Stewing over a big new purchase

QUEEN OF FREE: CHERIE LOWE

By Cherie Lowe

We walked into the home improvement store and instantly my hands clammed up. You see, this wasn’t one of those average, let’s spend a fun Saturday afternoon together browsing and dreaming sort of trips. This was one of those “our 20-year-old stove no longer displays the temperature and we can’t tell if it’s still on at 425-degrees-Fahrenheit” sort of trips.

Hiring someone to come fix the display more than likely would have set us back $100. So rather than spending money to keep up a stove that would likely give up the ghost within the next few years anyway, my husband Brian and I decided to begin the process of purchasing a new stove. We’ve purchased only two other major household appliances before — a washer and a dryer. So, this stove game was a whole new process for us.

Shopping, comparing prices and scouring the reviews online all left me with the same twisted knot in my stomach and a remembered recognition. I hate making major purchases.

Spending hundreds of dollars at once stresses me out. But realizing that if we want reliable appliances, safe cars and a place to live that won’t fall down around our ears, I know that such investments must be made. Here’s how I coped with my money emotions through the process of buying a new stove (spoiler alert: it’s lovely and sitting in my kitchen right now).

Think long term

For me, thinking long term can be paralyzing. We had our last stove for close to 14 years and the previous homeowners installed it six or seven years before that. When I began thinking about the next 20 years, my brain wanted to shut down. While it seems absolutely crazy, I envisioned myself baking cookies with my grandkids in this stove.

I may or may not have had a similar moment when trying to pick out a new sink because I wanted to be sure it would be the right size to give a baby a bath. Ridiculous, right? Yes and no.

You definitely want to invest your dollars in an item that will stand the test of time. At a bare minimum, who wants to repeat the stressful process of making a major purchase in a few years’ time again? However, overanalyzing and freaking one’s self out over knobs that non-existent grandchildren may or may not be able to reach and burn the house down might be a wee bit of overkill.

First, make sure your purchase fits your current needs. Then, determine by reading reviews and talking to experts about the longevity of the item.

Fewer bells, whistles?

Years ago, a repairman came to our home and successfully repaired our washing machine (thus saving me another episode of the major purchase sweats). While he was in our home, I began asking him questions about his job.

Which appliances do you have to fix the least?

He scratched his head and then began to explain that the more complicated an appliance is, the more that can go wrong with it. He joked about fancy models of washing machines that customers ooohed and ahhhed over in the store were the ones he spent the most of his time on while the more midgrade and basic variety rarely took up his time.

It’s easy to get carried away with new technology and fancy features. However, the more features, the more potential future repairs. On the flipside, the most basic models are often referred to as “starter” designs. Their prices are kept low by using simpler materials. Certainly, they’re a good beginning if you’re just starting out, but you’ll want to begin budgeting to replace them as soon as you make the purchase.

If your budget allows, it’s better to look for the mid-grade option. Concentrate on functionality over form and feasibility over features.

Read reviews with caution

In the years since I’ve become a published author, I’ve learned a lot of things about online reviews. The primary lesson I’ve gained though is that people can be extremely passionate or dispassionate about the same product. Nearly every product on the market has both five star and one star reviews. It can be difficult to sift through the words to find the truth.

Don’t ditch the reviews altogether, though. Read them thoroughly. Look for consistent patterns of praise or pause. When possible, click over and read reviews consumers have written on other products. Some folks are impossible to please.

If they’ve left one star reviews on everything they’ve ever purchased, you may want to tune out their voice. Ask questions. On Amazon in particular, it’s possible to ask specific questions about a product and have others who own it interact with you.

The reviews are a guide map but may not fit 100 percent with your personal experience.

Know store policies

Rebates, coupons, price matching and store-to-store cost analysis make even the savviest of buyer’s head spin. Be sure you’re well aware of the best plan of purchase for your investment. Most stores will price match exact items. Use your smartphone to “shop around” checking prices in store.

Occasionally a kind clerk might be able to lend wisdom about available coupons and upcoming sales. Although that information can be privileged, so don’t count on it as a savings strategies. It never hurts to ask how to make a good deal great.

In the end, as we walked out of the store both Brian and I agreed that it would have been much easier to make the purchase back in the days when we were racking up credit card debt, not to mention we would have likely spent twice as much. Spending your own money can be painful.

But this pain should make us all the more vigilant about the process of investing in large purchases. Everything we’ve been given in this life is a gift, including our money. So parting with it for the right reasons — to enrich our future and make our present simpler _ is still a very good thing.

P.S. I love my new stove. Come over and I’ll bake you some cookies.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net