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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Requirements Analysis | Budget Considerations ]

Determining Your Budget

There are two schools of thought on how one should go about determining one's budget. One is the "money first" method: start with how much you can afford to spend on a PC, and then determine how much PC you can get while staying within your budget. The second is the "PC first" method: conservatively determine how much PC you need to meet your requirements, then spend no more money than absolutely necessary to cover those needs.

There's no "better or worse" in this; it's just a matter of your personality and your priorities. Starting with a hard "I will not spend greater than $X" rule works for some people, but can also lead to you under-buying, resulting in a system that doesn't meet your needs; if spending another $100 is the difference between a system you'll be happy with and one you'll hate, you may come to regret having imposed upon yourself an artificial dollar limit. For other people, not having a hard dollar limit is open invitation to uncontrolled spending on all sorts of expensive little things that seem essential at first glance but later make you ask yourself "What was I thinking?" (Been there, done that.) You know yourself best, so choose wisely. ;^)

Of course, actually coming up with a number is easier said than done. As with most things, being honest with yourself is the key. If you really need a PC to perform certain chores, you should spend the money necessary to meet those needs. If the PC is more for entertainment, and you are on a budget, you should limit yourself so that you don't take away from other, more important budget items.

Here are a few other tips to think about when considering your budget:

  • Stick To It: Having a budget isn't of much use if you don't pay any attention to it. :^) At the same time, be a bit flexible if you can--sometimes a few extra dollars in the right places can make a big difference in the end result. Also, if you find a huge discrepancy between your budget and the estimated cost of the system you have determined you need, this tells you that you may need to go back to square one and decide if you should raise your budget, or scale back your requirements.
  • Don't Over-spend: At one time, one of the biggest mistakes PC buyers made was under-spending; today, it is probably over-spending. Aided and abetted by companies who stand to make more money by selling more hardware, many "regular folks" with regular needs are being sold a bill of goods and an overpriced, overpowered PC. If your needs are modest, you shouldn't have to spend $3,000 on a computer. Don't pay attention to ludicrous ad campaigns that try to convince you spend a fortune to "get the most out of the Internet". Such nonsense; see here for more.
  • Cost Per X: A big price tag can be hard to swallow all at once, but you should remember that you'll be using the machine for (hopefully) a long period of time. Ask yourself: what is the cost of this machine per month? Per day? Per hour? For example: between us all, my family uses our main PC over 2,000 hours a year. For me, spending an extra $200 for something that will make my computing tasks easier is worthwhile because of the sheer number of hours I spend at the PC. Note that you can abuse this to rationalize spending way too much money, so proceed with caution. :^)
  • Maximum, Not Minimum: Some people get stuck thinking they should spend every dollar of their budget. Remember that it's really a maximum, a spending limit. If you can get what you need for less, great! Don't spend more just for the sake of it. If you're like most people, you'll find no shortage of other things to spend the money on. Another wise option is to set aside the leftover funds for a rainy day (or a PC upgrade a year down the road!)
  • Don't Forget The Software: Some new PCs come with a bundle of included software, but you'll probably still need to set aside some funds for other software items you need. If you are building a PC or buying a system that doesn't come with software, this is even more important to keep in mind.

Next: The Future Is Now?

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