like-new jigsaw puzzles at GW, put them together and gave them for Christmas gifts.

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cylo May 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm

you people are nuts.. spend all your money, eat what you want, fart in public, over charge your credit cards, eat sugary items…an spend and buy …. shoot after all what are we here for …………….you people are nuts…i get a new dining room and living room every year…….and i hve every apple product ever made………………yall is just poo

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cylo May 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm

p.s. file for bankrupcy thats whats its for…..so you do not have to be responsible

:)

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Witty Artist May 28, 2011 at 1:50 am

Out of these 3 suggestions I’m good at no. 1 – “don’t buy everything”. It’s true I sometimes exceed my budget, but I manage to keep the balance most of the times. As for not buying the same thing over and over again, I’m so careful with my stuff and keep them in good condition.

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A. C. July 12, 2011 at 11:45 am

What’s the reason for this post? These are not “hidden decisions”. This is just a money advice column for idiots. Most of the commenters already do these things (as they should) and this information is confirmatory at best.

Seriously, how many 13 year old children don’t know that you should “comparison shop”? Or that you shouldn’t “buy everything”?

#3 is pretty funny. How many people (with money trouble) are really buying a NEW car every 3 years? Who does this advice help?

Shoe fabric chewing dirt? Sounds like something from a fairy tale.

This article is a deceptively titled waste of time.

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D-eL October 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Good article and discussion. I would add, if missing, to buy local when possible. Buying local helps the community in which you live.

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winkyblinky January 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm

“Shoe fabric chewing dirt? Sounds like something from a fairy tale.” You probably don’t vacuum your carpet either, because dirt grinding into the fibers and wearing out your carpet “sounds like a fairy tale.” LOL. jokes on YOU, and your grubby, smelly, dirty shoes.

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Danny @ Claim Back PPI May 3, 2012 at 5:02 am

I struggle with many of the valid points you make, the trouble for me is something that is probably more common in men. When I do my research, check comparisons etc I talk myself out of a purchase that I would of made if I acted on impulse. For me this is good and bad but I certainly am not the normal, search for it, research, buy from cheapest kind of guy.

I would much rather pay more to pick it up from a retailer near me than wait for it to be delivered also.

Is there a way of calming this impulsiveness? It hasn’t got me into any difficulties yet and I certainly do not spend what i dont have so is it really a bad thing?

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