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Ask HN: What do you perceive as worth spending money on?
69 points by bmcnamara82 on Sept 10, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments
For myself, I value spending money on non-fiction books, craft beers, well designed things, and experiences with friends and family.

What do you believe is worth spending money on? What is the right price for some of the items you value? How do you determine this?

1) Books. A number of years ago when the startup I worked for got acquired my wife suggested that I go out and buy myself something nice to celebrate. After wandering around looking for something fun to buy and not finding anything that excited me I eventually bought myself a $10 book.

2) Things that save me time and make my life more convenient. Often this means services vs. products e.g. paying someone to do work around the house I don't want to do. I'm a sucker for convenience.

3) Good food. Because I love to eat.

4) Experiences e.g. travel. For some reason paying for something that will provide a lifetime of memories always seems worth it.

I'm not particularly price sensitive. If I perceive what I'm buying as worth it I'm happy to pay. For example, if I'm buying a steak at the butcher I'll pay more to get a really good ribeye vs. a cheaper cut.

In general I'd rather have less stuff but really enjoy what I have.

"In general I'd rather have less stuff but really enjoy what I have."

Hear hear. Less, durable, long-lasting high quality things > more cheap crap.

I'm similar. Convenience. Fine dining. Travel experiences.

But I'd add cookware to the list - pains me to see people struggle along with cheap and shoddy knives, small chopping boards and weak pots and pans.

I totally agree on the knives. If you want easy brownie points I recommend purchasing for your mother (or father if he does the cooking) a set a nice knives for the Holidays or birthday one year. You will be a hero the first time they cut a tomato and don't squish it.

My mother still thanks me and it has been over 6 years since I gave her a set of Wüsthof.

Funny you should say that, because we bought a set of Wusthof-Trident for my in-laws.

I bought mine in Germany and carted them back through China. Gives you a special appreciation of them when you've carried heavy knives and a wood block on your back for a couple of months to get them home!

Experiences and adventure: Blowing a pile of money to go somewhere new is always worth it. The memories are priceless and occasionally the experience helps me redefine what I thought possible for myself. The right price is whatever I can scrape together to make this happen. (Trip to Europe, basic gear for camping, a tank of gas or two for a roadtrip.)

Plus standard geek staples: iPhone, solid computer for coding, writing and designing. Nothing surprising in the tools department.

I totally agree with the experiences thing. Assuming you're not saving up for a house or something, what better thing to spend your money on than a new experience?

A lot of people suddenly become frugal when confronted with the price tag of an amazing holiday, but are perfectly happy blowing £50 on a night of drinking. It always seems like a false economy to me.

A night of drinking is an experience as well. It may not be a 'new' experience, but it still is. Blowing a fifty on a pair of socks is another story.

If they are superior socks. (Though going barefoot is quite cheap and a nice experience, too.)

what if they're really good waterproof socks that never smell?

The fact that you and many others said experiences were more worth it is not so surprising.



Still a fan of the dead-tree variety. It's not so much paper vs e-ink, more that every new book is a new physical object with its own size, shape, weight and (sometimes) smell.

I absolutely love everything book-related, and have for a long, long time. But as you say, each book is an item with its own size, shape and weight. Having to pack the thousands of them I have amassed for moving has lead me to finally getting a Kindle.

I know what you mean having suffered the same issue multiple times. But if I'm going to spend quality time with a book, I still think it worthwhile to purchase the physical version.

The digital version is good for archival and portability, but the first time through a good book feels like it should be with its most authentic representation.

Oh, the smell. I love the smell of really new books, and I love the smell of really old ones.

Anything that is an instrument of creativity. For me, this includes musical instruments, computers, and conventional building tools.

These things are priced all over the map. At the very low end, you get crap that ends up limiting your creativity. At the very high end, you're paying for a name or features that might be nice to have, but not having them isn't going to prevent you from going from amateur to pro if you want.

I buy the things in the middle of that spectrum. The sweet spot for musical instruments seems to be about $1000, although you can arguably get by with $500 instruments and be happy.

For computers, I buy the lowest priced one that has the features I want, usually wireless, decent graphics card, etc. Every computer produced since 2002 has had the power to do everything I need to do, minus high-definition video editing (nothing will ever be fast enough) and playing Starcraft 2. I have an $800 desktop for those two things, cheap laptops running Linux for everything else.

The best money I've spent recently was on singing lessons. Not a "thing," but finding the right instruction for something you want to do can be extremely valuable. For the rest of my life I'll be a better singer, which is great.

