Tech Lust: How to Cope with Gadget Envy

Yesterday morning was a rough one for me. It's a day I both dread and crave every year: Steve Jobs' Macworld Conference keynote address. I'm a Macintosh fanboy from way back, and as other Mac fanboys can attest, there are few things more dangerous to our wallets than new products from Apple.

In fact, there's almost a ritual to the whole thing. In the weeks leading up to the Jobs' speech, the rumor mill begins to grind. Will there be a new iPhone? iPod upgrades? A tablet computer? After the holiday hubbub has died, visions of shiny new laptops begin to dance in our heads.

On the morning of the keynote address, geeks everywhere eagerly refresh browser pages containing live coverage of Jobs' speech. Yesterday, Nickel and I sat drooling over our keyboards and chatting via instant messaging while watching the updates stream in.

Obviously, this sort of behavior is not conducive to saving money. When you build up a product in your mind, when you allow yourself to become obsessed with it, it's easy find yourself buying something you do not need.

Resisting the urge
The best thing a geek can do to prevent himself from succumbing to temptation is to limit exposure to his weaknesses. It's folly for me to submit myself to the Apple marketing machine. I know I'm weak against it, so why participate? If I didn't know what was out there, I wouldn't know what I was missing. I'd be satisfied with what I already have, and wouldn't long for something new.

Here are a few ways a geek can mitigate the lust for new technology:

  • Avoid advertising. Beware the insidious power of marketing. You are not immune. We are all subtly manipulated in ways we cannot possibly imagine. When I watch the Macworld keynote addresses, I'm acting as a willing consumer of advertising. Don't do this. Steer clear of advertising whenever possible.
  • Avoid temptation. The best way for me to avoid buying video games is to stay out of the electronics store. If your weakness is audio equipment, keep away from the stereo shop. It's easier to avoid temptation when we don't submit ourselves to it in the first place. If you know your weakness, don't set yourself up to fail.
  • Remember it's not a competition. You're not going to “lose” by choosing not to purchase the latest equipment. There's no need to keep up with the Joneses. If your best friend buys a MacBook Air, don't let it bother you. Don't buy a new Treo just because your sister got one.
  • Make the most of what you have. If you're a gadget-hound, you already own lots of toys. Resist the urge to upgrade when your current option still works fine. I used to buy a new computer every year. Now I can't imagine doing that. I'd rather use a machine until it could no longer keep up with me.
  • Remember your larger goals. What is it you want to accomplish in life? Will buying a new iPod help you or hinder you in pursuing your dreams? I'm not saying that you should never buy new toys. But before you do make a purchase, be sure that your decision doesn't stand in the way of a greater purpose.

This advice doesn't just apply to geeks with gadget envy. The same techniques can be used by audiophiles, car enthusiasts, and knitters. These principles work no matter what it is you covet.

Giving in
What if you've tried to resist the urge, but it's just no use? What if you're certain that new Robotronic 2084 would make your life complete?

First, do one last check to be certain you're not rationalizing your “need” for the item. I used to tell myself, “If I buy this new camera lens, I'll be able to take better pictures. It'll pay for itself in no time.” Unfortunately, that was never the case. That sort of thinking is just a rationalization to buy new toys.

If you're certain you're going to buy the new Robotronic 2084, do two things:

  1. Save for it. Don't purchase the item on credit. Going into debt to purchase a tech item is foolish. I should know — I've done it many times. I'd let myself get sucked into the “need” to have a Lappy 386 now now now, and rush out to charge it on a credit card. The following year, I'd buy the brand-new Lappy 486 even though I still owed hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on the first machine. Now, however, I use targeted saving to buy new toys. When I decided I “needed” a Nintendo Wii, I saved for it. I'm glad I did.
  2. Wait for it. I want a Mini Cooper, but I've decided I'm in no hurry to buy one. I'll drive my current vehicle into the ground first. A car is a very big gadget, but the same principle applies to smaller items. I've also wanted an iPhone for a long time. It hasn't made sense to get one, though, when my current phone works fine. Because my current phone is a company phone, I'll soon be losing the use of it. Now I can purchase an iPhone and not feel guilty that I've done so.

