Thursday, April 3, 2014

Buy It for Life

I wasn’t planning to write this article. Sometimes conversations cause me to think about questions that I wouldn’t think important. However, if different people are talking about the same thing, maybe it is something that needs to be discussed. I don’t focus on buying stuff. People who do put a lot of time and energy into buying stuff are unlikely to find financial freedom and that is the reason I share my explorations with you, my readers. Almost all of us, except a few who have chosen the monastic life, want to buy stuff. While seeking pleasure and satisfaction from material possessions is not a good plan from either a spiritual or financial viewpoint, I have found pleasure over the course of many years from at least some of my possessions.

The question then becomes, what do these long term possessions have in common. I think I have the answer, quality, reliability, and maintainability. There is another dimension to the question. These possessions must reflect, on at least some level, our true values. For instance a musician will find great joy and satisfaction from owning and playing a favorite guitar, even if he is not a professional. I know such a man. He has owned an old Fender Stratocaster for most of his life. Someone told him it is worth something on the order of $10,000 to $12,000, but its value isn’t what brings him joy. It is the quality the instrument brings to his life.

This weekend I discussed old stereo equipment with a friend. Our stories were remarkably similar. We both love music. It is an important part of our life. We both bought the highest quality equipment we could afford at the time of purchase. Now, although our stereos are old (like the owners) they both still work better than our aging ears. Over 20 years ago I purchased a Carver amp at a warehouse sale for about ½ retail price. Finally, about two years ago the controls began to fail. I looked into buying a new unit. I discovered I couldn’t replace that amplifier for $1,000. I (maybe) could replace it for $1,500 but I didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a new amp. I checked into having it repaired. I discovered that although Carver went out of business years ago, a man bought what was left of the factory and all that remained of their stock of component parts. He offered to rebuild my amp at a guaranteed price of $360 including return shipping from the west coast. Getting it to his shop was my problem. It turned out there was a long waiting list of people like me who loved their Carver amplifiers. After a couple of months he returned an amplifier that needed more work than he originally estimated, but he did not charge me any more money. Now I have essentially a new amplifier that might last another 20 years.

Fifty years ago, a man bought a watch to last a lifetime. It was expected that the watch would need periodic maintenance and cleaning, but it might even outlive the owner. When my father in law died, I inherited his Hamilton watch. The watch and I are exactly the same age, 63. When I first received it about 8 or 9 years ago, it was running slow and the crystal was scratched up. I had a watchmaker clean and restore it for about $100. Since then, it has worked perfectly. The watchmaker asked for right of first refusal if I ever want to sell it. Did I get a good deal? Yes, I could buy a new watch for $35 that might last four or five years. When it quit working, I could throw it away and buy a new watch, but I get a certain pleasure from owning a beautifully made antique that once belonged to my father in law, a man I greatly respect.

The list goes on. I own a Cross pen that was given to me as a Christmas present in 1976 or 1977. I used it every day at work for years. It feels good in my hand. It writes beautifully. The mechanism still feels and works like the day it left the factory. Cross refills are consistently excellent. We are so well acquainted that I have a rather large callous where it sits on my middle finger. That writing instrument might have cost $15.00 back in the day when Bic was selling pens for 15 cents….but.

We live in a throwaway world. Cell phones are considered obsolete after 6 months. Computers are obsolete after three years. Both can be replaced with something better, something up to date for less than the cost of repair, if repair is even possible. Will we reflect with joy that we bought an iPhone 4 back in 2010 in 2030 as we stroke its chemically strengthened aluminosilicate glass surface with our index finger or will we have forgotten that it ever existed? I expect my friend will still be alive and playing his old Stratocaster, still deriving pleasure from a purchase made almost 60 years earlier.

Rock on dude!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, as you say, we live in a throwaway world; while they say this is "good for jobs", we must also think about the environment. Is it good to the environment?

    Planned obsolescence is a known phenomenon, they produce stuff that breaks so that they can sell you another one in a few years. It's bad for the environment and for the costumer.

    The idea behind "buying it for life" as you say - it seems to be a trend now, is that it's both frugal and ecological. By buying something that lasts many years you save a lot of money, even if you have to pay more for it initially...

    I set up a blog at that is trying to find products that are made today built with the same "built to last" mentality. They still do exist. The blog is still fresh and new but I think it's promising.

    Thanks for your interest in this topic!"