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Married Finances: New laptop?

November 1, 2011

T wants a new laptop.

Specifically, he wants a MacBook Air, but that is almost beside the point.  This is not meant to be a Mac vs. PC debate.  Let’s just say he wants something small and portable, yet with standard laptop processing power (he needs processing power for work).  All the options are roughly in the same price range as a MacBook Air.

He’s had his laptop for 6 years, but  there is nothing wrong with it.  It’s just older, bigger, and heavier.  He travels (for work) with his laptop maybe about 5 times a year, and he wants something more portable and also, something that is in line with what his peers have.

My opinion on this?  He should wait until next spring/summer.  He doesn’t have his plans for next year lined up yet.  This isn’t to say we are worried he won’t find a job.  The worst case scenario is that he’ll work at the company he worked at this summer for a really pretty great salary.  However, if we have to move, I really don’t know what kind of impact that will have on our lives, financially and otherwise.  The job market is still not great, and even though I think my resume and skillset are solid, I’m realistic about the economic conditions.    I guess I just want to know our future before investing over $1000 into electronics.  Especially since his works just fine, and most days, he works from home and there is no need for a super lightweight laptop.

I’ve given my opinion to him, and he’s tried to change it.  But I told him he doesn’t need to change my opinion.  He can still get the laptop now if he really thinks it is worth it.  I’m leaving the decision up to him (and really, I expect him to buy it).  I’d prefer he waits, but I give him the right to make the decision himself.

I reserve the right to say “absolutely not” to a purchase (this applies to both of us), but in most cases, that isn’t necessary.  This isn’t an “absolutely not” type of choice, but I just would be more comfortable with waiting.

He also has been BEGGING me to ask what you all think.  Everyone seems to be such Apple fans and shopping enablers, so I think there is no way you guys won’t be on his side!  But I’ll still ask!  Should he get a MacBook?  A PC?  Or nothing at all?  And how do you/will you handle disagreements about major purchases as a couple?

29 Comments leave one →
  1. tom permalink
    November 1, 2011 7:56 am

    How much processing power does he really need? I think that’s the bigger question.

    If he’s been using a 6 year old laptop and that had enough processing power, a brand new standard laptop would run less than $500 and have a much faster processor and more memory. If he’s running complex algorithms and programs, then it’s justified, but if he’s just looking for word processing and Power Point, any COTS laptop from Best Buy will do. In fact, most of those have faster processing speeds than the Air, although they aren’t as pretty.

    I bought a 14″ HP for $350, and it works great, very quick, looks nice, and very portable. If he settled on something like that, I think the timing debate would solve itself.

    • SP permalink*
      November 1, 2011 8:56 am

      His 6 year old laptop generally has enough processing power. He does use more than Word/Powerpoint (simulations, etc.) and needs a little more than the average user, but not as much as a serious gamer or anytying

      His original statement that he wanted me to include in the post clarified that the new Air’s have as much processing power as standard (non-gamer) laptops. The point is portability and lightweight. BTW, I agree with you in principle, so I’ll let him read this and see if he is willing to change his mind.

      • tom permalink
        November 1, 2011 11:20 am

        Ahh, I see.

        I counter his portability argument w/ the fact that the $999 Air is an 11″ screen, roughly the size of a netboook (obviously not as thin). You can buy a similar netbook for even cheaper – $250 w/ the same performance specs.

        Check out this one: Toshiba NB505-N500BL – 1.5 in thick – $250 at Best Buy (recommended buy by Consumer Reports).

        So this begs the question, is 1/2 the thickness worth 4x the price?

      • SP permalink*
        November 1, 2011 11:31 am

        Well, the problem is that a netbook is insufficient processing for what he needs. So netbook size (except a 13 inch screen is desireable) with “standard” processing power.

        I say, no, probably not, but… it is not my purchase really

  2. Seth permalink
    November 1, 2011 8:02 am

    With his job status up in the air he might only need this laptop for 6 months. If he gets a new job and they provide a top-of-the-line laptop then he’ll have two others just sitting around collecting dust. Since this isn’t a critical need purchase I’d say hold out a little longer.

    • November 1, 2011 12:39 pm

      It would collect dust, I would take over the macbook as an upgrade! 🙂

      The type of job he most wants to take will not provide a laptop. But there is some chance you are right, and he’ll take one that does.

