Thoughtful Spending to Save Money

August 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Spending

I spent a significant amount of time this week dealing with home technology issues, some of which involved the concept of spending money to save money. I believe everything has turned out for the best – both the technology solution and the money savings – but it took me a while to reach that conclusion.

I also believe I slightly improved my spending habits by a process of thoughtful subtraction. More about that at the end of the post.

The issues started with my attempt to use my netbook computer as a home desktop replacement. My old Toshiba laptop (5+ years) had a display that was slowly filling itself with random vertical lines. A month ago I had found a 24″ monitor from the Dell Outlet for under $200. This week I was determined to complete the transition to the netbook, which I would then use for everything. I found a nice Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse combination on sale at a great price ($30) so I bought that to use on the desk with the netbook.

A related development was that we had bought our youngest son a new bargain-priced HP laptop from Best Buy. His old one had broken and he had no money to replace it. He has been spending the summer working 60-80 hours per week at an internship that is valuable to his resume but paid him an amount that works out to about $1/hour. ┬áHe never complained. So Mrs. ToughMoneyLove, being the proud parents, wanted to reward his work ethic and stepped up with the money. That bargain laptop was awesome. With a decent processor and 4GB of RAM, it outperformed everything in our house, except for my wife’s Mac. I had to admit to having some computer envy.

Returning to the netbook/desktop replacement effort, I started having my doubts almost immediately. First, the netbook hard drive started throwing off error messages and failed a self-test. That caused me concern about sustained durability. I sent the netbook back to Lenovo for warranty repair. I also concluded during my brief tryout of the netbook/desktop setup that the netbook was going to struggle to keep itself cool during operation with all of the external devices (keyboard, mouse, monitor, external HD) connected to it. That, I was afraid, would add to the durability issues. I really enjoy that netbook for traveling and working while sitting on the deck. Perhaps that it is what I should keep it for and forget the full-time use concept.

Meanwhile, I re-positioned my old laptop in the desktop position, and was reminded of how slow it was, having only 500 MB of RAM. Thoughts of our son’s new computer re-emerged. Meanwhile, Mrs. ToughMoneyLove began talking about eventually replacing her old Dell laptop (5+ years old), so that she would have something to use to browse and check email at the lake. That laptop had only 256 MB of RAM and it operated at an intolerable snail’s pace. This is what happens when too little memory meets memory-hogging newer software.

Thus, my “spend to save” plan emerged. I would try to speed up our old laptops with more memory. I researched and found that I could max out the memory capacity on both the Toshiba and the Dell for approximately $100. I ordered the memory and installed it on Friday. The Dell loved it immediately and now runs acceptably fast for routine computing tasks. The Toshiba was not so sure about its new memory. However, after removing and re-seating the new memory modules several times, they now seem to have been accepted into the family. The performance improvement is just what the technology doctor ordered. So I have installed the old but refreshed Toshiba as my desktop replacement. It has plenty of self-cooling to do the job and the failing display is irrelevant. My wife now has something to use at the lake while I use my netbook. Two older computers brought back to usability for $100.

As a final step, I went on a brief trip to our local mall area last night to gas up at the Costco bargain pump and to buy a couple of things we needed at the house, including a cooling pad for the netbook. I visited three stores, looking for the best price on the things on my list. All of this was to save $5-$10. I found what I needed and headed home.

Then the hunger and spending temptation hit me. I was going right by a fast food mecca. Normally, I would have stopped and spent $5 to satisfy my hunger, rather than wait 5 minutes until I made it home. But then I thought: I just power-shopped to save $10 –how illogical would it be to take 50% of that saved money and immediately spend it on an overpriced convenience food item? Not very logical. So I decided to deal with my hunger for a few extra minutes, skip the treat, and eat at home.

I learned that thoughtful spending to save money is a full-time job. Saving $5 on Monday so that you can frivolously spend it on Tuesday is not going to work. In the long run, it may lead to frustration with the entire concept of saving because progress is not evident. For me, there is nothing wrong with saving on one item to spend on another as a plan, but not as an impulse.

Have any of you learned lessons this way?

