Six Things to Try Before You Buy

Living & Spending, Shopping Savings
on September 12, 2014
6 Things to Try Before You Buy
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Those things you always wanted—that sleek Lamborghini or that big sailboat or a vacation home or even kids—come with complications and a level of sticker shock you probably haven’t thought of yet. Some things you’re locked into for the term of the contract, and some things you’re locked into for life. So before you splurge, take advantage of trial runs and rental options when you can.

1. Gym Memberships

A great membership deal isn’t such a great deal if you sign on to pay for a year and go for two months.

Studies tell us that more than half the people who sign a one year fitness membership contract stop going after six weeks. Many people who drop out just haven’t committed to indoor exercise yet. But others find the facility isn’t right for them—a singles-club culture when they wanted the Y, or maybe vice versa. Always try the gym you have in mind before you join—many have day, week or even month passes for free or a small fee of $10 or $15 that allow you access to classes and equipment and allow you to scope out the culture as well as the locker room and other amenities.

If a guest or trial membership isn’t advertised—ask. Most facilities are willing to accommodate.

2. Sports Cars

Dude. You’re gonna look so cool. That hot little two-seater is calling your name, and that bonus check is burning a hole in your pocket. But take your foot off the gas for a second, and consider the ongoing expense you’re about to incur. The test drive itself is a no-brainer, but there are a lot more elements to try on for size before splurging on a sports car.

“Nobody but me ever made money off a car,” Indy racer Mario Andretti once said. Once you own it, the value will decline. It will drop even more if you put anything less than those $350 apiece tires on it. That special engine and body need special—and costly—maintenance. A dent in an aluminum car costs three or four times more to repair than a smack on your Civic. And call your insurance company to see what they want to charge you to cover it—you’ll probably be looking at a very high deductible, so plan to pay for the body work out of your own pocket. And you won’t want to park it on the street…ever.

3. Home Ownership

Not right for everyone, no matter what kind of social and familial pressure you come under. Homes are demanding: maintenance costs and repair sticker shock hit your wallet hard and require a lot of time and attention, while keeping up relationships with your neighbors and your maintenance guys can put a damper on your spirit. “I used to have a life, now I have a house,” says reluctant homeowner Jerry Guttierez of his purchase.

If you’re in a position to rent, start considering all that would be required of you if you didn’t have a landlord at your beck and call. Keep track of all expenses and upkeep tasks. Or offer to look after a house that belongs to a friend or family member for two months. Mow the lawn and shovel snow, check the gutters and get some estimates on electrical and plumbing upgrades they always wanted. Paint some rooms and take care of the windows.

4. That sailboat or ATV or RV or motorboat you always wanted…

Before you buy, look at joining a club where you can rent—and talk to the staff about what kind of maintenance your land or sea shark will need. Scraping and painting a hull or draining the toilet tank are about as much fun as they sound like they would be. And check around to see what it costs to park it. Boat slips are surprisingly costly. and a lot of cities have rules against parking boats and RVs in front of your house.

You might find you’d prefer the kind of variety that renting or joining a club offers and that you’d rather have someone else deal with parking it and maintaining it when it’s not in use. And once you have that unlimited access, you may find that extra toy may not actually fit into your lifestyle all that well, allowing you to skip the expense of renting or buying altogether.

5. Dogs

A dog is a one-eighth version of a child. Sure, they offer that unflinching loyalty and companionship that make them so attractive, but they also need exercise and food every day. You’ll be handling poop (at least) twice a day. And that’s not even starting to pay for the veterinary bills: an average annual visit costs about $450 now, and that doesn’t even begin to cover for x-rays, ultrasounds and any other expenses associated with unexpected injury or illness. Plus, there’s regular grooming costs to consider—ever seen a de-skunking?

So borrow a dog for a week, or, better yet, volunteer to help care for animals at your local shelter for six weeks and see if that kind of commitment is right for you.

6. Kids

See Dogs. Multiply by eight.

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