Category Archives: Spending

The Dangers of Browsing

Perhaps I’m a freak of nature or just plain weird but I just don’t seem to have as much problem resisting shopping as others. I think perhaps that I never particularly enjoyed the experience of going to the mall without having something specific to buy. Or as Cait pointed out recently on her blog that the danger really isn’t the shopping itself but rather the browsing.

For me, I generally don’t browse much to start with. Rather I tend to keep a list of things I might be interested in getting and let that sit for a week or two before I consider even shopping for the item. Thus most of the time my browsing is kept well chained and I don’t worry about my occasional minor impulse purchases for something like a ten pack of TimBits. Well except for the last two years where I realized I had developed a problem with one particular type of purchase: video games.

Pardon? Well perhaps a bit of backstory is in order. You see I stopped buying video games entirely for a few decades after finishing university as I was busy with other things in life. The decision wasn’t really intentional but rather accidental. I just was busy with other things and didn’t do it. Then several years ago we bought a Wii for the family and then bought the occasional game for that. Often more with the kids in mind than myself. So yes I played video games with them and enjoyed them but never too often and I never really had a browsing issue.

Yet that all changed back in 2015 for two main reasons. First up was I bought a new laptop that actually had some decent hardware and could actually run some games if I wanted. This was a first as up to this point in life I didn’t really consider running video games when buying a computer. Up to that point I tended to replace my laptops once I have problems running software that I need (like antivirus or tax software). So by virtue of that we tend to keep out laptops for five years or more at a cycle. The the second main reason things changed was a friend introduced me to a website called Gog.com, which stands for ‘Good Old Games.’ Here I found copies of videos games that I wanted to play from before my decade long drought at reasonable prices. So I got an account and bought a few classic games.

Then the trouble started as I realized something very shortly about the site. Just about everything on it goes on sale at some point during the year. So I got into the habit of browsing for titles and add them to my wish list and then check that list once a sale occurred. Then the site added a feature where they would email you to let you know when an item from your wish list went on sale. This lead me to become a regular shopper when they had a big sale which seemed to occur every few months. Then finally in 2017 things started to get a bit out of hand. I began to realize that I was buying far more games than I really could play in a reasonable amount of time.

So I began to control the spending in 2017 a bit more by setting flat amount of money that I would be willing to spend per sale. Typically this was $20, which isn’t a lot but can start to add up over a year. But this little trick also got me to start buying some games because they looked vaguely interesting and they were heavily discounted. Like in some cases for a dollar or two. I justified the behaviour because I thought I was ‘stocking up’ prior to leaving work in 2017.

Yet at the end of 2017 I had to face the facts. My collection on gog.com contained over 90 games and some of which would take over a 100 hours to play while even the shortest ones were like four or more hours. All in total I likely had years worth of game playing time ahead of me and I wasn’t playing them as fast as I was buying them. I had managed to develop a browsing and shopping habit that was on the very start of being unhealthy in my mind.

The one event that really brought this into focus was talking to a friend one day who also liked video games and he showed me an app that calculated the total game play time on all his various accounts (his GOG account alone was over 300 games) and it was literally more the the rest of his current lifetime assuming he didn’t sleep. To me that was crazy! He wasn’t buying games to play anymore. He was literally just collecting them and I saw just a bit of myself in his habits.

So with that shock of horror I realized I was turning into a collector I started a shopping ban for 2018. No buying video games from Gog.com for a year. Yet after reading Cait’s article I recently concluded that while I wasn’t buying games for months now I still had a browsing problem. I was still going to the site periodically to browse even when I had a ban on buying anything. While it had not been a problem yet, I was setting myself up to fail if I wasn’t being very careful. So now I have to sort out how I want to control or limit my browsing habit and I’m debating just going cold turkey.

And to clarify my horror about turning into a collector wasn’t really about the money involved. All in total I was spending $100 or less a year on video games. The money isn’t the issue here but rather my concern had to do with my time. By buying these dirt cheap games I was setting myself up to hours and hours of my time to even just try out a game even if I didn’t finish it. So with each purchase I was committing future me to more and more game time which I really didn’t want to do. I enjoy video games as a form of entertainment, but I don’t want to commitment too much of my life towards them. I have other hobbies and interests I also enjoy.

So what do you have a browsing problem with? How did you get over it or control it?

Cell Phone Shopping

I’ve been blessed or cursed depending with your point of view with a work issued cell phone now for the last several years which they allow me to also use as my personal cell.  This eliminated the need to carry two phones around and also meant I haven’t paid a personal cell phone bill in years.  After leaving  my current employer it was time to get a new personal cell phone.  Someone well timed my wife also needs an upgrade to hers as well.

It’s amazing to me that most people tend to go about getting a new cell phone with one simple question: do you prefer Android or Apple?  Well somewhat crude it does tend to start you down one path or the other.  In my case I’ve actually used both over the years and I have to admit I’m an Android fan.  Why?  Mainly because I like the greater degree of control that Android OS offers, but also the fact I personal feel the price of an Apple phone isn’t worth it for the features and performance it offers. After all a iPhone retails for over $900 each $1300 each for the newest model. My wife also agrees which makes this first decision easy: Android it is.

