Avoid the “Feature Creep” (137/365)

A few years ago, I started shopping around for a new digital camera.

I started off doing the most sensible thing a person can do when they’re considering buying a reasonably expensive item like a digital camera. I made a list of what I actually wanted to do with it.

I wanted reasonably high resolution pictures. I wanted a very short delay between pushing the button and actually taking the picture (my previous camera, a circa 2002 model, had a really long delay). I wanted support for a very large memory card so I could store lots of pictures. I wanted a battery with a fairly long life and easy availability of replacement batteries so I could swap them easily in a pinch (I’ve had bad experiences with dead batteries). I wanted the ability to take short videos at a reasonably high resolution.

When I began to shop around, though, the sheer abundance of features available on cameras became quite impressive. Is 7 megapixels enough, or do I really need 16? Do I need a carrying case? Do I need SLR? Do I need this? Do I need that?

A lot of the features seemed really tempting. It was easy to envision myself using them.

Several years ago, I would have talked myself into a much more expensive camera. Instead, I stuck to my list of needs and ended up with a pretty inexpensive one that does everything that I need.

“Feature creep” is a term applied to software and technology products to describe how they become more complicated as you add new features to them, often resulting in basic features becoming harder to use. I also use the term to describe the phenomenon where you talk yourself into buying a more expensive item with more features than you need.

In both cases, feature creep is something to avoid.

The best approach I’ve found for avoiding feature creep in most of your purchases is to do what I outlined above and simply make a list of your needs before you ever start shopping.

What do you want to use this item for? What features do you need to make that use a reality?

If you dive into shopping without such a list, it’s easy to visualize yourself using features that you only discover while shopping. It’s even easier to get sucked in if there’s a salesperson nearby telling you about all the great features. If you’re not careful, you end up buying an expensive item with a bunch of features you don’t really use.

Feature creep costs you money and rewards you very little for it. Focus on meeting your needs and avoid buying items that have features that you’ve never really thought about before, because most of the time you won’t actually use those features at all (even if they seem pretty cool in the store). Stick with your list of the features that you’ll actually use.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “,” which is available and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of , the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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