Ask Wirecutter: How can I stop wasting money on unnecessary tech upgrades?

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Ask Wirecutter, an advice column written by Annemarie Conte, explores the best approaches to buying, using, and maintaining things. Email your biggest product issues to [email protected].


Dear Thread Cutter,

My husband and I are exactly the same when it comes to excess products, and we feed each other’s worst instincts. This 77-inch TV is not OLED? Get a new one! These bulbs have a color rendering index of only 92, but there is a bulb of 95? Replace them all! Is there a Cascade detergent that is better than Complete? Buy it immediately. Apple is making a new… you get the idea. How to defeat FOMO technology?

Signed, MD


Dear MD,

You clearly already understand that this habit is extremely expensive and more than a little wasteful.

Now, you might think the experts at Wirecutter would be kindred spirits who also obsessively buy all the latest tech toys. But no. We strongly believe that if you’re happy with your gadgets (your iPhone, your TV, whatever), you should keep what you have. Don’t update something you like simply because a company promotes a new model. “A lot of us who do this for a living subsist on what would be considered dated models that we bought knowing they were solid for long term use, which for us is kind of the ‘essential,’ says smart home coverage editor Jon. Chase, who used a 2010 Mac mini as his primary personal computer for a decade.

Product turnover is designed for pioneers like you, and you are no doubt manipulated into this buy-buy-buy behavior by planned obsolescence capitalism, the idea that companies design a product so that it quickly becomes obsolete so owners feel compelled to replace it with a new one. I suspect in your heart you know these incremental upgrades aren’t worth the investment.

I’m going to assume your retirement accounts are fully funded, you have emergency savings, and you’re not credit card or any other type of debt. If so, and you have enough disposable income to buy the things you want, go ahead and buy the things you want. If it makes you happy and you can afford it, go for it. But it’s very unlikely that those things you want are also things you need.

What you’re asking for, essentially, is impulse control. Behavior modification is hard, especially when you and your partner are encouraging each other, but here are some things to think about.

When is it really a good time to upgrade?

There is no universal right answer. This can happen when the item you own becomes unusable, or a feature of the new item will obviously change the quality of your life. But it’s important to pause and think about the beyond of your product.

The environmental impact of electronic and plastic waste toxic fumes in Thailand at ocean garbage islands— is distressing, and your two main options are repair/reuse or recycle. If you have an item that is still in good condition and can be used by others, find a local place to donate it. You might find a community center that would love your old TV or a relative in your neighborhood who will be happy to take your latest generation. iPad.

Nowadays, repairing a technological product is often difficult, if not impossible. “Manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft need to do a much better job of making [the repair] easy and open process for everyone,” Damon Beres, editor of Unfinished Media, who wrote a New York Times opinion piece on this subject, told me in an e-mail.

When it comes to recycling, “consumers…have very little control over the ‘responsibility’ of the process,” Beres wrote. But still, it’s better than nothing. Manufacturers such as Amazon, Appleand Google have product take-back programs, and Beres recommends returning a device to its manufacturer whenever possible. “Apple may be able to do more with an older iPhone due to its proprietary design that carries over to newer iPhones, just as Samsung may be able to do more with Samsung Galaxy Fold devices when these reach end of life” , did he declare. wrote.

Stop following tech news

Don’t let relentless technology drive you in circles. The latest product announcements from Amazon, Apple and Google can look like a dog-and-pony show, with bright lights and whimsical presentations claiming everything is a breakthrough when in fact it’s not. does more than add a sixteenth lens to a smartphone camera. (Remember Crazy TV’s Mach 20 commercial razor?) When it comes to audio, for example, “You often pay for lower audio quality to experience the latest technology,” says Lauren Dragan, editor. “Also keep in mind that the lingo they use to justify an ‘upgrade’ often doesn’t make sense from a fun perspective. Tidal’s MQA recently be subject to scrutinyand Apple’s Spatial Audio for Music still hasn’t kept his promiseespecially when you’re not using a full surround system setup.

Make a list of your wants, then sit on it

If some of these tech ads are getting through your firewall and you think you absolutely need a fancy new thing, write it down. Doodle hearts around it. Make a list of pros and cons. Add it to an Amazon wishlist, a shared notes app, the fridge, whatever. And then put it aside. “I have a wishlist on Amazon for myself where I add things I want to buy. If I come back to this list in three months and still feel the need to get it, then that’s probably something I actually want,” says Chris Heinonen, senior writer and TV expert. (He also says that if your current TV is working fine, there’s no reason to replace it. TVs won’t will only get bigger, better and cheaper over time.)

Start a madness account

Open a dedicated savings account and automatically transfer a certain amount each payday. “Choose one day a month to be guilt-free facilitators with your partner. Sit down over dinner or cocktails and have fun debating if you want to blow up the $500 in the account on the Xbox off the list, or if you want to postpone it until next month so you have enough for the new tv. If you are a competitive couple, don’t even argue and just give the final decision each month to whoever wins your favorite card game/video game/bike race/whatever,” advises editor Mark Smirniotis.

Find something else to do

Shopping is a hobby for many people. But if you don’t want shopping to be your hobby, pick another one. There are evidence that new experiences bring people more lasting happiness than new things. That said, finding a new thing to do often means buying a new thing that enhances the experience.

“Our choice of binoculars has improved my birding,” says Senior Writer Tim Heffernan. “And my bike was a mental health lifeline during the first wave of COVID. Replacing various worn-out items, often after deep-dives into obscure Reddit threads and vintage eBay items, was truly satisfying. But mostly because it made my bike a more reliable, significantly more capable and, yes, cooler machine. Be like Tim, and you can enjoy the joy of the hunt and its end results in a more satisfying way.

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