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Frugality vs. technology
Old 04-27-2017, 04:20 PM   #1
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Frugality vs. technology

For those of us who are fairly frugal by nature (and I suspect that might be the majority of us), have you given much thought to the idea that hanging on to older things as long as possible before “tossing & replacing” can actually run counter to the goal of getting maximum value for your money?

Take cars, for example. Looked at in a straightforward, simplistic way, holding onto a car for, say, 15 years does give you maximum transportation value for the dollars spent on the car. But if you consider that technology advanced substantially in those 15 years and you missed out on some major improvements in crash safety, engine/fuel efficiency, personal convenience features (e.g. Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control), then might you have been better off not waiting 15 years to upgrade? Maybe the best “value” proposition, all things considered, was upgrading to a new car after only 11 years, or 10?

Another example could be mattresses. Is it really better to sleep on the same mattress for 12 years and wait until it’s lumpy and misshapen and not as pillowy soft and supportive before replacing it? Sure, keeping it for 12 years did make the most of those original dollars spent to purchase it, but what is the true value lost by foregoing the advancements in “mattress technology” that could have resulted in more restful, enjoyable, healthy sleep by purchasing a new mattress sooner?

I’ve been wrestling with these kinds of thoughts recently, triggered by a long-overdue upgrade of my A/C and furnace and also my recent purchase of a new car to replace one that was 17 years old. In both cases, I feel like I actually waited several years too long, and as a result, deprived myself of meaningful value in life that I could have easily obtained were it not for my excessive frugality.

How do you do these types of calculations when trying to decide when to replace older things? Obviously there is a balance between constantly buying the latest and greatest in order to always have the most beneficial technologies and hanging on to something until it basically falls apart in order to minimize the money spent on that class of item over your lifetime. But what is the right balance?
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Old 04-27-2017, 04:28 PM   #2
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The right balance for my family is to get newer car sooner, like every 10 years. For mattresses, we bought 2 brand new ones for us, in case one goes, we still have the other for replacement. They cost a pretty penny, but we value sleep. These mattresses in tandem should last up to 40 years, by then I will be close to 100.
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Old 04-27-2017, 04:28 PM   #3
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I don't replace things unless they become unreliable or uncomfortable. I realized that 2 of the pairs of shorts I brought in my (expensive) trip to Central America were at least 6 years old, from when I weighed 15 lbs. more, and needed to be cinched with a belt or they'd fall down. One pair had a small hole in the seat. I did throw that pair out before I left for home.

Cars? Meh. More fancy computer stuff that can go wrong ("check engine soon") and more Big Brother gear to track what I do. Not in a hurry for the latest and greatest.
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Old 04-27-2017, 04:35 PM   #4
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For us it remains a $/quality/usage tradeoff--and a rebuttable presumption that if we buy the latest and greatest today, there'll be something better out tomorrow.

My tractor is 1968 vintage F2000. New tractors are very nice, undoubtedly safer, and would make my field cutting an easier task. But, I use it infrequently (bush hog twice a year, grade driveway as needed). Thus, the replacement cost outweighs the admittedly greater risk of death/paralysis and the lack of amenities.

Dive gear, on the other hand, will soon be used much more frequently and intensively than was true while working, so it is time to upgrade even though everything still works after a decade. Need lighter/better etc. for travel, and want another set of decompression computers. (Same with travel/hiking clothes; to travel nicely with one carryon for indefinite periods has mandated high cost "tech" gear....)

Luckily, our cars (ignoring pickup) are 2009 and 2012, so no hurry on those.

As always, everything is a tradeoff.
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Old 04-27-2017, 04:57 PM   #5
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My surround sound receiver is at the repair shop now. Volume doesn't work until its been warmed up for about an hour. They haven't diagnosed the problem yet, but it could cost up to $300 to fix it.

I have 2 separate zones - so it can play the TV in the family room with music everywhere else. But my receiver is too old to pump my music through Apple tv to zone 2- which is what I want to do. Newer receivers do this, and probably other things that mine does not. So I have a decision to make when they give me the repair cost. Repair the old one or get a new one. Or - everything is fine now without a receiver - watching tv with a pair of old speakers wired straight to the tv. Maybe I don't need a receiver.
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Old 04-27-2017, 04:59 PM   #6
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In some cases, advances in technology make the product obsolete (bought any cassette tapes recently?) or introduce a new capability that one simply must have (smartphones vs. flip phones). But when the advances are incremental, I hate to throw out things that still work. As they deteriorate, at some point their performance drops below what is acceptable to me. That's when I know it's time to replace them.

