9 Tech Shopping Mistakes That Are Costing You Money

Shopping for gadgets is complicated. We all want or need devices like computers, smartphones, tablets, and cameras, but few of us know how to find the best device, and even fewer know how to find the best deal. In fact, chances are good that you’re making at least a few tech shopping mistakes that are costing you money. Read on to check out some of the most common gadget-shopping mistakes — mistakes that virtually guarantee that you’re overpaying when you buy new tech products.

1. Failing to consider your needs and priorities

Customers shop for electronics and other items at a Best Buy

Shopping for a new gadget? Make sure you account for what you actually need out of the device | Joshua Lott/Getty Images

One of the biggest computer shopping mistakes is not buying based on your needs. You should consider how you’re going to use the device (whether it’s a computer, a tablet, a smartphone, or another gadget). But many people don’t think carefully about how they’ll use a device. And, failing to do that, they shop for a gadget that’s more expensive than what they really need. It’s easy to see how they end up overpaying.

As The Cheat Sheet’s Mark Knapp reports, “Most of us should just think about what we need from the computer and buy a machine that will enable us to do what we need to do.” He adds, “Whatever you get with a computer, you pay for, so don’t pay for something you know you don’t need.” A classic example comes courtesy of the PC vs. Mac debate. Macs are great for creative professionals. But unless you have a compelling reason to do so, you likely don’t need to spend the kind of money that a Mac (or a high-end Windows laptop) demands.

2. Placing too much priority on a single number (often the wrong number)

A couple look in the window of a store in a luxury shopping arcade

When shopping for a new tech product, don’t focus exclusively on a single feature or specification | Carl Court/Getty Images

Just about every category of device has a component or specification that not-so-savvy shoppers prioritize far too strongly. For computers, that’s often the name of the CPU. An Intel Core i7 chip is going to be a lot better than a Core i5 chip, right? Not always. The core count, the number of threads, the chip’s hyper-threading ability, the cache size, and the clock speed are all important factors, too. For cameras, it’s often the megapixel count. A 24MP camera won’t be better than an 18MP camera if the latter has a much bigger sensor than the former. For TVs, it’s often contrast ratio, a number calculated differently by every manufacturer with the result that the number means next to nothing — though lately TV manufacturers are more likely to lure consumers with “4K” printed on the box, which doesn’t guarantee good image quality in the same way that more megapixels in cameras doesn’t.

You’re very likely wasting money if you look to a single specification or component to tell you which device to buy. (One of the most common camera-shopping mistakes, for instance, is focusing exclusively on pixel count, to the detriment of things like sensor size.) It might sound smart to look for the components that tech columnists sing the praises of, or to look for the biggest, most impressive numbers. But you’re better off looking at the whole picture. That way, you’ll get the most machine for your money, and avoid overpaying for specs that don’t really achieve what you might assume. 

3. Avoiding reviews and ignoring ratings

Woman in white blouse and jeans holding shopping bags

Buying something that’s a great deal can be tempting, but you should always check out reviews and ratings first | iStock.com/GeorgeRudy

Doing your research is an important part of buying any gadget. And a critical part of the research process is seeking out reviews by people who have spent time with each device you’re considering. Hands-on reviews shed light on how a device works in real life. They also make it easier to gauge how features and specifications that look great on paper actually perform, and whether they make a measurable impact on the user experience.

In a best-case scenario, neglecting to read reviews will only mean missing out on advice as to which model you should buy. Which means that you’ll likely spend extra on upgrades or accessories that you don’t really need. The worst-case scenario is that by skipping the reviews, you’ll buy an expensive device that reviews could have told you won’t live up to your expectations. Reviews can help you figure out which features you really need and which ones add unnecessary expense. For instance, there are some features that you shouldn’t buy a smartphone without, and other smartphone features that are largely unnecessary

4. Not paying attention to the operating system

Two young girls playing on an iPad

Think carefully about the capabilities of a device’s software before you commit to a purchase | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Hardware seems like the most important thing to consider when you’re buying a phone or a computer. But failing to consider the software that the device will run is a mistake that can cost you in the long run. Say that you’re shopping for a PC, for instance. You can easily find a laptop that’s running the latest version of Windows. But you’ll need to make sure that you know whether other software you need, like Microsoft Office, is included, or whether you’ll need to purchase it separately. You’ll also want to make sure the software you own can be installed on the new machine so you don’t have to buy replacement software.