If you really want to buy a new gadget, be methodical. Save your money. Wait until the purchase makes sense. There's nothing wrong with upgrading to new technology when you need the new features and you're able to pay cash.

Focus on your goals
After yesterday's Macworld keynote address, another geeky friend sent me a short e-mail:

Seen it? MacBook Air. Pant, pant, pant.  Want, want, want.

I agree — it's a fine looking machine. But you know what? This year I'm not taking the bait. This year I'm not even tempted. My current laptop is only 15 months old, and it runs well. A new computer would be nice, but right now I have more important goals — tech lust is just a distraction.

Update: This morning, Lifehacker asked its readers “How do you deal with gadget lust?”

More about...Psychology

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Sam
Sam
12 years ago

I can’t understand the early adopter folks who run out and pay top dollar for new technology. The price always come down and the tech always gets better.

LM
LM
12 years ago

yeah seriously, I came home last night and my boyfriend said “can I have $1800?” I didn’t even have to look on the apple website. I told him maybe in a year. (I’m so glad he lets me do the bills and manage all the money)

plonkee
plonkee
12 years ago

I also don’t get the tech gadget envy, but I’m a sucker for household objects. I went to Ikea the other day and spent £100 on very little, and didn’t even manage to get the thing that I needed.

Fortunately, I’d budgeted for that kind of spending in advance and I restricted myself to things I’d actaully planned to buy at some point. Apart from six 9p tea light holders. That’s not bad for a complete impulse purchase.

Kyle Hayes
Kyle Hayes
12 years ago

I don’t look at the MacBook Air as being something I want because I am looking at the negatives about it. Not enough USB ports, no Firewire, no ethernet and larger price tag. My current MacBook has all of that with a smaller price tag. I am satisfied.

Now…let’s talk time capsule 🙂

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Ah, the early adopter mentality. Sam, that used to be me all the way. I still have that urge deep inside, and I’m always fighting to suppress it. New technology is fun! It’s cool! It makes me feel like I’m living in The Jetsons or Star Trek. But it also costs me money. That’s why I’ve learned to ignore the urge.

Curtis
Curtis
12 years ago

I’m reminded of a fridge magnet my aunt used to have about dieting, which is very closely related. It said, “Dieting is NOT a matter of will power, it’s a matter of WON’T power”

My Shoestring's2Short
My Shoestring's2Short
12 years ago

The knitting struck a cord with me, as I can hardly get my MP3 player to do the things I want it to! Fortunately my latest project uses yarn I already had, and the Addi Turbo knitting needles are part of the budget for my mom’s special gift! Otherwise how do you justify $40 for needles. The wool didn’t cost that much!
Fortunately all my stores are not easy to get to, so the temptation is easier to bear!

Brett McKay
Brett McKay
12 years ago

I know exactly what you mean, JD. I desperately want a Mac. I don’t even want the Mac Air. I just want a Macbook. I have the money for it and it would be so easy to go to a Mac store and buy one. But I don’t. I’ve worked hard saving this money up and I’d hate to see it go. I’ve got bigger fish to fry. P.S. That’s not to say I’m not willing to buy a used Macbook from anyone. If any of you decide forgo JD’s advice and upgrade to a Mac Air, I’ll be happy… Read more »

Bill
Bill
12 years ago

JD, Thanks for this post. If there was a support group for electronics addiction, I would be in it. My problem with most of your suggestions is that I work for a tech company and part of my job requirement is to keep up on the latest and greatest out there. So as you can imagine, it is tough for me to avoid temptation. Also, the Macbook Air is a sealed unit like an iPod and iPhone, so there is no easy way to replace the battery, this is a huge issue in a laptop especially since you get 5… Read more »

SJean
SJean
12 years ago

Wow, the Mac Air looks really slick.

