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July 1, 2004

But I Want It

Feast your eyes upon this new toy:   the Nikon D70.   Boy, do I want it.

It just so happens that my favorite hobby (aside from writing for this site, I guess) is digital photography. My favorite hobby used to be just "photography," which I undertook with a sturdy little Pentax SLR purchased on eBay (complete with hard leather case and several telephoto lenses) at a very reasonable price. But then one day The Wife and I got religion, and the next thing you know, we're at Circuit City deciding just how we want to Go Digital. We unloaded a hefty chunk o' change on an Olympus C-2040 Zoom, as it turned out. And all of a sudden the word "digital" infiltrated (and subsequently commandeered) my favorite pastime, just as it has done in practically every other corner of modern life.

I can state unequivocally that our Olympus has taken wonderful photos since Day One. And it still does. But it is closer to a point-and-shoot than it is to a true, expandable SLR. This means you're pretty limited in a lot of important areas, such as add-on lenses and the zooming capabilities available to you.

On the other hand, where limits are concerned, the Nikon D70 is chained down by a whole lot of nothing. This camera will do everything except bake a good lasagna.

As of this writing, the D70 hasn't been on the market very long. But ever since I read my first review of it (probably in some PC magazine), I've been drooling like a little kid. For the last couple of months the D70 has been commonplace in Sunday-paper circular ads. For me, this has been nothing short of torture. At today's prices, if you buy just the body, and you'll spend about $1,000. Buy the body and the standard Nikkor lens, and you'll spend $1,300. This is most certainly not pocket change, and it most certainly is more cash than I have available — or, at least, more than I have that isn't already earmarked for other purposes. (My household Freedom Account has a subaccount for "Home Electronics," but it was intended more for semi-emergencies, like when the phone or TV or VCR blows up.)

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that the gods love to zoom in on your weaknesses — and then sling lightning bolts at them. It's not enough that I have to have this beautiful camera hoisted in front of my covetous eyes in every Sunday paper, beckoning to me with photographic technologies heretofore unimagined. Always attached, of course, is The Lowest Price Anywhere. And it is not enough that I have to read glowing review after glowing review in every personal-computer magazine that hits my mailbox. No, the gods must tempt me even further. Because my younger sister, a budding photographer herself, just last week sold her barely-used motorcycle, the proceeds of which purchased . . .

(surprise surprise)

. . . a Nikon D70.

I got to see — no, I got to hold — the camera this past Friday. Presented with the D70 in real life, up close and personal, I was kid-giddy. Even The Wife, ever suspicious, noted the familiar buying gleam in my eyes. Folks, this camera is golden — every bit as sweet, photographically-speaking, as I had imagined. Super-sturdy case and construction. More features than I could cycle through before dinner. Endless array of lenses available. Oh, and the batch of my sister's recent D70-captured pics? Glad you asked. Well, they emanated colors so vivid that the waters, mountains, and skies might as well have been conjured by Pixar.

So how does all this relate to personal finance? Simple:   Matters like this are where the rubber meets the road. Either I have developed the ability to differentiate between needs and wants, or I haven't. Either I have developed the discipline to save up money for the purchase of big items (Cameras From Heaven, for example), or I will be weak and do the weak thing that most folks do and I will head out and buy it tomorrow and probably use some sort of 12-months-no-interest setup to get the thing into my gotta-have-it-and-gotta-have-it-right-now hands.

Truly, I want to do the right thing, which in this case would be to save up some money each month toward this big-ticket purchase. (Assuming, of course, that The Wife and I decide it is a worthy luxury purchase at all.) But that would mean waiting.

And dangit, waiting is hard.

We've all been through this:   We see shiny fancy things we really, really want. We know, usually, that these shiny fancy things don't fit the jigsaw puzzle of our current finances. Thus, we have to fight like heck to fend off the urge to Just Buy It. (Well, a few of us fight like heck. Others unholster their credit cards so fast it'd make Doc Holliday jealous.) We're mortals, after all. Consumer culture is atom-powered, bright and beguiling, all-knowing and all-seeing. Advertisers and retailers have a big head start on us; they know what makes us tick, tock, borrow, and buy. In their really auspicious moments, they can make some of us buy with unbridled abandon.

But this is where goals come in. The Big Overriding Goal always floating over my head is financial security, the offshoots of that being decreased household stress and increased financial choices. If I am going to achieve these things, I have to be bigger than the retailing and advertising gurus. And, most difficult of all, I have to be bigger than my emotions. I must be disciplined. I must maintain control.

So let's assume we decide the D70 makes for a worthy purchase. Slapping it on a credit card or some other sort of payment plan is right out. That would be a stupid, stupid thing to do, and I'm already trying to make up for all of my previous stupid stupid things. So at this point, I can either:

(1) save money on a monthly basis, say, $150 per month, and buy the camera in nine months; or

(2) put the camera off even longer, instead diverting that $150/month toward my debts (if I can afford to put it toward a camera, I can afford to put it toward my debts), thus becoming debt-free (except for the mortgage) thirteen hundred dollars sooner.

I would rate both of these as fiscally-responsible decisions. But which sounds more beneficial in the long term? And which one has a direct beneficial impact on the timeline to my main goal?

Dangit again. I'm not getting any closer to my D70, am I?

As the saying goes, "Winners do what losers don't want to do." In this case, losers don't want to wait. They don't want to plan. They don't want to "do without," at least not in the name of becoming debt-free. There is nothing overtly tangible or immediately gratifying in becoming debt-free; there is definately something tangible and immediately gratifying in picking up a Nikon D70 or some such whiz-bang product. Thus, where bigtime losers would opt for the quick 'n' easy credit-card purchase of an item, the more disciplined among us might elect to save over time toward the purchase. But even those who opt for this program can be, in a sense, still losers, depending on the state of their finances at the time.

It's going to be tough, but it appears that the focus I need to regain has nothing to do with a camera. Rather, there is something I want even more than a Nikon D70, and that is NO DEBT.

I have worked and studied and planned and saved too much to get to this point and then retreat. There is no sense taking a big backward step now, if it can be avoided. And this time, it can.

I can be disciplined. I can be patient. I can have whatever Nikon I want — after I have eliminated my debt.

Michael | July 1, 2004

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