Make 'Em Earn Their Keep!
by Kelly Ann Butterbaugh
A new computer costs how much? As these words echo throughout electronic and office supply stores across the country, few people feel less than helpless in the computer cash crunch trap. Computers are integral to our lives, and anyone with children will agree that the demand for them is high. Yet, in a slumping economy, something that requires monthly on-line fees, upgrades, and occasional hardware repairs can become a burden.
Using cost cutting strategies, the family computer can lessen its bank account burden by working to save money in the long run. In most cases, it won't pay for itself, but it will help to earn its keep.
The New Family Banker
On-line banking is not only a penny-saver but a time saver as well. The first step is to establish an on-line bank account, which is free at most financial institutions. Most people can attest that a few missed withdraws can be bank account disaster. Rather than declining debit card purchases, banks allow them to overdraw on the account and add high fees for each action. Imagine three overdrafts in one day: gas $43; stamps $7.40, and groceries $28.60. This one trip cost $160 in overdraft charges! In order to avoid this, use on-line banking. After every major purchase or on a designated weekday, balance your account using the on-line ledger. This avoids any pitfalls that occur while waiting for your monthly statement.
You still need to keep receipts and record them accurately. Small establishments often hold their receipts a few days before deducting them from your bank account. This could lead to some problems if you are cutting it close.
Give the Mailman a Break
Take advantage of on-line billing. Again, many institutions offer this as a free service, but the small fee some charge might be worth it. It is as simple and quick as the commercials boast it to be, and it can save $5 or more a month in stamps. Another perk is that it helps to avoid late fees. A working system is to enter the bill into the bill pay system on the day it is received. Then, affix a sticky note to your checkbook reminding you to deduct that bill on the day it will leave your account.
Do It Yourself
Use the computer to file your own taxes. With the tax-deductible purchase of a tax program, such as TurboTax, you receive the same guarantee as with a professional service, and it's adoringly simple to use. For example, one year we prepared our taxes with TurboTax, which cost $19. Then, as an experiment, we had H&R Block prepare a statement. The clerk found a mere $77 in extra deductions and charged us nearly $200 to file.
Online Shoppers BewareBeware of the lure of online coupon gimmicks. The coupons offered are mostly for unneeded and overpriced items like family portraits rather than necessary weekly purchases, and the true lure of these sites is to provide an audience for their advertisers. Plus, they often load up your computer with damaging spyware.
Ship and Save
There is no doubt that on-line shopping saves gas money as well as a huge chunk of time. Consider comparison shopping via the Internet. Large chain stores like Wal-Mart and Target keep their inventory on-line. One can do price comparisons without losing an afternoon and a tank of gas. Often such stores give discounts on shipping or even offer free shipping.
With some planning and patience, shoppers can combine orders and come out ahead. For example, I once purchased a large item from an online store that charged $17 in shipping fees. By adding $20 of purchases to my total, I qualified for free shipping. All said and done, I paid an additional $3 but received two needed items instead of one.
Combo the Cable
Consider changing cable companies to save on your Internet bills. Research local cable companies and check into their bundle packaging. By switching from my local cable, phone, and dial-up Internet providers to one company that provides all three, I now receive one bill for all three services. Since it is a package deal, I have less bills to worry about and the cost was so much lower that I actually receive my cable modem for five dollars a month rather than the $13 I was paying for a dial-up connection. Also, I don't have to worry about a busy phone line.
Whatever way you choose, the computer can help to justify itself in your household budget. Besides providing information links, communication portals, and game stations, the computer can provide a bit of solace as well if it is put to work. Like any family member, it needs to be relegated some chores to earn its keep.
Kelly Butterbaugh is a teacher, a freelance writer, a wife, and a mother. She writes and publishes fiction, editorial essays, and non-fiction articles. Contact her at kab@ kellybutterbaugh.com or visit her website at KellyButterbaugh.com
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