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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 3 Issue 13 December 2009
In This Issue
How can I save money using my computer?
Here's my advice on how you can use your computer to save money when you're shopping, as well as ways to avoid wasting money.

How can I save money using my computer?

There are a number of ways that using your computer can save you money when you shop. The key is to spend a little time in advance.

Buying online vs. in a local store
Shopping online has a number of advantages over retail stores:
  • You can shop anytime, day or night.
  • No need to drive or park or deal with crowds, saving you gas, money, and time.
  • The same products are often available for less, especially commodities like ink and toner cartridges.
  • Your items are shipped right to your home or office.
  • You may save on sales tax, depending on where the merchant is located.
  • You may get reduced or free shipping, depending on the size of your order.
  • Many online vendors offer coupons and rebates.
  • Save money buying "refurbished" (slightly used, often with full warranties) or off-brand products instead of new brand-name ones. However, I don't recommend buying off-brand ink or toner cartridges.
  • Don't forget to consider the shipping cost before placing an order. One vendor may sell an item for $3 but only ships UPS for $15 ($18 total), and another vendor may sell the same item for $5 and ships First Class for $2.50 ($7.50 total).
  • Be sure to understand the return policy, including whether you will have to pay for return shipping.
  • You can't see or touch the actual item, you can only look at the web site's pictures and description. On the other hand, some web sites (for example, http://www.amazon.com) permit customers to post comments and ratings of any item. This can be very helpful, not only to reassure you that a product is worth buying, but also to warn you away if it's not, or if the vendor has poor customer service.
  • Some companies have both online and local stores, and offer the same products at the same prices, but this is not always the case. For example the products and prices on http://www.staples.com are similar but not identical to what I can buy at my local Staples store.
  • How can you know that a given online vendor is reputable? If you're shopping on eBay or Amazon, their sellers have "feedback ratings" from customers that can guide you. However, before you buy from an unfamiliar vendor, make sure they've listed their street address and phone number (beware those that don't), and you should also google their web site name (e.g. "carmensvacuum.com rating OR review") to find what people are saying about their experiences, both good and bad.
Searching for products online
If you know exactly what product you want, you can quickly find and buy it by name or model number. Many online vendors (e.g., eBay, Amazon, and Staples) have easy-to-use search functions.

If you're not sure what you want but you'd like to buy from a given web site, you can usually search by keywords or browse by category within a merchant's web site.

However, if you're not sure which merchant carries a given item, or you want to compare prices, there are a number of ways to search:
Finding deals, discounts, coupons, sales
Many local stores and online vendors offer deals and discounts. Here are some ways to find them:
  • Check your favorite store's web site to see if they have a newsletter. Many stores, restaurants, and online vendors offer special discounts through their email newsletters. Sign up, or look at recent issues; any reputable company will make unsubscribing easy. For example, I've seen great deals in newsletters from Staples (http://www.staples.com), Finale (a dessert-only restaurant in Boston - http://www.finaledesserts.com), and many others.
  • Many vendors now use Twitter instead of email to publicize deals and discounts. For example, Amazon's Daily Deal (http://twitter.com/amazonmp3) announces discounted downloadable digital music.
  • Many online vendors have special "factory outlet" or "clearance" sections on their web sites featuring discounted products.
  • When you place an order online, many vendors have a box into which you can type a "coupon code" that gives you a discount if used within a limited time. Google "coupon code" along with the vendor's name to find such codes.
  • You can earn "points" and redeem them for discounts at many vendors. A friend of mine recommends http://www.mypoints.com and http://www.mysurvey.com as good places to start.
  • In an effort to market its new Bing search engine (http://www.bing.com), Microsoft has created the Bing Cashback Rewards program. To use it, you create a free account at http://www.bing.com/cashback, use bing.com to search for products to buy, click to go to a vendor's site, and then make a "qualifying purchase." You'll get a percentage of your purchase back as a balance in your bing account, which you can then transfer to PayPal or your bank account. It's a little complicated, but having set it up I now get, for example, 8% cash back on every purchase I make on eBay when I use Buy It Now and PayPal.
Other ways to save money related to your computer
Here are some additional ways to save money:
  • Many charitable or worthy organizations have "affiliate" deals with online vendors. It works like this: Before you shop at your favorite online vendor (e.g., Amazon or eBay), look at your favorite charity's web site for special links to the same vendors that, when you click, bring you to the vendor web site and earn your charity some money for sending you there.
  • Try Freecycle (http://www.freecycle.org): Save money getting things you need for free, give away things you don't need to someone who can use them and declutter your house. See "Freecycle.org: It is better to give *and* receive" (http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2009_08_19.html) for more information.
  • Consider paying your bills online to save time and postage, but be sure to leave enough time for your payment to get there before it's due to avoid late fees.
Other ways to avoid wasting money
  • Backup up all of your computer data. Spend a little time and money now to set up a good, scheduled backup system and avoid spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for data recovery services when your eventually computer stops working. See "What's the single best way to protect my computer?" (http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2007_12_19.html) for more information.
  • Look up phone numbers (http://www.411.com, http://www.whitepages.com), addresses, and directions (http://www.mapquest.com, http://maps.google.com) using your computer instead of calling 411 from your cell phone (typically $1.25 per call) or calling for directions (consuming your cell minutes).
  • Save paper and ink by using the Print Preview function (if available) to see what you'll get before you print. If it's not what you expected (wrong size or orientation of the page, too many pages, etc.), click Cancel, then adjust your print settings and check again before printing.
  • When you don't need high-quality printouts, look for "draft mode" or "econo mode" print options to save ink or toner, and your document will probably print faster, too.
  • If you can't remember when you bought it, it's time to replace your (probably worn-out) surge suppressor. The $10-20 you spend now may save you hundreds of dollars replacing your computer later if a power surge gets through and damages it.
  • If your computer is more than 3 or 4 years old, have it checked for dust every year or two and cleaned by a professional (under $75). Otherwise, the blanket of dust that's probably accumulating inside will eventually make it overheat and possibly fry its internal components, forcing you to repair or replace your computer unnecessarily.
  • Use your laptop computer on battery power every month or two to run the battery down, then plug the power cord back in to charge it back up again. If you don't "exercise" your battery, it will degrade from lack of use within a year or two, and it won't hold much of a charge when you need it. A few minutes of your time now can save you $100 later. See "Hot Summer Tips: Don't Leave It in Your Car!" (http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2007_08_01.html) for more information.

Beware of scams
Just like offers you receive through the mail or by phone, if an online or email offer sounds too good to be true, it's probably a scam. Be skeptical, investigate carefully. Five minutes spent researching with google may save you from wasting your time and money, and from potential identity theft.

Where to go from here
  • Check the websites for your favorite stores, restaurants, and other vendors and look for their newsletter and discounts.
  • Check the websites for your favorite charities to see if they have "affiliate" links to online vendors you're already using.
  • Do you have a favorite way to save money using your computer that I've missed? Let me know!
If you know someone who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2009 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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