I personally enjoy collecting scientific gadgets that fascinate me like a child. I have an IR thermometer, pocket microscope (might get a USB one soon), range-finder, digital caliper (measuring the height of a piece of paper is surprisingly gratifying), altimiter, multimiter, scale (not as precise as I'd like [10mg]), and weather indicator.

Eventually, I want a collection capable of measuring any attribute of anything I come across. On my list: lightmeter, wetness-ometer, electron microscope (when I hit it big), soundmeter, and smelloscope.

Try this, homemade electron microscope (appears to be WIP):


Or this, a finished, working one:


These are STMs, by the way, not electron microscopes.

Making an electron microscope is probably a more expensive task for the homebrewer, because you invariably need a vacuum-proof chamber with a door that can be opened and closed, and the pumps to evacuate it...

First, I really (really) enjoy spending money on other people, especially those important to me (friends and family). When it's a surprise it's even more fun! I love to see their face light up when they least expect. Great feeling.

Now, if we are talking about items for myself, not necessarily of great importance, I do indulge on certain things, but I have rules.

I have no problem spending money on well designed items that look, feel, and function properly with the quality I desire. Examples include Macbook Pro with Mac OS X, Apple Cinema Display, Water Field Designs Muzetto and I'll tell you why.

First, the Macbook Pro. I used to do Linux as my platform of choice, loved the whole idea of open source, freedom, the platform, the options, and it's abilities. However, I would spend countless hours gettings thing like sleep / hibernate working on my laptop, wireless card setup correctly, tweaking my Fluxbox settings, among other things. It got the point I started to really value my time spent working (this was before I actually had a career) and doing other things I enjoyed. I didn't have much desire to use Windows for my main system, so I grudgingly invested in my first Apple, a Macbook Pro v1. It was hotter than heck, but I loved it. Things worked! Wireless! Video! And most important to me was sleep and hibernate were flawless! it was amazing.

For the Apple Cinema Display, you wouldn't think it would be that big a deal, but it made my desk nearly clear of cables now and the extra power connector made it worth every cent. This is the 24". Since I have this nice display now, I had now qualms purchasing the 13" Macbook Pro this time with it's smaller screen (and price). I love the portability of this little guy and not having to take out the power supply and just keep it in my bag, pure luxury. The screen is gorgous too!. My other display is a Dell U2711, I have delegated it video games.

Finally, the bag, as many call it, a nearly $300 man purse, the Water Field Designs Muzetto (with sleeve of course). Quite simply the most beautiful bag I have ever owned or seen. I love it to death. It looks great, feels like a tank, is easy to just pick up and go. It gets a little cramped with my iPad, power supply, and Macbook Pro, but that's good otherwise I would jam it full of excess items. It forces me to travel lite. I got the cream. It attracts all sorts of people and I get comments almost everytime I'm out and about with it.

That got a little long, so I'll leave it at that.

Ubuntu user here. Wireless, video, sleep and hibernate work too and I never spend time tweaking anything.

Just spent a lot of time today tweaking ubuntu 10.04 to work with intel wireless :/ Also the proprietary ATI graphics drivers the OS recommended I installed caused all sorts of problems with sleep\hibernate\freezing. Not really a linux problem as the default non-proprietary drivers I switched back to actually work great, but the OS did literally give me an icon reminder telling me to do what caused the problem. Also the battery on my laptop lasts half as long as it does in win7\cygwin.... so more tweaking ahead...

edit: on the plus side I love Gnome DO.... I can't believe I found something better than win7 start autocomplete or OSX Spotlight...

Gnome Do is a little treasure that needs as much exposure as it can get. It completely changes one's interaction with the OS. No more hunting around for apps in the menus. No more using the menus. Reduced use of the mouse.

Gnome Do is an all round boost to productivity.

Well things have improved a lot in the last 4-5 years...

I've spent the last few months fighting with Ubuntu 10.04 on my Lenovo x100e. Wireless was awful and if the modules were loaded the system would crash every couple of hours. The graphics card had all sorts of issues. No sleep, no hibernate. Crappy battery life.

I've given up. Bought a Mac Book Pro 13" and it is wonderful. Has the unix I need and everything just works.

Perhaps now, but I when I was using it 4 years ago, it wasn't the easiest thing to get going. Perhaps I will check it out soon, but I'm reasonably content with my setup right now.

My reply is Offtopic, but same here. But to be fair, it only started to be this way about 2 years ago. I've also spent countless hours to configure my system to work the way i want it to.

