The things we rely on eventually break, wear out, or get lost. Alas, nothing lasts forever.
Case in point: my Samsung SGH-a 127 cell phone. First acquired in 2007, this item worked great. Calls came in loud and clear. The model was compact—with its clamshell closed, it was only slightly larger than the key to my Prius. I loved this phone.
Unfortunately, my cherished Samsung met its doom in August, 2009. Its demise occurred on the golf course right after I shanked a bad four iron. Before the rational side of my brain could intervene, I smacked the offending club hard against my golf bag (I have Tiger temper, not Tiger talent). Once my round had mercifully expired, I unzipped the bag to retrieve my personal effects. To my deep regret, I found the phone’s glass shattered. And worse yet, its innards were so horribly mangled that it couldn’t make outgoing calls. Through no fault of its own, my innocent Samsung was dead. Incommunicado. Finis. Sayonara. The phone, while resting snug within the bag, had been deep-sixed by my outburst with the four iron (how ironic, and I mean that literally).
My first reaction to this catastrophe was that I would have to buy a new phone. I was loath to do this. First, I would have to research the best current models for my AT&T pay-as-you-go plan. Next, it would take time to shop. Finally, after purchase, I would have to figure out how the new phone worked. At my learning speed, that would pile on several more hours. In near desperation, I visited eBay. Maybe someone somewhere was offering this same unit. So I typed in “Samsung SGH-a 127.” To my surprise, an angel from Louisiana was selling my exact model in near-new condition. Within a few days I received the replacement. Total cost: about $15.00. Total fuss: all I had to do was dislodge the SIM card from the dead Samsung and drop it into the new phone.
Of course, I could have saved myself $15 if I had stopped the four iron from hitting the golf bag in the first place—that’s lesson one. But when I thought over this transaction afterwards, I realized that it had produced multiple streams of savings versus my first impulse to buy at retail:
1. Replacement Cost. A new cell at retail would have cost about $50. Savings = $35.00 ($50-$15).
2. Sales Tax. I also avoided the extra tax I would have paid on a new phone. Savings = $2.98 ($35*8.5%).
3. Spare Parts and Accessories. I didn’t have to buy any accessories for the replacement because I already had them on hand. From the old phone, I cannibalized a battery, charger, earpiece, and owner’s manual. The new phone arrived with its own charger, so now I owned a handy extra to keep in the car. Savings = about $30.00 if I had gone out and purchased everything separately.
4. Extended Product Life. The replacement actually had less wear than its predecessor. In fact, after almost five years it still remains in daily use.
5. Saved Time. I didn’t have to do research or shop around. And I didn’t suffer through a learning curve. Savings = many frustrating hours, which freed up more than enough time for another frustrating round of golf.
6. Certitude of Result. For each new purchase, we assume new risks. We always face the chance of buying into inept design, shoddy construction, or planned obsolescence. We can cut these risks by reading product reviews, but there’s no substitute for long-term testing in real-life conditions. When anything reliable breaks, wears out, or goes missing, you don’t have to risk paying for an inferior replacement. If you procure the exact same item on the secondhand market, you can buy with supreme confidence.
Since 2009, I’ve repeated the Samsung move for a variety of favorite items. When my treasured Keen Targhee II low hikers wore out, I bought an almost-new pair for $57 (they retail for $120). When Mrs. Moose’s well-loved Ellington nylon purse had frayed beyond all recognition, I pursued and found its lightly-used twin for $30 (which was fortunate, because the model had been discontinued). When I broke the frames on my Rudi Project Ekynox SX sunglasses, I replaced them for $66 and kept the same old lenses (new frames would have cost $185). In each case, not only was the secondhand replacement “as good as new,” it was in fact “better than new” because of all the averted costs and hassles.
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So here are today’s lessons. First, go easy on your stuff, especially the stuff you love best. Never destroy anything you like with a four iron. Second, when your best stuff inevitably bites the dust, don’t resort to retail. Instead, head over to eBay or Craigslist. The chances are good you can find the exact same model for an astoundingly low price. You’ll save both treasure and time. And best of all, you’ll continue to enjoy a product that you’ve field tested yourself and that you already know will serve your needs for years to come.