Beyond the Checkout Counter: The Cost of Ownership

by Shawanda Greene

iPadWhenever I realize I didn’t get the absolute best deal, I pout, cuss, and vow to redeem myself on the next purchase.

As a result, I’ve been known to spend countless hours on a single, seemingly immaterial purchase decision.

Surely, I’m not alone.

Like me, you approach bargain hunting with the finesse and aggression of a Kung Fu bandit. You do everything from pursuing free options to looking for cash back rebates to making sure you buy with the credit card that offers the most reward points. You’re thorough.

The process is the same whether you’re looking for a 42″ flat screen TV or a frickin’ toaster.

After all those shenanigans, you’d think you’ve considered everything.

Not so fast.

You forgot something: The cost of ownership.

How much money will you shell out to keep and use your newly acquired bundle of plastic, metal, broken promises and missed opportunities?

No doubt you’ve heard about cost of ownership when it comes to cars.

However, you cannot ignore this concept when buying lower value items.


Let’s use a coffee maker for an example.

Assume you’re trying to decide between two similar coffee makers. They’re the same size. They have the same features. They’re the same quality. With all this being equal, you’d likely go with the lower priced option.

But what if the more expensive coffee maker was designed to fit a reusable filter? The other coffee maker doesn’t afford you the same option. You’d have to buy disposable filters for the life of the product.

You can’t use a coffee maker without filters, so over the long run, the pricier version costs less.

Reminder: Factor in the price of items necessary to the functionality of your purchase.


Although sexy electronics like smartphones, ereaders, and tablet computers are wonderful inventions, they’re expensive – not just to buy, but to own.

We’ll look at the iPhone as an example. With AT&T, I pay a base price of $40 a month for 400 anytime minutes, $30 for data, and $5 for 200 text messages. After other add ons, taxes, and fees, my cell phone bill averages $100 a month.

But wait, there’s more!

I’m constantly replacing USB cables, earphones, and car chargers.

Then there’s the  in-case-of-emergency battery powered, portable charger.

And so I wouldn’t drop, jam the power button, and crack the screen of my second iPhone, I bought a $40 case to protect it.

And the Kindle. Oh, the Kindle!

I thought the Kindle 3G with Special Offers was a good deal at $139. That was until I had to order a replacement because of a damaged screen.

Now, I’m not admitting any guilt here, but after I received my second Kindle, I bought a leather cover to avoid another mishap. The stupid thing cost me $60! (I see Amazon has dropped the price to $50. Damn you, Amazon!)

Reminder: Reserve for additional subscription and service costs as well as accessories that expand the useful life of your gadgets.


Do I really need to elaborate?

Judging by the looks of your spacious yet sparsely decorated living room, dining room, family room, office, loft and other space you can’t afford to populate with decent furniture, I think I should say something.

This ought not need to be said, but housing is more than the monthly payment, whether it be rented or owned.

If you have a long commute, how much extra do you pay for gas by living farther away from work?

What about tolls?

What else can you do when you’re not commuting an hour and a half to work? Could you generate extra income? Can you obtain additional training that’d expand your career prospects?

Don’t forget your big house needs to be decorated, heated, cooled, and maintained inside and out.

Reminder: Include ongoing maintenance costs as well as expenses needed to make your purchase more enjoyable.

Clothing & Accessories

We even have to be careful with clothing purchases.

I have almost a spiritual opposition to dry cleaning.

The whole process really gets to me. The drop off. The pick up. The paying.

If there’s a risk I can’t wash an article of clothing without ruining it, I don’t buy it. A $60 pair of jeans shouldn’t end up costing me hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Shoes are another issue.

I must walk like a stallion, because pointy heeled shoes on these feet have a life span of about four wearings. Before I know it, the metal stumps where my heels used to be are clicking, clacking and sliding all over the tile flooring leading into my office building.

Pointy heels are no longer a wardrobe staple. The price to get them back to usable condition is too steep.

Reminder: Frequent repair costs and cleaning fees add up quickly. 

Although there’s nothing wrong with buying and enjoying things you can afford. We need to make sure we’re not performing superficial, dishonest calculations of our purchases.

You must factor in the true cost of ownership, so that you can derive the most satisfaction out of a purchase without breaking your budget.


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