Return on Material Investments

Every once in awhile, I find myself reflecting on past purchases to decide whether they were worth it or not. Yesterday, I discussed the pros and cons of making an investment before-the-transaction (Gym Pass – To Renew or Not to Renew – such a clever title). Today, I take a look at the return I’ve realized after several years of owning two material investments, my TV and my bike.

40″ LCD Flat Panel TV – At the pinnacle of our post-undergrad, pre-grad-school careers, TheFieryOne and I were both working full-time jobs and making more money than we ever had made before. And we were saving most of it!

We had been saving ALL of our excess money (several thousand dollars per month) for some time, and then, out of the blue, I needed to spend money. I NEEDED a new laptop, a bike, a flat panel TV, and new couches for our living room. Stat.

TFO is much less prone to NEED to spend money than I sometimes am was (people can change, right?), and even though we had made great progress in our savings goals – I think we had accomplished all of our goals for the year by May – she still felt uncomfortable with most of my sudden, spend-crazy ideas.

The TV was the first of our purchases, and was a pretty quick decision. I came across an unheard of deal at work, called TFO to discuss, and she agreed that we could buy it because my birthday was coming up and she could tell it meant a lot to me.

In a way, it did mean a lot to me at the time. I was more excited about the purchase than I had been about anything for a good while. But I soon got over that excitement, and though I still think it’s a pretty awesome TV, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. We don’t watch TV (no cable, dish, or even an antenna) unless it’s on DVD (House, Lost, 24, Alias, that type of thing). Even then, we rarely watch more than a couple of episodes per week, and we’ve never used our 1080p resolution capacity because we aren’t into spending several hundred dollars on Blu-Ray or HDVD technology.

What’s more, we had a fairly large (if bulky) TV before – one I had inherited from a cousin/roommate, and it worked just fine. When I compare the LCD TV viewing experience with that of the old, bulbous tradional TV that is now being used by friends, there’s almost no difference in my perceived viewing pleasure. Certainly not $1499.00 worth of difference.

So that was a bad investment, friends. It was an impulse buy, and though we get some use out of it, and probably will for quite some time, I doubt I’ll ever determine it was worth its price.

Our bikes, on the other hand, have stood the test of time in proving their value.

[Side note: We didn’t end up getting the couches referred to above (thank goodness). They were the right price, but not exactly what we wanted. We did get the laptop, which turned out to be a great investment (my other laptop died within weeks and this one is still fast and works great for school). So in one month, we purchased the LCD TV, a laptop, and two bikes. Yikes.]

Our goal was to get bikes we could use for local transportation and leisure activity. At first I wanted to get something reasonably expensive – something that would last for many years and be a solid, lightweight, semi-pro type of bike in case I got into riding.

TheFieryOne, in her ever-abundant wisdom, suggested we start small and only go big if we proved to ourselves a more significant investment was necessary. So we drove to our local WalMart to see what was available. I was skeptical that we’d find anything worth our time at WalMart, but I went along to support TFO.

It turned out that WalMart had the perfect entry-level mountain bikes for our needs. They were about $150 each (the 2009 model of mine has since gone up in price to $219), and they’ve been incredibly satisfying investments.

When TFO has the car (we only have one car) I can ride my bike over to the library or the gym, no problem. We’ve both used our bikes to get to work at times, and TFO kept that up for several months when our morning work schedules didn’t align well and I was commuting some distance. She didn’t love it, especially by the end, but her bike made it possible for both of us to get to work at the right time without having to buy a second car, which we considered doing.

Our bikes have cost us nothing in gas, they work our leg muscles in different ways than running does, and thanks to shortcuts, better parking spots, and “optional” traffic rules, we can travel locally just about as quickly and conveniently on our bikes as we can in our car.

Plus, our bikes are a refreshing reminder of simpler times, and TFO and I often go riding just to enjoy each other’s company. And bikes have been a great way to get us outside more, exploring paths and neighborhoods we otherwise wouldn’t ever see.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), not everything we buy turns out to be a great investment. It’s too bad the negative-ROI TV was such a big purchase compared to our positive-ROI bikes. It makes me feel kind of foolish. Then again, that guilt will prompt me to be more discerning in the future.

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