As the year closes, it’s a good time to take stock of which purchases worked out best.
This is a worthwhile exercise because so many products don’t deliver on their initial promise. Some end up unused, gathering dust. Some end up broken, destined for the landfill. Some end up providing only tepid utility—and their presence produces few thrills.
But every so often, a single item delivers singular value.
Whenever this happens, it makes sense to debrief about why things went so well. Hopefully, this improves the chances of scoring similar victories in the future.
In this post, I revisit our year’s best transaction. Thinking it through has reminded me of a great truth: frugality isn’t really about deprivation. Instead, it’s all about squeezing more value out of less money. With our best purchase of 2015, we believe we’ve done just that. Here’s why.
The Impulse to Buy
We’d wanted a ping pong table for years, but our old house lacked the room. When we moved earlier this year, we realized that if we gave up one bay of the garage then our dreams could finally come true—and if we bought a fold-up model with wheels, we could roll it against a wall and still wedge in two cars.
Since we’re devoutly frugal, we’ve learned to distrust our materialistic desires—even long-standing ones like table tennis at home. We run any big purchase through a gauntlet of stern questions, such as:
- Is this something we truly want or need?
- Will we stop using this thing after a few months?
- Does this thing need so much upkeep that it ends up owning us instead of the other way around?
We asked the questions and the table passed muster. Even so, we decided to further test the strength of our ping pong cravings. A nearby park boasts an outdoor table with a green metal net and concrete playing surface. We played there several times this fall and had a blast. We began conspiring to get our own indoor table before the snowflakes arrived.
The Decision to Buy Used
For several reasons, we decided to shop secondhand. First, a used table would cost less than a new one. (The price tag would be lower and so would the sales tax.) Second, a used table would come fully assembled. (In online reviews, many buyers complained that tables took too long to put together or had missing parts.) Third, if we ever changed our minds we could sell the table and recover nearly what we paid for it. (Secondhand purchases provide a useful hedge against possible misjudgments.)
We spent five weeks searching Craigslist before we saw a listing for a Stiga Model ST3100. Although the table is one of Stiga’s lower-tier models, it’s garnered many positive reviews.
I called the owner and drove over to his house. The table was in near new condition. We quickly agreed on a purchase price of $175 and scheduled a pick up for the next day.
That afternoon, I visited a U-Haul store and reserved a small box truck. The cost was $19.95 plus mileage and gas. I wanted some blankets to protect the table in transit, but for that privilege U-Haul charged $10. So instead of paying for blankets, I visited our recycling center and retrieved some oversized boxes. A few swipes with a utility knife and this cardboard would cover our table at no cost.
That night, I went online and downloaded the Stiga owner’s manual. By working backwards through the last few assembly steps, I discovered that we could separate the two halves of the table from the base and move everything in three manageable pieces.
The next day, Mrs. Moose and I drove to the seller’s home. We partially disassembled the table and the seller helped us load the truck. He even threw in some balls and paddles.
That night we enjoyed a terrific ping pong marathon. We’ve played almost every day ever since.
In retrospect, how good was this transaction?
Money Saved: $219.11
The used table cost $175. At the time, Dick’s Sporting Goods was offering new ST3100s for $330, so the secondhand version saved us $155.
The local Dick’s charges sales tax of 8.845 percent. Had we bought our Stiga there we would have paid $29.19 (8.845% x $330). Our Craigslist seller charged no tax, but legally we owe the State of Colorado a 2.9 percent use tax of $5.08 (2.9% x $175). Our tax savings net $24.11 ($29.19 – $5.08).
At Dick’s, table buyers pay extra for balls and paddles. Our Craigslist seller threw these in for free (fourteen balls and eight paddles). They would have cost about $30 at a thrift store.
By cutting up some king-sized cardboard boxes, we saved $10 on moving blankets. We spent $57.06 renting the truck, but this expense was a wash because we would have needed a truck had we bought new and our seller was about the same distance away as Dick’s.
Time Saved: 5½ Hours
Many Stiga ST3100 owners complain about its time-consuming assembly—for some it takes six hours to put everything together. Relying on the owner’s manual, we dismantled the table into three pieces, which made it easy to load the truck. This took about 20 minutes. With this experience under our belts, the reassembly took half as long. I figure we saved about 5½ hours by skipping a factory fresh table.
Repurposing Boxes: Priceless
Remember those cardboard boxes that served as moving blankets? After a couple hours of play, we deployed them to shield crannies into which we were losing balls. See photos below. Thanks to this improvised remodeling, we play more and spend less time hunting for orange spheres.
Physical Health: Defeat Atrophy, Win a Trophy
According to many studies, prolonged sitting is hazardous to your health. Ping pong provides a fun and healthy alternative. The risk of injury is almost nonexistent. Beginners burn between 200 and 350 calories per hour of play.
We play ping pong regularly. I track my exercise and since the table’s arrival on November 6, we’ve logged a total of 29 hours—about a half hour per day. Without this purchase, we would have spent these hours in abject sloth.
Mental Health: the Brainy Side of Ping Pong
The New York Times’ crossword editor Will Shortz endorses table tennis as a great brain sport. Many doctors agree. Swinging at plastic balls engages the primary motor cortex and cerebellum. Strategizing a path to victory activates the prefrontal cortex. And aerobic activity exercises the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that assists with long-term memory and spacial navigation.
I also think this new activity helps my driving dexterity. Since moving into our walkable neighborhood, I haven’t driven as much. Before ping pong, I was hesitant at the wheel. After ping pong, I’ve been making quicker decisions with greater confidence—so you might say this new sport has improved my motor skills.
Social Health: Combating Isolation
If you’re not careful, an early retirement can sentence you to a life of solitary confinement. Table tennis unlocks the door to human interaction. Mrs. Moose and I spend more face time together each day (mostly mocking each other’s shots). Monday nights neighbors drop by for conversation and friendly games. When we host dinners the garage fills up with people and noisy entertainment. The TV sits idle.
* * *
We’ve made our share of bad purchases this year. But let’s not dwell on those. Every so often the stars align, comets blaze, and a product enters your life that really makes a difference. So it’s been with our ping pong table—and if some day it turns into a neglected gatherer of dust, we can always head back to Craigslist and recover most of what we paid.
So here’s a worthwhile question to ponder: what was your best purchase of 2015 and why?