Ditto, however I can say that 10.04 was the very first time I've installed Linux where everything worked without tweaking. It's a dream come true.

That bag looks awesome. Just ordered one. I've been looking for a new bag for quite a while.

For anything that you spend more than an hour per day doing, get the very best that your money can buy you. This probably includes

- your bed

- your desk setup if you work at one, including the chair

- food

- the people closest to you (roommates, family)

I enjoy spending money on things that will help me make more money or save money. Home entertainment saves me from spending money out and good computer hardware helps me develop faster, dual monitors, test hardware all help me make money.

I have a real hard time buying stuff that doesn't fall into those two categories for myself.

I tend to lean toward spending on Experiences rather than Possessions. That said, there are certain classes of Possession that can really make your life better if you buy the best.

Always buy the best:

- Kitchen Knives

- Development tools

- Toilet Paper

All the above can be skimped on, but they'll make you unhappy. I've spent enough of my life sawing onions in half with a squirrelly 99 cent Ginsu clone, trying to get Eclipse to autocomplete anything at all and letting roommates bring home a 60 pack of Welfare Brand Flims-E-Paper. Now that I've got two dimes to rub together, all that stuff is a thing of the past.

no. way.

seriously. i would have answered this question, with those same three things in that SAME ORDER! (LOVE my henckels!)

no really. have you been talking to my wife?


For extra SamePerson credit, my knives are also Henckels.

I get the impression that there are a lot of unnecessarily expensive kitchen knives out there. Professional cooks spend all day using a knife & most of them use some knife that cost maybe $25 at the restaurant supply store.

My brother-in-law is a chef and he, and almost all of his chef/sous chef friends all have pretty impressive knife collections they bring with them to the job each day. Primarily Japanese knives, purchased one at a time as they save up the money.

While prep cooks will use stock kitchen knives, most chefs will use their own tools, which tend to be pretty expensive.

Our cook in college would use the most beat up cheap aluminum pots, pans, and roasters but he insisted on bringing his metal briefcase of knives with him to work every day.

The top rated chef's knife by Cook's Illustrated is only about $30 (and it's awesome): http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-47520-Fibrox-8-Inch-Chefs/d...

You only need two knives -- a chef's knife and a paring knife. Anything beyond that may be useful occasionally, but 99% of your time should be spent with those two staples.

What do you use now instead of Eclipse?

VS.NET + ReSharper

I've discovered that opting for higher quality foods (not gourmet or a 100% organic diet, just slightly better than spam/ramen) is well worth the results in regards to short term energy and health. Let alone long term health. I just feel better with fresher fruits and vegetables and quality grains and meats. I used to swear by ramen, but buying cut rate flour noodles and stock separately is nearly as cheap, and I'm noticeable healthier. GIGO for meatspace, essentially.

1) Gifts for loved ones 2) Things that make my life easier 3) Things that bring me joy

Roughly in this order of priority ...

I opened the thread to say just this, in a much less succinct fashion. I like your version much more.

Here are a few of my handy tips to help you decide whether you should go ahead and buy that new X:

(1) Think about cost in terms of the work you had to do to buy it, not just the sale price. You are (most often) buying X with post-tax income so add your tax back on.

(2) Think about the opportunity cost of making the purchase, or "what can't I afford if I buy X?"

(3) Consider whether you are just buying X because it is a status object and whether there is a cheaper alternative (do you really need that merc when you can get from a->b in a honda? and so on).

In choosing what things are important to spend money on I'd generally echo others comments - people looking back over their lifetimes tend to value experiences they had more than junk they bought so spend your money buying experiences.

I like my BMW 5 series as I am a driver at heart. To me driving a well designed car like, with a 1000 tiny well thought out performance tweaks is an experience I enjoy every day.

Having struggled with noisy, underpowered, no fun, front wheel drive Toyota's & Hondas for years I would be hard pressed to give this up.

However if you just buy something like this for the badge, you need your head examined.

"What is the right price for some of the items you value?" This question has changed its meaning for me in recent months, as I'm saving up to fund some {pre-,}incubation work in the new year. Ordinary things like "a shiny new phone" through to "getting the roof fixed" are now being framed in terms of a week's work at minimum wage. So far there have been very few things as important as a week's work, and as a result the things I love are being fulfilled in slightly strange ways. I now know a whole load about quality homebrewing. My music collection is filling out with all the albums I never got around to buying in my teens (thank you, charity shops). And buying new gadgets has been replaced with writing a few apps and revving the firmware. It's made me more aware that I don't really want _that_ book or _that_ device, but that I will be content with anything that stimulates me and makes me feel richer in the areas I care about. And on the whole, "you could do a week's work for that" has been the perfect whip to keep my tech covetousness at bay.

