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.