Money-Savin’ Mama: Don’t let your tech wants become expensive ‘needs’

I’ve always been behind the technological curve.

My family didn’t own a VCR until 1991. I listened to cassette tapes into the mid ’90s. I didn’t have cable TV or a DVD player till college, or my own computer until 2004.

I still don’t have an iPod or iPad or GPS or smartphone.

People talk about how they “couldn’t live without” these newer devices, like they’re food or water. Somehow, I survive.

I also save, not paying for mp3s, apps and data plans.

That said, I understand the allure of technology and how once you have it, you can’t imagine not.

When my husband and I switched to satellite TV, we eschewed the digital video recorder add-on. We’d survived nearly three decades without DVR. Why pay $5 a month for it?

But midway through our contract, we began to rethink the decision. We’d spent a weekend with friends who had DVR and it was really useful, zooming through a Twins game and catching up on missed sitcoms.

So when it was time to sign a new satellite contract in 2011, we added DVR.

I’ll never go back.

I also can’t imagine life without my Kindle Fire, a 2011 Christmas present. My husband, Craig, feels the same about his iPod Touch, which he won at a conference the same year. He never would have bought one for himself, and even considered returning it for store credit. Now, it’s a constant companion.

However, we’ve both avoided what I view as a big financial risk with these items, the temptation to overspend on songs and books and apps. It’s so easy with one-touch purchasing and the faulty rationalization that it’s “only a dollar or two.” Those dollars add up in a hurry.

Instead, I download free Amazon apps and borrow digital books from the Fargo Public Library. Craig uploaded his CD collection and streams free podcasts.

We’re likely in the minority, though. Statistics cited at Statista.com show spending on mobile apps increased from $4 billion in 2009 to $16 billion in 2012, and is expected to increase to $35 billion in three years. Apple generated $4.3 billion in revenue from iTunes music downloads in 2012 (and $13.5 billion in total iTunes revenue), according to AppleInsider.

People tend not to consider lingering costs of their purchases. They save up for a 60-inch flat screen TV, and then feel compelled to get the expensive HD cable package and Netflix subscription. They get Xboxes and iPads and now pay new monthly fees. They buy a fancy new car and don’t factor in the increased insurance costs.

And then they’re over-budget but see no way to trim expenses because they “can’t live without” these new gadgets and gizmos.

They’ve turned their wants into “needs.”

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with owning flat screen TVs and Xboxes and iPads. It’s simply a matter of making sure you have enough money in your monthly budget to add these things to your life.

And that’s exactly where Craig and I are now as we debate making the move to smartphones.

Our cell phone contract is up for renewal this spring. Smartphones have been out long enough that the novelty has worn off and they’re starting to become more essential in the workplace. But would we pay less for a better product and plan if we waited two more years?

For a while, I’ve been tracking what I call “smartphone moments” – those times when I would have used it. As I can update Facebook and Twitter with a text message and my Kindle lets me web surf and email anywhere there’s wireless Internet, I average about one moment a day, usually when I wonder about some inane bit of trivia while riding in the car.

Certainly, I can live without that.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and reporter for The Forum. She blogs at http://topmom.areavoices.com

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