  3. November 1, 2011 8:19 am

    Disclaimer: I am an Apple fangirl.
    Mike and I had a similar situation a couple of years ago. He was working, but in a different state and we were paying for his airfare to visit home evry weekend. He wanted to buy a MacBook Pro because his old laptop was clunky. I took a similar stance as you and said that he could buy it if he wanted to, but I wouldn’t if I were him. He went ahead and bought it a week after we had the conversation. 🙂
    I think that if I were T, I would get the Macbook Air rather than a cheapo PC because working on a Mac is really that much better. I think T should go ahead and buy it. Even when you are working from home, sometimes the computer can be slow and it can be frustrating. Plus it would be so much easier to carry it everywhere.

    • SP permalink*
      November 1, 2011 9:03 am

      A cheapo PC? I don’t think he’d get a cheapo one, he’d get one of the more reliable and well-run brands. The thing about PC’s is there is a wide range of products to choose from. If you get a Mac, you only really have 1-2 price points. He claims PC’s start to approach similar price points if you combine the reliable brands with the small/lightweight designs. I haven’t done the research yet myself.

      • November 1, 2011 9:43 am

        I am sorry, I feel like I have not communicated what I wanted to say very well. I didn’t mean to say that he would get a cheapo PC. There are some very good PC laptops (the Dell XPS for instance) which compare to the Macbook Air in price and performance. But like you said, there are many cheap options for PCs too and generally they don’t perform very well as the expensive ones and so (IMO) it is worth paying more for those. Not just because they are nicer to look at, but because they are nicer to use too. Many laptops have the same specs but they perform differently.

  4. November 1, 2011 8:42 am

    Electronics are one thing that Peanut and I tend to spend money on. He bought a REALLY fancy computer for freelancing last year – it would have been $4,000+ if he hadn’t built it from parts himself; doing so brought the price down to $2,500. In addition to that computer, I own a gaming desktop and a laptop (about six years old). We both have smartphones but not new ones – we get the older model right when a new iPhone/Android is announced. (Aside from the iPhone, we’re not Apple fans – Peanut builds/upgrades our computers himself and Apple doesn’t work well with that.)

    If it were me wanting the laptop, I would differentiate between what I *need* (processing power) and what I *want* (MacBook Air). You can get the processing power for less than the cost of a brand new MacBook Air, so the processing power shouldn’t be used as an excuse for the cost of an Apple product. No shame in saying what you really want, but you should be eyes-wide-open to your motivations.

    Then I’d see what I could do to reduce the difference in cost between the *need* and the *want*. Sell off old electronics? Earn some money on the side? Take money out of another fun area of the budget (alcohol, entertainment, etc)? If I could eliminate the difference between the cost of a machine with the processing power and the MacBook Air by ‘finding money’, I’d buy it. If not, I’d get the non-Apple laptop with the power if it was really necessary, or wait until I could find the money to buy what I really want.

    • SP permalink*
      November 1, 2011 9:05 am

      You make some great points. He needs more processing power than some other really lightweight things have, netbooks are too small, etc. etc. But he’s working on a 6 year old laptop and it is generally enough power, so it is true that processing isn’t the main thing. The appeal of the MacBook Air is the lightweight portability, and also, showing up at conferences with something that all of his peers have. Not such a great reason in my mind 🙂

  5. Becca permalink
    November 1, 2011 9:04 am

    I, too, was going to mention selling the old laptop. I know it is six years old, so that may mean you won’t get much for it, but every little bit helps, and sometimes people who accidentally kill their old computer (I may have killed two in the past year with beverage products) just want a replacement of their old laptop.

    That said, it really depends on if you feel confident in the size of your emergency fund. I have a friend for whom her husband has to poke and prod to get her to sped their extra cash on stuff, even though all of their goals are either fully met or have the exact amount allocated towards them that they agreed upon with a financial adviser’s help. If you are naturally anxious but the size of your EF is fine, then spending extra cash to get the laptop is reasonable. If this is merely highlighting to you that perhaps you EF isn’t as big as it needs to be, then perhaps it is smart to wait.

  6. November 1, 2011 9:43 am

    Is there a chance that his new employer is going to give him a laptop? If so, then maybe skip it. But if it’s something he really wants, you have the savings/income to cover it, and his current laptop is 6 years old, it doesn’t sound like a bad purchase. Plus, you’re stimulating the economy. 🙂

  7. November 1, 2011 9:44 am

    The lure of Apple is huge. I have no suggestions because I can’t win that argument with my husband. I have heard that Apple products are less prone to crash and more reliable, so that makes me feel a little better about spending more on their products.

    I think the bigger issue in my household is that my husband likes to spend now based on current income, and not spend less due to possible but likely future scenario of a reduced income. Hope that makes sense..