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5 Responses to “Thoughtful Spending to Save Money”
  1. Good question! The problem that arises, at least for me, is that every time I try a strategy along these lines I’m having to second-guess some unpredictable factors. One mistake and all your strategizing goes for naught.

    I’ve been eyeballing Costco’s $800 HP laptop-&-cheapo printer combination. Not too sure about HP quality, but I guess with any PC it’s a pig in a poke. When my job ends and the university takes back its laptop, I’ll need some sort of PC for jobs the Mac doesn’t do well…this looks like a reasonable answer to that need and would provide a back-up printer in the bargain. But, there’s that unpredictable factor: will enough jobs that require Microsoft’s software really arise to make it worth spending $800, when in a pinch I can mooch some time on my son’s high-powered PC? Hmmm….

  2. Rick Beagle says:

    I guess you could call me a technology expert given my twenty or so years in the industry (financial sector). If you are in the “business”, you understand that the word “expert” is only as good as the next release of “whatever”, and since that happens continuously, we are always novices about something or other.

    With that said, please let me provide two pieces of unsolicited advice:

    1) Never, ever purchase any technology that doesn’t have a need, and purchase with those parameters in mind. Computers can do some amazing things, and like many other items in the market, the higher the price the more “amazing” things it can do. The question is do you need all of those amazing features?

    2) Talk to an IT expert. Most of us have access to one of these or a few either at work or school. Please, I am not talking about the guy who seems to be handy around computers. To drive this point home, just because you can change your own oil doesn’t make you a mechanic. Get expert advice. The good news, most of us in the IT field will provide you with more information that you can handle for a lunch. That’s right, you potentially save thousands for a five dollar sandwich – quite the deal.

    Since I’m already being a blow hard let me chime in with regards to your situation. There is a new operating system coming out from Microsoft later this year. Succinctly, businesses by and large have resisted converting to Vista (there are a number of reasons why, but given the nature of this site, suffice to say that it costs far more to support Vista than was purported or desired), which has resulted in a bottled up need for IT improvement. If the product is half as good as it claims (I am a beta tester and it is), then we should see an explosion of upgrades in 2010-2011 (tepid at first with the explosion immediately following SP1). So, if you have to buy a computer now insure that you get the OS upgrade assurance and that the computer is capable of running the new OS smoothly.

    As for printers, buyers BEWARE! HP is notorious for selling their printers cheap knowing that they will make up their money in ink and paper. Pay attention to these costs when looking at your printer’s costs…..

    Nuff said.
    Rick Beagle

  3. Rick Beagle says:

    Dang it, I just thought of something to add, and to be honest, it is something of a sensitive topic, so bear with me.

    You may have noticed that there have been a lot of job losses over the last year or two. Often times this means that there is an overabundance of used equipment available from your local IT department for free or at a significant discount. Do not be afraid to ask about these, but DO be sensitive about the subject.

    If you are in the undersireable position where you are the person being let go (not performance related), feel free to ask if you can keep your laptop or computer. While this may seem awkward employers will often allow this in an effort to help you get that next job (and it allows them to sleep a bit better). My experience is that you have roughly a fifty-fifty chance of them saying yes (factors include relationship with company, duration of employment, and your employer’s policies). Keep in mind they will probably have to scrub the PC to insure that no confidential information remains on the computer (it may be a process, just be patient).

    Anyhow, sorry for the double post!
    Rick Beagle

  4. My Journey says:


    2 things,
    1) If you are worried about cooling I bought my wife (she has a dell laptop which sits on a wood desk all day where the heat just stays) a 15 buck item off ebay which lifts the laptop off the wood and has 3 fans to pull the heat out. COOL ITEM.

    2) I don’t get the netbook explosion. I helped my brother by a full laptop for 379, why save the 79 bucks for a $300 netbook?

  5. MasterPo says:

    Hey Rick.

    Wow. That was an eye opening post.

    Not for the topic per se. But for a glimpse of your background.

    You claim to have 20 years working IT in the finance sector. That pays VERY WELL! And you work long hours with lots of pressure and stress.

    Glad you’re paying your taxes Rick. Keep up the good work.

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