How To Save Money Building Your Own PC (And Accidental Budgeting Lessons)

Budgeting doesn't mean sacrificing the thing you really want. In fact, you might even enjoy the experience of getting the thing you really want—if you're willing to wait for it.


Once a month, we have an All-Hands Meeting (video chat if you want to get technical), and after the business-y stuff you would expect, we rotate giving a non-work presentation. The presenter can choose the topic, as long as it has nothing to do with work.

To give you an idea of the depth of randomness, recent topics include growing huge pumpkins, fasting, conducting, modern art movements, the space-time continuum, and canning. We’re a wild bunch!

Last month, one of our new designers, Alan, shared about building a new PC. He did not at all intend for his presentation to include a lesson about budgeting, but nonetheless, it inspired one. As I was listening to Alan’s presentation, I couldn’t help but think about the blog post I would write about it. Alan was talking about building a computer, but these were the “budgeting lessons” that jumped out at me:

Get The Thing You Really Want

Any old computer would not do. Alan knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn’t willing to compromise, right down to his color scheme (which, in case you were wondering, was blue and white.) This isn’t a bad thing. This is a great place to start.

Budgeting doesn’t mean that you have to get the least expensive thing—quite the opposite. Budgeting is a tool to ensure that you will have the money to spend on just exactly the (maybe most expensive?) thing that is most important to you. Even if it seems silly or over-the-top or unimportant to someone else. (Not making judgments here, Alan! Just trying to illustrate the point!)

Be Prepared to Take Your Time

Because Alan knew this was a big purchase, and that he wasn’t willing to compromise on quality or the details that were important to him, he knew it would take some time. Alan took the time to do his research and wait for the right price. It was well worth it.

Constraints Aren’t Always A Bad Thing

Reflecting on the process as a whole, Alan realized that if money had been no object, and he could have just gone out and purchased whatever he wanted, it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or meaningful.

The constraint (his budget), brought out a whole new degree of creativity, and added an element of victory and adrenaline to uncovering the best deal or waiting it out, and scoring a killer deal. In order to stay within his budget—and still get exactly what he wanted—was part of the experience. It made it feel like a game. If he had just gone out and bought a fancy, new computer, no matter the price, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

Delayed gratification is a real thing; having to think really, really hard about what you want, considering every dollar, and weighing every option, actually, increases the value of a purchase.

The Journey Is The Destination, Man

Yes, it was just a computer, but it turned out to be a lot more than that. It was making memories with his girls, teaching them about something he’s passionate about. It was a reminder that experiences are more valuable than things (although in this case, Alan scored—getting to experience building the computer and then benefit from using it to run an Oculus Rift headset!). And it was an opportunity to stretch creatively, in an entirely different way, which is always valuable, especially for a designer, like Alan.

Accidental Budgeting Lessons FTW

Alan saved a lot of money and got exactly what he wanted by building his own computer. It took more time and effort, but it also made it a more satisfying experience all around. I love reminders that budgeting isn’t about compromising what you really want, it’s about ensuring you get what you really want, and all the while making things a little bit more interesting!

I find myself thinking about where I can implement some more constraints and force myself to be more creative. Because it will not be building my own PC. (If the Earth was burning up and my children’s lives’ depended on me building my own PC, I would spend the rest of my days mourning their untimely deaths.)

And Now, Back To Building Your Own Computer…

If you aren’t super technical and have no interest in building your own computer, this is where I would stop reading. But if you are the technical type, get ready to nerd out right alongside Alan. Here’s the what, why and how of his final product:

Research Resources

Tom’s Hardware—Been around since the late 90s, and remains one of the best resources for reviews.
Anandtech—Full of wonderful reviews.
Buildapc—Subreddit with great information if you are building a PC for the first time.

Purchasing Resources

Buildapcsales—Subreddit with up-to-date postings of price changes, sales, coupon codes, etc.
New Egg—Frequent specials, but always changing prices; occasionally offer good bundle deals.
Jet—Surprisingly competitive prices/sales.
Manufacturer Sites—Sometimes the manufacturer offers the best deal.

Decision Hierarchy

According to Alan, a lot of the decisions you will have to make build off one another. Making one decision, naturally, narrows down the choices for the next decision, and so forth. Alan’s hierarchy went like this: CPU > Motherboard > RAM > GPU > Power Supply > Cooling > Case.

Core Components

After reviewing and researching all of the options, considering performance and price, Alan narrowed his choices down as follows:

CPU | Intel vs. AMD | Winner: Intel i5 | Rationale: Not the highest end i7, but it had comparable performance for many games, but a much smaller price tag.

GPU (Video Card) | NVIDIA vs. RADEON | Winner: NVIDIA | Rationale: Increased performance and reliability.

Cooling | Air Cooled vs. Liquid | Winner: Air Cooled | Rationale: Performance for the price.

             

After two months, Alan had purchased and ordered all the parts for the final product—drum roll, please—Intel i5 6600k, 16GB RAM, NVIDIA 970GTX, 2TB, HDD, 2x256GB SSD. (And all the components matched his Blue/White theme!)