Why prices will seem to change as you build wealth

(I don’t condone software piracy. But this is a story where some rules were bent. And then un-bent.)

In college, when my income was basically nil, I was just starting to get into audio engineering. While I was primarily working in the analog tape domain, I was very intrigued by the potential for digital audio. (Possibly dating myself here, this was right around the time that the first computer CD burners became available.)

Old drives
Remember these? Photo courtesy of Phil Strahl

In particular, I found some audio editing software that was powerful and easy to use. Like so many other pieces of software, it was a “try-before-you-buy” model, where you could use it for a period of time, beyond which it would nag you incessantly to register.

The price to register the software was extortionate, so far beyond approachability that it might as well have been infinite.

And so I continued to use the software, in its evaluation mode.

This was over 20 years ago.

And then something surprising happened.

Buy (20 years from) now

More recently, I needed to use some audio editing software for a project I was working on at my day job. I turned, of course, to the same piece of software that I had been using off and on for so many years.

Installing it on my work computer, I found the familiar nag screen. Curious, I clicked the “Purchase” button to get more information.

I looked at the price for a lifetime registration.

It was … reasonable.

It was more than reasonable, actually. It wasn’t an amount that I would spend without thinking about it, but I realized that I had spent about that much recently in an uncommonly lavish evening earlier that month.

And, partly as penance for 22 years of software piracy, and partly as a way to help me get my work done more easily, I clicked the “Pay Now” button. I bought it.

The software is now mine to use forever. Which is not only cool, but pretty apropos, as at this point I’m likely to use it more or less forever.

License accepted

Magically changing prices

There are other elements of this in my life that don’t involve software piracy.

I bought a bike on Craigslist a few years ago, before I rode in the Seattle To Portland ride. I bought used, as I remember new bikes being crazy expensive. Looking back, I remember them being a few thousand dollars. But I checked recently, and the ones I was looking at were under well under a thousand.

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What had happened? Surely the price of bikes couldn’t have gone down in this time.

Also, I used to evade tolls on the highways. I would get off at the exit before the toll, drive around on back roads to the next exit, and then get on again, all to save money. Today, that seems crazy. The tolls are only a couple of dollars. (Okay, except for this bridge.) That’s not worth driving on back roads for a half hour, is it?

Clearly, there’s something more at work here.

The “feel” of cost

What happened was that as I was building wealth, what had once felt exorbitantly expensive had become reasonable, even a bargain. The prices didn’t change, but they felt like they had changed.

Take the bike example. When I was shopping for a bike, $600 had a certain feel to it. (A certain stomach tightening, pulse quickening, feeling.) Today, I still have that same feeling, but it shows up when dealing with costs in the multi-thousand dollar range. Which is why that’s what I thought the bikes cost today.

Now, $600 feels like “okay, that’s a lot, so let’s think long and hard about this, and make a plan“. Much different.

Virtuous circle

So what we have is in effect a virtuous circle.

As you move toward financial security—eliminating debt and/or increasing income—not only do you have more money to be able to achieve your goals, but things will feel different, more accessible, more doable.

It’s not easy to eliminate debt and increase your income, but they are both possible. The first step? Make sure you have a money plan. It’s just like getting a raise, but with no boss necessary.

Soon enough you’ll be saying, “didn’t those prices used to be higher?

But enough about me. Have you ever noticed prices feeling–but not actually being–different?


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