My first laptop, finally.

Two years ago I wanted a laptop. I thought my life would easier if I could write during my 50-minute bus rides to the University of Washington.

But then I examined the potential purchase the way I examined all others:

  • Can I really justify the expense vs. the payoff?
  • If I got it, would my life be significantly improved?
  • If I didn’t, would my life by substantially diminished?

No, no and no. Buying the laptop would have meant dipping into my nascent emergency fund. It also would have meant one more thing to carry – and a backpack jammed with textbooks and my daily brown-bag lunch already had me feeling that I was toting my house on my back.

In other words, it would have amounted to a very expensive shoulder ache.

Ultimately I decided that “slight added convenience” was not the same thing as “emergency.” Thus I continued to use the university computer lab or library computers in between classes, and to do course readings or take short naps on the bus.

In February, at age 52, I got my first laptop. Just in time, too, since soon after getting it I made two trips, including a last-minute one to visit a seriously ill relative, and I’m currently on a 10-week stay in Anchorage (part house-sitting, part hanging out with friends and family).

It’s a real luxury to have a portable job. But portability means reliable access to a computer.

I now need a laptop. Before, I simply wanted one.

Life in the breakdown lane

Until recently I was doing fine with my eMac, circa 2004. Never missed a class assignment or a freelance deadline. I surfed the Internet, e-mailed with friends, stored apartment-management correspondence and wrote my undergraduate thesis on the thing.

However, I was limping along in the breakdown lane of the information superhighway. The eMac was sloooow. It was too old to download the newest version of Firefox. I worried that the hard drive might die without warning, the way an editor’s computer had. Once I’d finished school and quit the apartment management job I was in a position to travel – but my work had to travel with me.

In the past I’d e-mailed writing projects to myself, then opened them on my hosts’ computers. Although I tried to be a considerate guest by working very early or very late, I still felt that I was bogarting the ’Net. When my daughter invited me to visit her and my son-in-law in Phoenix, it was no longer a question of needs vs. wants. Abby has her own blog and also does contract work online, so tying up her computer wasn’t an option.

I’ll admit I blanched when I looked at the initial investment. The pain was mitigated by:

  • Buying through a cash-back shopping site.
  • Combining the purchase with a printer-scanner-copier that was free after rebate. My extremely basic printer is at least nine years old and could expire 10 minutes from now. When it does, I’ll be ready. (Bonus: I’ll be able to photocopy my butt, should I want to.)
  • Looking on the bright side: Another big batch of frequent-flier miles!
  • Remembering that hey, stupid, it’s a business expense!

I had reason to wait

And now? I’m madly in love with my little MacBook. Compared to my trusty but molasses-slow eMac, it’s like going from a pogo stick to a Ferrari.

I’m also wild about my new ability to travel. As long as there’s an Internet connection I can go anywhere I want, even New Jersey. (Next up: Finding the money to travel.)

That said, I’m still glad I waited because I had reason to wait. Two-plus years ago I didn’t need a new computer. Until I did, I made do with what I had and I put money aside so that I could pay cash. (Well, pay the rewards credit card bill when it arrived. Same thing.)

Spending needs to be a choice, not a tropism. If I moved mindlessly toward every bright bauble that caught my attention, my credit cards would be maxed out in no time.

That kind of spending, a casual and mindless hemorrhaging of my future – well, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe just how bad this idea is.


13 Comments

  1. priskill

    Yeah, totally in agreement here — “casual and mindless hemorrhaging of my future” just nails it !

    I know this discussion goes on in blogworld a lot, but I so agree — frugality doesn’t mean I never get the stuff I want. Rather, that i am mindful of what I do spend so that when issues come up I can choose some of the things i want (or in this case, need) and have the funds available for them. In this case, you NEED the laptop, and it immediately maximized your ability to work anywhere you go. Mindful frugality allowed you to be able to act in accordance with that need. But you already knew that :) !

    My mom always said, “It’s good to want something,” when we were little and clamoring after something or other, and this really speaks to that. I think she meant that we would actually enjoy and appreciate the thing/item/experience more after a period of pre-savoring, since instant gratification is rarely as much fun.

    Oh, blah blah blah — sorry, DF, but this is a great piece and timely. Plus, you get the award for being the only blog that used tropism, hemorrhaging, and gluteal photography in a meaningful and frugal context!

  2. Donna Freedman

    Thanks, Priskill. And I use a variation of your mom’s phrase when kids I’m babysitting say, “But I *want* it!” when I tell them “no.”
    “Well, we all want SOMETHING,” I’ll say.
    That leaves ‘em scratching their little heads, all right.