If this post reads smug or pious it wasn't my intention, you can bet I will be right off the wagon as soon as the new project is up and running...

Books - yes, the physical kind. Although this has to be calmed down a bit, because I can only get through about 2 a week, but they make me feel very wealthy indeed.

Food - We have an excellent butchers in the town, and it's game season, so I am looking forward to getting a brace of Partridge and cooking something up.

Travel - it really does expand the mind. I did not realise how educated I had become from being 'dragged' away 5 times a year by my Mum. Even if I can only go 100 miles away for a weekend, it's still wonderful.

And the deviation from everything else I have read so far on here:

Exercise: I really value the money I spent on my MTB. I love my Bouldering gear (shoes, crash mat and chalk really), and I wouldn't be without going to Muay Thai twice a week. Doing all of this makes me feel like I have more of a rounded life - Yeah, I get to be sedentary for 14 hours at a time tweeking stuff on various VM's, but I also get to test my body to (what feels like) its limits, and I get physical camaraderie from the boxing, or the biking that just isn't the same from a book.

Knowledge, relationships, experiences, health.

Eg, books, education, travel, new skills (be it Haskell, spelunking, or Spanish), good times with friends, family, and significant others, etc. And good health makes it all possible (or rather prevents it from becoming impossible).

Things, only insofar as they facilitate the above, but not for the sake of having 'cool' stuff or the latest 'must have' gadget.

1) Something I need. Clothes, house, food. I try not to skimp on those things, I buy decent clothes, eat good food, live in a nice house. I always know that if times are tough, I can scale these back easily, but these things always get paid for first.

2) Something I want, but only if it performs its principle function correctly, operates reliably, and is cost effective. I'll buy a Honda over any Mercedes for example. (I could cars in this category even though I need one for transport because I could always go el cheapo used car for my actual needs).

3) If I have time or opportunity, luxury items, but only one or two per year -- they don't have to conform too tightly to the cost effective idea but I have to make sure I can use it. If I buy it and have no time to mess with it, then it's a waste. These usually take the form of travel once or twice a year.

I think it’s worth spending money on travel, but the amount is determined by how long I have to stay in one place to afford a trip. If a trip to Europe means I have to save up for two years beforehand, chances are I’ll take it off my priority list in favour of less-costly trips that mean I can take time off my job every three or four months.

Other things I believe in spending money on include education (although I do think that my university fees are unfairly high), good food, make-up and shoes (makes a big difference to how I am treated by others, unfortunately), kitchenware that lasts forever, a laptop and phone that work without causing me to stress, and bright, colourful things that make me happy. I also like shiny things but the price is normally too high compared to how much I like them.

Definitely not "stuff". This pg essay really resonates with me: http://www.paulgraham.com/stuff.html

I've found my attitude changing from "can I afford this?" to "do I really want to be burdened by this object"

During my last move I put everything own into a storage unit, and cherry-pick the few things I actually need/want as I need them. Next time I move I'm going to get rid everything left in storage. I figure if it's been in storage for that long I probably won't ever need it.

Incidentally, this is exactly the same strategy I take with my computer. Once or twice a year I'll backup everything, reformat, and only copy back over what I need, as I need it.

My basic thumb rule is, does a spend now help the cause of my larger plan in life, or goes against it. So, spending on a new experience would make more sense for me than saving that money and investing it into something, as I've figured out that my experiences have been my biggest investments.

The question is how to make an objective judgement on whether a spend is beneficial in terms of the larger plan or not. For myself, I have learnt to do it over time, and know where to draw the line. (Not that I don't make on the spur expenses, but have noticed that these days, my thumb rules applies itself 'in the background' even when I am making an on the spur purchase)

1) Tools -- must have a high ratio of time or annoyance saved vs. cost. For example, quality kitchen tools that will make cooking easier every day for the next 20 years are worth spending a bit of money on.

2) Games/entertainment -- must give me a lot of hours of fun for a low hourly cost (like 50 cents an hour or better.) Video games that I'm going to play to death fall into this category; movies at the theater do not.

3) Family -- I'm willing to give up an awful lot of money so my son can grow up with his grandparents (and great grandparents) around, and so I can hang out with my brothers and sisters as they all grow up and start families.

