[Today's article comes from a new author, Megan Sullivan. She's got a different perspective on personal finance, that I don't necessary subscribe to, but I thought it was worth exploring. It's probably because I've got two small kids, but I'd certainly value a couple of trips to Applebee's. You'll see what I mean in the article below.]
What makes something affordable? Is it really only a matter of the price tag? You might think so at first glance. But closer inspection reveals a more nuanced truth. If I offered you a used Yugo for $10,000, you might balk at the idea, and rightfully so, as the best of them didn’t cost that much when they were new, and actually being made. Whatever stock there is remaining has certainly not gone up in value. But what if I offered you a brand new Mercedes fresh out of the factory for that same $10,000? Suddenly, it is the most affordable thing you’ve ever heard of. What changed?
Affordability, cost effectiveness, and financial soundness (whatever term you prefer) are all relative. In a vacuum with nothing else available for comparison, those concepts are meaningless. So if you find yourself looking to make a big-ticket purchase, regardless of what you might have heard, there are times when the luxury item is the more financially sound decision. Here are a few factors to consider:
How Long Will It Last?
Back in 2006, nbcnews.com did a report on the life expectancy of the average automobile. Based on data from Consumer Reports, it was about 8 years. That is not particularly impressive when measured against the fact that 1995 Mercedes Benz parts are still being bought on aftermarket sites by happy owners of a 20 year-old vehicle. With reasonable upkeep, those cars are still going strong, with no signs of stopping.
In financial terms, what is a financially sound amount of money to spend on a car? A big part of the answer is dependent on how long you plan to keep it. If you are going to turn it over every two to five years, you should probably think about leasing. If you plan to keep it for a long time, and even pass it down to your kids, a luxury car that is built to last could make a lot more sense.
How Important Is the Experience of Using the Product to You?
Sticking with cars, do you consider driving a utilitarian function, or is it an experience worth savoring? If you are the type of person who only cares about getting from point A to point B, then utility is all that matters. You are unlikely to place a very high premium on experience. However, if the drive is more important than the destination, you may be willing to accept less utility for a greater overall experience.
Safely getting from point A to point B is a necessity. Any experience above that is a luxury. Perhaps that experience you seek is sudden acceleration, raw speed, or race-track performance. Those are still luxuries just as much as heated leather seats, mahogany accents, and foot-massaging floor mats.
If those are the experiences you desire, then you don’t save any money by purchasing something without those features. You will not be happy with your purchase. You might even buy a bunch of expensive, aftermarket modifications to try to get what you should have bought in the first place. There is no substitute for experience.
Does It Scratch the Itch?
How much anxiety and dissatisfaction are you willing to put up with over not getting what you really wanted? When a company offers an inferior product at a steep discount such as two for the price of one, they are hoping to make up for in volume, what they cannot offer in ultimate satisfaction. You don’t want two meals at Applebee’s. You want one great meal at Ruth’s Chris. You don’t want two Blackberry phones. You want one iPhone. You don’t want two Chromebooks. You want one MacBook Pro.
Accumulating a bunch of “reasonably priced” items that you don’t want is not nearly as efficient as getting the one thing that will satisfy you in the first place. The same is true for allowing price to trump experience and longevity. When it comes to making the most financially sound decision, sometimes the luxury item is the better deal.
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