- Software can be expensive. Fortunately, there is a lot of good (cheap/free) software available online. For good deals on software, check out OpenOffice (a free and pretty good alternative to MS Office) and Download (all kinds of software; check out their top 25 downloads list first. This is where I get my AdAware pop-up blocker and AVG anti virus software for free). Of course, scoring free apps from the iTunes store is also a good thing (I love the free Soduko app I recently downloaded).
- The new Apple iPhone 4 is all the rage now. Unfortunately, my tight budget won't cover a new iPhone ($300+) and the monthly service contract that goes with it ($100+). So my cheaper alternative is to have a T Mobile phone (with an old contract, it is $49 for two lines each month) and an iTouch which I can use online where ever there is free wi-fi. My cell phone does allow me to access the internet in a pinch but it is really slow and doesn't have very much of a web browser but for the cost savings, my two-piece system will need to work until I get out of debt. Depending on what we do in the future, we may switch to a pre-paid plan like the $25 per month plan from Virgin Mobile which gives you a few hundred minutes plus unlimited text and internet.
- Phone service options have really exploded in the past decade. You used to have a hard wired phone in your home and that was your only option. These days you can cancel the home phone all together and just use your cell phone and/or use a VoIP service like Skype to make free or really cheap calls to anywhere in the world. I have phone service bundled with my internet for a really low price and since I use this for my business phone I am pretty happy with it but if I didn't call much (and lived in a place where my cell phone got better reception) I would just use a cell phone for all of my calls.
- International communication options. I have a lot of friends spread all over the world but paying for phone cards to call them can get spendy. What I do now is use Chikka to text message my friends in Asia (for free) to their cell phones. Email is a given, of course, and I also use email to text to my friend's international cell phones as well. Yahoo chat is a great (free) option and, of course Skype works great for calling overseas and is cheap too.
- Do you need a website? I do need a handful of websites which I pay for each month (Webhero is my choice and although it isn't super cheap, their tech help is super awesome). The best news in websites these days is that there are so many free platforms for setting up your own sites (which by the way, you can usually add Google Adsense to and make some money from your efforts!). My favorites are Blogger and Tumblr, however FaceBook and MySpace are popular options too.
- Tech hardware like computers and big screen TVs are nice to have but can be real budget breakers. We generally opt to go with the cheapest item that will meet our needs. Because technology changes so fast, it just doesn't make sense to pay top dollar for an item that will be obsolete within a few years. That's why my laptop cost $499 (I don't do heavy-duty gaming or number crunching so this average system works great for me) and my 46" TV cost under $400 (on sale of course). Yes, some people want high end tech because it is supposed to be so much better but in a couple of years you could still be paying off your expensive TV and it won't even be worth what the cheapest TV in the store is worth.
- I always look for bargains. I was thrilled to learn my non profit could get excellent software (MS Office, a full Photoshop suite) for pennies on the dollar through TechSoup. I never buy stuff like computers, TVs, or my most recent prize, an iTouch unless it is on sale. A really good sale. In the case of the iTouch, I know they never come on sale but a local store had a 10% off any item in the store coupon which I used to get the iTouch. Finding online bargains for tech items at places such as CraigsList, eBay, or just Googling the item and getting a list of prices are other ways to get great deals on your tech stuff.
- We have a GPS device for our car...but it hasn't been updated in a few years. We originally got a GPS device when it was on a close out table (about $75). Since it was already a year out of date, we got a good price on it. The catch with these things, however, is that the company usually offers a yearly update which includes new maps...for a price of about $89. Needless to say, we will just buy another close out GPS when the maps get so out of date that the device becomes unusable; fortunately roads pretty much remain the same from year to year unless you are trying to find a new housing development. This has happened a couple of times, but not so often that we feel the need to upgrade. Plus, this has saved us the cost of our annual AAA membership which we used to have mostly for their wonderful maps when we drove long distances.
- We always wait for technology to come down to a price we want to pay. Hubby did once pay nearly $1000(!) for a VCR when they first came on the market, but since then, we don't need anything that bad that we can't wait for the price to drop. As camcorders got smaller, the prices didn't automatically get cheaper. On a few vacations, we had the bigger, clunkier camcorder when our friends had the super streamlined (yet still $500+) camcorders. Now that the little "Webbie" camcorders can be had for around $100 on sale, I am happy to report that our camcorder can now be hauled around in a pocket.
- We have moved past the point of keeping up with everyone else. Right now, for example, nearly everyone I work with raves about the Kindle. I just can't see paying that much for an item that can only do one thing (plus you have to pay for the books too). I have, however, been able to download some free ebooks onto my iTouch and I just found Project Gutenberg which should allow me to download even more free books. The same goes for stereo equipment, new appliances, new cars...basically anything the Joneses have, I am going to think twice about getting (and if I do decide to get it, it will be for a rock bottom price).
The bottom line is that there are always alternatives for the things you want and need. A little research and a little creativity can stretch your budget further than you thought possible.
p.s. My "blogger butt" was getting out of control so that picture you see above is my new solution to this problem. I heard that standing burns more calories than sitting all day so I put the chair away and raised up my computer (on a stack of books from my bookshelf...a nice free option). I'll let you know how this works out...