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General buying considerations?

5 Post author: Elo 12 October 2015 05:18AM

The following is an incomplete list of suggestions for generic considerations that you might like to make when you go out to buy a thing. I have tried to put the list in order; being generic - certain things will be more or less important in different orders.


0. Do I need the thing? Am I just wanting it on a whim (you are allowed to do that, but at least try to not do that for many expensive things that don’t have resale value)?  If a month had gone by, would I still be wanting it?

  1. What is the thing? What functionality considerations do you need to make?  What does it need to do?  If you already had it - what would it be doing? Will it fit in your life?
  2. What is your expected use? Daily? Once-off? Occasional? (no more than 5 times in your predicted future)
  3. What do I want it to do?  Does this thing do what I want it to do?  (It can be very easy to buy a thing that doesn't quite suit the need because we get distracted between wanting a thing and getting a thing)

Consider your options that avoid buying it:

  1. Can I borrow one from a friend? Or a family member? (some things cannot be borrowed like a wristwatch - no sense borrowing one if it’s an item you wear every day - or other reasons to not borrow a thing)
  2. Can I get one second hand?  
    Some items are perfectly fine second hand, i.e. books, whereas others are potentially less fine (i.e. cars) where more can go wrong with a second hand one.  The point of this inclusion was to encourage you to consider it when you previously would not have. for whichever reason.  Books second hand can also be occasionally out of date or damaged; and cars second hand can be excellent purchases.
  3. Is anyone I know also interested in having the thing, and would they be willing to split the cost with me in order to have it on a kind of timeshare, and can we agree on a deprecation schedule such that one of us buys out the other's share in the future, if one of us is moving away or something?
  4. Renting/hiring the thing - as a one off. (works for most power tools, as well as storage space, a boat, all kinds of things...).  It is also an option to rent short term while you decide if the thing fits your life.  i.e. rent a jetski.  If you find you don’t use it enough to warrant a full purchase you only needed to invest a little bit of the final cost; and might be saving money to do so.
  5. Timeshare - businesses exist around sharing cars; boats; holiday houses and various other products.  You might be able to take advantage of these businesses.
  6. Can I apply for credit for the thing? Can I get the item on consignment?
  7. Could I earn money using the thing and return some costs? (Am I likely to do that based on my past experiences doing so with other purchases?)

Knowledge about the thing:

  1. Do any of your trusted friends have opinions or knowledge in the area?
  2. What do online reviews say?
  3. Is there a community of enthusiasts (i.e. Online) who have resources or who you can outsource the search to? 
  4. Are there experts in the field - (i.e. buying houses), is it worth engaging an expert for this transaction?
  5. How much time do I want to spend on considering and shopping vs how much use will I get out of the thing? (for items under $20, try not to spend more than half an hour on it; or it’s almost better to randomly buy one available {depending on your local minimum wage})

Purchase considerations:

  • What is my budget?
  • Can I afford it? (see options that avoid buying it)
  • Price range of the things on the market?
  • Is it cheaper somewhere else in the world and posted to me?
  • Can I ask for a discount?
  • Can I combine postage with other items?
  • How long will the thing last?
  • How long do I need it for?
  • How quickly do I need it?
  • Do I want to be able to sell it when I'm done?
  • What's the return policy of the various places selling it vs price vs shipping?
  • What is the shipping time?
  • Does it come with a warranty?  Does the warranty last long enough for my liking?
  • Are any laws, customs or taxes applicable to it; or its purchase, or resale?
  • What's the difference between the best price and the worst price, and when do you wind up spending more time (in terms of the value of your time) than that difference trying to get the best price?
  • Does it have resale value?  Do some have better resale than others? (are you actually a person who re-sells things? - have you resold a thing before?)
  • Can I get it in a physical store?  Can I get it online?

General specifics:

  • Is the one I want a quality item?
  • Is the item disposable or not? Have you considered the merits of a similar but disposable one? (or a similar non-disposable one)
  • Does it have the correct colour? Or other embellishments?
  • Do I have storage space for it within my existing storage area?
  • Is it big? Can I get a smaller one?
  • Is it heavy? Can I get a more lightweight version?
  • What are its power options? AC, DC, battery, built-in battery, built-in solar, etc.
  • What is it made out of? Does it come in metal, plastic, wood, etc. what would I prefer?
  • Does it suit my existing possessions?
  • Will this one cost more to repair than the other similar ones?

Miscellaneous considerations:

  • Do I have a backup for if this one fails?
  • What are the consequences of a lower-quality thing breaking while I'm using it?
  • Can I pay for it from someone who is going to donate proceeds to charitable causes?
  • For any purchase under $50 (adjust for your life circumstances) it’s not so much worth running through this checklist; but for more expensive purchases - it’s likely that if you want to appreciate that you put in effort and came to a good conclusion, a process like this will be helpful.
  • Is the process of buying it give me pleasure? Or I will suffer in a long line for it?
  • What kind of signalling is the thing going to give me?  Do I want that?
  • Does the thing have an upkeep or maintenance cost?


Nearly all of the points listed here could be expanded to its own post.  These points apply to everyone to different extents.  “Considering borrowing” is advice that is priceless to one person, and useless to another person.  similarly; “budget” might be significant to one person because they don’t spend often but then spend whatever they like when they need to; but useless to another person because they live and breathe budget.

I plan to cover this in another post about making advice applicable to you.

meta: 3 hours write up.  3-5 reviewers, slack channel inspiring the post, and giving me a place to flesh out the thoughts.

