It’s likely the first thing you’ll notice when you walk into our house.
It’s the one physical thing that separates us from just about everyone else.
Yes…it’s our TV.
A Time of Change
In the past 20 years, there have been few home appliance revolutions as instantly recognizable as the flat screen television.
Other modern changes in people’s homes have been more subtle. Like those stainless steel appliances, smooth glass cooktop stoves, and the island counter smack dab in the middle of the kitchen. Those changes happened, but it was a slow transition. And the truth is there just isn’t much fuss about a new dishwasher or refrigerator that looks like it was carved out of aluminum.
In contrast, the transition from large CRT televisions we all remember from childhood to today’s modern flat screen TV’s has been incredibly swift and largely universal. You probably remember the first flat screen TV you bought because it wasn’t that long ago, and it probably felt expensive. And you probably can’t name one person who doesn’t have a flat screen TV today.
And make no mistake, during the early transitional years it was as bold a statement as any that you were a success and your house was awesome if you had one of these new unbelievably flat TV’s smack in the middle of your living room.
When people walked into your home and saw this incredibly thin sheet of glass either propped on a custom entertainment center or, gasp, mounted directly to the wall, they instantly knew you were awesome…and you had money.
That’s because in the early days of these new flat TV’s they could cost as much as $10,000. Clearly only the wealthiest and most successful people could (or would) put that much money into an appliance that you literally just look at.
As with all technology before it, though, things progressed relatively quickly. Flat screen TV’s got cheaper, they got bigger, they got brighter, and today some are even curved…because…uh…#marketing.
Over a 10 year period we got to watch a generation that grew up thinking spending $1,000 on a TV was ludicrous suddenly start pouncing on “cheap” $3,000 flat screen TV’s. And in the short span of a decade, we saw an almost complete transition from old CRT televisions, to thin, bright, high definition flat screen TV’s.
Except We Didn’t
Right in the middle of our living room, one of the first things you’ll see as you walk in, is our boxy 32″ CRT television we’ve had for the past 12 years.
We didn’t upgrade it when the $10,000 TV’s came out.
We didn’t upgrade it when the $5,000 TV’s came out.
And we haven’t upgraded it today when we can get a high quality flat screen TV for $500.
So what gives? Do we hate technology? Are we poor? Are we slowly turning our home into a museum?
None of those, actually.
In fact, we’ve talked about getting a new TV many times.1 So what’s the hold up?
What’s Most Important To Us
Is a TV more important than having a car to get to work?
More important than being able to travel the world?
More important than paying off our house and being mortgage free?
More important than funding our IRA’s?
More important than saving for our children’s education?
It turns out upgrading our TV has just never made it high enough on our priority list. And we’re not sure it ever will. Until it breaks. If that ever happens. (They don’t build ’em like they used to, and we have one of those TV’s that they used to build!)
Do We Need More TV?
Every year or so we sort of do an evaluation of our lives. We talk about what we’ve accomplished and what we hope to accomplish in the future. We discuss what exciting things we’re passionate about. We do an assessment of what we want more of in life and certainly what we want less of.
And you know what never comes up as something that we really want more of or that we think will improve our lives significantly?
Watching more TV.
We’re not TV haters. We actually use our television and enjoy watching entertaining shows and movies. But we’re not TV lovers either. We recognize there is a fine line between taking time to veg out, relax, and be entertained, and becoming a zombie consuming the mind numbing elixir that is sports, TV shows, movies or…ugh…cable news for hours and hours each day.
We heavily guard against becoming zombies.
That’s why we’ve never had cable TV. That’s why, until recently, we never had any subscription TV service like Netflix or Hulu. That’s one reason I have no idea what my co-workers are talking about when they start geeking out about Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or Stranger Things or Walking Dead or Orange is the New Black, or insert pretty much any modern show here.
And that’s one reason getting a fancy new television may never creep it’s way up on our priority list.
The Social Factor
There is a cost to this, though. Not a monetary one, but a social one.
My own parents have made some friendly jabs at us about our old TV. We know our friends probably get caught off guard by our ancient TV when they walk into our home. Most are too nice to say anything though.
We’re well aware that many people who walk into our home and see our TV make some kind of quick assumption about us. It’s just like having outdated carpet or linoleum floors or velvet drapes.
They probably look at our TV and just think we’re poor. (Hehe!)
But we’ve never felt social pressure to bump “upgrade TV” higher on our priority list to satisfy the impressions of others.
We’ve realized for a long time that building stealth wealth means becoming comfortable being the weird ones in many different situations. This is just one of those situations for us.
And one of the cool things is that our kids are completely oblivious.
Our TV is older than our kids. That means this is the only television they have ever known.
Our oldest is 7 and I’m not even sure he realizes that our TV is old. At the very least he might realize our TV looks different than the TV’s he sees in other people’s homes, but he’s never made a comment about us not having a better TV or a even just a flatter TV.
Our kids love playing video games and watching shows and movies on our 32″ boxy CRT television. They don’t make any comparisons to TV watching experiences at other people’s homes. They simply don’t care.
And neither do we.
What’s the Value in Having an Old TV?
Having an older TV isn’t a money play. I don’t think anyone ever got rich by using the same TV for 20 years. You could argue it was a money play 10 years ago when we were buried in debt and the TV’s cost $10,000. But where we stand today the tables have flipped quite nicely in our favor and money isn’t even a factor anymore.
For us, it’s as simple as don’t buy stuff you don’t need. The truth is we don’t need a new TV. We often want a new TV. We think it would be nice to have a new TV. But we never fall into the trap of thinking we need a new TV.
Our priority list is filled with needs. It’s even filled with wants. We simply have higher priority wants on our list.
Being able to travel is a more important want.
Being able to retire early is more important want.
Even little things like getting our kids new bikes for Christmas is a higher priority want. (I’d much rather them enjoy being outside riding their bikes with friends than inside sitting in front of the TV.)
Not all decisions are strictly about money. If you can’t afford something, then don’t buy it. That’s a money decision.
But sometimes, even if you can afford something, don’t buy it. We all need a personal measuring stick where we evaluate our purchases based on what value it brings us.
Often the value of a new thing is simply in the endorphins released during the buying process. But 3 months later the value is completely gone. And so are the endorphins. And so is the money used to purchase it.
That’s a triple loss situation.
So find out your value system. Prioritize your needs and wants. And don’t let society tell you what’s important to you.
Only you get to choose what awkward talking points you want in your home.
1 The biggest push in favor of getting a new TV is not social pressure but social opportunities. We realize nobody is going to come over to our house to watch the Super Bowl, or movies or play video games. So our desire to host more social events in our home may be the nudge that pushes “upgrade TV” just high enough on the list to make it happen. But don’t be mistaken. We don’t want a new TV. We want to host more social gatherings in our home. And like it or not, in our society, having a modern television is an expectation for many of those events.
2 Our TV is sitting in an entertainment center that a co-worker was about to throw out about 12 years ago. He had already used it for 10 years as their secondary entertainment center in a another room. He asked if we wanted it and we said sure. We had no idea we’d still be using it right in our living room in 2018. That’s crazy!
When my wife’s brother got married, his fiancé gifted us her perfectly great flat screen TV, so our entertainment situation has officially been upgraded. We even invested in a $29 Roku box so we can watch digital TV shows and movies and stuff. It’s a whole new world in our living room.