That being said, I have no plans to buy one. Not even in a couple years. I appreciate apple for pushing technology in ways that other brands haven’t and I get the lust sometimes. But I usually resist.

Jeff
Jeff
12 years ago

Saving is the key for me. If I decide I want something, putting away a little every month really helps me hone in on it. I love the shopping for electronics though, it’s more fun then the actual gadgets. If I wait six months, then I really have a lot of time to figure out exactly which TV I want, and I have plenty of time to save. My next tech purchase is going to be a new LCD TV. The one I want has gone down by $800 in the last five months, and I’m hoping it will continue… Read more »

Rev
Rev
12 years ago

I personally use the wait until the next hardware revision. That will usually give you a year or so with apple and gives you good reason to hold out. Keeps you excited for what will come out and also knowing it will be more stable because all the kinks will be worked out. It has kept me from diving in on the iphone just yet.

Paul
Paul
12 years ago

I just wanted to chime in and say that as long as the gadget is doing what you need it to do, it’s not obsolete.

Ben C
Ben C
12 years ago

9:01am: Visits TUAW and Mac.ars 9:02am: lusts after MacBook Air 9:03am: drool begins to form and itchy fingers open up a second tab on Firefox to check ING Direct balance 9:06am: emergency fund is at $6,500…I could drop it by two grand and get me a new MBA and still have emergency money leftover 9:10am: begins wondering if I should visit some PF blogs to curb my appetite 9:11am: banishes GRS and fivecentnickel from my mind and starts transfer to checking account. 9:15am: configures MBA on Apple.com and begins checkout 9:20am: frantically realizes that I have financial goals and this… Read more »

brooke
brooke
12 years ago

I have a 2003 Mini Cooper and I’m about to hit 100,000 miles. I still owe some $$ on it, but so far I haven’t had to do any work to it besides regular stuff (brakes, tires, etc) with the execption of 1 $200 sensor. When you get around to buying one, you will LOVE it 😉

Hyder
Hyder
12 years ago

This might actually be my first Apple product. Though I’m leaning more towards the MacBook Pro.

Bean
Bean
12 years ago

I curbed my gadget lusting by setting up an “allowance” for myself that I could save up and spend on what I want.

This keeps me wasting money on super-expensive things immediately, and when I DO buy something, I can do it guilt-free because I know I saved up for it, and it won’t blow my budget.

d.a. - allingoodhealth
d.a. - allingoodhealth
12 years ago

Since buying a new home, my husband and I have become stricter in our purchasing habits. This year, we’ve both been saving money before indulging in gadget lust, and it’s been eye-opening for us both. Although we work in fields where keeping up with the latest and greatest is a requirement, waiting and saving for a few weeks (or months) hasn’t seemed to hurt either of us. BTW, J.D.: I’ve found the iPhone to be totally worth the price. It’s saved my backside when our broadband home account was down, when we’ve been lost on the road, I could go… Read more »

Ron@TheWisdomJournal
12 years ago

If you wait around a few weeks, Steve Jobs will probably drop the price anyway!

And Ben C. — an MBA costs a lot more than 2 grand 🙂 (trust me!)

My Super-Charged Life
My Super-Charged Life
12 years ago

The products you mention are hard to resist because they are so well marketed. This makes them the hot items. In reality, we often want the image that these products project rather than the features they offer. I get lured into the frenzy as well. When this happens it is hard not to obsess like Ben C details so well in his comment. The only antidote that I have found is to stop and ask myself if I really NEED the item or if I’m just getting sucked in by all the hype. This is usually enough for me to… Read more »

