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How to save money on tech

CNN offered up some good tips on saving money on tech. But of course I want to analyze and comment on it myself. Anything else would be out of character. Here’s how I save money on tech.

Use smart strips

Getting one or two of these has been on my to-do list for years. I do still have a three of the old-school power centers that have switched outlets on them, and I use those to get the same effect, but a smart power strip is certainly more convenient. Whether one saves you $10 a month depends on what you plug into it, of course.

Buy less computer

I’ve said for years that a good way to save money is to buy at or near the low end and replace more frequently, if you even need to. You could even say I wrote the original book on that, and that bit of advice is more true today than it was 14 years ago when I wrote it. Here’s how to get by on less computer with Windows 10.

I like to buy used off-lease business computers. You can even build a $100 gaming PC. That’s taking things to extremes but it works well, even for general use. I never pay more than $300 for a laptop and I keep them for 10 years.

Sell unused gadgets

Parting with stuff for 10% of what I paid for it is hard, but it does indeed make more sense to sell stuff while it has value rather than let it sit unused and depreciating in a drawer. When I had unused memory after my last upgrade, I listed it on Craigslist for half what it would cost new, and sold it in a matter of hours.

Cut cable TV and buy (don’t rent) a cable modem

The only thing you can watch on cable that you can’t watch more cheaply is live sports. But there are exceptions even then, so a Roku can save you a fortune. And paying monthly rental fees on something you can buy for around $50-$100 is ridiculous. Also look into the cost of DSL vs. cable Internet. One may be cheaper than the other. Netflix is a cheap substitute and being able to watch what you want on demand is nice.

Use freeware as often as you can

Be careful with this, because a fair amount of free software still comes with ride-alongs, but you can save a lot of money this way. Microsoft Office, for example, costs as much as the computer you’ll run it on and frankly, Libre Office is better these days. The old complaint against Libre Office was that it would mess up the formatting of old documents, but guess what? Microsoft Office 2010 does too. So why not save $500?

Antivirus is another place you can save significant money. Just run Microsoft Security Essentials, then you can get good-enough protection without spending anything up front and without the annual $40 subscription fees, and no lapsing coverage either.

Avoid extended warranties

Absolutely. If it makes you feel better, take the money you would spend on the warranty and deposit it in a bank account. When something breaks, raid that fund to repair or replace the item. You’ll come out ahead. Burn-in your computers, and you’ll rarely have them fail during the warranty period. The last time I had a computer fail within four years was 1994.

Buy refurbs

I buy refurbs from time to time. My main 20″ LCD monitor and my Nook Color are both refurbs. I have a 1 GHz Athlon system in my basement that’s barely useful for anything these days, but I can’t bear to get rid of it because it’s 11 years old and still works. I bought the Asus motherboard in it from a liquidator. I got 11 years of use out of a refurb. I also have a 15″ Sony LCD monitor that I bought used back in 2006 or so. One sticker on the back says it was made in 2001, and the other sticker proclaims it was refurbished. So there’s a 12-year-old refurb that’s still going strong. I use that monitor a couple of times a week.

Given the opportunity, I’ll buy used gear from time to time too.

Buy online

I do this more often than not, and there’s a trick to get free shipping more often. If you can afford to be patient, you can save a lot of money. Here’s a tip that combines two others: used computer gear on Ebay is cheaper earlier in the week.

Buy smart rechargeables

I’ve been buying NiMH batteries for a decade, and generally get right around two years of use out of them. The Panasonic Eneloops claim to still deliver 75% capacity after three years, which would be worth it. The Amazon reviews are overwhelmingly positive, so that’s a good sign.

And here’s one other thing I do

I keep a roadmap, where I try to anticipate my purchases. I bought my last two computer systems a few components at a time, as budget permits. Knowing that I needed a motherboard, CPU, memory, power supply, and SSD–here’s how to get cheap SSDs–I planned those out in $100 chunks over the course of about three months and just bought what was on sale. By buying on sale, I saved a good $60, which ended up being like getting the power supply for free. That’s good; the power supply is the most overlooked computer component, and the most likely component to cause catastrophic failure. I spent a modest sum but got a much better machine than the typical econobox.

If you can live with having some components sitting for a month or two–patience, my friend!–being flexible with what you buy when can help you stretch that budget.

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3 thoughts on “How to save money on tech”

  1. Good tips. But I have wrestled a bit with buying not renting a cable modem.
    Recently, my son moved into an apartment and could only chose Cox for an internet provider. My son is NOT a techie and I worried that if he had problems with his internet, and he owned his own cable modem, that tech support would give him the run around. I.e., Its your cable modem that is causing your internet problem. Fix or replace that and if the problem continues call us back.

    Do you have any thoughts on that ? Is it still always wise to purchase not rent when you consider things other than straight cost?


    1. Good question, Darryl. I did work for a cable company for about half of 2005 (not Cox) and it just so happens that provisioning and troubleshooting cable modems was one of the things I did so I can talk about how we did things. We never asked whether you were using one of our cable modems or a third-party modem, and it wasn’t hard at all to see whether the modem was getting a signal, nor did the tools make it especially easy to tell what type you were having. If a low-level helpdesk person hassles you about it, you can always hang up, wait a few minutes and call again. You’ll probably get someone else. If you still get hassled, ask to be escalated to second-level (or higher) tech support. You can ask for a line test (the tool we used at my shop was called “eQa” and pronounced ee-queue-ay), which will likely get you escalated. Some of the people at that level are very escalation-happy anyway. Even after all these years, I remember there was a girl named Tamela who would escalate tickets to me for any reason. I didn’t mind; she was good for my ticket count–I could look for her tickets first thing in the morning, and get six resolved tickets to my name before I’d finished my first cup of coffee.

      I don’t know about first level, but once you get past the helpdesk and to a technician, that supervisor isn’t interested in anything but ticket counts. The technicians don’t have time to hassle you about the modem, and probably won’t even talk to you. They find the issue wherever it is in the system, fix it, then send the ticket back to the helpdesk.

      I would actually be surprised if a first-level helpdesk hassled you much about the cable modem too. The cable companies don’t know who can and can’t switch, so they have to assume it’s not hard to switch to the phone companies, that a happy customer is more likely to bundle TV, phone, and Internet and an unhappy customer is more likely to take all three and walk to the phone company. So hassling a customer over a self-owned modem really sounds counter-productive to me–they would be risking potentially $150/month in business over a rental fee of a few dollars a month. I’ve never worked a first-level helpdesk or supervised one, but I would think those managers are also most concerned about ticket counts, and keeping resolved ticket counts high and unresolved tickets and hangups low.

      That’s a roundabout way to answer the question, and maybe more than you wanted to know, but hopefully it helps.

  2. Thanks for the peek behind the scenes. I think I will encourage him to purchase a cable modem and save a few bucks.

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