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16 shopping rules of thumb

What's important when you're looking to buy electronics, large appliances, kitchen gadgets or anything else?

By MSN Money Partner Jun 16, 2011 11:58AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


I recently read a wonderful post over at The Technium containing 12 simple shopping rules of thumb for various products. Some of them are great. A few of them are outdated. I find I use some of them myself.


Here are the ones I really find value in:

Pay for RAM, not speed. The speed of the computer chip does not matter; the attention-span or RAM memory does matter.
Pay for components, not cables. Buy the best components, and the cheapest cables.
Pay for speed, not channels. For cable Internet, with enough speed you can watch TV channels on the Internet for free.
Pay for sensor size, not pixel count. On today's cameras you'll have enough megapixels; better quality comes from larger sensors.
Pay for reliability, not mileage. On a car, you'll spend more of repairs and maintaince over its lifetime than you will on a difference in gas.
Pay for comfort, not weight. A bicycle's feather weight is moot once you add water bottle, a bag, any extra clothes you wear, while its comfort never disappears.
Pay for glass, not shutters. In professional cameras, great lenses endure, while the camera bodies change and go obsolete.

These simple rules of thumb can be a great starting point for the research you do when deciding what products to buy. They don't point you straight to a product, but they tell you which features are more likely to give you value for your dollar.


Over the past few weeks, I've been accumulating a number of these rules of thumb for more common household purchases:


Pay for location, not square footage. A home in a good location is more likely to retain its value. On the other hand, lots of square footage means room to store stuff you don't really need, and likely a longer drive to your job. There are tons of empty McMansions in the suburbs that can't be resold due to the housing glut. (Try MSN Money's calculator: How much house can you afford?)


Pay for utility, not quantity. If you're buying kitchen implements, you're better off buying basic tools that really work for a lot of things rather than tons of tools for specific things. You don't need more than three knives (a paring knife, a chef's knife and a bread knife, along with a honing steel). You don't need more than two pots, one saucepan and one skillet. You can make about every dish imaginable in those four things because they're so flexible. Post continues after video.

Pay for hardware, not software. Most of the applications that people need for their home computer have quality free versions online. Need Office? Use OpenOffice or Google Docs. Image editing? FotoFlexer and other such tools do almost anything a home user would want to do.


Pay for the beans, not the coffee pot. My wife uses a cheap old coffee pot she's had since we were in college. The coffee you put into the pot makes all the difference. A $200 coffee pot with bad coffee beans will still make you a poor drink.


Pay for reference, not entertainment. I buy a book only if I know I'm going to return to it again and again. For books that don't fall into that category, I check them out at the library or swap them online.


Pay for energy efficiency, not features. When you're buying a large appliance, the energy efficiency outweighs virtually every feature because of the enormous amount of energy used. For example, an older refrigerator can use as much as 1,400 kwh of energy per year, which adds up (at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour) to $168 a year. A newer refrigerator may use as little as 200 kwh, which adds up to $24 per year. Over a 20-year lifespan, that's $2,880 in savings, far more than the cost of the fridge itself. 


Pay for freshness, not convenience. Paying for convenience with food is usually a very poor bargain and often results in either bland food or food loaded down with chemicals,  artificial flavorings and preservatives. Buy fresh foods, take them home, wash them, and prepare them simply.


Here are two bonus tips that can be used to evaluate even broader choices:


Pay for experiences, not things. A thing is something that takes up space in your house. An experience changes who you are as a person. One cannot be replaced, while the other can easily be replaced. 


Pay for what you need, not what you want. This is the best tip of all. Figure out your actual needs before you go shopping for any item, then seek out the least expensive option that matches your needs. 


More on The Simple Dollar and MSN Money:



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