Another year, another iPad model? Oh, most definitely!
And chances are, you know someone who's an early adopter -- one of the people who waits in line at the electronics store to be one of the first owners of the latest tech gadget and then casually flaunts its virtues to anyone who will listen.
Being friends with an early adopter can be a constant lesson in the dangers of keeping up with the Joneses. It's understandable to want to own things that are as good (or better) than the people around you, but what do you do when you're faced with temptations that threaten to overwhelm your willpower, self-confidence and, most importantly, your checkbook?
These four steps can help you withstand technological peer pressure for items you don't really need:
1. Research whether the item really suits you
If you decide you really do need a new tablet, smartphone or television, dig into some research. Unless you're independently wealthy or very accident-prone, you'll probably be using that phone for at least a couple of years, so understanding whether the hottest new model suits your needs (or whether you'll be happy with one of the cheap smartphones) is critical.
New tablet and e-reader models are coming out constantly. While your early-adopter friend may have justified the expense of upgrading to an iPad 3, you may find that the price tag really doesn't suit your budget. Don't be swayed by brand names; a tablet at one-third the cost could potentially meet your needs.
2. Give priority to technologies that can save you money
There's no question that some newer technologies can be big money savers. If you're old enough to remember taking pictures with film, you may remember charges of $10 or more to develop a single roll of prints at the drug store. Those five rolls from your summer vacation suddenly became a huge expense at a time you could probably least afford it. Digital photography has cut costs dramatically by making it possible to print only what you want, or to skip printing altogether in favor of sharing photos online.
So when evaluating new technologies, those that can save you money are worth exploring, such as alternatives to cable TV. Adding a streaming-television device to your home media can increase your expenses -- if you still maintain your full cable package and mail-order DVD service. But a streaming device in place of pricey subscription services could, over a year, pay for itself and then some.
3. Wait it out
If you can hang on before making a purchase -- even if it's only for a week or two -- you may find it easier to resist for a number of reasons:
- You may discover negatives about a product that make it less appealing.
- A newer version with better features may appear.
- The item's price may come down.
- Changes in your life may affect your needs.
Don't discount the effects of life changes. If you change jobs, your new employer could be willing to pay for a tablet for you if you use it for work. Or if you have a baby, a bulky camera may be less useful than a pocket-sized point-and-shoot.
Waiting until new technologies are established can often save you from being burned as well. Laserdisc buyers in the 1980s and Apple Newton buyers in the 1990s can probably tell you about that in a little more detail.
4. Examine your motives
So this is the hardest part -- the part we all want to ignore, which is why it belongs at the end: Only seriously consider items that you really need, not those that will only impress other people. Evaluate your current situation and your long-term goals to see if that new purchase really fits in. If you've ever been on a road trip -- or even had to navigate unfamiliar streets in your city -- and your smartphone's GPS map feature has kept you from getting lost, you probably won't go back to a regular cellphone anytime soon. You can spend and still be money-savvy, after all.
But if the sexiest new tablet only does what your laptop, phone and camera already do for you -- it may not be worth the hundreds of dollars you'd spend for it.
Resisting the urge to keep up with that friend who always has the latest gadgets can be a major challenge to your budget. But by making wise choices that truly fit your goals, you'll find it easier to stay on track financially -- something that can feel especially satisfying when your early-adopter friends asks to borrow rent money.