    • SP permalink*
      November 1, 2011 9:54 am

      🙂 I hear about the reliability in one sentence, then the next sentence is “the extended warranty is an absolute must” for apple products.

      Like I said, it isn’t really my decision and I’ll leave it up to him. We have the money and I don’t think it is a horrible use of it, I just think it can wait.

      • November 1, 2011 2:32 pm

        I’ve owned several computers and laptops over the course of the last ten years. My laptops were mid level HP and Dell. I’ve had to upgrade components for both of those, have had to deal with annoying tech calls and have had viruses on my Dell (regardless of what anti-virus system I had running).

        I used to be a Apple hater, but am now on my 4th year of owning a Macbook Pro. I can honestly say it’s been a sound investment. 4 years later, the laptop runs just as smoothly as the day I purchased it, I haven’t made any upgrades to it and I have been virus free. My BF has had his MBP for 5 years and my brother has had his Macbook for almost 7 years, and so far, so good. We all had Apple Care but none of us had to use it.

        Do I think T NEEDS a Mac? No, since it looks like he’d invest in a higher end PC. I personally wouldn’t go back to PC, but that’s just a personal choice. If his current laptop is still treating him well, then I think he can wait. If he absolutely NEEDS/WANTS a Mac and wants to buy it directly from the Apple store, wait until black friday. IIRC, that’s the only day Apple runs sales.

  8. November 1, 2011 10:15 am

    Is it going on credit? Or is the money already earmarked for planned spending?

    Are all the other areas of the budget (savings, emergency fund, rent, etc.) already taken care of?

  9. Nick permalink
    November 1, 2011 12:57 pm

    #1 – A 6 year old laptop would drive me crazy. My vote is to absolutely let him upgrade, especially if you can make the purchase without too big of a disruption.

    #2 – From purely a financial perspective, paying the asking price for anything Apple does not make sense. Their markup on “upgrades” is nothing short of ridiculous. 2GB of RAM on a $1000 laptop? It’s 2011. Yet Apple wants $200 more to add another 2GB of RAM (which should be standard anyway) and 64GB to the SSD? The cost difference on 64/128GB for even the best SSD’s is roughly $70. And they’re telling me that another 2GB of RAM costs them $130? I think not…

    A quick search on Newegg shows much better options at regular prices, not even sale prices. Samsung offers a 12.1″ laptop with 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, and a 2.3GHz i5-2410M processor for $749, regular price. If the SSD is a big deal, spend another $100 for a Crucial M4 64GB or $180ish for the 128GB version. You’d have a laptop that significantly outperforms even the $1200 Macbook air and has the SSD upgrade over the $1200 MBP. It just doesn’t make sense to spend that much when both of those upgrades are EXTREMELY easy to do yourself.

    Something equivalent in processing power and portability to the $1000 model Air (minus the SSD) could be had for under $500. Even if you have to swap out / increase the RAM ($40ish for 8GB on sale) and add an SSD ($100), you’re still a minimum of $300 under the Air.

    That being said, if T works in an industry that primarily uses Macs (usually “artsy” industries), then, and only then, would I recommend paying the extra for one. However, I would advise going with the 13″ Macbook Pro instead of the Air. It’s a lot more processing power at the $1200 mark, and you only lose the SSD, and it’s a tiny bit heavier. It goes on sale periodically at Microcenter for $1000 if you have one near you.

  10. November 1, 2011 2:35 pm

    First of all, I’ve been a HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE skeptic of Apple products since the very first time I laid my paws on a PC.

    I am now a converted Apple liker.

    Not lover, because I think there are some things they could stand to improve in what I’d call basic functionality (one of which, was ‘Put Back’ that was just recently implemented to restore what you’ve deleted to its original spot from the trash bin).

    Second of all, considering that you feel uncomfortable and feel like he should wait until the spring/summer (really, what? another 6 months?) before buying a laptop, I am on your side for this.

    Wait another 6 months, maybe they’ll announce an upgraded Air and you’ll kick yourself for buying it in November when you could have bought the newest one in March or whatever.

    Also, what’s another 6 months in the grand scheme of things? His laptop has been fine for 6 years, and in 6 months if things don’t improve, he’ll be happy he waited on the purchase. If in 6 months things DO improve, he’ll feel less guilty buying it. Give it some time, it’s not going anywhere 🙂

    Third of all, I own a Macbook Air 11″ and while I like it, it is v. heavy. It is probably as heavy as a plastic one that’s smaller, but it is by no means a light as air sort of laptop. It still has some good heft to it, so keep that in mind. I bought it to use when I travel and I like it very much.

