I don’t have an iPad, and I have no intention of getting one.
I don’t have an iPhone, either. Or any kind of smartphone. In fact, I don’t send or receive text messages, don’t download apps, and — dare I say it? — I have absolutely no idea how to play Angry Birds.
What these things have in common is that they have all failed a very simple test: Will this make my life better?
That isn’t to say these gadgets and doodads serve no purpose. Clearly they do something, or no one would buy them. The iPad, for instance, allows users to send e-mails, watch movies, even play gyroscope-enhanced games. But my decision isn’t based on: Is this thing cool-looking or multifunctional? More often than not, when I wonder “Will this make my life better,” the honest answer is no.
There have been other failures. I thought about buying a Nintendo Wii, but I didn’t see the benefit of doing so. Same for Nintendo DS, and PlayStation, and Xbox. I suppose that’s all for the best, since I don’t have a TV on which to play any of these game systems. No TV also means no accompanying DVD player, TiVo, sound system or digital cable subscription. That’s right: no HBO either.
The list goes on.
What I have to show for all of my nay-saying, aside from saved time and lower electricity bills, is thousands of dollars saved every year.
And all the extra money means that, for one thing, I never find myself in a situation in which I need to rely on a credit card to get through the day — not for buying a BlackBerry or flat-screen TV that I can’t afford anyway, and not for buying groceries or gas or even socks that I can’t afford because I spent the last of my cash covering my cable bill. Not having credit cards also makes it easy for me to avoid the displeasure of things such as interest rates, late-payment fees, transaction fees and annual fees, as well as the general loathsomeness of credit card companies, the existence of which is predicated solely upon the admirable notion that there’s a buck to be made when people can’t afford to pay for what they are trying to buy.
So, what should I do with my “extra” money?
That I am asking this question means that something important has occurred. By not giving in to the temptation to buy things that won’t improve my life, I have empowered myself to seize something much more valuable: my freedom.
I can do anything I want. I can take the vacation I have always dreamed of while I’m young enough to enjoy it. I can save for a rainy day. I can quit my job and pursue a career I am passionate about. I can pay off my student loans. I can buy all my friends lunch just for the hell of it. Whatever crazy ideas pop into my head don’t have to languish there until they are slowly forgotten.
I can act on them. And I do.
In the past 12 months I have quit one job and found another that I enjoy much more. I have taken a three-month vacation through Europe with my girlfriend and spent another three weeks hiking a 220-mile trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, which has been on my wish list for years. I have paid off some debts. I have started college funds for both of my young nieces. I’ll even admit that when a good friend of many years recently told me that he was engaged, I splurged and got him and his fiancee a bottle of Dom Perignon. I have put a little money aside for the future.
My student loans? Well, I’m still working on those.
Looking back, it’s clear that had I decided to forgo the one-question test, the past 12 months wouldn’t have been at all the same. My nieces’ college funds would have been abandoned in the name of a 46-inch LCD TV and a few months’ worth of cable bills. The payment of debts would have become the purchase of a TiVo and an Xbox. The round-trip tickets to Europe would have been a fully loaded iPad 2 with a 3G data plan. Goodbye Greek island-hopping; hello, 10-hour battery life.
So, every time I find myself intrigued by a new product or baited by a gimmick, I ask myself if that thing will make my life better. Rarely do I answer “yes,” but every time I think “no” is a quiet assertion that I refuse to trade my freedom for trinkets. I won’t mortgage my liberty and my life for the sake of souvenirs. And every time this question arises, the answer seems like more and more of a no-brainer.
Chris Williams is a freelance writer living near San Diego.