KC
KC
12 years ago

Like JD says…”Wait for it.” I’d also add “pay cash for it”. It’ll really hurts when you are couting out $20s or $100s. The people in the store probably won’t know what to do with this green paper stuff, either. I think tech envy (as well as other envys) wear off as you get older. I’m still tempted by the new gadget or whatever, but I seem to want the latest things less and less these days. I take a certain abstemious pride in not being cool. And there is certainly nothing wrong with letting technology age a bit before… Read more »

VinTek
VinTek
12 years ago

Frankly, I don’t get it. Only 1 USB port? No Firewire? No optical drive? And they want me to pay how much for it? Also, what’s the battery life on this thing? In my experience, lighter and smaller batteries tend to mean shorter battery life? It’s always been a trade-off for laptops: in order to gain mobility in the form of a lighter unit, you have to give up some measure of mobility in the form of seeking a wired power source more frequently. If I were to go to a mobile Mac platform, I’d think that there were better… Read more »

Sandy
Sandy
12 years ago

Your article confirms what I have often suspected for years – the incredible temptations, and then the serious $$$ tech people must be spending for all the latest gadgets. I’m actually thankful I’m not a “geek” just because I feel like I would be in the poor house if I were. How would I resist?? But my son-in-law IS. He’s an electrical engineer, working for a good company in HI -his company provided the computers for the show Extreme Home Makeover, (their 2 hr. season premier show in HI), so he worked at the house and was filmed. His dream… Read more »

jtimberman
jtimberman
12 years ago

Macs are appealing, but the price tag isn’t. For the same price as one 17″ Mac notebook, I could get two similar Dell notebooks. Sure, Macs have MacOSX, but its not worth $1000 premium to me.

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

What KC (#21) said, almost verbatim. We used to be a lot more gadgety (DH was in hardware engineering), before we got into YMOYL.

I’ll add that if you’re like us, you have a collection of obsolete electronic gadgets that were once money. Looking at (or even thinking about) that collection puts the brakes on our tech purchases.

And Jobs’ guru-ness gives me the willies — always has.

Kevin
Kevin
12 years ago

J.D.

I have been saving for three years to buy a new laptop from Apple and was also eagerly reading the feeds this yesterday. And I have to say that the MacBook Air is underwhelming to say the least. It’s this decades Cube, a niche product great for some people, but not adequate for a primary machine.

I’ll be putting in my order for my MacBook next week when I am fairly sure they won’t get a minor speed bump… well as sure as you can be these days.

femme.fatal
femme.fatal
12 years ago

this isa good writing but sometimes it is sooooooooooo hard all of that list goes out the window. this is why i try not to carry cc’s

Sam Ereni
Sam Ereni
12 years ago

Finally! The MacBook Air! This exactly the laptop many have been looking for who find the 5 pound MacBook much too much to carry. Just what I need, something with less power, less memory, less USB ports, no firewire port, all for $700 MORE than the MacBook. My God, if 2 additional pounds is too heavy for you, hit the gym. Seriously, I’m no gaget-geekfreak. I bought my 12″ Powerbook G4 used for $600 and it was 3 years old. It works like a champ, and isn’t that much behind the MacBook Air. I mean, how many programs utilize the… Read more »

Michael Houghton
Michael Houghton
12 years ago

I think I use reverse-reverse psychology or something. Basically, whenever I see something I want to spend X hundred quid on, I go and look for other things I could be getting with the same X hundred quid. Simple indecision usually means I hold onto the X hundred quid either for a lot longer, or until some sensible purchase comes along to resolve the deadlock. I’ve used this technique successfully on urges to replace my current iMac and my current (secondhand) Fuji S2 DSLR. Both have now been in my posession for three years. I’d like to upgrade both, but… Read more »

Ryan S.
Ryan S.
12 years ago

I would love a new MacBook Air (or a MacBook for that matter) to replace my aging iBook G4 that I’m typing on right now.

Right now, I can’t afford it.

Until I can, no new MacBook.

Wish I could, just can’t.