  11. November 1, 2011 2:36 pm

    I just bought new MBA (11″) exactly because I needed something portable and light. I also didn’t want something that would break in 6 months. 2.5 months in and I’m thrilled with it. I never used to bring my laptop anywhere with me because it was so clunky and heavy, but now I bring my laptop everywhere! I know absolutely nothing about computers, but it has worked out great for me… and I don’t plan to buy another laptop for quite a few years.

  12. November 1, 2011 2:44 pm

    Oh and re: Nick’s comment about upgrading laptops, you can’t upgrade the Macbook Air unless you pay through the nose, but with the Macbook Pro series (which I also own in the 17″), you can buy the RAM from NewEgg and upgrade it yourself for much MUCH cheaper.

    Still, for me it isn’t a question of getting a better processing system for blabbedy bla bla bla that makes me like Apple more.

    It is simply their operating system and the way that they release new OS’s and updates to the computer. They build everything they do from scratch rather than doing what Windows does, which is take what they had in the last version and add MORE crap on top of it to make it slower, and mask it by making it look prettier (or what they call pretty).

    Apple works better because their stuff is simpler to understand, use and upgrade. I do see flaws (obviously), and this is all coming from a formerly die-hard PC lover, and if you have ever had confusing messages from a Windows that takes forever to solve, you will know what I am talking about.

    Once you install MS office for the Mac on the laptop, you will see a few differences in using Excel which drive me bananas, because my shortcuts are all messed up in my head (you have to re-learn everything and shift doesn’t work to select all as well), but it is a far better laptop than any PC I’ve ever owned. You won’t see the difference in general unless you are a heavy Excel user (which I am).

    Other major cons I can say about Apple products are they are not as flexible if you want to customize or run script in the background like you could in MS DOS, and the shortcuts are not as extensive or as awesome as for the PC (Ctrl + anything does almost anything), not so in Apple Land.

    I also don’t like how closed and in control the company is of its products (you’d have to jailbreak it to do anything that you’d do normally on a PC), but this is another league of customizing that most people don’t require.

    You will also find it very difficult to add special printer functions to the Mac. It works fairly well if you just want to add a printer and use a USB key to print things…. but when you start getting complicated like wanting to SCAN things, or use Bluetooth/Wireless from my HP All-in-one onto my Mac is a futile endeavour. It won’t work. Period.

    I just use my PC for scanning, and it annoys me because I want my Mac to be fully independent. Alas, it isn’t. This is a common complain with Mac users, that printers and accessories in the computer world that are not Mac-specific, will not work as you expect. Same with using Safari instead of IE to surf or enter company logins (some only take IE). Then again, PCs don’t play nice with other things either, although their chance of playing nice is higher than if you use a Mac.

    Lastly, BF has been an Apple user for 15+ years now, and he’s also owned many PCs and wanted to smash them all, after being used to Apple.

    Sorry. I wrote a lot. :\

  13. November 1, 2011 4:34 pm

    My 13″ Macbook Air is the best purchase I’ve made in the last 3 months. I can’t live without it… so basically my opinion is seriously biased.

    Frankly I’m just amazed a 6 year old PC even still works — though I definitely expect my Air to last that long, much like my faithful old iMac who has passed its 4th birthday and only occasionally acts up (but at the end of the day is still running the newest OS Lion like a champ).

    If it doesn’t accumulate any debt and he really wants it, buy it.

    • SP permalink*
      November 1, 2011 5:32 pm

      It is even a Dell, which I generally consider not to be the best brand (at least in the era it was bought, 6 years ago!) I had a Dell previously, and it was not great.

      I expect my laptop (PC, lenovo) to continue to work for a 6 year life too – it’s been 3.5, and the only issue was most likely user caused and easy to work with.

      That being said… I’m not going to dictate what brand he buys, it will not cause debt and we do have money

  14. November 1, 2011 6:40 pm

    If it’s something that he really wants and you guys can afford it, I’d say it’s not a line I’d draw in the ground, if I were you. Unfortunately, this line of reasoning (on both my side and CB’s side), has left us buying nice gifts for each other or saying “it’s OK” about expensive purchases. Which really means that we are BOTH spending more.

  15. November 1, 2011 7:31 pm

    I say wait it out, but then go for a Mac. No viruses, customer service is great, and they do last a long time. My laptop is about six years old, and while I’d love a new one, I’ll wait until mine totally poops out to buy one. It seems like with lots of things up in the air it makes more sense to wait.