For example:

My bedroom set and mattress were purchased in 1992. The mattress (Serta) was the highest quality available at the time. I cover it with a mattress pad and turn it regularly. It has retained its shape really well and is just as comfortable as it was when new. While mattress technology has advanced in the past 25 years, my mattress remains completely fit for purpose and I see no need to replace it in the foreseeable future. It may well outlast me.

I was gifted a tabletop grill about 10 years ago. The electronics were fine, but the nonstick coating had worn off. Everything was sticking to it, and it was a PITA to clean. Out it went. I replaced it with a low tech cast iron reversible grill (Lagostina) that will stretch my cooking skills and hopefully be easier to clean and season. It happened to be on sale, too!

I kept my last car (Honda) for 17 years. When I finally traded it in, it had served me very well but components were beginning to fail on a regular basis and it was no longer fun to drive. Any longer would have been too long, but I am glad I got that last year out of it, because that was an expensive year.
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Old 04-27-2017, 05:19 PM   #7
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I'm on year 10 of my car; 80,000 miles. It's just a tool. Still gets me from A to B safely and is not a cash drain.
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Old 04-27-2017, 05:44 PM   #8
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I don't replace things unless they become unreliable or uncomfortable.
That's about what we do. My 2003 GMC pickup truck runs fine and at 97k miles is hopefully just getting broken in. We got 173k miles out of DW's 2003 Buick Century and replaced it with a 2014 Honda Accord. Now that she's not having to deal with FIL's issues I hope it will last longer than the Buick did.

One issue with the Honda is that it sits much lower to the ground than anything I have ever driven. This makes it handle well, but at age 67 I'm finding that car harder to get out of than it used to be. DW also mentions that so we may end up replacing it sooner than mechanically required because of that issue.
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Old 04-27-2017, 06:06 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sojourner View Post
Take cars, for example. Looked at in a straightforward, simplistic way, holding onto a car for, say, 15 years does give you maximum transportation value for the dollars spent on the car. But if you consider that technology advanced substantially in those 15 years and you missed out on some major improvements in crash safety, engine/fuel efficiency, personal convenience features (e.g. Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control), then might you have been better off not waiting 15 years to upgrade? Maybe the best “value” proposition, all things considered, was upgrading to a new car after only 11 years, or 10?
I hate those features. I don't even use regular cruise control, much less adaptive, whatever that is. I don't use Bluetooth in the car. My car has a radio and that's all I need. If my cell phone rings, I pull aside and park before answering it.

I traded in my Solara on my Venza when I retired, even though the Solara was only 10 years old, because I was worried about sequence of returns risk. I wanted to make sure that if the market dropped during the first five years after I retired, I wouldn't have to buy a car at a market low. So this was part of my financial plan for probably a decade before I retired.

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Another example could be mattresses. Is it really better to sleep on the same mattress for 12 years and wait until it’s lumpy and misshapen and not as pillowy soft and supportive before replacing it? Sure, keeping it for 12 years did make the most of those original dollars spent to purchase it, but what is the true value lost by foregoing the advancements in “mattress technology” that could have resulted in more restful, enjoyable, healthy sleep by purchasing a new mattress sooner?
I have had my present mattress for 13 years and love it. It doesn't feel lumpy and misshapen to me; it just feels like it's broken in. It's my favorite mattress/bed in the world. Wouldn't trade it for anything. I have a king sized mattress and I am an active sleeper, sleeping alone but flopping all over it at various times during the night. So, I probably only have about 4 years' wear on any one part of it.

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I’ve been wrestling with these kinds of thoughts recently, triggered by a long-overdue upgrade of my A/C and furnace and also my recent purchase of a new car to replace one that was 17 years old. In both cases, I feel like I actually waited several years too long, and as a result, deprived myself of meaningful value in life that I could have easily obtained were it not for my excessive frugality.
I waited until my A/C hadn't worked at all for a couple of months, before replacing it. I didn't want to spend the money. But, August and September in New Orleans are brutal, and I had it replaced in mid September of last year. OK, I admit it's better than the old Freon system that had been in the house forever. That one, I should have replaced six months earlier I suppose. As for a new car, I can afford one but I can't stand all the electronics and technology they cram into cars these days and I hate feeling like the car makes all the decisions for me. I may never buy a new car. If there was one I could tolerate, I'd buy it tomorrow.

