Fifty some odd years ago I coerced (aka nagged) my parents into buying me a tape recorder. At the time, I didn’t think much of the whole experience. I wanted something and it was my parent’s job to get it for me. Simple.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how seminal that tape recorder experience actually was for me. To this very day, every time I ask myself, or am asked, to make a significant investment, there is a quiet voice on my shoulder quietly asking “is this a tape recorder?”
It all started with a Superman episode called “The Talking Clue“. This episode was centered around the Chief of Police’s son’s hobby of tape recording, and cataloging, sounds. He had a library full of random sounds like birds tweeting, bullets bouncing off of Superman’s chest and canons being fired.
I was mesmerized.
I thought that was the coolest hobby in the world and I just knew, that as an 8 or 9 year old, I was born to pursue it. It was my calling and my destiny. There was only one small thing that prevented me from having the largest and most eclectic sound collection in the world. I didn’t own a tape recorder. That was an easy problem to fix though. I’d just have to get my parents to buy me one. So began my relentless campaign to get them to let go of some of their hard earned cash to fund my future glory.
To make a long story short, I got my tape recorder, probably used it two or three times, and then, in what was definitely of no surprise to my parents, it collected dust until it was eventually tossed.
Many years later I would come to appreciate what really happened during that tape recorder experience. These are the messages that that little voice on my shoulder replays every time he utters the words “tape recorder”:
- I’m a great salesmen. I not only convinced my parents to buy me something they could neither afford nor believed I would use, but I convinced myself of the need. I got wrapped up in my own passion and wasn’t really seeing things clearly. I just HAD to have it!
- My parents loved me. We were very poor in those days and I’m certain that this tape recorder diverted funds from other more pressing uses..like food and clothing. They felt my passion and decided that they were going to pay the price to nurture it. They also knew that this wasn’t the first, nor the last, time that we’d play this game. In the worst case, it was going to be a “teaching” moment. Sometimes your investments aren’t about the investments at all, sometimes they’re about the relationship.
One of the overbearing outcomes of making a bad purchasing decision is buyer’s remorse. I feel bad about throwing away money on something that I let my passions get ahead of me on. Losing money that could have been better used elsewhere. So I’ve come up with a couple of questions that I ask to help me make sure that I don’t buy any tape recorders in the future:
- Why do I really want this? How important is it to me? Will I really use it? Or am I just satisfying some psychological itch? I’m sure after a short period of time, my nagging for the tape recorder was more about control, and getting my way, than it was about the tape recorder itself. In the end I have no doubt that the situation degraded into a power struggle between myself and my parents.
- Do I have a plan for it’s use? Maybe my parents should have asked me to write down the top 100 sounds that I was going to go hunting for? It probably would have been obvious to all of us that I was just hallucinating future glory when I slowed down after #10.
- Can I try it out first? Depending on the cost and risk, it would be great if I could experience the product first.
- Can I afford a total loss? If I do decide to buy, and it turns out to be a bad decision, am I OK with that? Can I afford to lose the entire purchase price of that item? Any chance I can cut my losses or get refunded? With that said, sometimes it’s worth spending a little money to get an education. But I have to be prepared for that to be all that I get.
So no more tape recorders for me. And if you’re going to ask me to spend money, be prepared for me to ask you if this is going to be your own personal version of a tape recorder.