This post is certainly open to improvements.  Please add your comments below.

See also: My Table of contents for other posts in this collection.

See also other repositories on lesswrong:

Comments (20)

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 12 October 2015 02:17:07PM 6 points [-]

I feel like the mindset of this post comes from a bygone era, when people actually spent a large portion of their income on consumer goods. These days people spend most of their money on housing, food, taxes, health care, travel, and education; none of those categories are really amenable to the type of analysis you are suggesting.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 October 2015 04:09:03PM 3 points [-]

As to food, health care, travel and education, the type of analysis still works, it's the amount of parameters that differs. And maybe the frequency of having to analyse.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 October 2015 04:21:34PM *  0 points [-]

A full application of this checklist to buying rutabagas at a farmers' market would be awesome X-D

Comment author: [deleted] 12 October 2015 04:45:17PM 1 point [-]

You'd be surprised how... involved buying things from people living in the same village can be. 'Machiavellian' is one word for it.

Or are you, perchance, a city dweller for whom rutabagas are not really important?

Comment author: Lumifer 12 October 2015 04:57:10PM 0 points [-]

You'd be surprised how... involved buying things from people living in the same village can be.

And would Elo's checklist help?

Comment author: [deleted] 12 October 2015 05:53:08PM 0 points [-]

Partly, yes. To preserve one's sanity.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 October 2015 06:32:31PM 1 point [-]

I would suggest that when buying rutabagas in a village you should be much more concerned with interpersonal and social factors, and much less with whether you can rent or timeshare a rutabaga, or, say, with its power options and repair costs.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 October 2015 06:57:52PM 0 points [-]

So? Assign zeroes to these points in some kind of score you keep when reading the list, or embrace the metaphor (can I rent or timeshare a rutabaga? That is, I have some rutabagas this week because my mom is coming to visit and she loves this mysterious vegetable, and than next week I give some rutabaga seed or whatever to the kindly farmer, or maybe just show the rutabaga to my mom and boast, in passing, of my gardening skills and then return it to the kindly farmer on the quiet side... Or, what are the rutabaga's power options and repair costs - that is, does cultivating them enrich the soil or deplete it, and how long can one grow them in the same spot, and do they get hit with weird parasites that would mess with my glorious potatoes and I will end up spending money and time trying to set things right -)

(Also, I don't feel like this is a productive discussion to have:(, since if you consider just one place where you buy rutabagas, it is strictly a subset of you considering n places, for which Elo's list totally applies.)

Comment author: Lumifer 12 October 2015 07:16:59PM 0 points [-]

or embrace the metaphor

Do note where we started :-D

I don't feel like this is a productive discussion to have

It's not particularly productive for rutabaga-buying purposes. It might be productive for thinking about what matters and what doesn't. Matching the effort to the expected change in outcome, y'know...

Comment author: Elo 13 October 2015 12:33:00AM 0 points [-]

It would be fun to write the rutabagas evaluation; but it also feels like a waste of time; especially for a <$20 purchase in this case.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 October 2015 02:41:25PM 0 points [-]

Oh, I believe a full-blown evaluation of a rutabaga purchase by this methodology would have great value.

Comment author: Elo 13 October 2015 12:31:40AM 0 points [-]

Housing is something that a lot of these apply to.

Food is a more disposable thing and will fall under $20 often so be not worth the time; but sometimes it will be worth the time.

health care can be shopped around for, and you can find experts in the area and information online.

Travel certainly can be shopped around for.

Education is not a physical product; so many of these concepts do not apply (i.e. heavy/light), there are still several of these that do apply though.

Comment author: turchin 12 October 2015 05:37:03AM 6 points [-]

Add pleasure of buying process: Is the process of buying it give me pleasure? Or I will suffer staying in long line for it?

Other possible questions: May I apply for credit for the thing? Could I earn money using the thing and return some costs?

Is it possible to have the thing in the same postal shipment as other things? What will custom say? Is the thing legal in other countries?

What kind of signalling is the new thing for other people? What other people will think about me than they learn that I have the thing?

Is the thing repairable? How much ownership of it costs?

Comment author: Elo 12 October 2015 07:45:51AM *  3 points [-]

Added pleasure

Added credit

Added profit

Added combined postage

Added signalling

Added customs to laws and taxes

Added repairs

Added maintenance cost

I am surprise how many reasonable considerations I had missed. Thanks!

Comment author: turchin 12 October 2015 08:50:36PM 1 point [-]

Also for me shipping time is important, as I travel a lot. And shipping method - to home (in this case I have to be at home all day and wait the thing), to post office or nearest point of delivery. In US it is much simpler with Amazon prime.

Comment author: Elo 12 October 2015 11:17:35PM 1 point [-]

Shipping time added

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 12 October 2015 09:22:28PM *  2 points [-]


See also the repositories:

You might also consider adding a like to you post there and/or shopping for further ideas there.

Comment author: Elo 12 October 2015 11:42:00PM *  0 points [-]

These are all excellent and related ideas. This one was about specific process when buying; those are more broad. Definitely relevant.

I have included them in the top post.

Comment author: Error 12 October 2015 01:50:42PM 2 points [-]

"Can the thing be ordered online?"

Time is, in a lot of cases, more valuable than money. And you can save a great deal of time (and aggravation) by ordering stuff. Amazon Prime is a wonder in this respect.

Comment author: Elo 12 October 2015 02:14:29PM 1 point [-]

I didn't include this because it seemed so obvious. But I want to include the option to check if it's available easier in person than online... (so included now)