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How do you do these types of calculations when trying to decide when to replace older things? Obviously there is a balance between constantly buying the latest and greatest in order to always have the most beneficial technologies and hanging on to something until it basically falls apart in order to minimize the money spent on that class of item over your lifetime. But what is the right balance?
Buy the new item when you feel it will truly enriche your life experiences. Don't buy it just because you feel you should (unless it is dangerous, like a car that is falling apart). That's my advice, anyway.
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Old 04-27-2017, 06:22 PM   #10
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Really depends on what it is and what the problems are.

If a car is for transportation only then extra features are not necessary. You can always do the cost analysis of repairing/replacing a car. The cost of a newer car for me makes little sense. I don't drive all that much and the lower fuel economy is irrelevant because of the low mileage. If we were to drive across the country we would likely rent because both are cars are older (a 91 and 97) and it might not be worth the risk of breaking down in the middle of nowhere.

I have an old bike and a new one. The old one is perfect for short trips but isn't as easy to ride into the mountains or long distances.

Computers are probably the only thing I more regularly upgrade. There the difference between an old one and a new one can be substantial and worth the upgrade. I might do that with my phone soon too though partially it's because my older Iphone doesn't have the great cameras the newer ones have, especially for low light pictures
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Old 04-27-2017, 06:30 PM   #11
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Not replacing a mattress that causes me to lose sleep and wake up with a sore back every morning isn't being frugal. It's being miserly and acting irrationally. Being frugal means getting value for one's money, but depriving oneself of things that provide more utility than they cost crosses a line.

I'm all for "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", hence I hang onto appliances and the like for a long time. But if it ain't working, it's time to buy something that will work.
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Old 04-27-2017, 06:32 PM   #12
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My surround sound receiver is at the repair shop now. Volume doesn't work until its been warmed up for about an hour. They haven't diagnosed the problem yet, but it could cost up to $300 to fix it.
A/V receivers are another good example of this. Anything older than about 2010 will likely not support the newer HDMI standards, which you would want if connecting it to a late-model TV... or if planning to upgrade to a new 4K TV any time soon. Repairs to an old A/V receiver, in my experience, are generally not worth it unless you consider the receiver to be "vintage" and have some sort of nostalgic value. Otherwise, you can buy something just as good with newer features for just a little more money typically.

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That's about what we do. My 2003 GMC pickup truck runs fine and at 97k miles is hopefully just getting broken in.
Believe me, I am generally all in favor of the "buy and hold" strategy when it comes to cars. But buying a new one recently really made me rethink the idea, especially when it comes to advances in safety. The technology on newer vehicles that helps avoid forward collisions and also scans for potential obstacles while backing up (especially in places like cramped, busy parking lots), not to mention the advances in air bags and crash resilience, makes hanging onto a 15+ year old car kind of unnecessarily dangerous, relatively speaking. Would you agree?
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Old 04-27-2017, 06:36 PM   #13
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It does take money to maintain older equipment and sometimes I wonder if I come out ahead. nuke_diver mentioned bicycles; I have a Diamondback hybrid DH bought me almost 16 years ago. I probably average $100/year on maintenance- I ride it a lot. It's also a pain to heft on and off of the car bike rack and I know I'd have better sprint triathlon times if I got something lighter- but I love that bike and now that DH is gone it has sentimental value. Same issue with expensive watches.

Still, it also appeals to me that I'm not buying new every 2 or 3 years and throwing the old in the landfill.
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Old 04-27-2017, 06:44 PM   #14
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Our 2006 car is running just fine. Absolutely no reason to get rid of it.

Our 1997 car is running just fine. Son sees absolutely no reason to get rid of it either.

Both maintained per the manufacturer' spec. Toyota's add agency paid us cash to feature the latter in a on line commercial a few years ago.

Our 15 year old mattress is perfect. Bought high end, rotate every few months as per the specs and it is just fine. And we certainly would not put up with sleeping on a lumpy mattress because we were too frugal to replace it.

