Cherie Lowe Queen of Free

By Cherie Lowe

“Walters residence, Cherie speaking.” Some of the first words of social courtesy I learned dealt with phone etiquette. Before caller ID, voice mail, or even answering machines, our family owned two corded phones.

The primary phone — a brand new touch pad to replace the old rotary version — was in the kitchen and I’m pretty sure my parents had a line in their room, too. But that one was off limits for the kids.

In the three to four decades that followed, technological advances exploded. Many of us reach for our smartphones before we have our first cup of coffee in the morning. We stream our favorite television shows. We track our physical fitness with wearable devices. Our cars are guided by internal and external systems that give up-to-the minute information about traffic flow and construction zones. Computers guide our work and entertainment lives. It’s difficult to escape our digital counterparts even if we try.

Investing in new pieces of tech can feel overwhelming at best and completely paralyzing at worst. We’re unsure of what we need, how much to spend and where to purchase it. If you’re in the market to buy a new piece of technology, consider the following guidelines.

Evaluate needs vs. wants

While technology brings with it advantages, marketers know about our inner desire to keep up with everyone else. That means with each new model, each new product and each new upgrade, we’re enticed by catchy new commercials and drummed up desire. This is why it’s essential to consider our needs and wants before making a purchase. Ask yourself whether the items would enhance your life or if you’re just being sucked into hype.

Do your homework

Before any major buy, you should do a fair amount of your own research. Don’t depend on the salesperson to choose the best fit for your life. Instead, investigate size, memory, functionality and consider your specific needs. Search for websites that compare technology within and between brands. When possible, look for YouTube review videos explaining each piece. Gain perspective before you hit the stores.

Ask around

Use your social capital to take your research one step further. Ask your network if they own the device you’re most interested in. Talk to them about reliability and usage. Gather the experience of others to better educate yourself.

Skip the payment plans

As enticing as they may be, you’re better off saving cash and making your purchase in full. Many payment plans bring with them sticky stipulations. If you go even a day over the payment date, you might be slammed with extra interest charges or fees. Some of them date all the way back to when your plan began. You’ll also want to be wary of most warranty plans. The odds of your device kicking the bucket within the one-year time frame are low. And even if you purchase the warranty, many times you still have to pay for labor, parts or shipping. In the end, you could come close to the cost of replacing the device altogether. While you should weigh each opportunity, don’t rush to sign up for either.

Always look for coupons

It may be a white whale, but it’s always smart to look for coupons, rebates, discounts and bundling opportunities to save on an investment like buying technology. Begin with a quick internet search. Be sure to ask salespeople if they’re aware of any savings available. Don’t be afraid to bargain, too. Most salespeople don’t have the authority to give you a deal, but you never know. Don’t forget about special percentage discounts for students, senior citizens and military personnel.

It’s also a great idea to check out the retailers price match policy as well as comparison prices from other vendors.

Consider used products

You also may be able to save money by buying a used or refurbished piece of technology. Be sure you are shopping a reputable retailer and that you understand whether you can return a piece if you’re not satisfied. Ask clear questions and get satisfactory responses before making the leap. However, buying used or refurbished could save you a bundle.

I don’t miss the corded phone in the kitchen with its tangled tethered-to-the-wall mess. And at the same time, there are days when I wish I could unplug from it all. No matter which devices help you live life to its fullest, there’s no need to spend more than necessary to do the things you love and remain connected to the people who you love.

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