Ryan
http://uncommon-cents.net/

Rachael
Rachael
12 years ago

Hi J.D., I’ve been lurking for sometime, and am finally commenting… I just wanted to say that I *really* enjoy your website. It’s probably the singularly most helpful financial reading I’ve done in a while!! All very practical and down-to-Earth. So, thank you for such a wonderful site! Also, I was born & raised in Salem, and am a fellow Willamette alum. Go, Bearcats! Unfortunately, I’m now dealing with student debt… ugh. At any rate, I’m drooling over the MacBook Air as well. My current machine is an iBook G4 bought at the very beginning of 2004. So, yeah, it’s… Read more »

fivecentnickel.com
fivecentnickel.com
12 years ago

To whoever asked above, battery life is rated at 5 hours. Not sure if this applies to both versions (one has an 80GB flash drive, the other has a 160GB regular hard drive). So the battery life is pretty good. I must admit that I’m not sold on the other features (or lack thereof). Interestingly, people said much the same thing when the iMac was introduced without a floppy drive. Given the increased availability of high speed, wireless internet, it’s probably just a matter of time before 99% of your optical drive needs will be served by a go-anywhere wireless… Read more »

kick_push
kick_push
12 years ago

must.. resist.. temptation!

the macbook air looks really cool.. but i don’t think it’s worth the price.. i would wait a year or two for the price to go down

that being said.. i don’t plan on buying a computer anytime soon.. i still have a year and a half old imac that works well.. and my bro just bought a macbook that i use when he’s not on.. so getting the macbook air makes no sense for me!

Nick S
Nick S
12 years ago

@fivecentnickel.com

the flash drive is 64 GB, the regular drive is 80 GB. there is no 160 GB standard config.

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

Before Christmas, I finally sprung for a really good video card for my PC. I’d been saving up for ages, and for the first time ever I have something that can play current games. Problem is the new card has heat problems, and my case isn’t well ventilated. I bought a cheap fan that takes up an expansion slot and blows air right on the card. It’s loud as can be, so I actually crack the case open and plug it in just before I launch World of Warcraft, then unplug it when I’m done. I find I’m having tech… Read more »

Kayli
Kayli
12 years ago

This is good advice for belly dancers, too. I paid hundreds for my first “real” costume — used, from another dancer. I’ve worn it maybe 5 times, and I’m lusting for others — price range of $350 – $1,000 each. It’s an expensive component to an otherwise budget-friendly hobby. I can’t justify it. But this costume craving is unlike anything I’ve experienced before!

Avoiding temptation and keeping larger goals in mind are key for me.

Rick Francis
Rick Francis
12 years ago

I agree with KC (21) the drive to keep up with the latest and greatest dies down as you get older. I used to try to keep up with the latest computer technology- but it was just too expensive of a habit. Plus, once you have kids you have a lot less time to spend playing with gadgets. Here is a story that may make some of you reconsider spending on the lasts technology. I am clearing out the garage and selling things I don’t use anymore and ran across my most expensive gadget. A NeXT Station- this is an… Read more »

Jjhox
Jjhox
12 years ago

I let my wife tell me what to get and when. Since she is out of town I’ll finally be getting my iPhone on the way home today…

Lily
Lily
12 years ago

Hehehe – mind you, I love Macs, they’re great value – but I’m no fetishist. I’ve used my iBook for 5 years before reselling it, now I own a MacBook and want it to last. My bf on the other hand… he called me yesterday and excitedly showed me the new air-thing. I was like, uh, ok 🙂

Dave Farquhar
Dave Farquhar
12 years ago

Regardless of the make or model of the computer and what operating system you run, you can always squeeze more life out of it with memory upgrades and replacing the hard drive with a newer, faster model. You can usually install a couple of gigs of RAM cheaply and that always makes a big difference in performance. Due to the way Intel CPUs handle memory, there’s no point in installing a full 4 GB–install 3 GB, or perhaps 3.5 GB. Replacing an old hard drive with a new model makes a big difference in performance. They’re always packing the data… Read more »

singlemomindebt
singlemomindebt
12 years ago

To add to the “save for it, wait for it” philosophy (which is great), I would also add that new technology purchases are nearly always replacing one or more items that you already own. Sell them. If you can’t sell them, donate them for a tax deduction. Not only will this help (a little, or sometimes a lot) with the cost…it also helps to keep down the clutter!