Rent - I need a great place to come back home to. Food - fresh, high quality food improves my life a lot. Car - my 30 30 square feet of personal space that I can transport to wherever I want.

A Pagani Zonda.

Travel. Going out with friends and dates. Fresh, locally raised food. A good pair of leather shoes.

Oh, and that copy of Snow Leopard required to grab the iOS SDK. =/

I just graduated and started a full-time job, so I've been dealing with this because I want to save as much as possible. Here's what I've spent money on:

Technology - phone, iPad. Bed, desk chair, food.

On the flip side, I've also been getting rid of everything I don't need or haven't used in the last 6 months (100 Things Challenge). My motto: own less and only things you need, but for those, buy the best quality.

For me my health (both physical and mental) is the most important thing so i spend money on things that make me healthier and happier.

Clothes (got a consulting biz), a dell 30' + 13' macbook pro, my dog (food and veterinary) I found that traveling with couchsourfing is both cheaper and more FUN actually And then I try to invest whatever I make in new ideas, websites - always trying to get the passive income higher since I pretty much only have active one now.

One thing that people here haven't mentioned: Good furniture -- costs pennies per day, is there waiting for you after a long day, makes your place aesthetically pleasing, allows you to entertain guests, and you can sell it for at least half the price when you're done with it.

1) Technology - Quality speakers, nice monitors, computers, etc

2) Good pair of running shoes and a tennis racket

3) Food - Not often, but nice restaurants when I can

Other then that, I don't care as much about what I drive, what I live in, etc. I do care - but as long as I'm living in an interesting city I'll be fine.

I try not to spend money on things that will result in watching more TV. Things like cable, DVR, etc. I want some of these things, but I feel like this sort of spending results in lower life-happiness which is the opposite of what you want from spending money.

I spent either money on good memorable experiences (dinners, traveling, friends etc), entertainment (movies, games) or investments in products/services which will earn back their value (books, courses, hosting etc)

Concerts/shows. I rarely buy music but I still want to support the artists I like and its a great experience. I tend not to go to shows that only sell via Ticketmaster or are exorbitantly priced.

I see a trend here. Good food. On loved ones. Gadgets.Books.( All same for me too). Wonder what people here would spend on if they had 10 times the money they have now.

spend it on not spending time working on idiotic shit

ah, to be free from the rat race

Health insurance, and life insurance (I have dependents).

ditto on the craft beers and non-fiction books. I spend money going out with friends every weekend to have a great time. I guess it's just a gut feeling, if I believe something is worth the price, I'll spend the money on it. Sometimes I'm wrong and pay too much for something that's not that valuable, but other times I feel like I purchase things at a great price that offer me a lot

I agree. Sometimes being miserly just isn't worth it. It's a good way to alienate people if done poorly. It also begs the question of "What are you saving up for in particular?" If it's for a house payment or a large long term goal or to keep a balanced budget that's one thing; but if it's to simply save for saving's sake alone without an objective, it can become oppressive. It did for me, that is.

Good food, good neighborhood, books, hobbies. Or put another way - health, mental health, personal development, and fun.

Gym membership, books, GeekDesk, services that save me time (doggy daycare, gutter cleaner, etc.).

Better than what I should ask when. When the time is appropriate. When I feel like of it.

My kids and their future.

Food: meals and snacks.

Friends, food, travel.

Gold and real estate.

An interesting life if ever I saw one...

A house that I own.

right now, not much.

1. experiences--vacations/trips 2. quality food 3. house/apartment 4. possessions I enjoy having nice things, but fewer of them. I like to spend my money on things that I imagine my grandkids would fight over. But really, I think vacations and memories are a much better investment in the long haul. I don't buy things unless I think it's something I will still want in another year, or hopefully two or more. Eating healthy costs more, but without a doubt I think it's worthwhile to pay more to eat organic/local foods. Living in a place you feel comfortable and happy to be at is also very rewarding, just do the extra work to find a deal.

Spend money on things you need. If you want it, and need it, w00t!

This is a fully loaded question!!

"What is the right price of some of the items you value" --> India has double digit inflation right now.Not of much significance to people on HN,the cost of certain food items has doubled in India, over the last couple of years!

Have been recommended to read "Wealth of Nations",Adam Smith, have the book,but havent got around doing that.

Maslow's heirarchy of needs( Google it) ,is a good rule of the thumb- which determines what your needs would be, depending on which "level" you are.

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