The Relationship Of Obsolescence And Frugality Part 1

Updated: June 13, 2008

Wikipedia defines obsolescence as the state of being which occurs when a person, object, or service is no longer wanted even though it may still be in good working order. The root word of this term is obsolete, which we all know is synonymous to being out of date.

Furthermore, it is said that obsolescence frequently happens when a superior replacement has become available. This means that if something smaller, faster, lighter or less expensive is introduced to the market, then the old one is most likely headed to the dumpsters in the next few years. Just take a look at the floppy disk which has become obsolete because of the invention of higher capacity and more portable USB flash drives.

I believe that as consumers, fully understanding the concept of obsolescence will truly help us in practicing frugality. If we see the rationale behind why and how items become obsolete, then we’ll be able to choose wisely which products to buy so that we can enjoy long term value for our money. Let’s now take a look at the first type of obsolescence and how we can save money along with it.


Planned Obsolescence

Planned obsolescence is a manufacturing strategy wherein products are mainly engineered so that its useful life is already predetermined. Industrial designers often discuss how soon should a product last before it breaks down and still leave the consumer with enough faith in it to buy a new one.

Did you catch all that? Let me give an example to elaborate.

Take your toothbrush for instance. With proper and regular use, the bristles would probably be worn out or splayed after three to four months. This means that you have to buy a new one or else you won’t be efficiently cleaning your teeth anymore. Have you ever wondered, instead of coming up with new designs for toothbrush heads and bristle configurations every so often, why can’t these manufacturers invent a toothbrush with bristles durable enough to last for a year?

The main reason would probably be profit. I’m sure the product design engineers of these companies have determined that they’d have more income if they manufacture toothbrushes that you would have to buy three to four times annually than to come up with a more durable model that you’d purchase just once a year. And to give them an excuse to charge you higher, they instead come out with flexible heads and uneven bristles and market them as more effective cleaners for your pearly whites. Makes sense doesn’t it?

So how do you get more value for your money if most of the consumer products in the market are designed for planned obsolescence? Here’s what I think:

  • Know exactly what you need
  • Research on the durability of your choices
  • Discover if there are options to extend the product’s life span
  • Determine and buy the one that gives more value for its price

Last year, I needed to buy new running shoes. Upon arriving at the athletic shoe store, I immediately asked for the brand which I knew was the most durable for me. The salesguy showed me a variety of models with new design technology that will give me more comfort and stability. I then asked him if these new models are more durable than the old ones. He admitted that those pairs are just as strong as the old models but with added features that will help me in my running.

While I was considering if I should buy the new design (and shell out more than my allotted budget), I realized that it would probably be best if I just buy the pair with the features I essentially need – something similar, if not the same model as my old pair. While thinking in silence, the salesguy somehow understood the reason why I asked about the pair’s durability and then offered me some basic running shoes which were fortunately progressive models of my old one.

Several months after, I can say that I was happy with my purchase. And to prolong the usability of my new running shoes, I always make sure that it’s clean and properly stored when not in use.

Moreover, when I passed by the same store just a few weeks ago, I saw that the prices for those new design technology shoes have gone down. I think I’ll save up for those and buy them next year, when my current pair reaches its planned obsolescence.

This concludes the first part of this series. The second and last part of this article talks about perceived obsolescence which I believe will really help you save money. Click the link below to read the next part of the series. Lastly, please consider subscribing to Ready To Be Rich so that you’ll get more money saving tips in the future.

The Relationship of Obsolescence and Frugality Part 2

Works Cited:
Packard, Vance. “Progress through Planned Obsolescence”. 1960.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. “Obsolescence“. June 5, 2008

Photo courtesy of Amodiovalerio Verde


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