Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why being a Gear Geek CAN save you money

When you think about what you use and what you do on a daily basis, you change your habits and your purchases.  For example, if you are prepared person, you are rarely the person raiding the office supply cabinet at work for pens.  You know that the pens in there are garbage.  You also know that the pen you have is simply better.  You also prepare for things that make these raids entirely unnecessary.  You have a pen and a backup.


They are conveniently located.  They are loaded with refills that are ready to go.  In all likelihood they write longer and better than the office supply cabinet pens.

Being a fan of gear, means that you are prepared.  You are ready to go.  This is one thing you don't have the to worry about, one less task to distract you, and one less thing to waste time on.  No one wants to raid the office supply cabinet.  They do it because they have to.  But you don't.  That's five or ten minutes you have that other people don't.  And, of course, we all know time is money.


Let's play a game.  I'll explain what the point is in a minute.

Which would you prefer?

1. Gerber Instant v. CRKT Drifter
2. Retro 51 v. Zebra F-701


3. Mini Mag v. Olight i1
4. Tumi Alpha Briefcase v. Tom Bihn Cadet (or Empire Builder)
5. Split Ring v. Mechanics Cable

In each of the questions, there is an expensive option and then probably the option you chose.  In all likelihood, you never picked the expensive option, or if you did, it was only more expensive by a dollar.  Each of these comparisons was chosen to illustrate a point, one we all know.  If you are careful, if you look around, you can find great deals--high performance with a low price.  

Being a gear person can be expensive.  There is no doubt about it.  I type this with over a grand in flashlights behind me despite the fact that there are only 6 lights included.  At a certain point being a gear geek is just flat out expensive.

But there is something more basic to being a fan of EDC than spending money.  The mark of a true fan of EDC gear is that they spend money wisely.  The mentality that pushed me to start this website, something that came out of reading Bernard's posts and thinking about this stuff on my own, is the notion that spending money wisely is both cheaper and more fun.  At the heart of being a fan of EDC gear is the idea that there is always something better out there, something that provides you with more utility and more performance.  You know this and I know this.  And we all know this for one reason: research.

Research makes you a smarter and more interesting person.  You probably know what delrin plastic is and you probably have an idea of what you use a CNC machine for, while your hipster friends might not.  If you really go down the rabbit hole you become obsessed with design itself.  The history of the Bauhaus is fascinating and now occupies a healthy portion of my bookshelf.  I have found that research also spurs me to be creative.  I want to make things and make the stuff I have better.  But the real value of research is that it gives you options.  You know that you don't have to settle for a Mini Mag.  You know that there are better options that also happen to be cheaper options.


There is a saying in woodworking that applies to gear as well--buy your last tool first.  Here is the typical knife upgrade treadmill.  You decide you want to carry a pocket knife so you do some research, you find the Spyderco Tenacious and buy it.  Then a little while later your tired of resharpening the 8Cr13MOV steel and you decide to upgrade to a Delica


Then after a little more research you realize that you probably should have gotten the exceptionally good buy that the Caly3 CF represents.  A few years later you realize that you just want to end the upgrade treadmill and you drop $350 on a Small Sebenza.  If you would have taken the woodworking maxim to heart you would have bought the Tenacious as an entry into the pocket knife market and saved until you could afford the Sebenza.  The resulting savings is approximately $150--the price of the Delica and the Caly3 CF.

I have found that the longer I do this the more I tell people that email me for EDC suggestions to save up until they can buy exactly what they want.  There is a huge premium in getting not just something good but EXACTLY what you want.  Folks like us do lots of research.  It is part of the fun.  We know that the Sebenza is a great knife and the Delica is a good one.  But the price difference seems huge, especially in the beginning so you do this rationalization calculation and you convince yourself that the difference between the Tenacious and the Delica is worth the money, but the increase from the Tenacious to the Sebenza is not.  But the difference is not that big, if you save.  The difference between the Delica and the Sebenza is saving $25 a month for a year.  That's right.  If you skip a soda a day or eating out once a week and put that money towards a Sebenza, you will be there in a year.  A year is a long time, but it is not that long.

