Technology can be a pain in the ass. Smartphones, Game Consoles, DVRs, digital thermostats, talking cars, and home appliances. A lot of this technology is designed to improve our lives, give us more free time, maybe even help us save a little money. Most of it falls short. In fact, when multiple technologies are combined, they can often have a negative impact on our time and quality of life. Multiply this by a family of four or more, and all this stuff can make you its bitch. Constantly beeping, demanding upgrades, presenting you with unrepairable failures, offering multiple support options, mostly paid ones, none of which actually solve your problem, and all of which require your time.
Planned obsolescence has become a science, hurling consumers into a constant cycle of upgrades and repairs on items that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago, taking time and attention away from more important matters. It in an affluent society we often just throw money at the problem, replacing the defective item with the new shiny model, while the old one often ends up in a landfill.
It’s possible to step off this treadmill, embrace simplicity or minimalism. I believe these are viable approaches that can change people’s lives. The problem most people have is that they been on this hedonic treadmill so long they are afraid to step off. It’s the transition from having your life managed by stuff to a simpler path. That is the challenge for most people. I’ve been working to simplify my life for over three years: writing about it, working on it, giving stuff away, but still have a long way to go. Some progress is forward progress, and that’s what I’m focused on.
Something I found that has worked is evaluating any purchase, item you want to replace, or something you’re having trouble parting with, on a cost per use basis. Here’s how it works. Cost Per Use is the price of something divided by the approximate number of times you use it over the life of that item. So something you use many times per day may be a better investment than something inexpensive you use infrequently. Based on this formula, my iPhone is one of the least expensive things I own, and after I finish with it, I’ll give it to a family member, lowering the cost of use even further. As an added benefit, my iPhone replaced about 20 other items helping me lighten the load getting rid of everything from music CDs to handheld GPS units.
Some other cost per use examples
It’s best to start with the big stuff, so let’s start with automobiles. If you buy or lease a new SUV every three years you’re absorbing all of the depreciation and increasing your cost per use of that vehicle substantially. That vehicle loses most of its value in the first three years. If you buy a larger vehicle your cost per use is also higher based on gas and operating expenses. To lower the cost per use, it would make sense to buy your next car like it’s your last. Purchase one high quality, fuel-efficient vehicle and keep it for at least 10 years. You can lower your cost per use even further if you know exactly the vehicle you’re looking for and can purchase a low mileage version just coming off lease, and keep that vehicle. Once those car payments end, you’ll find the maintenance costs required to keep the car in excellent running condition are a lot easier to swallow. I’ve also found that keeping a car in excellent condition, including the occasional carwash or detailing, makes me less apt to even think about replacing it.
Clothing can be phenomenally expensive when evaluated with cost per use. It’s best to look at clothing as a wardrobe rather than trying to think about cost per use of individual items. Simple and classic items that go with everything and are very well made can really bring your CPU down. Steve Jobs was famously known for wearing the same thing every day, a black shirt and blue jeans. You can bet his cost per use on those turtlenecks was pretty low. The real savings here is time. If you limit your wardrobe extensively to a few types of high quality items think of all the time you save each day deciding what to wear. One of the things I’ve tried to focus on in redoing my wardrobe is not replacing things I get rid of, and working on wearing stuff out. At least as long as my wife Kelly will allow me to be seen in it! The best way to do this is when you do purchase a new item, think about something of such high quality that it would last at least 10 years, stay in style, and replace at least five other items. When you compare it to running out to a big box store to buy crap, you’ll find that your overall cost per use goes way down, especially on items like shoes and jackets.
When it comes to clothes, you often hear people say, “Well, I need a wardrobe for work.” With casual work environments and more people working from home it’s easier to assemble a minimalist wardrobe than ever before. Courtney Carver assembled an entire wardrobe out of 33 items. I think men have it even easier, less pieces, parts and accessories. Unfortunately, we tend to have expanding waistlines so there’s some additional benefits to staying in good enough shape to keep the same pair of Levi’s for a decade.
If you apply the cost per use formula to lots of things you’ll find you don’t have to give up much. I have a desk loaded with technology but both of my computers are now over 7 years old. Using cloud-based software, faster Wi-Fi connections, and a few memory, and hard drive upgrades have kept them running like new. I use them every day.
Next time you’re evaluating a new purchase, whether it’s a hoodie, a power tool, or even a new car, here are a few tips to maximize your cost per use.
- Avoid bells and whistles. This really applies to everything from small appliances to automobiles. Think of it this way, you can buy a product loaded with add-ons and high-tech features, sometimes for less than a simpler high-quality item. The more technology that’s loaded into any automobile or talking appliance with digital touchscreens, the more potential it has for failure. Evaluate the product on its ability to do what it was designed to do like wash clothing, vacuum the carpet, efficiently get you to your destination.
- Buy quality. It helps to look at online reviews on sites like Amazon. I always look at the average then remove one star, as people (including me) often overrate products they purchase to make themselves look smart! Consider five-star reviews to be four-star reviews etc. Make sure there are enough reviews for a representative sample and average. On Amazon that’s like 100+ reviews.
- Do your research and wait at least one additional day before you make any big purchase. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about purchasing something, going through the motions but then just skipped it, as I realized I didn’t really need it. Researching something helps me delay purchases. For instance, I might research the new hot camera but realize my current camera is just fine.
- Are you replacing something that’s needed or just buying something because it’s on sale. I always ask my wife Kelly to go shopping in our closet first. There’s a very good chance there’s going to be a very nice pair of black shoes in there.
- Wear stuff out. Make sure whenever you’re buying something you’re replacing something that you’ve worn out. 20 years from now when you look back on all the great steaks you cooked on that grill you’ll know it’s done its job. It can be pretty tempting to go out and buy a shiny new one but if you get it right the first time you won’t even have to think about it.