It has been fun to watch the personal computer evolution from my first purchase in 1987 of what was called an IBM AT. This system included a monitor (green and black), keyboard (no mouse) and computer with a whopping 40-MB hard disk drive, and a printer. That system cost $3,000, including software upgrades. In 24 years I have purchased several lap and desk tops, and who knows how much software: when I roughly estimate the costs it is over $20,000, and if I add extras and service purchased over that time, the total would easily climb go $25,000. This doesn’t include children’s computers, printer cartridges and games, which could easily make this climb to $30,000. A large percentage of this was related to self employment, so our expenses might be larger than the typical, but maybe not.
This can be quite a burden for people, for us the average was over $1,000 per year. With increased costs for food, fuel and healthcare careful computer purchasing is more important today than ever, since computers are so necessary for work, home, play and school. There are more options today too considering the marketing of laptops, fully equipped Cell phones, e-readers, and pads. The following are some tips that might help us manage this expensive area of our budgets.
- Budget: Look at your overall expenses and figure out how much you can afford for devices (phones, computers, readers, and pads), service, software, printer cartridges, and usage (internet and expanded data for phones). Doing so will have a big affect on the devices you purchase, and also affect the other funds needed for their maintenance and one day replacement.
- Games and Entertainment: For us, household and business computers are an efficiency tool, not a home entertainment system. If you don’t have to have the capability to run high-level computer games and graphics, then you can save by buying lower cost computers. Entertainment is a separate item in our budget, reserved for such things as eating out and travel, music and movies. If we enhance a computer to provide entertainment, then it makes sense that the cost to do so comes out of our entertainment budget.
- Usage: If you are using a computer for basic computing such as internet, email, spreadsheet and word-processing, then you can stick to the low-priced machines, most of which today come with enough memory and speed for common usage. If you use yours for business and need advanced graphic capabilities, then buy a computer with added capacity.
- Laptop versus Desktop: The cost difference between the two choices used to put people into the desktop category. However, the cost gap has narrowed. If you are a student, out-an-about in business, or love to hang out at the coffee shop and surf, get a laptop. My wife chose a desktop because the price was a little lower, and we hope it is more durable and will last longer.
- Service and warranties: We prefer to buy our computers from companies that have good local service. Usually the worst case scenario for us is a 24-hour turnaround. Warranties are usually expensive, and you will be pressured to buy one. Personally I get full extended warranties for laptops because they can be more costly to repair, seem to break down more and can be more susceptible to physical damage – many warranties cover this kind of damage. We don’t buy extended warranties for anything but laptops and expensive Cell phones, to help offset large repair costs that will usually come.
- Printers: Many computers come with low-cost printers; however, the price of printer cartridges may eat your budget alive. If you print a lot, talk to printer expert at the computer store about your needs (high volume, color, pictures) and about spending a little more on a printer that has economical cartridge use and replacement.
- College Students: Check with your children’s colleges for their computer requirements before purchasing. Secondly, buy a good laptop lock to fasten their computers to their desks when they leave them in their dorm rooms. Lastly, make sure the company you buy your computers from has stores close to their colleges in case they need local services, because they will.
I’m sure there are many more ideas (if you have them please comment), but I think an increased awareness of the potential costs are a great starting place.