I don’t know about you but spending money scares me. While I used to buy items with reckless abandon and throw down hard-earned cash for whatever caught my fancy, my frugal 30s have taught me to think long and hard before parting with my funds.
Our most recent big-ticket purchase came just a few days ago when my wife and I decided to pony up for Annual Passports to Walt Disney World. While these little beauties will earn us free parking at the resort, discounts on food and merchandise, and 365 days of potential admission, they also weren’t cheap ($1,800 for the pair). As a result, we asked ourselves a number of important questions before pulling the trigger.
With that, I wanted to share five evaluation questions I believe everyone should themselves before making a big purchase:
1) Can you afford it?
This is an obvious one — if you can’t afford to buy something, you shouldn’t buy it. Of course there may be emergency cases where you don’t really have a choice in the matter. That’s where the next question comes in.
2) Is it essential?
“Essential” is a word that can mean many things to many people. For example, having a car might be considered an essential need to some, even though public transit, ride sharing, and cabs might technically be options. Because of this, while it may not be easy to determine what is essential and what isn’t, you should be honest with yourself when making the distinction. Moreover, just because something isn’t essential doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t worth buying.
In our case, it would be pretty hard to argue that Disney passes are must-haves. Thus, we continue down the list of evaluation prompts.
3) Will it save you money?
Often times big purchases aren’t just major splurges but investments in the future. Whether you’re buying new items or upgrading existing tools, you may be able to increase efficiency, encourage thriftier habits, or enjoy other benefits that lead to savings. An oft-cited example of this concept is updating your home to energy efficient lighting and insulation as a way to lower your home’s energy bill.
Going back to our Walt Disney World passes, my wife and I could make a legitimate case that these will save us money in the long run. Everyone needs a vacation once in a while, so why not take ours at Disney? By buying Annual Passports, we’re really just preparing for future trips and saving money on a per-day basis, right? That’s true, although one could easily argue that there are still far cheaper vacations to be had and they’d be right. So is it worth it? That’s up to you — and leads to our next evaluation question.
4) What value does it offer?
Even if having some big-ticket items might not directly save you money, there may still be significant value to them. This could potentially include health benefits, saved time, or reduced stress. In fact, value can be perceived by different people in different ways and will depend heavily on their values and priorities.
Looking once again to our Disney purchase, the value to us is the ability to visit our Orlando friends and hang out at a place we all love. This isn’t to say that our friendship is contingent on touring theme parks, but is great to share in the fun together. Therefore, while they might not have been “must haves” by any means, the monetary and personal value the passes offered us justified their expense in our minds.
5) Could you get it cheaper?
Finally, once you’ve decided on buying something, the last thing to ask yourself is whether you’re getting a good deal. This could mean comparing prices from different outlets and retailers or, in some cases, rethinking the model or specific items you had your eye on. Beyond that, you might also consider looking to used (or “pre-owned” as they like to say now) or refurbished items that can often allow you to get great items at deep discounts. That said, you’ll also want to do your research on used items to ensure they offer the same protections as buying new.
Once you’ve assured yourself you’re getting the best deal, congratulations! With your evaluation complete, you can now complete your purchase with no guilt and enjoy the benefits it will bring — just like we’ll be enjoying our trips to Walt Disney World in the coming year.
Making large purchases can certainly be exciting but, at times, it can also be quite scary. From pondering if you can afford something to questioning the difference between “want” and “need” to wondering if you’re really getting a good deal, there’s a lot to think about. Hopefully taking the time to ask yourself these five questions will help you through the process and lead you in the right financial direction.
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