Interesting Money Issues for Computer Users

I was reading an article by John Dvorak entitled, “The Secret Printer Companies Are Keeping From You” recently that caused me to think about all of the ways in which I look for ways to reduce the costs of my computing experience without reducing quality. In this article, John discusses the use of less expensive replacements for inkjet printers. I found the arguments for the use of less expensive inks compelling. Then again, I’m always looking for the less expensive route to computing.

I’ve often tried the less expensive solution in other areas. For example, are the white box labels any different than the high end Avery alternatives? I found to my chagrin that this is one time when you want to buy the more expensive label. The less expensive labels often come by their price advantage in the form of less reliable adhesives or thinner paper. This isn’t always the case, but generally it is. When it comes to labels, you often get what you pay for. I tried similar experiments with paper and found that the less expensive paper was a bit less bright or possibly not quite as nicely finished, but otherwise worked just fine. It’s important to look carefully at the cheaper brands when you make a decision to buy them and determine whether there are any actual quality differences and whether you can live with those differences when present.

John is right about more expensive labeled products being passed off as less expensive off brand products. In some cases, I’ve found all sort of items that didn’t quite meet a vendors strict requirements for a labeled product sold as a less expensive off brand product. Sometimes you’d have to look very closely to see any difference at all. I also know that some white box vendors have name brand vendors product equipment with less stringent requirements or possibly not quite as many bells and whistles. The point is, that you can find new products that works almost as well as the name brand for substantially less money if you try.

However, let’s say you’re not willing to take a chance on a white box option. There is also a strong market now in rebuilt and refurbished equipment. Often, this is last year’s model that someone turned back in for the latest product. After a required check of the hardware and possibly a refit of a few items, a company will try to sell it to a new customer at a significantly reduced price. These refurbished items usually work as well as the new products. Because they’re already burned in, there is also less of a chance that you’ll encounter problems with them. Even Apple has gotten into the refurbished product game—I’m planning to buy a refurbished third generation iPad in the near future.

Getting systems designed for expandability is another good way to extend your purchasing power. You might not be able to afford absolutely everything you want today. Get what you can afford and then add onto the system later. This is the route I take quite often. I’ll get a motherboard and other system components that offer room for expansion and then I add what I need until the unit is maxed out. I can then get the next generation setup, move the parts that are still viable, and use the parts that are outdated for some other purpose. Often I’ll take pieces and put them together for a test system or for a unit that I’ll use to run an older operating system.

Some people have asked why I go through all this trouble when you can get a truly inexpensive system from a place like TigerDirect for under $500.00. I’ve looked at this systems closely enough to figure out that they usually won’t work for my needs right out of the box—I always end up adding enough to bring the price near to $1,000.00 and usually more. Once the system is delivered, I find there is little documentation and that the box is too small to accommodate any upgrades. I would have saved money in the long run by getting a better system that has expandability built in. Here is where the trap occurs. There is a point where you have cut costs so much that the PC ends up being a throwaway that proves frustrating. It’s false economy for a power user (the systems often work just fine for students or users who don’t run anything more complex than a word processor).

Getting the most out of your computer purchasing power takes thought and research. What has your best purchasing decision been? How about the worst mistake you’ve made? Let me know your thoughts about computer hardware purchases at