How Much Will You Pay to Solve a Problem?

This is a concept which came to light a number of years ago as I tried to mitigate my impulse buying.

I have a weakness for bags, and gadgets, and it was pointed out to me that perhaps I had enough of both. Now… We all know that’s not possible, but it got me thinking. I thought I should take a more deliberate approach to this issue, be smarter about my shopping, and try to buy the right item the first time. Now… We all know that’s not possible, but I was, and am, convinced that trying to get it right, rather than buying stuff on the spur of the moment, is a more effective solution. I have, more or less, eliminated the urge to buy stuff just because it looks interesting. I am also a bit of a design freak, so I do sometimes buy things which just looks interesting (Did I split that semantic hair too thin?).

Image of my bag collection

I say this is a more effective solution, and while it is not always cheaper (initially), it is definitely more satisfying. And I definitely end up buying the right product sooner, and am left with far fewer boondoggles kicking around the house.

Here’s what turned it around for me: I came to realize that I was trying to solve problems. This forced me to more clearly define my problems, which, in turn, allowed for a more focussed approach to solving those problems. Now, when I see something which looks interesting, I ask myself “Will this solve my problem?”

Back to my original question: “How much will you pay to solve a problem?” When I first turned this conceptual corner, I was in the $10 range. As I became more convinced this was the right approach, that number crept up, but it hovered around the $35 mark for some time. Recently I noticed myself spending $50, or more, slightly more often than I would like. This puzzled me for a few minutes when I first noticed it. Almost right away I realized I’d solved most of my problems. The few that are left are just more expensive to solve. There’s nothing I can do about that, but I felt some sense of satisfaction that I now have very few of these problems left. I’m still looking for the perfect bag, by the way.

The only downside to this, given I’m in a technology-intensive field, is a certain ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ component to my life. I try not succumb to ‘upgrade fever’, and just grab the latest gadget when it comes out, but sometimes, and just for fun, I do. I have only once (for the original iPad) queued outside an Apple store on the first day of release. I even tolerate a reasonable amount of ribbing from my friends when my personal upgrade cycle (Do you have a deliberate upgrade cycle of your own?) leaves me with an out of date phone, or computer.

Just for the heck if it, here are the parts of this:

  • If you see something you feel the urge to buy, ask yourself “Does this solve a problem?”, and, “Is there a problem that needs solving?”, and, “What is the problem exactly?” Sometimes the problem is not what you think. Sometimes there just is no problem – walk away.
  • Look at the item in front of you through the lens of the problem you want to solve. If you can’t immediately visualize that item solving your problem completely, put it down, and go rethink the problem. Sometimes it’s two problems, and sometimes it’s part of another problem.
  • Research the problem.
  • Research the item you almost bought. Read reviews with particular attention to what the complaints are about. For example: I once bought a router which I knew many people complained about, but the complaints were about the complexity of the configuration. This was actually a plus in my book. The router was very flexible, and that’s what I was looking for.
  • Look at other items which solve the same problem. Consider the differences.
  • Consider the problem. Do you really need to solve it, and do you really need to solve it now?
  • Are there any pending dates, or events, which might present you with a better solution in some way? i.e. New iPhone release, two months until you’re eligible for an upgrade, close to a prime purchase date (boxing day, back to school, et al), etc.
  • If you can’t decide, find a way to handle the item. Sometimes it comes down to which one feels better for you.
  • Check return policies. Used to be tough to return things, but now it’s pretty easy. You might have to try something, and return it if it doesn’t work. I don’t like to do this, but I will, if there’s no other way.
  • If you find yourself going round and round, but can’t make a decision, you muse re-examine the problem. Perhaps it’s not exactly what you think. It’s all about the solving the problem. You may find there are more than one problem. For example: I have discovered – to my wife’s horror – that I need more than one bag. Different bags are required in different situations. That is, different bags solve different problems. And that’s another article.