The unknown consumer choice that we’re never sold and totally unaware of!
(A tale of jumping off the consumer bandwagon and choosing the staygrade)
We’ve all experienced that moment, even as a minimalist, when a gadget, or other domestic appliance, ceases to function as it did when first purchased and you have to begin the time-consuming, life sapping process of finding a replacement. Finding a replacement you would think, especially due to the world wide web, would be an easy task, but the consumer industry never makes things easy, especially if by doing so it can encourage you to spend a little more than you had at first thought.
In previous days the search for a replacement would have involved a swift look through your latest Argos book, or other alternative shopping catalogues, before jotting a 7-digit code on a back of an envelope and whipping off to your nearest branch. Occasionally, due to lack of stock, you might have been offered a substitute product, along with the opportunity to sign-up to yet another high interest store credit card, but this would have been as difficult as it got.
Nowadays there is choice overload, not only do you have a host of high-street stores and supermarkets where you can shop at but there is also a plethora of internet companies also vying for your interest. Then there’s the products themselves, all marketed with their own unique selling point (USP) which all need some of your own unique mental energy (UME) to decide if it’s actually something you’ll ever benefit from or use. For example, if you were shopping for a digital camera then a popular high-street store currently offers an amazing 25 compact digital cameras, between £50 & £70, for you to choose from. Not only do you have to wade through this choice of almost-identical cameras it’s likely then that you’ll then spend more of your precious leisure time comparing the price of this item from alternative sellers before finally completing the transaction. If you want to watch an engaging video about the problems with choice click on the link at the bottom of this article.
In the age of austerity the term staycation was coined. A staycation being a frugal alternative to a vacation by enjoying a holiday in and around where you live. Equally frugal, and an alternative never suggested by either the salesperson in the shop (or the one in your subconscious), is the staygrade. The definition of staygrade being the like for like replacement of stuff that you are replacing.
Take for example my own recent quest of searching for a new DVD player to replace my ill-functioning 13 year old Phillips player. Having not looked at the industry for over a decade I was staggered by the choice on offer, not only did I have to consider the brand and price bracket within which to make my choice but there was the added question of whether I wanted; HDMi output, memory card reader, USB stick, Blu-ray, SMART TV functions, recording functions, surround sound etc.. and that’s all before I read reviews (to support my decision) and decide where to purchase it from (price/location/guarantee etc..). It’s exhausting just thinking about it. So here’s what I did…. I simply bought a DVD player (it even had the same brand name on it as my T.V), after all that’s what I ACTUALLY needed! I didn’t Google it, I didn’t compare the prices of it, I didn’t even look at the functions, I just went to a supermarket and purchased it along with the rest of my weekly food shop.
Not only can the staygrade save you a lot of time and effort but it also comes with some other positives. First, technology, and this applies to almost every daily appliance, progressively becomes cheaper over time. Take for example the current Playstation 3, just 6 years ago when first launched it sold for a staggering £425. Compare this to today when you can buy the same, if not slimmer and less power-consuming, game console for just £125….an almost 70% reduction on it’s initial price! The story of my DVD player mirrors the same pattern, originally costing £199 yet the replacement, albeit 13 years later, costing an incredible £26, over 85% cheaper.
Another benefit of the staygrade is that the snowball effect, the need to further replace a gadget due to the increased technological prowess of the item you have just replaced, comes to an abrupt end. I’m sure you’re all familiar with this, you come home with your new gadget, for instance a 16 megapixel, HD video recording, digital camera only to find that the laptop which you use to store and process all your digital media can no longer cope with these processor-intensive, memory-filling files. Suddenly you need to purchase a brand-new £399, 320gb, Intel i5, Windows 8, touch-screen laptop….all because you needed a new £69 digital camera!!!
I’m not anti-upgrade, new technology is amazing and the things it can do are at times incredible but the pace of change now is so fast that we are rendering millions of gadgets obsolete before they’ve actually reached the end of their useful life, all because they are not packed with the very latest up-to-date features which are on the gadgets being consistently thrown in front of our face via magazines, the web, TV commercials and even secretly placed in films & TV shows (via product placement). Updating your gadgets for these small, incremental improvements is mindless, both financially and environmentally. Put very simply, our earth’s resources cannot continue to provide for the upgrade hungry western (and increasingly eastern) consumer. In addition to this it is financial suicide to be spending huge proportions of our income, especially when laden with consumer debt, on stuff which while bringing to your life a short-term boost of pleasure, will contribute nothing to your long-term happiness or fulfilment.
The mobile phone market is the worst offender, subconsciously persuading consumers into the idea that they need to upgrade their perfectly-capable phones at the end of every 24 month contract. So hoodwinked are consumers, they don’t realise that the staygrade is a real alternative to this constant upgrading, but salespeople are the last people in the world who are going to start selling you the idea of a staygrade, keeping your current phone, along with a contract which is £200-£300 cheaper than they are currently paying. For more about mobile phones read my previous article, ‘Is the iPhone such a smart phone?’.
The debt-free minimalist approach: Newer, cleverer, feature-packed gadgets and appliances can have their benefits but upgrading is not the only choice when it comes to the time when replacement is needed, or in some cases not needed but is simply on offer (as in the mobile phone industry). The staygrade is an essential tool in the debt-free minimalist toolbox and the sooner you apply it’s principles the sooner you will find freedom from the continuous, and ever shortening, cycle of upgrading/replacing stuff. All appliances come to their natural end of life, discarded with millions of other similar items at your local recycling centre, but for most stuff this comes too-soon, only rendered obsolete in the eyes of the user whose head has been turned by the latest, greatest, do-it-all, piece of kit. Upgrade where necessary, large CRT televisions, VHS recorders and 35mm cameras have all had their day and their next-generation HD LCD, DVD & digital counterparts are all excellent industry revolutions of popular household gadgets but do we really need, already, to upgrade to their slightly thinner SMART /3-D glassed/4k, Blu-ray, mass megapixel evolutions….or is it time to stayput, be happy with what you have…is it time to staygrade?
To watch The Paradox of Choice copy and paste the following link into your web browser: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html