Save and buy exactly what you want.  Buy your last tool first and avoid the costly and ultimately unsatisfying upgrade treadmill.


Being a Gear Geek is expensive, but if you do it right it is actually quite economical.  You will end up with better stuff that lasts longer and does more, both overall and on a per dollar basis.  Eventually you get to the point where you can pass up the latest and the greatest.  You can wait.  You can save.  And when you do spend the cash, you will have that satisfied feeling of getting that thing you want, the thing you really, really want.   You will ultimately realize that it is not so much about the gear or having lots of it, but about having good stuff.  I'd rather have two nice things ten crappy ones. 


  1. Tony, this article hits the nail on the head, and your blog has been a major factor in my NOT buying crappy gear. The only problem is that gear sites make me want to buy more, but I have to check myself and take a step back once in a while and realize that what I've got in my pockets IS what I wanted after lots of research and that I don't need to be on that treadmill. Yes, there will be upgrades in the future, but not for a good long while. And when I do upgrade, it will be to more top shelf stuff.

  2. Tony,

    I disagree with the 'knife update treadmill' part. I think it's actually a good thing, it's better to go step-by-step, doing your homework, learning a lot along the way. It's fun to try out many different blade steels, lock types, etc. Reading reviews is useful and fun (thanks for this site, btw!) but it's not the same as holding a knife in your hands, and using it for its intended purpose. You can always sell off the blades that you don't like that much. My past purchases in chronological order:
    Spyderco Delica (still have it)
    SOG Flash 2 (sold)
    Spyderco Police SS (sold)
    Piranha Mini-Guard (sold)
    Spyderco Paramilitary D2 (still have it)
    Cold Steel Pocket Bushman (still have it)
    Spyderco Centofante 3 (sold)
    Strider PT (still have it)
    Spyderco Tim Wegner Jr (still have it)
    Benchmade Mini-Griptilian 555HG (current EDC)

    Out of these 10 knives I still have 6, and I don't regret having bought any of them. :-)

    Did I mention I enjoy reading your posts?



  3. Eh. I think this argument only holds as long as the user has a fixed, pretty narrow set of goals they want to accomplish with their EDC gear. Then you can rank gear items ordinally (Rawls reference!) and tell people to just cut the dross and leap to #1.

    The more you want your gear to flex into other roles, the harder it is to rank gear ordinally. For example, the Caly 3 CF is a snazzy knife, but I find its grip genuinely inferior to the Delica 4 / Endura 4 family -- the CF is a bit slick. For urban EDC stuff, the Caly 3 grip is not just adequate but fully adequate, no prob. For even moderate outdoors stuff, sweaty palms, etc., I want the Delica 4. Let alone if your knife is a last-ditch, low profile tactical item (after handgun and OC spray, in my case) -- any instructor would tell you to choose the current Delica 4 over the Caly 3 (OR the slick-sided, slow-deploying Sebenza) for that task.

    Plus it's cheaper to buy a backup Delica in case you lose your primary. Plus you can buy a dedicated trainer for the Delica. Etc., etc.

    If you take a true generalist view of your EDC knife, it's way harder to rank knives ordinally. So the conventional advice, to try a bunch of knives and see what resonates with you, will seem more sound.

    It's fine not to care about these other roles, but they are not exotic or marginal. Spyderco clearly cares about them and makes design and marketing decisions based on them.

    Unrelatedly: I liked the Chill review. Great example of the "good knife, but ..." review.

    1. First, I agree with basically all of the comments. It is not as fun to do things this way and avoid the upgrade treadmill. Plus all that trying things out is how you figure out what you like and what you don't. But if you are clear on your preferences, the buy cheap, then save big method will make a substantial difference. I know someone that did this with audio gear, dropping about $500 and then three years later, $15,000, and they were quite happy and still have most of the gear 20 years later.

  4. Totally fair response.

    BTW I am looking forward to the two upcoming CRKT reviews, while noting that Eraser and Enticer and Swindle sound like the names of Transformers figures or something. (I think Swindle actually was an 80s Transformer.)

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