The Best Time to Buy a Mac

A very frequently asked question I came upon while researching what model of Mac to buy is the question of “should I wait or should I buy now?” This question usually prompts a flurry of responses varying from advice to wait for a pending update or to ignore any such rumors and simply buy if you want or need it. Like many things, I believe there is not one correct answer for everybody. Read on to find out whether you should buy now or wait.

There are many issues that come into play when determining whether you should buy now or wait. Let’s take a look at some of them.

You Need It For Something

In some cases, you need to buy a computer for a special occasion such as college, a long trip, a dedicated task, etc. If you absolutely need it by a certain time, then wait as long as you can and buy it right before that time. That way, you will reap the benefits of any updates that may come out between now and then, as well as earn more interest from your money sitting in your bank. The caveat to this is if you feel like you need some time to get acquainted with the machine before the event starts, in which case you should estimate the amount of time you will need (probably a week or two at most) and set that as your new deadline.

Your First Computer

If this is your first computer and not an upgrade to an existing machine (and you don’t need it by a deadline), it gets a little tougher. You have to ask yourself how much you want a computer and decide whether you really want one now. Seeing as how you have gotten along just fine without a computer, you can probably live another few months without one. Therefore, I recommend waiting a few months if there are substantial rumors or news of updates scheduled to happen within that time frame. If there is no such news, then I highly suggest joining the 21st century as soon as possible and buying now. 😛

Upgrading An Existing Machine

If you are looking to upgrade your current Mac (see below for switchers), you should take a look at how old your machine is. It is probably not necessary to upgrade unless your machine is at least 2 years old, there is a problem with your machine and it is out of warranty, a compelling new feature was just introduced, or you simple like staying on top of new technology (in which case why are you reading this?). Compelling features and replacing an out-of-date oldie are the two main consideration points. It is really a judgment call as to whether you really need the new features and power, or if you can get by just fine with your existing Mac. If neither consideration exists, then I would suggest waiting until one of the two comes along before upgrading.

Switching to Mac

If you are considering switching to Mac from a non-Mac system, the question becomes more interesting. You should look within your soul and determine just how much you want to make the switch. If an unnamed glass-pane OS is making you tear your eyeballs out and causing you grief in your marriage, I would suggest buying ASAP, unless an update is (confirmed) imminent. If such a scenario should occur, please cut your fingernails so you do not do too much damage to yourself while waiting suffering for the update to happen.

If you are just curious about the Mac and want to test the waters or get one but not completely switch, I recommend waiting up to a few months (depending on how patient you are) for any rumored updates before buying.

Closing Considerations

Finally, there are some points you should keep in mind when deciding when to buy.

  1. You Can Sell Later: You can always sell your Mac later when upgrading, a practice you should do anyway. Since Macs retain their resell values much better than PCs, you don’t lose a whole lot in depreciation.
  2. Your Machine Still Works: Even if you buy today and an update comes out tomorrow, the machine you bought to suit your needs will still work just as well as if no update happened. This is perhaps the most common argument of the “Buy Now” camp. While true, it can feel rather bad to know you could have gotten something better if you had waited a day. The main flaw with this argument is that because Apple likes to keep prices constant with updates, the value of the machine you just bought has in fact gone down rather quickly in a short period of time. Considering the first point above, this is a bad thing.
  3. Purchases Are Investments: If we think about our computer purchases as investments much like a house or stocks, then it makes perfect sense why people would carefully consider the question of waiting or buying. After all, if you buy a stock and it goes down, you lose money. Computers are like stocks that only go down. The trick is to try and minimize how much it goes down before you sell and upgrade. In the scenario above where an update comes out the day after you buy, you suddenly find yourself with a computer 1 generation older by the time you sell than you would have had you waited.

This concludes the article for non-geeks. Read on only if you are insane.

The Formula

If you are a math-inclined person and want a formula to calculate exactly how long you should wait, consider the following (otherwise stop reading)…

In the scenario from point 2 above, the monetary value is not the only thing that went down quickly. Suppose you keep your machine for 365 days before upgrading (to a new version that will come out in exactly 1 year). Thus, if you waited an extra day and bought the upgraded one, you would keep it for 364 days. Also suppose the former machine gives you a utility (happiness from usage) of 1 and the latter gives you a utility of 1.05 (5% more, due to being better). Your overall utility in the former case would be 365 days times 1. Your overall utility in the latter case is 364 times 1.05 = 382.2. You would have been 17.2 units happier by waiting. Yes, I did not take into account the extra day of interest accrual.

Let’s assign some variables and define some utility functions:

h = % change of happiness upgrade gives you
t = number of days before you will upgrade

x = max number of days you should wait

U(old) = t*1
U(new) = (t-x)*(1+h)

We solve for x by equating the two utility functions:

U(old) = t*1 = (t-x)*(1+h) = U(new)
x = (t*h) / (1+h)

Assign your own t and h based on your preferences and voila. Now you have no excuse to ask this question ever again.

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