Saturday, October 3, 2015

Get better at buying stuff – why keep doing it the wrong way?

So you might say “I’m great at buying stuff, I don’t need any help”. You might be more likely to say “my spouse / significant other / child is great at buying stuff and I need them to do it less!” Either way, with a little learning effort you can improve the way you decide what to buy. Read on to find out how.
But it’s all a question of scale. The bigger the purchase or its impact, the more this applies. For smaller, low impact purchases, this is usually not appropriate (but some of the underlying principles may fleetingly apply).
Getting it right goes like this: What do I need? What are the options? Which is best? Decision. Sounds simple. It is.
So how do I get to what I need? First let’s understand the difference between “want” and “need”. The best way to describe the difference goes something like this. I want a Ferrari. My wife says I don’t need one.
But seriously, a want is an idea, possibly an impulsive idea, which is often an emotional reaction to a perceived need. Maybe advertising generated your want. Maybe a perception that things are stagnating and you need to keep up. Maybe excitement about a possibility or idea you have had. Maybe even envy. Maybe even genuine consideration that something new must be acquired for real benefit.
The key at this stage is “why”. Why do I want this? What benefit am I really seeking to achieve with this anticipated acquisition? And this requires honesty and self-awareness. Not just domestically, but at work too. In large, global enterprises. Really.
A great way to do this is to list the consequences of not buying what you want. And all of the negative consequences of buying it. For example, if I don’t buy that new car I will have more money for my vacation. And if I do buy the new car, rather than keeping the old one, I will have to take greater care about where I drive; no more charging around muddy country lanes!
So now you’ve decided that you really do want this new thing. So we can now say that you need it. I wanted my Ferrari, but it couldn’t take all of the clothes my wife likes to buy on shopping trips, so I know I need a new car, and I know I need a capacious trunk.
It’s time for more detail. What are the features you need from this new acquisition? Start by writing down as many features as you possibly can. The more the better. Ask others to help. We are looking for quantity of features here! Don’t worry if you think the features are not relevant or may not be needed.
Then, for each feature in the list we come up with a rating. The ratings go like this. Essential. Important. Desirable.
  • Essential means “I will not acquire the item unless it has this feature”.
  • Important means “I am prepared to acquire the item without this feature, but it will be inconvenient”.
  • Everything else is Desirable, which basically means “don’t care if it has this or not”.
If what you need to acquire affects more than one person do this activity together (even consider doing it independently first, and then having a debate). Do you think this could help with planning your next family vacation?
And now you have an objective assessment of what you need. So the next step is what is available to meet your needs. We’ll talk about this in part two of this blog (coming soon!).
REMEMBER: when you want something, try to focus with objectivity on why you think you want it. If it passes your objectivity test, the chances are you need it. And to get better really quickly, consider signing up for our Software Acquisition Service.