  16. November 2, 2011 11:02 am

    I’m definitely a PC person all the way because I fix them for my job, but I bought a 27 inch iMac in May for about $1800. I also got a 0% interest credit card (for one year) from the Apple Store, which ended up being from Barclay US credit company. Right now, I only have $600 left to pay which I can pay off by the end of the year. In the end its only 7 months total for the payoff time. (I had other factors like school and a surgery that cut into paying it off quicker)

    I haven’t paid a penny of interest and I can afford to pay it little by little without getting bigger bills in the end or paying one flat fee at once.

    Right now I LOVE my iMac. It’s the best thing to come into my life – plus I don’t own a tv so it doubles as that for me. They’re typically more expensive, but Apple also has a trade-in program when your laptop does die – which helps with the cost of the future laptop discussion.

    I am currently single so I don’t have an opinion about large purchases, but I plan on keeping finances separate even well into at least the first ten years of marriage (you know, with divorce rates around 50% these days). If he can afford it (even with long term payoffs), I’d say go for it. If he can’t pay it off immediately or within a 0% interest time period, then WAIT! There’s no need to get into debt over a laptop – especially if you have one that works fine right now.

    Hope this is informative!

    Kat Skull

  17. suburbanwife permalink
    November 2, 2011 11:29 am

    It seems to me that you are asking “now or later” not “Apple or PC” so that’s the question I’ll address.

    Since T knows exactly what he wants and the only question is now or later, I say do it now. The main reason: The Air was just recently refreshed. If T waits until this summer then he might just as well wait until the fall because they’ll likely refresh the product line again. Technology changes quickly and Apple tends to refresh (and improve upon) their products on annual cycles. This is not to say that a MacBook Air would be obsolete in a year. Far from it. I’ve got a 4yo iMac that still feels brand new (although I did upgrade the RAM cards last year). But I’d never buy a Mac just before a refresh is due; if you’re that close, wait until after the refresh and if you don’t want the upgraded features, try for a good price on last year’s model.

    You wrote “I just want to know our future before investing over $1000 into electronics.” Herein lies the problem. Buying a laptop is not an “investment.” It’s an expenditure, plain and simple. If you really are okay with T spending $1000+ (after tax and all) and you’re really okay with him choosing a product that some people perceive to be a vanity expense (not me), then let go and give him your blessing. If not, then be honest with yourself and T and be clear that you’ve changed your mind.

    The only good reason I can think of for waiting would be if there were any possibility that T would be given a new laptop as part of an employment package at his new job.

  18. November 2, 2011 10:55 pm

    I’m a MacBook Pro user myself, and for all that *I* love my Mac, I can also see the downsides. Really, I just need to suck it up and buy Microsoft Office for Mac and put it on here. My problem has been that I’m not as impressed with programs like Numbers (Mac’s Excel). Then again, I may simply not know everything there is to know about the program. I’ve taken classes recently on Excel for work, and I come home to my Mac and am sorely let down when I can’t find all those super cool options that Excel has.

    But that’s more about programs than the actual machine. I don’t think I’ll ever buy a PC again, simply because I’ve had 0 problems with my MacBook in the two and a half years that I’ve owned it. No viruses. No trips to utilize my warranty. My first laptop was a Gateway, and right out of the gate, the DVD drive died. I took it to Best Buy and was without a computer my first month of college because they had to ship it to a manufacturer in Georgia to fix. And I cannot count the number of viruses I got on that thing. It did end up lasting four years, but they were tumultuous. In the end, the power supply went out, and Best Buy said it would be more expensive to replace that part than to buy a new laptop.

    Just the benefit of carrying a lighter computer around campus was enough to make the price worth it for me but when you add in faster run times and fewer breakdowns… Well, like I said, I don’t think I’ll ever buy a PC again.

    All that being said… I would wait if the money could come in handy for a move in the not-so-distant future. Traveling five times a year isn’t quite the same as lugging your laptop around campus all day. Not to minimize his concerns with wanting a lighter computer, but I think it’s something he could suck up at least until he knows more about work.

    The only example I could think of with me and Mr. Red was a wireless router he wanted to buy, even though ours worked fine. But he wasn’t very committed to the purchase because when I finally acquiesced, he demurred. A month later he received a gift card for freelance work he had done for my company and used that to buy the router he wanted. Basically, our method is to talk out all the pros and cons, have our voices heard, and give ourselves time to really think about a purchase. If he or I decide to still go with our original decision, that’s fine. Really, we both just like to feel like our voices/opinions were heard and really taken into consideration. We haven’t come to a purchase disagreement yet that was so great that either of us felt the need to put our foots down.


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