Treat Yourself to a Tech Upgrade

Treat Yourself to a Tech Upgrade
Photo: David Murphy

Times are tough. The unemployment rate is off the charts; schools can’t decide how to open safely, or whether they should open at all. Many of us lucky enough to still be employed are going stir-crazy from working at home and making do with tech setups that may be far less than ideal.

While I wouldn’t recommend stretching your budget with a new $3,000 laptop right now (unless you really need a new one) it can be worthwhile for your mental health to allow yourself at least one reasonable upgrade to help you tackle a chronic tech issue — especially if you can learn something new along the way.

It’s easy to keep saying “no” to your wishlist

I know that when I’m stressed about money, I tend to go into hunker down mode. My gourmet Taco Bell lunches become regular ol’ made-at-home turkey sandwiches. My day drinking becomes weekend drinking (with plainer soda+booze combinations). All of the items I was toying with buying from my various wishlists go right back into “out of sight, out of mind” territory.

A lot of people are anxious about the future right now, and with good reason. They might have jobs for now, but are worried they could lose them at any minute. Perhaps they’re stuck in a living situation that’s problematic for their mental health — having to be the quarantine rules enforcer in a house full of roommates, for example. Or maybe their life is otherwise fine, but the simple fact that we’re all in a pandemic that has no signs of ending is causing them enough stress on its own. I get you there, I do.

You don’t have to break your bank account for an upgrade

But when I say “upgrade,” I don’t mean “of the new car variety” — unless you’re loaded and that’s how you relieve stress. For everyone else, a suitable upgrade can be inexpensive and small. You can do more or less to fit your personal budget and circumstances, but if you have the means, you shouldn’t arbitrarily stop yourself from buying something on your wishlist because the pandemic has put you in a bad place, mentally.

Since I’m a geek, I recently used my “I should upgrade something in an attempt to better my mood and finally finishing a project” approach to justify the purchase of an aftermarket rear-view camera for my car. I didn’t spend like crazy — $45, plus the cost of a few small tools — but it’s a project that has kept me busy with hours of work. And it’s something I’m teaching myself how to install and connect, rather than paying for someone do it for me.

Combine a purchase with a project

If you want to make your “upgrade” feel earned, combine it with a project: pick something you want to buy and learn how to do. That’s not to say that you won’t find joy from, say, purchasing that stand for your Nintendo Switch or that new set of dinner plates. But a item that allows you to learn some new trick — even if it’s a simple home repair, or stringing Ethernet cable between two points in your apartment to set up a new access point or getting a drill brush attachment and figuring out how to use it to deep clean your bathroom — is going to feel more worthwhile and less like impulsive spending.

In other words, you’ll be less likely to take yourself on a guilt trip for shopping to ease your anxiety; you’ll be acquiring something you need to start that project you’ve been meaning to tackl. And once you finish that project, you’ll have a new toy, a task crossed off-your to list, and a wicked sense of accomplishment that should last at least a week — or however long you use whatever it is you just did.

Seriously. Go hang some shelves you’ve never gotten around to setting up. Learn how to frame a picture. Redo the lighting in a room that’s always just a wee bit dim. Buy a Raspberry Pi and automate your house. Or ignore everything I’ve said and get that Lego kit you’ve had your eye on for the last two years. It’s OK.

I’m a big proponent of project-based upgrades, but I want you to be happy, too. If that means ordering that art print you keep meaning to pick up, or even a hoodie that you really like, do it. Let yourself be happy. Allow yourself an upgrade, because you deserve it. And maybe once we’re all back to normal again — someday — you can celebrate by picking up the second item on your wish list. (I hope it’s cake.)

What big upgrade did you make during the quarantine? I’d love to hear about it (and feature it in a future post). Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be happy to tell you about my other wild quarantine adventure: learning how to make my own Ethernet cables.

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