  3. “Remembering that hey, stupid, it’s a business expense!”-I would never talk to you like that!!LOL
    I have put off buying a crock pot for about 3 years and I still really want it and would use it. But I keep saying well, I have gotten this far without it. Sometimes I just think that it is just finding a way to deprive ourselves. Men would never have a conversation about that with themselves. Why do we? I should just try and find a crock pot at a garage sale and get on with my life!!!

  4. Donna Freedman

    SonyaAnn: I love my crockpot, and there are tons of recipes online. (Not that I use them, mind you. But it makes me feel better knowing they’re there.) If you don’t find one in a garage sale, look in a thrift shop (and be sure to plug it in and wait a while before you leave, to be sure it’s heating up).
    If all else fails, they go on sale regularly, especially during the holidays.
    P.S. They’re GREAT for baking potatoes. I’ll bake five or six, have one for dinner and then put the rest in the fridge for light suppers of fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. Or you could make potato soup. Also a good way to make potato salad without heating up the kitchen boiling a pot o’spuds.

  5. You can bake potatoes in a crock pot? Hmmm… That’s very interesting. How long do you cook them, and do they come out with crisp skins?

    I’ve always liked having a laptop–started with a Toshiba, and now have a MacBook. I regard the MacB as a back-up for my desktop system, made possible by synching the two.

    Will say, though, that I don’t use a laptop nearly as much as I used to, back in the days when I watched TV. The laptop resided in the TV room; I used to grade student papers and write blog posts in front of the idiot box. With the changeover to digital TV, I’ve almost stopped watching television, since I refuse to pay for cable and reception with a “box” and an antenna leaves much to be desired. Instead, I spend most of my waking hours in front of the desktop, and now hardly ever use the laptop.

  6. Donna Freedman

    @Funny About Money: The skins are not crisp, probably because the heat isn’t high enough. It might take a couple of hours on high…? Your mileage may vary. What I like about doing them this way is:
    1. It doesn’t heat up the whole house.
    2. It’s so cheap to run a slow cooker.
    3. You can leave them in until they’re as soft as butter, instead of the not-quite-done-in-the-middle spuds that I tend to get when I bake them alongside a meat loaf. I always figure if the meat loaf is done, the oven’s going off — and sometimes the potatoes are a little crunchy as a result.
    I spend probably too many hours at the computer, period. But I love having one with same-day service, if you know what I mean; my old computer was so slow to load. What I don’t do, however, is carry it with me wherever I go; I’m trying to reduce the amount of weight I tote, because my shoulders are older than the rest of me.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. Donna, I think we’re very close together in age.

    Congratulations on the new laptop. I got a netbook last year and it’s great for traveling.

    Enjoy your time in Alaska. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.

  8. Agreed! It’s hard not to love a MacBook. I saved up for ‘a new laptop’ for a while, and it worked out nicely that my old laptop died about a week before the first MacBook came out, and with my student discounts and whatnot I was able to get it with some of the computer fund left over. So nice…so satisfying.

  9. Re: lugging your books to all your classes. Do people really do that? I’ve been in college for five years now, and with the exception of my freshmen year when I didn’t know any better, I leave my books at home. Teachers rarely reference them, and the few times they do, I’ve always shared with a friend. I assume you’re going for journalism, which I was also doing for the last four years. (I’ve now began a major in political science.) Just curious if you really need to bring books with you.

  10. Donna Freedman

    @Red: I finished school in December and yeah, I often took books to classes. My professors tended to reference them and, more to the point, ask US to reference them. I would be able to open to page 112 and read from the notes I’d scribbled in the margins. (I never wrote on books before I went back to school.)
    I majored in something called the Comparative History of Ideas. It’s a kind of humanities degree, and as close as I could get to majoring in Interesting Stuff.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. I bought a MacBook in October and I love it. I didn’t *need* it though. Too late now. I am trying to sell my old computer though. One cool thing these days is that you can get the netbooks for not much money. Plus they are a lot easier to carry around, being so small.

  12. BoomerCat

    Donna,
    Pardon me for bumping up an old post. I’ve just discovered your blog and I love your sense of humor. I’m particularly impressed that you managed to get a degree in Interesting Stuff. Although my undergraduate degree was in “English,” it was back in the days when “liberal arts” and “humanities” were still considered respectable (and marketable) areas of study. Now it seems that one can actually graduate from college with no knowledge of geography, much less world history, and nada about other cultures. Ooops! Getting off topic here.
    I bought a netbook about a year ago and I can’t recall how I did without it. I had purchased a new PC at about the same time (yay, Costco!); didn’t get around to setting it up until last month. ;-( I’m thinking I may never want a big-screen PC again. Maybe I can use the screen to watch movies and regular TV on Hula? LOL.

    • Donna Freedman

      @BoomerCat: Thanks for stopping by. And yeah, why bother with a TV when you can watch programs and movies on the “small screen”?
      Hope you’ll be back again.

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