12.04.2009

false bargains, used goods and buying dilemmas

I've blogged many times about the "false bargain" of buying a cheaper product that quickly falls apart, as opposed to spending what seems like a lot of money on a higher-quality product that will perform better and last longer.

I generally opt for higher quality and long-lasting. I hate shopping, don't accumulate, and hate sending a recently purchased pile of junk to landfill, so spending more money but buying less frequently is usually a better fit for me. The perfect example of this is the expensive chair I bought, which will last at least 10 years, probably twice that, and has alleviated a huge amount of strain and stress from my back, hips and legs. I was spending $150 or $200 on a new chair every few years. I felt strange spending nearly $1,000 on a chair, but it's actually a bargain, and that's without the physical benefits.

On the other hand, since moving to Canada, I've discovered the joys of buying things used on Craigslist.

There have been things I'd like and could use, but am unwilling or unable to spend a lot of money on, so buying used is a good deal. It started when we found this house. We really wanted to take it, but it didn't come with a washer and dryer, which is strange for a rental. As a lifelong renter, I wasn't going to invest in beautiful new appliances; if you rent, your appliances are always used anyway. We found a washer in one place, a dryer in another, and a guy with a van to transport them both to our new place, all for $300. They worked great and I was thrilled.

The following summer, I briefly tried notetaking for hearing-impaired college students. I needed a laptop (I use a desktop at home), but I had no idea if the job would work out, and couldn't invest in an expensive new machine. As it turned out, the job did not work out, but I immediately found other uses for my little ThinkPad, especially Joy of Sox gamethreads.

That laptop died, and I replaced it with another used ThinkPad, and now I use it in school. At this point, I'm so accustomed to having both computers that I'd be loathe to give up either.

After that, we needed a new TV for the bedroom. Found one used on Craigslist, exactly what we wanted, and found a rolling cart to put it on. Both great, and the price was right. In this case, if it meant spending 1,000 bucks, I'd do without. But for $200, no problem.

So depending on the situation, I can go either way. Now I find myself in a middle ground and don't know which way to go.

Our old clothes dryer, the one we bought on Craigslist before moving in this house, recently broke. It might have been fixable, and Allan wanted to try, but we were both busy and stressed, and I felt it would be a mis-use of time to try to fix an old dryer, especially without experience, relying on instructions found online. I insisted we junk it and buy another used dryer. There are always people renovating or moving and getting rid of old appliances.

I found one in Mississauga for $50 and it fit in our car. It seemed to work at the guy's house. Alas. It sucks. It was not much better than our previous used dryer, and as of today, it's useless.

Is it worth it to fix a dryer you bought for $50, when you really don't know how?

Do I assume this was just a bad experience that cost us $50, and buy another used dryer? Like our first one, it might last two or three years.

Do I now spend more money on a new, higher-quality product? Of course, I don't have the money to do that, I'd have to charge it. I'm willing to incur debt for travel and for necessity, but for a dryer? Eww. (I know many readers are credit-averse, but to me Visa is a fact of life. But it has to be within a reasonable comfort zone, especially since we have no writing income coming in right now.)

I have similar questions about my laptop. Now that I regularly use both my laptop and my desktop, should I spend more money on a better laptop? It doesn't seem smart to spend $200 every two years on a used machine. But then again, I can do that in cash. A new machine means credit.

You guys always have good ideas. What do you say?

Updates.

Dryers. It's silly to spend a lot of money on a new dryer, money we don't have and would rather put to different use. We don't think the problem with the current dryer is house-related. I think I carted away someone's crappy old dryer and paid $50 for the privilege. No big deal. Win some, lose some.

In a fortunate coincidence, a friend who reads this blog (I'll let him identify himself if he wishes) happens to be getting rid of a dryer, only six years old, brand-new by my standards, and in good working condition. He was about to list it on Craigslist when he saw my post. We'll take it!

Laptops. I've continued to ask around, and everyone I've asked hasn't replaced their laptop in about five years, unless they just wanted an upgrade while their old computer was still working. But whether I've been fortunate that my computers have lasted many years longer than most people's, or whether my experience is the norm, there's no reason to spend major money on a new laptop, considering it's not my primary computer. It makes more sense to replace one used laptop with another, keeping my cost per laptop at about $200, which so far has lasted two or three years.

Whether these are false bargains, or sound rational decisions, I don't know. But I think for me dryers and laptops still fall under the heading "buy it used".

Thanks for the input!

30 comments:

L-girl said...

Amy, if you go back to the post linked above (2nd paragraph), you will see your comment about Harvey and the chair. That was in April, and still Harvey is breaking his spine on his crappy chair.

impudent strumpet said...

Since you've had problems with two dryers in a row, is it possible that the dryer problem is something with the house? I don't know anything about dryers, but I'm thinking they need a special plug, and they need an air vent thingy (as least mine and my parents' need these things), so maybe the problem is one of these things?

It doesn't seem smart to spend $200 every two years on a used machine.

The question is, how much would you be spending on a new machine and how long would it last? The amount I spend buying new would add up to significantly more than $200 every 2 years, but I buy mine with the goal of having it useable for gaming for at least five years, so your needs are probably cheaper.

