Buy now, or wait for better features at a lower price?

Thanks to planned obsolescence, consumers now know that any shiny new gizmo will be cheaper soon, and upgraded fairly soon. So when to buy?

OHN G. MABANGLO / AFP / Getty Images / File
In 2001, Steve Jobs unveiled the then-new titanium G4 Powerbook at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. Laptops and smartphones will always drop in price a few months after release, and will drop further when the 'new and improved' model comes out. If you can wait for the price drop, it's not something you need, it's something you want – and that makes all the difference.

This is one question that, in some form or another, keeps popping up time and time again in all sorts of contexts.

Should I buy a computer now, or should I wait for prices to come down?

Should I buy a new television now, or should I wait for the bigger screens to become available?

From cars to cell phones to woodworking equipment, these questions are asked about major purchases that many of us make.

Whenever I’m asked the question, though, I respond with another:

Do you actually need the thing?

If the answer is yes – that this item fulfills a need in your life that isn’t already fulfilled – then you should be shopping around now rather than waiting for prices to drop.

If the answer is no, why are you thinking of buying it in the first place?

To me, this question is usually only asked when someone is buying something that’s unnecessary in their life. If they don’t have the impetus to actually go out there and actively shop for such an item right now, that means they don’t have a use for that item any time soon.

If you can wait three months to buy an item, then that item pretty clearly falls into the category of a want rather than a need.

So, should I buy it now? If you’re buying something that you’ve clearly recognized as a want, I would suggest that two things be true: one, you have the cash in hand to pay for it, and two, you’re not taking that cash from another need in your life (like paying cash for something frivolous while you have a mountain of credit card debt).

My suggestion is this: once you’ve identified something you want, pick out the specific model you want, find what it will cost, and set up a savings plan to achieve that goal. Set up an automatic transfer of a small weekly amount from your checking account to your savings account and wait until you’ve saved enough to write a check for it.

Once you have that money, you can then re-evaluate the purchase. Do you still want that item? Has the cost of it dropped? Is there a better model on the market now?

If you’ve talked yourself into waiting just a bit longer to see what’s available, I would suggest not buying the item at all. It’s fine to wait if you’re pretty certain that the item you’re looking at will drop in price, but if you’re waiting without any sort of fact-based expectation of that kind of drop, skip the item and use the money for something else.

In short, if you’re willing to wait an undefined amount of time for an undefined lower price for the item, that item is pretty low on your priority list. Find something else that you’re more passionate about to use your money on and you’ll be better off.

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