A coffee pot is not an "investment"

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Last week, I wrote a post called “Focus on needs, not products,” that talked about a way to save money by thinking differently: focus on what you need your money to do, not a specific product that you want to buy. If you think about your needs rather than products, you can evaluate a broader set of choices and wind up saving a ton. I gave an example of buying a charcoal grill instead of a gas grill I’d been lusting after, and how I saved 90% of the cost by caring more about grilling than a particular type of grill.

I saw something on Boing Boing Gadgets today (a blog I read and generally like) that made me think about this again. All of the “gadget” or “new toy” blogs are incredibly dangerous if you’re trying to save money, since they’re designed to talk about how this cool new product is just so completely, amazingly cool that you simply must have one right now — now usually being right as it is released, when it is more expensive than it will ever be again. (Joel Johnson’s rant on this topic (warning: eyeball-searing levels of profanity herein) is well worth reading.)

The Boing Boing Gadgets post was about a cool French press you could buy. Here’s what they had to say:

MontanoFor our special theme day on coffee, I decided to review the Bonjour Montano French press — not because it’s new (it came out in 2007), but because it was by far the coolest looking commercially sold French press out there. I was digging the brushed stainless steel leaning-tower-of-Pisa look. It makes eight cups of coffee, which was perfect for when I had a pancake birthday party for my dog Malcolm last weekend. At $70, it’s on the high end of the French press market, but think of it as an investment into the overall coolness factor of your kitchen appliance collection.

I use a French press every morning, and love it, so this one definitely hit too close to home for me. Ooooh, a cool new French press. I’ve had mine since college…..maybe a new one? But fortunately my resistance to thinking like that is pretty high these days. Let’s think about this for a second:

  1. I already own a French press. I’ve had it for over 15 years now and it still works great. Unless I break the glass carafe, it could easily last for decades more. What problem would I solve by buying another one?
  2. This one has a cool shape. Um….why do I need to spend money on a cool shape?
  3. The post suggests that you think about it as “an investment into the overall coolness factor of your kitchen appliance collection.” What would be my expected return on that “investment”?

Yeah, I don’t need to buy this, I thought (quickly). The “need” — morning coffee — is already met by something I own. Save the money for something I need and don’t have.

Maybe you don’t already have a French press, and want one. Should you buy this one? Perhaps, if you have people over for breakfast and coffee all the time, and want to impress them with your sense of style. Or, say, if you film a cooking show in your kitchen. 🙂 But otherwise, you should focus on your desire for a morning coffee, and not “the brushed stainless steel leaning-tower-of-Pisa look” that makes this pot “by far the coolest looking commercially sold French press out there.” Cool looks, brushed steel, and resembling Italian architecture will not help make better coffee for you in the morning.

I went to Amazon and looked for the cheapest, new French press I could find. It turns out you can buy a 3-cup French press from the same manufacturer as our leaning-tower-of-overpriced-coffee option for a mere $12.90 — a $57.05 savings. It’s like an 82%-off sale you can make happen just by thinking about it! Somehow I’m willing to bet that the coffee you get from either model is exactly the same. Let’s paint a picture of the savings:

French press choices
(Coffee cup pictures from Refracted Moments™ and Teo. Used under Creative Commons license.)

So, yeah. While I love the boingers, I hate having fallen into this temptation even for a second, and despise being told that a coffee pot is somehow an “investment.” An investment should make you money. The best way to have money you can actually invest, or save, or use for something you really need, is not to spend it. Removing temptations to spend — unsubscribing, for instance, from blogs that are all about cool new products you can buy — and focusing on your needs instead, is the best way to do that.

12 Responses to “A coffee pot is not an "investment"”

  1. jessicaw Says:

    Love it! Great post! I completely agree. The only item in my kitchen that I consider an “investment” might be my kitchen aid mixer, and even then, only because I know I’ll *never* have to replace it.

    That fancy french-press is going to go the way of the fondue pot and end up in the goodwill in a few years because it’s too “funky” to be tolerated in the kitchen decor.

    Way to stick to the basics!

    J

  2. bp313 Says:

    Everybody has different needs. Do I need books? Do I need TV shows? If I need TV shows, how should I get them? Hulu, cable, Netflix? Do I need cable?

    Do I need jeans? Do I need Levi’s, or should I buy Dickies? Are you saying I should buy the cheaper jeans because they’re cheaper? What if the more expensive jeans are better in some way?

    Cable gets TV shows to you faster than Netflix, but Netflix is a lot cheaper. Which one do I “need”?

  3. Tristan Says:

    I just wanted to say that I love this post. It’s great to think about what you actually need, rather than getting the best price on a product you want. The best savings is not buying anything at all.

    I also absolutely love the diagram illustrating this. Nice!

    bp313 – I think how you define the value of something is entirely up to you, and it’s not all to do with the initial cost. For example, I buy Patagonia jackets even though they’re almost twice as expensive as competition because they’re 1) extremely high quality and work better, 2) will last longer because of that, and 3) have a lifetime warranty. This essentially means I get a jacket for life, which is worth a lot more to me than the initial cost savings of an inferior brand. Many things work this way, and if you factor in quality and value to you over time, then the initial cost savings may not be the most important part of the total cost. But I think it’s good to think about what you actually need, and whether there’s a better way to fulfill that need that’s cheaper overall (taking into account lifetime cost and total value to you). Sometimes it’s even valuable to renegotiate your needs with yourself, but that’s a different matter.

  4. How Should I Invest My College Money? | Politics News Says:

    […] Wesabe: Your money. Your community » Archive » A coffee pot is not … […]

  5. spending to save | the ¢entsible life Says:

    […] A need can be defined as something that you must have in order to live your life effectively. Like a vacuum cleaner, or a pair of comfortable shoes. But the need can easily be replaced with a want which I define as something that you either a) don’t need  b) talked yourself into thinking it is a need or c) advertising worked its’ magic and convinced you you of how awesome your life would be with your new widget. […]

  6. Mister B Says:

    Obviously, the term “need” is relative to the time and space in which it is used herein. To call a cup of morning coffee a “need” is laughable to some, but entirely acceptable to many. The “need” however, for a nicer coffee maker is not acceptable to many. To some people, however, whose paradigms have twisted and to whom aesthetic has replaced necessary, a newer, nicer French press might be just what the doctor ordered.

  7. fcs Says:

    I generally agree with the idea behind this post (especially: “Removing temptations to spend — unsubscribing, for instance, from blogs that are all about cool new products you can buy.”) but I’m not sure this coffee maker is the best example to use. The value of a product is not measured only by its utility. Some people want nice looking coffee makers. They are willing to pay extra for them. The word “investment” does not refer solely to the possibility of monetary returns, but to more intangible returns as well. Presumably you do not purchase clothing based only on its ability to keep you warm and protect you from the weather, or purchase food based only on reading the nutrition label. The same applies here.

  8. Chicago Injury Lawyer Says:

    Well thought out. I think it’s important to really think about your budget, but it’s also important to remember that everyone’s “needs” are different. When thinking about your budget you should make sure that what you consider “needs” are reasonable and within your spending limit.

  9. Mesothelioma Says:

    Great point. Purchasing items based on their function rather than their design is a much more reasonable way to use your budget.

  10. Debt Management Says:

    Good article. You could extend the comparison even further by comparing the price of a cup of coffee from your “new” french press, putting it in a flask and taking it to work, against the cost of a coffee from Starbucks everyday on the way to work. I bet the differential would be even wider lol.

  11. kitchenaid superba architect Says:

    great post.

  12. ksb5 Says:

    I love this story.

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