One of our friends has a Starbucks habit. He used to stop every morning for a venti five-shot white-chocolate mocha. Last summer he spent $300 on a fancy espresso machine. He also bought a few accessories and some expensive coffee beans. He had taken the latte factor concept to heart. “I’m spending so much on Starbucks,” he told us, “that this will pay for itself in no time.”

For a couple of weeks he put the machine to good use. He made himself a five-shot white-chocolate mocha every morning. But then he began returning to Starbucks more-and-more often. “I don’t have the time,” he complained. “It takes so long to make a drink in the morning. I’d rather pay somebody else to do it.” Now his fancy espresso machine sits unused, gathering dust.

I used to have this same flaw. I’d read about a gadget and convince myself that it would save me time and money. Then I’d buy it, only to discover it didn’t fit my lifestyle. But gadgets don’t change your life. You do. The change has to come from within. Gadgets can help a motivated person make change easier, but if you’re not fully committed to the change, the gadget ends up a wasted expense.

My wife and I, for example, once purchased a couple of kitchen appliances we believed would save us money: a bread machine and an ice cream maker. We used each several times after the initial purchase and enjoyed the results. But we were lazy. These appliances were too much hassle for us to use. They became garage sale fodder.

A couple of years ago, after reading about the virtues of voice recorders, I decided I needed one.
I convinced myself it would be a keen tool. “I wouldn’t have to carry pen and paper with me to clients,” I thought. “I could just record all the information. How convenient!” I failed to remember all the other voice tools and organizational tools I’d purchased but never used. I bought myself a voice recorder and used it once. It’s lived in my glove compartment ever since.

For me, the trouble is that many gadgets sound sexy. I believe they could fit into my lifestyle, that they might help save money, but I have no way of knowing without taking one for a test drive. One trick I’ve discovered, though, is to borrow an appealing gadget from a friend for a week.

For example, I recently developed a notion that a video camera would come in handy. Rather than rush out and buy one as I might have done in the past, I borrowed one. The video camera was fun, but my infatuation with it faded fast. After a few days of intense use, the camera has gathered dust on a bookshelf. I’ll return it to my friend this weekend, my urge sated at the cost of a single videotape.

The lesson here is simple: know thyself. Before you spend money on a gadget — especially one you believe will save you money — stop to ask yourself if it’s something that you will actually use. Be honest. For some, an espresso machine or an ice cream maker or a voice recorder might be an everyday tool. For others, they’re expensive doorstops.

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