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I am excited to share the following guest post by Cubert from Abandoned Cubicle. Cubert has been sharing articles on personal finance, early retirement, and purpose-driven living since late 2016. His goal is to leave the rat-race behind in 2019. Today he shares how the best upgrades in life are often downgrades, from small things like coffee makers to big-ticket items like houses and cars.
Ever get frustrated when some new piece of technology fails you? I’d be willing to bet you don’t dance a jig for joy. I’ve had my run-ins of late. Painful.
You think of how much you spent on that new washer, new car, new phone, tablet, or coffee maker and wonder, who the bleep is producing this absolute garbage? Do the manufacturers plan for obsolescence, by inserting little time bombs that explode about a year after the warranty expires? Sure seems that way. I’m here to tell you that in most cases, the best upgrades in life are typically downgrades.
The Coffee Maker We Despise
Do you own a Keurig? Well, a lot of people do and they swear by the convenience. Some even swear by the flavor, but if it were me, the swearing would sure as hell NOT be on the favorable flavor side. Strike two: Those little pods are not biodegradable and an analysis has revealed that pods produced to-date circle the globe at least twice by now.
Strike 3? That shit comes out way too hot! So add it up: Bad taste, bad for the environment, and too hot for the tongue. All for the sake of convenience? Meh. Throw that Keurig to the curb. Don’t even give it away because that’s just mean and irresponsible. Besides, as an added bonus, Keurigs have been shown to harbor all sorts of micro-organisms (e.g., bacteria) in their inner-workings. Lovely.
We couldn’t be happier with our Aero-Press here in the Cubert household. Take two plastic tubes and press. Boom. Done. The whole process takes about three to five minutes, 90% of which is simply waiting, so you can get your Cheerios into the bowl and even dump the milk on ‘em, or, twiddle your thumbs.
Best thing about Aero-Press – it’s 100% non-mechanical. No batteries, no plug-ins. Simply add grounds, water, wait, and press.
You control the temperature of the water based on how long you nuke it. You control the quality of the grounds (fresh ground from whole beans is essential – and I’ll concede the grinder is a mechanical aspect of this method.) The flavor is great, and the environment (your garden) will thank you for recycling the compostable grounds and filter.
The mighty Aero Press. Warning: No affiliate links here!
Appliances That Drive Us Absolutely Crazy
Woe is the household with the latest and greatest appliances. Stainless steel cladding that soon gets covered in finger prints and dents. Such a joy to keep (well, try to keep) clean.
That fridge with the fancy water and ice dispenser built into the door? Just another mechanical nuance waiting to eventually malfunction and require repair down the road.
Not to mention the other joy of stepping in puddles of water from ice that gets shot-gun blasted at you and winds up under the fridge to melt later. Smooshy socks. Thank you, Whirlpool.
And then there’s that fancy washing machine, painted in high-gloss forest green (something we’d never choose for a car, but for a washer, it somehow works?) Forget about it. The latest and “greatest” has so many bells and whistles that something is bound to fail sooner than later. Steam function? Tap cold water vs. Eco-cold water? Right. I so need that.
And if you think the front load washing machine is “all that”, just wait until the mold and muck leaves its signature ring on the door seal. You might (like me) consider the alternative – the high efficiency top loader.
But be careful. Absent the traditional agitator, these things are known to either fly off like a helicopter or continuously cycle in water ($$$) during a never-ending spin cycle, until the load balances.
This is what happens when you leave a modern top-loader unsupervised. (Courtesy ABC11-Raleigh Durham.)
It seems the only reliable appliances anymore are dryers and microwaves. Dishwashers are okay. But even those trusty boxes are getting overburdened with excessive features, also known as “failure points.”
The downgrades of choice: A basic freezer-top fridge and an old school top-load washer, complete with agitator.
Talk to any appliance repairman or repairwoman. He or she will tell you the same thing. Keep it simple! The more features you pack into a device, the more likely something will break, making reliability a liability.
A basic design fridge with the freezer on top is easier on the compressor (a common failure point) because the compressor is farthest from the freezer. In that configuration, the compressor is at the bottom of the unit, keeping all that heat away from the freezer. Makes sense, right?
Consequently, you get better energy efficiency as well. Oh, and ditch the fancy door dispenser for a cleaner look. Besides, the water out of those door dispensers tastes like crap anyhow. And let’s put an end to those smooshy socks!
For a washing machine, you can’t go wrong with a Whirlpool top loader, complete with agitator. These machines have been around forever. Yes, they require more water. But when you consider the waste of getting a new machine on a more frequent basis, the little bit of extra water is a small price to pay.
The Biggies: Houses and Cars
When it comes to the biggest of the big-ticket, going as small as comfortably possible is never a bad idea. With a home, there’s a lot to maintain.
The time and money you invest are compounded with each story and acre you add. Much like an appliance with too many features, a large house can overwhelm with unused space, and, more points of failure (e.g., more circuits, faucets, and shingles to replace.)
For the family car, you’ve got lots of options these days to go nuts on features. We now have mini-vans and SUVs with automatic doors and back-out cameras. Bluetooth, lane alerts, and even auto-pilot are becoming more commonplace.
All-wheel drive is sold as a cure-all for safety when all you really need is good driving skills and a decent set of snow tires. Keep the Camaro in the garage during winter, please.
Ultimately, all this extra crap adds up to more trips to the stealership to repair something gone amiss. Ask yourself if you really NEED those features, especially when you’re biking to work now anyhow.
The downgrades of choice: A single story house < 2,000 square feet on a lawn you can mow in under 45 minutes. For a car, you can’t go wrong with a used Honda Fit.
As a landlord, I love our little Fit. I can throw an extension ladder or a table saw in there without a hitch. She’s a beaut, and a very cost-effective one at that.
We love our little house. The convenience of having our twin infants in the same room, on the same level as the rest of the living space was huge. Granted we would’ve got a lot more exercise going up and down stairs for a few years during the diaper changing stage, but I’m okay saving that energy for other pursuits.
Maybe a little too small? (Courtesy of www.directexpose.com)
Look around. I bet you could come up with a dozen things in your home (or on your person) that are over-engineered or built on brittle technology. Our phones are getting clunkier and hotter, thanks to the demands we put on the Li-Ion battery technology. Some even explode.
Televisions have become so large that the supposed “high definition” gets pixelated, unless you plunk down more money on super high definition sets, and that assumes you’re getting super high def service!
Worse? You get nauseated being so close to your parents’ or in-laws’ brand new 60” viewing experience. Do you really need a 60” screen set to in-store demo “stun mode” to watch CSI Mayberry??? Jesus.
Convection oven got your attention? Don’t need it. Another failure point. E-Assist bike? Unless you have a disability, get out there and pedal with your natural engine my friend.
In our house, we’ve still got our poor upgrades lingering. The Keurig is long gone, but we still have the bottom freezer stainless fridge, all dinged up and finger printed.
Our washing machine continues to give us fits. Don’t ever get a top load HE washer without an agitator. Terrible POS. Consumer Reports really F’ed it up on their review of this LG product. A class action lawsuit is evidence of that.
What downgrades would you consider, to save time and money (and shed some hedonic adaptations?)
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
His favorite investment platform is M1 Finance, a site that allows him to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free, has no trading or maintenance fees, and even allows him to set up automated target-allocated investments.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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