How to get the most bang for your buck with your technology

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Lindsey Heimbach

Offbeat tips for getting the most bang for your buck with your tech…

My significant other and I live on one main income — mine, as a freelance writer. While it's enough for the basics in our small-town apartment, we're a lot more comfortable when we're keeping tabs on our money.

The number one impediment to my budgeting experience has been technology.

In this world, and especially for me as a freelance writer, it's necessary to stay connected to my phone, texts, email, and internet. And it's expensive.

Here's how I've learned to deal…

Cut out the TV bills — who needs cable, anyway?

Plenty of people use Netflix and Hulu already to supplement their cable subscription — but why bother channel surfing for $80+ a month when you can pick what you want to watch every night for a fraction of the cost? I never bothered to pick up a cable subscription, instead opting for the relatively inexpensive Netflix and Hulu subscriptions to cover my bases for movies and TV shows.

For shows and movies you can't find on these services, check YouTube, or visit your local library to rent movies and entire seasons of TV shows for free. If you use Amazon Prime for the free shipping, check out the streaming library to boost your collection. You can also hook yourself up with Roku, or a similar service, that streams to your TV for a few dollars a month.

Take advantage of freeware

Paying for software adds up fast, and nearly every important piece of software that you put on your computer has a freeware counterpart that you can choose instead. Here's just a few that I have installed on my laptop for no cost:

  • AVG Free replaces just about any antivirus program and works great—just remember to scan and update frequently!
  • Malwarebytes Free lets you protect your computer from security threats and removes existing infections when you scan on the regular.
  • OpenOffice Suite replaces Microsoft Office Word, PowerPoint, Excel and most of the other Office programs. The functionality is very similar and easy to get used to.
  • GIMP is a great image editing software that you can use instead of Photoshop, and it's been around for years. I grew up making GIFs and designing graphics on GIMP as a 13-year-old, and it's still very well supported.

These are just a few programs that I'm personally familiar with. In my experience, nearly any program that you need has a freeware version that you can get at no cost. Additionally, AVG and Malwarebytes both have premium versions that are cheaper than other commercial programs serving the same function, as do most freeware security programs.

Forward your calls and texts to minimize your smartphone bill

I tried pre-paid cell phone plans that didn't meet my needs, micromanaging my smartphone plan and still spending way more than I was comfortable with, and shopping around with every mobile carrier in my area. The only solution I've been 100% happy with has been to forgo the mobile bill nearly altogether.

I accomplished this by downloading a smartphone app for calling or texting (Textfree worked for me for a while, but I eventually switched to Google Voice). I canceled my smartphone contract and used my texting and calling app exclusively on WiFi for over a year.

Eventually, I decided that I'd like to have phone service when I'm not near WiFi, so I hooked up my smartphone with Ting, which lets me pay for only the minutes, texts, and data that I actually use every month, and set up Google Voice so that it would forward my calls to Ting when I'm not on WiFi.

The result? I pay $6 per month to keep my phone connected to Ting, and then a bit extra for whatever calls, texts or data I used that month. I've never had a phone bill over $14 because 99% of the time, I'm at home or out somewhere that has public WiFi, so I don't pay for that usage.

There are definitely other companies out there that do what Ting does, so you'll want to do your research and pick what works best for you. There are also other apps that do what Google Voice does, but in my experience, Google Voice works best because it has a forwarding feature that many apps lack.

See? Technology doesn't have to be expensive as hell!

What tech solutions have you found as an offbeat budgeter?

  1. I follow my favorite authors on social media and get a heads up on when their books are on sale. I would never know about these deals if I didn't follow the writers. I love getting newly released e-books novellas for free! As a bonus, they often advertise sales for their favorite authors, too. So I get to pick up extra e-books that are coming highly recommended.

      • My local library and the library in my hometown both offer a huge selection of popular novels in multiple e-book formats and audiobooks using the OverDrive catalog. I can borrow up to 10 books at a time.
        Amazon Prime also offers 1 free e-book from their lending library each month. Plus Amazon Prime offers always free to borrow classics – many of these are free to download and own from the Gutenberg Project http://www.gutenberg.org/

  2. This is a great post. I'm also a non-cable person using Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and the internet for my fix. I'm a pre-paid smartphone user, and it does everything I need it to do right now (which means it works). We pay for internet at home because we use it for everything, and even then it's only a two digit cost per month.