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

Re: paying cash…

On my one and only trip to the Apple store, I saw a guy pay for a new Mac laptop entirely in $20 bills.

It’s a shocking thing to watch, not just because I’ve never held that much cash in my hands before, but also because it makes you think, “Wow, that guy can actually *afford* a Mac laptop.”

geoff
geoff
12 years ago

Here’s the trick: don’t focus on the technology, focus on what it will do for you. The new notebook looks really cool, but it’s significantly less functional than my current setup. So why upgrade?

OTOH, I had no problem shelling out for a new iPod and a new PDA phone because both items made my life significantly easier, and are therefore worth the investment.

The neat thing about this is that it’s a great way to outsmart the Apple marketing machine because most of these products are form over substance anyway.

Balfour
Balfour
12 years ago

As an Apple groupie, I too was sucked right into the Air hype, until I caught up on the commentry of the web hive-mind pointing out everything that was wrong with it, such as on Gizmodo: http://gizmodo.com/345051/apple-macbook-air-is-worlds-thinnest-notebook-looks-absolutely-amazing

Took the Air right out of it!

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

Isn’t it amazing? But I’ve told myself that I’ll actually get a much better deal someday on a similar laptop, so it’s ok. And I don’t use Macbooks anyway.

fivecentnickel.com
fivecentnickel.com
12 years ago

@Nick: I stand corrected. I got my info from one of the liveblogging events, and not from Apple itself. Yeesh. That’s not much storage.

Bob
Bob
12 years ago

I’ve been doing really well surpressing the gadget lust for some time. My old phone worked perfectly fine. No problems. Then my wife bought me an iPhone for my birthday. (at least she paid cash.) Now I want everything I own to be black glass and aluminum. That phone is amazing and I fell in complete love with it within 5 minutes. But the MBA is unimpressive. Too expensive for the power available. It really is simply all about the looks for that. Plus, with the iPhone, I’ve discovered that ubiquitous network availability has changed my life and it clearly… Read more »

Wayne Mulligan
Wayne Mulligan
12 years ago

I’d add 2 items to this list: 1. Wait for a 2nd Generation – This is true for all gadgets but it’s ESPECIALLY true for NEW gadgets. The iPhone and the Amazon Kindle come to mind. Go look back at the very first iPod…looks much different than your current sleek and slender iPod Nano or iPod touch, doesn’t it? First generation gadgets are usually “test the water” products and haven’t gone through a period of customer feedback and refinement yet. So wait for the next generation (or two) before committing a few hundred dollars to something like this – you’ll… Read more »

The Shopping Sherpa
The Shopping Sherpa
12 years ago

THANK YOU! Especially for mentioning knitters. Just before I read your (spot on) post on Bloglines I read a friend’s (http://happyspider6.blogspot.com/2008/01/cool-change.html) in which she showed off some very cheap wool she picked up yesterday. I started itching and twitching and mentally adding up how much of this week’s grocery budget (about the only part of my budget that’s negotiable) I could turn into wool and how much tuna and rice I could cope with eating in return. Then I read your post and my sensible side took over. I’ll be avoiding the wool shop. I’ll be buying eggs and cheese… Read more »

The Tim
The Tim
12 years ago

Here’s the real question: How long can J.D. resist the urge to talk about his Mini Cooper dream car on Get Rich Slowly?

So far his record since first bringing it up on August 23rd is the 60 days between September 17 and November 16. The average time between mentions is 18.25 days, with an average of every 11 days since December 3rd. I bet he can’t go three months.

:^)

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