How To Waste Money By Saving It
I was married when I bought my first really good stereo component, an ultra-high-end (for the 1980s) preamp that been highly praised in a review by Harry Pearson, and that I was able to buy – unheard and unseen – through a friend in the industry, at a very good price. Even with the friendly discount, it was still a lot of money, though, and the way I justified it to my wife was by telling her that it was a "state-of-the-art" piece and that we could, therefore, be sure to have and enjoy it for many years to come, without ever needing to buy anything better. Even all those dollars of initial expenditure, I said, would work out to just pennies a day over the time we would keep it, so it was really a bargain in disguise.
As it was, she bought my story; I bought the preamp and we all lived happily ever after. (Or at least I and the preamp, which, unlike my wife, I still have.) The money part, like the rest of the story, is really true: Even thousands of dollars, spread out over a period of years, comes out to be not very much money per day: Even ten thousand dollars – more than enough to buy a quite thoroughly enjoyable whole system – comes out, if you divide it up over the 3650 days of the ten years that you might own it, to less than two dollars and seventy-five cents a day. (It's actually $2.7397) That's less than the current cost of just a single Starbuck's mini coffee frappaccino a day over the same period and, given the option, which would you enjoy more, a few gulps of coffee or an entire day of your favorite music?
Here's the part, though, that nobody ever seems to consider. That same "pennies a day" thing also works the other way around: Dollars you save by not buying something or by buying it at a discounted price also work out to be not very much money per day. And that, finally, is what this article is all about. Do you know the location of your nearest Hi-Fi shop? Did you buy your system there? Or any of your components? How did you pick what you have? Or how do you plan to choose the next thing you buy?
Frankly, I got lucky with my "unseen-unheard" preamp purchase, back all those years ago. For that, I largely based my buying decision on a good review in a major magazine and the opinions of some other people I knew in the audio industry. Now I know better, though, and would never make any major purchase that way again: Too many reviewers – even ones that are my personal friends – have tastes and preferences, or systems, or listening rooms far too different from my own for me to ever rely on just their judgment enough to buy something without first having heard it with my own ears (and preferably in my own system in my own listening room).
I'll bet that a lot of you feel that same way and that you first go somewhere – a friend's house. a Hi-Fi Show or a local dealer to hear a product you're interested in before you actually lay out the cash to buy it. Reviews and the opinions of other people are just fine for narrowing down the field for you to select from, but to actually audition whatever the product might be before you buy it is always the best way to make your final choice.
Unfortunately, Shows are famous for – even at that one "sweet spot" seat that someone else is usually already sitting in – not having the very best sound possible for making a buying decision: The room's often too small, too crowded, too hastily set-up, with too little, the wrong, or no acoustic treatment, or may (even if you plant yourself in a seat and wait for it) be playing the wrong music to demonstrate whatever about the product you want to hear.
Going to a dealer is far better: If he carries it, he'll put on whatever product you want to hear, properly set up in an appropriate system, in a room that he may have spent years perfecting, playing exactly the music you want to listen to. He'll spend as much time with you as you need, and, if what you came in for proves not to be the "wonder and glory" you had hoped it to be, he'll make alternative suggestions that you might like better. And if you do think the product you came in for is just right for you, he'll give you tips on how to get the most performance out of it; what to use with it; or may even offer to come out to your home to set it up for you and, at the same time, clean, adjust, and "tweak" the rest of your system for maximum performance for no extra charge.
At least as far as auditions go, lots of people will go to a dealer to listen to a new product or to get ideas for changes or additions to their systems. Then, however, some of them will thank the dealer, say "Gee, I have to think about it" or "I'll be back later", and go home, get on the internet, and buy whatever they want at whatever's the lowest price available.
Not even considering the moral aspects of that kind of behavior, is it a good idea? Other than saving you a few bucks on a purchase, what else does it accomplish? For one thing, if it continues it can ultimately mean the demise of the local dealer and (except at the occasional show, which if your community's lucky enough to have, may be just once or twice a year) can deny you the ability to personally audition new products before you purchase them anywhere at all.
As for the internet savings, let's suppose that we were talking about that ten thousand dollar system mentioned earlier. And let's suppose that you were able to save a full twenty percent off the dealer's best price. That's two thousand dollars ($10,000 X 20% = $2000) in savings. Big money, huh? Well worth doing, right? Well, I don't know: $2000 divided by ten years (3650 days) is just fifty-five ($0.5479) cents a day. Even if you were to figure on a "keep it" time of just five years, it's still only a little over a buck a day. Still certainly worth having, and you could certainly buy something with it (a donut, maybe?), but what do you lose in the process?
Remember that, to save that two thousand dollars, you had to spend eight thousand! And what if – because you didn't listen before buying, or because you didn't have a competent dealer to help you decide what to get; to install it for you or to make sure that it's properly set up and in its best possible position in your (made better by some proper and effective acoustic treatment suggested by your dealer) listening room – it just doesn't sound as good as you'd hoped? Either you're stuck with it or you send it all back (if they'll take it) and get something else. And if that something else costs more than you would have paid by simply getting your system from an expert dealer who would have made sure that it sounded great before he left your home, what good was the discount? And where are you going to turn when, sometime in the future, something breaks or you want to step up to the next level?
Personally, I'd rather pay the money; get it right the first time; and be able to go home at night, go to my perfectly functioning, good-sounding, system; put on some tunes; sit back in my favorite listening chair; close my eyes; and...