How To Say No

There are four human abilities that are unfortunately in short supply in the world:

  • The ability to understand that what is right or good for you is not necessarily right or good for everyone.
  • The ability to distinguish between what is and what you want “is” to be.
  • The ability to determine what is important and what isn’t, and finally.
  • The ability to say no when needed.

    Today, I’m going to talk about the last of these, because I suspect a lot of you are or shortly shall be facing this problem.

    A little while back, I wrote up a little piece about what equipment I selected for a relative.

    I got a letter from somebody which essentially said, “I have relatives who want a computer, too, except they want a really cheap one.”

    By “really cheap,” I presume a good deal less than the $850 or so I mentioned in the article.

    This guy has a real problem.

    Some Realities

    This fellow said that his relatives knew nothing about computers. Unfortunately, they “know” enough to know they aren’t going to pay a lot for it.

    In all likelihood, they’re going to this guy because they think he can build them a system for a lot less than the store, plus sing “I’m A Slave 4 U” when it comes to technical support.

    There was a time when that might have been true, but if we’re talking about a sub-$1,000 computer, it isn’t true anymore and hasn’t been for years.

    An OEM can undercut you two ways:

  • If they’re really big, they’ll obviously get a million hard drives or CPUs for a lot less than you can buying one or
  • They use less capable versions of brand name products, or use no-name, usually lower-quality components in the machine.

    If the OEM is Dell, the first generally applies. If the OEM is eMachines, the second is more likely to be true.

    The days of fat profit margins on computers is over. OEMs make relatively little per machine; why do you think they cost less than half what equivalent machines cost five years ago? The average computer maker rely more on rapid turnover than big profit margins.

    Just for the heck of it, I took a cheap Dell configuration and tried to match up the components the best I could at I came up with about an $130 difference, and that didn’t take into account the Dell offer including Microsoft Works, six months of free Internet access, and two years of At-Home Dell service and phone support.

    Pretty hard to say Dell doesn’t offer the better deal for the average person.

    Don’t sniff too much at their tech support, either. If nothing else, at least Dell can send a replacement part right away at no cost to the buyer. Can you?

    Dell at least usually uses decent components. Other OEMs don’t, and your computer neophyte will see the price of, say, an eMachines, and won’t see what it’s made from.

    At these price points, what you get for your money when you build it yourself is exactly what you want and at least sometimes better quality components than you might get from an OEM. You aren’t going to save a whole lot of money in the process.

    What You Lose By Saving

    If I add the cost of the printer Dell threw in, and toss out PC speakers, my $850 system becomes an $880 system.

    If I configure the Dell system without monitor or speakers, the cost is about $720.

    The Newegg configuration without monitor or speakers is about $590.

    So what does $290 get you?

    About $75 of that gets you an Athlon 1600XP and serious cooler over a Celeron 1100.

    About $50 of that gets you 512Mb of DDR rather than 128MB SDRAM. (Granted, 512Mb is overkill. This could be cut to 256Mb with little problem, though I wouldn’t want to run XP with only 128Mb).

    About $100 of that gets you a separate, higher-quality video card and better sound than a nonintegrated mobo.

    About $35 of that gets you a bigger, better hard drive.

    The rest pretty much gets you better subsidiary components.

    What people often don’t consider, though, is what else all this buys them. Time. For $290, this system probably has an extra year’s useful life to it.

    That being said, the Dell configuration would be OK (though I’d boost the RAM to 256Mb for WinXP) for somebody just browsing and doing office work.

    Toss in a half-decent 17″ monitor, though, along with shipping, and even the Dell configuration bought at Newegg costs around $800.

    I really don’t see how you can put together a new system with decent components for much less than that.

    Obviously, if you have more spare parts than the neighborhood repair shop and they’ll take them, you’re in a different boat, but if you’re not, get much below $800 and you’re going to have to start sticking junk in.

    And that’s where the real problems begin.

    They Want A Puppy With Three Legs, And You Have To Take Care Of It

    Today, they want a $500 system, and don’t want to hear anything about getting what they paid for.

    But if you get suckered into doing this and kill yourself and spend a lot of your time trying to meet that budget, guess who is going to get amnesia when the POS starts crapping out or doesn’t do what they now want it to do a month later? Guess whose fault it’s going to be? Guess how much more of your free time is going to go into getting that POS to work? How much of your time is it worth saving somebody else $100?

    This is like buying a dog with three legs because those cost less than the four-legged version, putting it in your care, then blaming you when it doesn’t fetch bones too well.

    If you say, “I can’t say “No” to Uncle Joe,” that is nonsense. If Uncle Joe showed up and offered to show your sister or daughter or you the facts of life, would your answer remain the same?

    When Uncle Joe is unreasonable, that is when Uncle Joe needs to be told, “No.” If that offends Uncle Joe, well, two can play that game. You can be just as offended at Uncle Joe making unreasonable demands (after you’ve explained the computing facts of life to him) as he is by you refusing them.

    If you have to take care of whatever he buys, you have the right to insist that he doesn’t buy crap. Show him what these items actually cost. Explain why and how the store can offer it for less than you can. Tell him the difference between what you’ll give him and what he’ll get from that newspaper ad is most likely the difference between garbage and not-garbage, and that you value your relationship with him too much to build him junk.

    If some other relative butts in, tell them that they must not love Uncle Joe very much for wishing junk on him, and if they really loved Uncle Joe, they’d pay the difference between what Uncle Joe wants to pay and what something decent actually costs.

    If he quotes CompUSA or whatever ad as Holy Writ, just tell him that you can’t match that great deal and that he should certainly buy the great package they’re offering, including the tech support. If he does and runs into a problem, tell him that the company that made it certainly knows more about it than you do, so call them.

    This is not to say you’ll be able to make that stick 100%, but if you build it, you don’t even get the chance to get out of it.

    Don’t Let The Insane Rule The Earth

    Remember, you’re the computer whiz; they’re not. You’re the expert; they’re not. They’re the ones asking for a big and continuing favor; you’re not. You have the right to lay out the rules, and the first should be that if you have to take care of it, you determine what “it” is, not someone who is completely clueless.

    Remember, love works both ways.

    Email Ed

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