Now with that done the next question to address if what do you need your phone for?  For me and my wife that is mainly texting, with a not too many calls and not a lot of data usage. In addition, this is a bit more complicated because of two other reasons.  First since my old phone is used for work and personal it means I only have a rough idea of what I would use a personal phone for since the usage was all mixed together.  The second is we are planning on cancelling on landline soon and transferring those calls to my wife’s phone which means we aren’t entire sure what she is going to need for calls.  So in the end after looking around at various plans and providers we decided to go prepaid and skip a contract for the moment. After we get a better idea of our usage we might consider a contract in the future but for now we want to go as low cost as possible and some flexibility on usage.  In the end, I found a prepaid option with Koodo that has good network coverage in our province (my wife was previous with Rogers which coverage sucks for most rural locations near us so we removed them from the list of options) and also has a basic plan with unlimited texting (and texting photos) for $15/month per phone.  The bad news was that didn’t include any calling minutes or data, but with their prepaid plan you could buy boosters for talking minutes and data usage that don’t expire.  Thus we can buy some boosters to start with and see how we actually use our phones for over a while and then decide to shift to contract or other option in the future.  So in a word: flexibility.

So skipping the contract on a new phone then has the implication of we aren’t likely to get a phone for free or discounted.  So now we need to buy new phones out right for each of us.  I decided that my previously issued work iPhone 5s was fine so for my usage so I used that as a template for specs when looking for a new phones for us to buy.  I also decided early on I wanted to avoid Samsung as a manufacture for our new phones.  Why? Well that is because we have several Samsung tablets in our house for the last few years and it drives me a bit nuts that the customized android OS uses so much bloody memory.  I mean that thing has so much bloatware on it you end up spending more time managing memory issues than anything else.  So after looking around for options that will work with Koodo’s network we decided on the LG K4 2017 for both of us should meet our needs.  Then after shopping around I found them for $100 each over at Best Buy’s website (which was $20 less than Koodo’s site).  So with free shipping the new phones arrived at our house a few days later.  The bonus I wasn’t expecting with the phones were they already included SIM cards for Koodo so that saved us another $20 each and they offer when you active your phone you get a $20 credit on your account.  So adding that together we saved like $60 for each phone.  Nice way to start.

Then we setup the accounts online and picked out a boosters to start with which is where we learned we qualified for a few other goodies like an extra 100 anytime call minutes for registering a credit card to our account and when you sign up for auto payments your account get credited back 10%.  Then we added in some boosters to get us started.  I picked up 100 anytime call minutes and 1 GB of data to start, while my wife picked up 500 anytime call minutes and 1 GB data to start (keep in mind she is replacing our landline so we expect her to get more calls).  So all in we spent another $85 for our first month of texts and all the boosters.  After this our monthly cost will be $30/month for both phones (keeping in mind we get 10% of that back as a credit on the accounts).  This is actually close to our current costs as my wife’s text plan was only $5/month and we spend $20/month on the landline.

Now we just have to sit back and see how long our minutes and data take us to use up.  I’m guessing a fairly long while as we actually keep our data off entirely when we are at home.  Instead we use the existing WiFi in the house.  Even when I leave the house I actually keep the data off until I need it for something.  I personally don’t care to be notified when every email arrives or when someone ‘likes’ a post of mine on Facebook so it stays off most of the time (beside I disable most notifications on my phone anyway).

So that is our initial plan for our new cells phones for a total start up cost of just over $300 and around $30/month operating costs to start with.  Not too bad.

Spending More on the Right Things

I swear some people think my life must be like a monk.  They confuse the fact that I don’t spend a lot with not spending anything at all.  So to clear that up: yes I spend money.  When you think about it, everyone does it so that isn’t so odd.  Yet perhaps the major difference between a lot of my spending and other people’s spending is I’m usually thoughtful on what I spend my money on.

Yet this does not mean I never impulse buy.  In fact, yes I splurge on impulse items once in a while.  Just once every few months rather than twice a week.  For example, my latest one was I was at the bank to deposit a cheque and I recalled that the local HMV location near me was shutting down soon.  So I wandered over there saw a sign stating that it was it’s last week and all the DVDs and Blu-rays were 50 or 60% off.  So I walked around the store and found a few items and bought them (Mr Robot Season 2, Contact and I Robot..if you were wondering).  Did I need them? Nope.  Did I plan for them? Nope.  Did I want them like a two year wants a piece of candy? Hell yes!  Yet prior to that I really can’t really recall a similar impulse spending event for the last six months.  At the very least I usually have a 24 hour cooling off period prior to buying something.

Then on the other hand I sometimes think things out too much.  I recently had decided to seek out a faster internet speed package from my telecom provider since after months of trying to deal with the issue I came to the conclusion: our internet is too slow for what our house uses it for.  Prior to that I had done numerous technical troubleshooting sessions to see if I could squeak more speed out of out internet, but didn’t improve things all that much. Yet in the end I decided I wanted a faster connection it comes down to this…my kids grew up and spend a lot more time online and my wife started to watch Netflix more.  So I was increasingly battling my family for times to download some files or watch Netflix myself.  So I called in and confirmed my options and found out that I could increase my internet speed from a max speed of 1.5 MB/s to 5.0MB/s (yes nearly 3 times faster)  for an additional $3/month.  After that I turned to my wife and said, “I’m a bloody idiot. I should have found that out ages ago and just upgraded.”  Now I can download a large file in a fraction of the time prior and while my wife watches her show on Netflix.  I was just in the habit of making do with what I had that it took me a while to realize the solution would be to pay the extra monthly fee and upgrade.

So in the end there are two sides of spending: the not thinking about it all all for impulse buying and over thinking something for months that costs next to nothing.  Either end isn’t particularly useful so try to stay somewhere in the middle to achieve a happy balance. That is usually where I spend the most of my time but even I screw up. So where do you tend to fall on that scale for your spending?