L-girl said...

Since you've had problems with two dryers in a row, is it possible that the dryer problem is something with the house? I don't know anything about dryers, but I'm thinking they need a special plug, and they need an air vent thingy (as least mine and my parents' need these things), so maybe the problem is one of these things?

Allan is wondering about that, too. The first one lasted 2 years. It still worked, but I got frustrated because it took so incredibly long for everything to dry - big waste of energy and tons of trips to the basement. This 2nd one just seems really crappy. But maybe it is something about the hook-up.

but I buy mine with the goal of having it useable for gaming for at least five years, so your needs are probably cheaper.

Right. My laptop needs are very basic. I was thinking of just getting a netbook - all I need/want on a laptop is internet and word processing. I like the size and lightness, too.

redsock said...

Shit. I should have ordered my new computer before this happened.

**

We could buy a basic new dryer ($ ?) and sell it when we move.

Stephanie said...

Have you thouroughly cleaned out all lint traps? Including the outdoor exhaust which may also have a trap? Bad air circulation will cut efficiency in no time.

I am also a fan of air dried. Given the central heating most people use in the winter, line drying indoors is often as quick as using the dyer (t-shirts and under garments). Admittedly Jeans and other heavier garments take longer but not more than an overnight. I think it is also much more gentle for your clothes.

L-girl said...

Shit. I should have ordered my new computer before this happened.

Heh. Don't worry. We'll get your new computer.

We could buy a basic new dryer ($ ?) and sell it when we move.

That's a possibility. It kind of makes me sick to spend $500 of $600 that I don't have on a dryer, given the overall picture. We may have to. I don't know yet.

L-girl said...

Have you thouroughly cleaned out all lint traps? Including the outdoor exhaust which may also have a trap? Bad air circulation will cut efficiency in no time.

We've vacuumed everything we can get to. Allan is investigating if the exhaust pipe to the outside is somehow kinked or impeded.

I am also a fan of air dried.

Not me! Never, ever, ever. Too much work, takes up too much room, takes too long. I only air dry clothes that have to be ironed, and even those go in the dryer for a while to get the major wrinkles out.

I would definitely go back using a laundromat like I did in NYC before I line-dried my laundry.

I admire your low-energy use, but I can't do it.

Amy said...

Laura, I am working on Harvey. Right now I might be able to get him to do anything since he feels badly about me limping around. I will keep you posted.

I know nothing about used dryers. We have purchased maybe three dryers in the 30 or so years we have lived somewhere with a dryer hook-up. They each seem to last 10 years. Now we have also moved dryers when we relocate (including this last move) so I am not sure it is a bad investment even if you are a renter.

On the other hand, I have had to replace my NEW laptops every two years or so. They just seem to die. Repairs are ridiculous. The screen died on my last one a year ago, and it would have cost me over $300 to repair it. Instead I bought a new laptop for about that price. So maybe $200 for a used one that lasts two years is better than $350 or more for a new one that lasts two years. (I always buy whatever is the cheapest one. I just prefer new to used on certain things where I worry about service, quality, warranties, etc. And I am not afraid to charge stuff.)

As for a netbook, I think it depends on what you do. I hate the keyboard and the teeny screen. The screen would be fine for writing, but you cannot see a whole webpage at a time unless you reduce too much for my eyes. I suppose if you are only using it to take notes or type emails, it might work, but not for web surfing or anything else. And that's only if you don't mind the cramped keyboard!

L-girl said...

Amy, I knew you'd say that about Netbooks. I have no problem with the small screen or keyboard. I don't actually find them very small at all. I used to use an iPAQ, a handheld computer, and I loved it.

If I bought a new computer and it lasted only two years I would go ballistic. I always get the three-year extended warranty and computers last at least 5 years, usually more like 7. We recently added RAM to my 7-year-old desktop, it's good to go another several years.

L-girl said...

What does your ankle have to with Harvey's chair?

Amy said...

I should point out that I do not own a netbook, but Harvey does, and I have used it a few times.

L-girl said...

I always buy whatever is the cheapest one.

Could that be why they last 2 years?

What brand computer do you usually buy? I want to avoid it.

L-girl said...

I should point out that I do not own a netbook, but Harvey does, and I have used it a few times.

I remember that from gamethreads, that's how I knew you would say that about netbooks. Your computer was being repaired or had died, and you found it impossible or at least very difficult to gamethread on the netbook. I was very surprised. I could gamethread on my phone keyboard, no problem.

Amy said...

As for my ankle and the chair, there is no logical relationship at all. Just that right now he might do anything to make me smile, even spend $1000 on himself.

And I knew you would say that about the netbook---we must have had this conversation at some point.

We don't do extended warranties because they never seem to be worth the cost. So much is excluded from coverage that it is not worth it. And we usually can get free or cheap repairs through the IT department at school. But it's not just me...my kids and Harvey also seem to have about a 2-3 year useful life with their laptops. Maybe we just are hard on the little machines??

Amy said...

