2 May 2013

Take the old road

Today I would like to write a small amount on the topic of why we buy ‘stuff’. In particular I want to focus my attention of expensive stuff that inevitably becomes obsolete.

First, some background. I grew up in Northern England, in a working class household. I was taught, but failed to learn, the value of money. When I eventually got a job I pretty much spent my first month’s salary before I had got it. You see, the salary sounded enormous to me. But after rent, tax, council tax, some food and an expensive camera I had nothing left. Did you notice the expensive camera part of that? Thought so.

Things didn’t get much better after that, just more expensive. Every next job I got gave me more money, that enabled me to buy newer and better ‘cameras’ (I hope, now, that you have noticed how I have turned camera into a metaphor for stuff). Always working my way up to the best that money could buy. Eventually I might get there, only to find that there was now a newer, bigger, lighter and faster version due out next month and only 25% more expensive. Whereas my new ‘camera’ was now fit only for propping up books as nobody would buy it off me for anything like the amount I needed for the next one.

Recently I wrote about making do and mending. Now I want to talk about an alternative to upgrading to the next new thing. I suggest downgrading to a vintage or classic item. These things do not become obsolete, they have character and usually look better than new stuff. Some even increase in value. This is difficult to apply to technology, I realise, so I will try and look at gadgets in a minute. There are, however, many things we have in our lives that are depreciating but that don’t really change fundamentally very often.

This brings us neatly to a personal passion of mine it is generally the second biggest expenditure after our home. I am, of course, talking about cars. I have had a lot of cars. They have cost me dearly both financially and emotionally. So, I feel I am qualified to use them as an example for making my point here.

It is well known that cars depreciate in value. Manufacturers are constantly trying to improve their design and functionality – sometimes with questionable results. This is how a business like theirs works, and nobody can blame them for wanting to keep up and compete.

18 Months ago I sold the car that I used for commuting as it was sitting outside my house doing nothing except losing £500 in value each month. I got rid of it for a classic car that would not loose value. In fact I hope that it will increase in value. Owning an old car (for classics are simply old cars) requires a more rigorous maintenance routine and therefore more on-going costs. But the upside is that there is zero depreciation. The maintenance will never amount to £500 a month that’s for sure. Another bonus is that classic cars remain desirable so you are less likely to become dis-satisfied with your car in the way you would with a newer car that has been superseded. Finally you can buy a classic car without spending much money, yet you will look cool (perhaps).

So, technology. Clearly a computer from 10 years ago is not much use today and the same applies to mobile phones, so how can we avoid this being so costly? Buy the right brand is one way to minimise costs. I only buy Apple products. I like them and understand how they work. Trouble is they cost a lot more than non-Apple verions. Well, yes they do but they are worth more when you have had your use out of them so instead of going to landfill they can be sold. I am typing this on an Apple laptop. The previous Apple laptop that I owned I bought for £1900 which is a lot, but after 10 years I sold it on eBay for over £200. The same goes for iPhones. I recently sold an old one of those that was faulty for over £100.

But I want you to consider how you will use an item that you buy. For instance: if all you do on your PC is use Microsoft Word to type letters and Excell to look at spreadsheets you could us an older even used PC and older versions of the software. Same with a mobile phone. If all you want to do is make phone calls and send the occasional text then any phone made in the past 10 years would do the job. Think about the reasons why you want to buy a new one. Is it to reward yourself for all your hard work?

If you spend less on cars, clothes and gadgets you won’t need to earn as much, so you won’t need to earn as much and you will have more free time to enjoy th cars, clothes and gadgets that you have which just might keep them out of the landfill a little longer.

My depreciation proof car

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