False economies run rife these days. We see it in a great deal of political inaction – the lazy path is so comfortable. Save money now by leaving things for future generations to clean up. So easy. So comfortable. Just always making an actual solution more costly down the road.

But this is also often true for tech. We often get the calculus wrong on what devices and services to buy in order to maximise value, effectiveness and saving time. And if we foreground the wrong factors we can end up wasting money and not solving the actual problem we needed to address in the first place.

Not that it’s easy. Or that we’re meant to be amazingly good at doing the maths on these things. There are so many factors at play. Convenience, affordability, ease of access, ease of setup, fit for purpose… I’m not even scratching the surface.

Right now I’m trying to map out the timeline for laptop upgrades for the kids through the rest of school. It will become the basis for an article describing how to think about that purchase not as a single laptop but as a series of purchases through the high school years.

Here’s a preview: Instead of thinking just about the needs of their time in Year 7, think about how long you want each laptop to last.

Maybe you buy a basic machine to only last Year 7-8, then a better machine to last Year 9-11, and then a third new machine for Year 12 so they have a first rate device when they need it most and then for whatever they do beyond there?

Or maybe you buy something better the first time to get them all the way through Year 10, then another fresh machine in Year 11? Or maybe you let yourself upgrade your own laptop a little more often and give the kids hand-me-down systems?

If you can afford to, maybe spending the price difference on not buying a third laptop on two better machines instead will make life easier and more enjoyable for your kids? The cheaper systems might make life harder, make videos render slower, make critical software run like molasses. But the cheaper system might be its own ‘insurance’ against the kid breaking it in an accident. Or losing it.

Is there potential reuse or resale value you could factor in too? I’ve known some people who buy new laptops annually because they can resell a more recent laptop at a much better price than an older one – because they’re willing to put the time in to clean them up and sell them.

And then every upgrade could also be examined in terms of time and effort to get each new device setup all over again. Something many people dread.

Whether it’s buying new hardware or spending money on subscriptions and services, all those myriad factors really can hinge on one important question: “What is time worth to me?”

For some, that can mean delaying a purchase when you know you just don’t have time to set up the new one any time soon. Maybe that delay will see a newer, better version land by the time you’re ready. Or it can mean upgrading sooner when you realise you’re losing hours each week fighting with an old device that’s no longer working the way it should.

It can also mean buying that ‘expensive’ $100/month subscription to a useful business tool when you realise that even if it only saved two hours a week it would be paying for itself in spades when you contextualise it against what your personal hourly rate is really worth.

Research has shown money can’t buy happiness directly, but it can make us happier when we use it to buy time. Time to minimise fuss or remove digital obstacles. Time to chill.

Making time factors front and centre can really help you see how new devices and services do, or do not, make life better.

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