Moving in two months though and want a larger TV-60-70 inch to replace our 40 inch which will then go into the guest area.
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Old 04-27-2017, 06:53 PM   #15
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Still using the Pioneer HPM-60 speakers I bought in 1977, with TV and sound gear bought 20-30 years later. I think it's because they're on the top shelf, and we don't look up much...
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Old 04-27-2017, 07:02 PM   #16
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Buy the new item when you feel it will truly enrich your life experiences. Don't buy it just because you feel you should (unless it is dangerous, like a car that is falling apart). That's my advice, anyway.
I forgot to say that I buy a new laptop computer every couple of years, which is more than just a little bit insane, KWIM? But OMG, I get such a huge kick out of it. If you think kids are happy on Christmas morning, you ought to see W2R opening the box for her new laptop computer. Which, by the way, I did just a couple of weeks ago.

Some people buy booze, I buy computers.... But the rest of that stuff? Eh, who cares.
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Old 04-27-2017, 07:11 PM   #17
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As many others have pointed out... it makes a difference on what you have now and what you might want in a newer product....

I WISHED I still had my 2004 TL with manual... it was a nice sport sedan that had less than 50K miles... loved that car and would have kept it 20+ years if I had not totaled it...

We bought a memory foam mattress... zero indention after 8 years... had to get rid of my old one I had 25 years when I got married... the hole fit me perfectly but DW said she would roll toward me at night .... Same problem with couch... DW did not like the hole that also fit me just right...


As for normal cars, we use the 10yr/100K miles rule... one of these has to be hit before we look at replacing... we currently have an 8 YO one that will go to DD when she gets older, so I will get a new one... but DW loves her SUV and has stated she does not like the look of the new ones... it is only 2 years old so we do not have to think about it for awhile...

As for AC.... mine is close to 20 years old.... but it works good so far... paid $700 to fix it 2 years ago, but will probably replace it the next time it goes out...
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Old 04-27-2017, 07:22 PM   #18
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@Sojourner, your two examples: cars and mattresses just don't seem to apply to me.

I had 2001 car and now have a 2011 car. They get the same gas mileage and have essentially the same safety features. Today's cars don't seem to have anything safer. My 2011 has sonar/radar, mucho airbags, backup camera, etc. Sure, things are betters, but not much better. I don't want bleeding edge technology. Yes, I have been in a Tesla Model X for hours and it has bleeding edge technology which didn't make me feel any safer.

As for mattresses, they are are low tech. The mattress I have is just as new as the day I bought it almost 25 years ago. Maybe it's because I don't weigh a lot and I turn the mattress once every 5 years. Lumpy and misshapen? Are you jumping on your mattress or something? I always laugh at the radio commercials that suggest one should change a mattress every 7 years. Who came up with that idiotic sales pitch?

As for Air Conditioning, we have two of them because one was destroyed by lightning. The old 25 year-old one is as efficient as the newer one.

My "new" bike was bought used. It's a 2004. My friends have latest technology bikes, but they really are not different nor lighter.

I am in no rush to change our microwave, oven, radio, etc. I do have a LCD TV and smart phone from a few years ago, so I am not trying to live in the last century.

So start with great quality and one will do fine.
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Old 04-27-2017, 07:46 PM   #19
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As for AC.... mine is close to 20 years old.... but it works good so far... paid $700 to fix it 2 years ago, but will probably replace it the next time it goes out...
A strategy I've adopted for older appliances it to take a chance on fixing it myself, then buy a new one if I fail or make the problem worse. I was able to replace the circuit board on my old furnace for 200 bucks, whereas having the service guy do it would have set me back about 600, which wasn't worth it. Similar for a repair on my A/C. The service people have a huge markup on A/C parts (200 bucks for a capacitor that I can buy for 20, similar for the relay). There's a youtube video for just about every type of repair these days. On an old appliance, the repairs I'm confident doing myself usually involve less-expensive parts, and if an expensive part fails, it's time to buy a new unit.
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Old 04-27-2017, 10:25 PM   #20
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It seems to be a real art. How to decide when to pull the trigger on a new purchase or replacement?

Recently I decided the Nexus 7 wasn't quite cutting it anymore. So I bought the latest Ipad at $329. It's really nice and I'm getting used to the ways to get things done on it. Thanks to those on a previous thread that extolled the virtues of the Ipad.

Should I have done it sooner? Well, Apple finally brought the price down now so I did not feel I was paying a premium for this product. It is competitively priced now. I needed to feel that way even though I could have afforded it in the past.

Did I miss out on a lot? Probably got most of the utility of a tablet with the Nexus 7, so I think the answer is no I did not miss out in the past that much. Plus I now have the latest Ipad instead of a replacement decision on that product.
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