From Airbnb to GasBuddy to shopkick, lots of apps and websites help consumers save money.
But how do we spend less on technology itself -- that digital drug we can't seem to get enough of? How can we save money on electronic gadgets and services ... so that we can buy more gadgets?
Here are 10 ways to stretch your tech budget this year:
1. Employ smart strips. Surge protectors have saved countless gadgets from being electrocuted over the years. But new ones like Take Charge's Power Saver Smart Strip are even better because they save money on your monthly power bill by killing standby power (aka vampire or phantom power) that most electronics consume even when turned off. In my case, after installing two smart strips (one in my office, the other on the entertainment center), I've saved at least $10 per month on my power bill since August -- more than enough to justify the $30 cost of each.
2. Buy less computer (or data). Processing power, bandwidth and chipsets used to mean a lot when deciding on a computer or Internet provider. But most computers and data plans today are really fast. Even when they're not, software developers have made perceptible gains in making gadgets and data feel faster than they really are. So instead of paying for a top-of-the-line machine, blazingly fast speeds or unlimited data, consider a lower-powered but still functional alternative. You'd be surprised how many people are buying too much computer or data for their needs.
3. See gadgets as assets. This is what I call my perpetual technology fund. It works like this: Two or three times a year, I identify gadgets, handhelds, old phones, laptops and gaming devices I no longer use (follow the dust) and/or have no intention of using over the next 12 months. The ones with value that I choose not to give away, I'll resell on Craigslist, eBay, or similar classifieds like Gazelle.com. In some cases, you can expect several hundred dollars in "returns," which, of course, can then be used to subsidize your next tech purchase.
4. Cut cable TV (and buy your own cable modem). Like many tips on my list, this one, too, requires additional effort, but the savings can be immeasurable. First, stop renting a cable or internet modem if you haven't already. They cost less than $50 on average and quickly recoup the $5/month leasing fee. Next, see if you can find your favorite shows and programs on streaming websites such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. You may have to make a few sacrifices, but $100 a month in savings ain't a bad consolation prize.
5. Use freeware as often as you can. After paying hundreds of dollars for accounting software over the years, I recently switched to a free online service. It does everything my old software did at no additional cost. And there are a lot of other freemium software products to help you do what you need for less (or nothing). So get clicky with Google and see what's out there.
6. Avoid extended warranties. I know a lot of people get peace of mind when buying extended warranties on pricey TVs, smartphones and other gadgets. But the fact remains, according to numerous consumer reports, that extended warranties cost more money on average than what they might eventually save in the unlikely event your gadget breaks beyond its default warranty. This has certainly been the case with me. I've had stuff covered under warranty. Most of my tech survives without problem. And I've had a few devices out of warranty that I paid for. But overall, I've saved a lot more than I would have paying for extended warranties. My free accounting software says so!
7. Consider refurbished gadgets. Contrary to popular myth, refurbished electronics are often as good as new. For example, my friend just bought a beautiful MacBook for hundreds less than it would have cost new. It came in a new box. Smelled new. Featured those protective stickers that are always fun to pull off. And was really shiny. Even better, it's still under warranty.
8. Buy cheap digital cables. Most digital cables are created equal. I say most because I've had a cheapo digital cable go out on me. But I was only out a few dollars. And most of the knockoff digital cables I've bought -- including HDMI, iPhone cables, audio cables, etc. -- are still going strong after several years. Together, they've helped me pocket hundreds of dollars in savings (which I use to buy more tech).
9. Buy online. Before you roll your eyes and let out a big old "duh," remember that shopping online often requires additional patience before seeing significant savings. For example, if you need an item right away and opt for expedited (and costly) shipping, you might be better off to buy at retail. Free shipping can take more than a week in some cases. But there are good deals out there. And even if you don't end up buying online, you should research prices there first before stepping into a brick-and-mortar store.
10. Buy smart rechargeables. Rechargeable batteries have come a long way over the last decade.
In fact, batteries such as Sanyo's Eneloops now pack more than enough juice to power all your electronics. These ain't your father's rechargeable batteries, so start buying and start saving.