Choosing a device that doesn’t have the software that you need can end up costing you later. Another great example is obvious when you consider Android smartphones. If you buy a phone that’s already running an outdated version of Android and isn’t likely to get an update anytime soon, you’ll probably end up replacing that phone sooner than you would if you’d bought one with the latest version of the operating system. That’s why smartphones running old versions of Android are high on our list of Android devices you shouldn’t buy

5. Making assumptions about what’s included

Business man pressing buttons on a screen

Don’t buy a device based on your assumptions about what it includes | iStock.com/artJazz

When you’re making an expensive tech purchase, it’s never wise to make assumptions about anything. You shouldn’t assume that features are included, or that components are of the latest generation or specification. Phones, tablets, computers, and cameras can be equipped with a wide variety of different features, and many manufacturers have their own versions of each of those features. And not everything is upgradable.

Whether you’re looking at one model or comparing several, you shouldn’t assume that anything is included or that the features on one device match those on another. You need to do your research on the features and specifications that are the most important to you, and verify that they’re included in each model you’re considering. Always check out all of the details and make sure that you really know what you’re getting.

6. Buying overpriced insurance plans

Black Friday shoppers looks for deals at a Best Buy store

An insurance plan sounds like a smart way to protect your purchase, but it probably isn’t worth the expense | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Retailers offer insurance plans for a variety of different devices. But those insurance plans often aren’t worth their price tags. A great example is AppleCare+, which Apple offers for the iPhone. Typically, you shouldn’t buy AppleCare+, since the economics of the plan often won’t work out in your favor. Especially if you’re comfortable making common repairs yourself, insurance plans are often an expensive way to get protection that you’ll need to pay even more to take advantage of in the event that something breaks.

Additionally, there are other ways to get the same protection that pricy retailer insurance plans offer. Loyalty programs and even credit card perks offer warranty extensions, or even some protection against loss and theft. Before you shell out unnecessary cash for an insurance plan, check out your other options and evaluate the benefits to make sure that the plan won’t be a waste of money. 

7. Not shopping around

Shoppers look over computer items at a Best Buy

Considering an expensive tech purchase? Then you should definitely shop around for the best deal | Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Many people hate shopping for technology. If you find yourself among them, you may be tempted to walk into your local Target or Best Buy, assess the options on the shelves there, and just take your pick without looking anywhere else. But that’s a sure way to spend more money than you would have if you took the time to shop around for a better deal. There are many major, reputable retailers both online and offline. You’ll want to check at least a few of them to look for a good deal on the device you’re planning to purchase.

If your old computer is dying and you need a new one ASAP, or if your current TV has finally bitten the dust and you want to replace it sooner rather than later, then you may have a limited amount of time to shop around. But to avoid wasting money, you should check at least a few stores for deals before you commit to a purchase. While you’re shopping around, make sure that you closely evaluate each sale or promotion, since there are plenty of deals (even Black Friday promotions) that aren’t as good as they first sound. 

8. Automatically opting for the cheapest option

A woman receives help from a worker as she shops for electronics and other items at a Best Buy

Don’t automatically go for the cheapest option. It may cost you more in the long run | Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Counterintuitively enough, always choosing the cheapest device can cost you more money over time. Take a cheap laptop as an example. You may be excited to get out of Best Buy with your wallet only a few hundred dollars lighter, but you’ll be less enthused in the long run. A cheap device with lower-end components may struggle to keep up with your demands, and it will almost certainly need to be replaced more quickly than a higher-end version.

Choosing the cheapest option is also a common tablet-shopping mistake. If you really want a device that’s going to give you years of use, look out for reviews on brands and models that have been proven to offer great longevity. Search for a device with up-to-date specifications and features that are expected to be “future proof” for at least a few years. Such a product may cost more upfront, but you’ll likely get more for your money than if you opted for the cheapest model. 

9. Making your purchase at the wrong time

Black Friday shoppers running to get the deals

If you’re planning a major tech purchase, do your research and determine when it’s the best time to buy | Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

One of the biggest smartphone-buying mistakes is making your purchase at the wrong time. Everybody knows that Apple typically releases a new iPhone in the fall, so buying one in August isn’t a great idea. Buying a new iPhone in August when a new one is coming in September not only means that you miss out on a new model, but you’re also overpaying for the year-old model. That’s because when Apple adds a new iPhone to its lineup, it usually slashes prices on older models.

So clearly, it’s a bad idea to buy a device right before it’s due for a refresh. But similarly, it’s not a good idea to make a purchase right before retailers are expected to offer major deals or sales. You’ll end up spending more than you need to, and perhaps miss out on bundles or promotions that could save you even more money.

Another angle to this is purchasing anything before you need it (or plan to use the key features). Technologies consistently get cheaper as they get older. If you don’t need something right away, wait and save. For example, if you buy a 4K TV right now but don’t have a computer, console, or device capable of delivering 4K content, you’re not going to see the benefits of the 4K TV even though you’ll be paying a high price for it. If you buy the device needed to deliver 4K content a year later, you’ll undoubtedly find that that same 4K TV has gotten a lot cheaper. It’s like buying a new phone and letting it sit in a box for a year before you really use it.