Brands: we have had Toshiba, Compaq, Acer (the one I have now), Dell....

L-girl said...

Wow, interesting. I always get the extended warranty - only on computers - and I have used them every single time, and it's always been a huge bargain. The problems always happen in the 3rd year, and I've gotten great service, at home, replacement parts, whatever was needed, all covered.

In my experience, a two-year warranty is almost worthless, but the three-year is always necessary - that's why it costs more. But it's has always saved me *a lot* of money.

L-girl said...

Also, re the extended warranty, nothing has ever been excluded - ever.

For my iPAQ, I bought an "accidental drop and damage" warranty, and my handheld was replaced, brand new, twice. HP paid for shipping, and upgraded the O/S.

redsock said...

I looked around online and saw a couple of easy things to do. I disconnected the tube that runs from the back of the dryer and goes outside to see if maybe that was plugged with lint, but that did not help.

I was able to open up part of the back of the dryer and vaccum out lint from the motor that spins the container around, still no improvement.

When I look into the front of the dryer, I can see a fair amount of lint trapped behind the holes in the back where the heat comes out. I don't know if cleaning that out would help much, but the screwdrivers I have don't match the screws (they look stop-sized shaped) so that is out for now.

The heating element may need to be replaced. But the pics I see online don't look like anything I can see in the back of the dryer.

Steve said...

I think there was a study somewhere on one of the tech websites like Gizmodo.com or Engaget which came to the conclusion that the average lifespan of a laptop was 3 years--mostly because of damage from dropping it. That sounds about right to me from some of the builds I've seen and handled in stores.

L-girl, there seems to be a design decision from a lot of electronic manufactures that their machines shouldn't last long enough for you to get more than a couple of years use out of them--other than a few manufactures in the high-end which seem to be just Apple and Sony. My personal conclusion from this is that the goal is to make you buy a laptop every couple of years, whether because of quality issues or changes in technology. So, I guess I can't really help you with that question.

L-girl said...

I don't doubt anything when it comes to planned or perceived obsolecense.

I guess I've been very lucky with my computers. Plus I never buy anything just to have the latest technology - I only upgrade if I actually need it.

Amy said...

On the extended warranty---like I said, we can get cheap or free repairs at school (depending on whether parts are needed or just service), so it has not made sense for us. But even so, we have usually found that those third year repairs are not worth it. Our IT people will usually advise us not to put more money in when we are unlikely to get much more useful life anyway.

And yes, I do think the manufacturers plan all this...

L-girl said...

It's interesting how my experiences have been exactly the opposite!

L-girl said...

The one experience I had with a virus - wiped out absolutely everything, down to the O/S! - Dell worked with me for weeks to get the whole thing back up and running. All free. It was a huge inconvenience, but all covered under the extended warranty.

Anyway, I still don't know what to do about my laptops. :)

Amy said...

Sorry! I did a quick survey of four friends tonight about their expected life span of laptops: two said two years (plus Harvey and me), two said 4-5 years. Not sure that helps, but it is more data.

impudent strumpet said...

Another option for laptops if you also use them at your desk at home is to also get a monitor, keyboard and mouse that live on your desk and plug them into the laptop when you're using it at home. More ergonomic and less wear and tear on the laptop.

Adding to the data points, I've only had two computers of my own (in 10 years), but both times I've gotten the biggest warranty possible and both times I've made use of it right before it expired, and then gotten another good year or two out of the computer. It was particularly valuable when my power supply died in university, because at that point I did not have the money or the credit limit to get a new computer. This might change as computer prices drop and my income security increases (hopefully!) but as it stands I buy new and get the most extended warranty possible just because it guarantees that I'll have a computer for that period of time.

tornwordo said...

I'd get a really old dryer. The old ones seem to last forever. Over the past 20 years the manufacturers have discovered that consumers only expect their big appliances to last 5 years. So they build them to meet that expectation now.

L-girl said...

Tornwordo, good point. Only I think the consumer expectations came after the manufacturers started churning out poorly made crap. But that is certainly a good reason not to spend $600 on a new dryer.

L-girl said...

The laptop-life conversation might be skewed here because I use a desktop at home, so when I'm talking about how long my computers last, that's what I'm basing it on. Desktops don't travel, so perhaps they last longer because of that. AND my laptop is not my main computer, it doesn't get as much use, so perhaps it lasts longer b/c of that.

However, I got 2 years of life out of an already-old, reconditioned laptop, and so far 2 years out of another used one.

Based on what Amy says, it would be somewhat foolish to spend much money on a new laptop - ever! If they only last 2 years, grab one from Craigslist for $200.

[ImpStrump's warranty experience is similar to mine.]

redsock said...

The laptop I have now -- my only computer -- dates back to 2003, I think, although it did get a new motherboard in 2006 after I spilled a glass of wine into the keyboard during a Red Sox game. Arggg! It is slow, but some extra RAM has helped somewhat with that.

L-girl said...

It is slow, but some extra RAM has helped somewhat with that.

It's slow because you have more apps on it than it can comfortably deal with. The machine itself runs fine, tho. (I think.)