  3. We recently "took the plunge" of cutting our cable. This is a great time to do it: most shows are on summer hiatus so I'm not feeling as though I am missing much right now, which has helped ease the pain. Comcast still allows me to internet stream shows, which I've hooked up to my TV, so it feels like watching "regular" tv.

    • Definitely! I really don't miss TV that much. I can still watch most of what I want, I just have to wait for it to come online first.

  4. The nice thing about Open Office Suite is that it DOES open .docx files and the like, while preserving the formatting. This is a somewhat recent improvement, and I'm very, very happy for it.

    • I've been told that Libre Office does this even better and is getting more frequent developer updates currently. However, I use Open Office myself and am very happy with it.

  5. If you're a gamer, there are also lots of ways to get free or very cheap games for the console of your choice (or non-console, for all you PC master race fans out there). We have an Xbox One & 360 and, with our Gold membership, we get free downloads every month of rotating games. It's really nice to be able to play something you wouldn't normally choose if you had to buy it full price. Plus, they're usually really good games (my favorite one more recently was Guacamelee)!

  6. Check what you're paying against what other companies are offering regularly, even your own company. Often they will offer deals for new people signing up, and you can always call and ask to talk to them about how YOU as an existing customer can take advantage of that deal, since you are "currently looking at changing providers". Companies have a lot more leeway than they let on in giving you discounts.

    • Living in a college town helps. I was able to score a sweet deal on upgraded internet plus HBO for $40/mo for a year. I signed up when these packages were just coming out in test markets and got a great deal.
      I'm hoping the college student population keeps the price point low when my intro rate goes up (perhaps) after the 1 year intro period.

    • Getting transferred to customer loyalty departments is a good way to get your bill reduced to the new customer deal prices for cable internet. My husband has been through this with Comcast many times (about every 6 months when whatever deal we get expires). Takes some finagling and being willing to stay on the phone arguing for awhile, but worth it for a more reasonably priced internet connection.

  7. Oh, I love GIMP! I've barely scratched the surface of its functionality and I haven't used Photoshop in many years so have no basis for comparison, but as someone who just likes to tinker and play with digital image editing, it is super fun and seems to be very deep and broad in its usefulness.

    • I used to dabble in Photoshop, but after several years of not using it, I needed something fairly basic. I now use Photoscape to most of my photo edits, and it works good for me. Best of all, it's also free!

  8. I am totally a Google Docs gal myself rather than Open Office. I used to use Open Office but unless I have to do fancy formatting, I'm much happier with Google Docs since I can access from anywhere, don't have to download software, and can save it all on my drive. The one issue I have with using Open Office is that you must remember to save the files in a format others can open or it can be a huge pain. Also, Track Changes does not transfer. This is a huge pain for me in situations like leaving comments on someone's paper or making suggestions on a document. If you share the Google Doc, you can do all that way more easily. I do support the open software movement but just can't quite transition to Open Office again.

  9. My husband and I are Republic Wireless users for cellphones. It is similar to Ting, with plans available that are WiFi only, and others that include 3G or 4G service unlimited phone, texting and data. We're saving $100/month on our cellphone bill now, and love it.

    • Just FYI that they're phasing out the unlimited plans. If you have it you can keep it but afaik they're not offering it to new customers anymore. They've actually changed their pricing structures a few times recently but it's still worth checking out.

  10. Another couple of tips:

    1: when you need to replace your electronics, check out refurbished items. They almost always have the same warranty as brand new items, and often times they are only refurbished because someone has opened the box.

    2: for any bills you can't go without, when your contracts run out get quotes from multiple providers and get them to undercut each other, that way you get the best deals possible from each provider and can choose from those. I had an internet provider offer me absolutely insane discounts and free added extras to get me to switch. I didn't switch in the end but I did get an exceptional deal from my current provider as a result.

    • Be careful when getting refurbished items. I would be wary of Craigslist and eBay items. But Apple and Newegg.com? Hell yes. Their refurbished products are frequently just items that were returned after being taken out of the box.

  11. Have any sports fans found luck with cutting cable? My husband and I really want to cut the cord, but MLB and NHL are in bed with the cable company. MLB tv sounds good, but it blacks out the local teams' games (and my favorite team plays in my market; that's why I became a fan, dammit!)

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