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Talking yourself out of an unecessary purchase

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(Read caption) In this March 12, 2012 photo, a shopper carries bags of merchandise in Freeport, Maine.

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I don’t play video games that much at this point in my life because, frankly, I don’t have very much time for them. I perhaps play for four or five hours a week. Usually, it’s when the children are about to nap or drifting off to sleep, and I play so I can be within earshot of them. A few times a week, I’ll play an online game with friends for a laugh (and usually be the worst player on the team), mostly as a way to keep in touch with people who are spread out.

Still, there have been a few games over the last few years that I have really enjoyed. Two examples: Heavy Rain is an amazing murder mystery, and Flower is probably the best single example of “video game as art” that I’ve ever experienced.

However, two of the most memorable games I’ve played over that time frame were Mass Effect and its sequel Mass Effect 2. Together, the two games tell an amazing and deeply engaging interactive science fiction story that I deeply enjoyed and which resonated with me for a long time after playing the two games. The best video games of the latest generation have genuinely crossed the line into deep, compelling storytelling, and this series is a shining example of this.

Last Tuesday, Mass Effect 3 came out, concluding the story of the main character of the series, Commander Shepard.

One might simply assume that because I’m in a relatively good financial position and because I enjoyed the first two so much, I would automatically buy the third one. Truth be told, I don’t own it yet and I probably won’t for a while.

The thought process that led me to not buy the game is actually a pretty good example of the frugal mindset at work, so I thought I’d share it with you.

First of all, I made the observation that once a video game is released, the price of it slowly drifts downward over time. For example, I’ve watched the price of Civilization V slowly drift downward over the past eighteen months, from a $59.95 price at release to a fairly steady price between $20 and $25 right now. Simply by waiting 18 months, a person can often save 60-75% on a major new video game title.

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There’s also the factor of game sales. Many stores and gaming services put different games on sale at various points. For example, with the above mentioned Civilization V, I’ve seen sales for the title recently going as low as $7.50. That’s an 87% off sale.

Simply put, waiting for a while after the day of release will save you significant money on a game.

So, the question is whether or not there’s real value in buying the item on the day of release. Does playing the game right now add any value for me? Other than the personal impatience to play the game, there isn’t. I have several gaming friends, only one of which actually owns the game at this point. There is no social reason to play the game at this point. Instead, most of my friends are simply waiting until they see the game at a sufficiently low price.

So, there’s a reasonable financial case for waiting for the purchase, but that still doesn’t change my desire to dig further into the story and enjoy the gameplay. I find the storyline deeply engrossing and the gameplay entertaining.

The thing is, if I love the previous installments in the series so much, why not just replay them? They’re sitting there on my shelf. While I have fond memories of the storyline, it’s been long enough since I played them that I don’t remember some of the finer details. Playing them again now accomplishes several things at once: it allows me to derive more enjoyment from something I already own, it allows me to freshen up my details of the storyline, and by the time I finish the two games (again), the price of the third will be much lower than it is right now.

I do this with the various fantasy series that I read. I’ll get on the waiting list for the newest installment at the library and start re-reading the whole series while I anticipate the newest volume. Quite often, I’ve re-read the series (and enjoyed myself) and refreshed the story in my head just in time to pick up the new volume at the library.

Plus, between then and now, there are a number of small gift-giving occasions where my immediate family will exchange gifts. My children always select an item for Father’s Day, for example, as well as one for my birthday, and if my gaming skills are particularly rusty, there’s always Christmas. We tend to focus a great deal on getting each other desired gifts, and while my children won’t read this post, they will be aware that I am playing Mass Effect. That way, instead of buying two items purely for fun, only one is purchased, saving us money.

Many basic principles of frugal shopping are on display here. Use what you already have. Wait for a sale or a lower price. Think about a purchase before you make it.

Those principles have moved me from just automatically buying things like Mass Effect 3 and instead conserving my money and making more sensible choices.

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