Technology was supposed to help us get more done, more cost-effectively, than ever before. But if you spent 249 bucks on the latest version of Microsoft's Windows and then spent hours trying to install it--or waited in line to spend $599 on the new iPhone only to see Apple slash the price by 200 bucks a few months later--you know that's not always the case.
Keeping your tech toys from gobbling your wallet can be a full-time job. If you're a smart, aggressive shopper, you've already bundled up your voice and video services, you've whittled down your monthly fees through careful comparison shopping, and you've jawboned a neighbor into letting you sharing his wi-fi connection. Good work.
Now it's time to move to the next level: putting technology to work to cut down on the costs of owning all that, well, technology. Here's a quick cheat sheet with practical ways you can use three major technology trends--open-source software, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and online shopping--to save yourself a lot of money, and a little time, too.
But if you're a financial space case--and a bit of a Web junkie--you can also opt for a free, online tracking tool, such as Mint.com. Not only does it put information from many online accounts in one spot, but it can remind you when your bills are coming due. It can even help you find a better rate on your credit card.
If you're willing to do a little experimentation, VoIP can save you a little money and a lot of time without forcing you to make any big commitments. One no-hassle option: Skype, an online service offered by eBay that lets you make calls using a headset and a PC.
Calls are free to other Skype users. Or for $3 a month you can call any conventional phone line in the U.S. and Canada (or 2.1 cents a minute to more than 30 countries). But the real benefit of using Skype is convenience. Because it works like an instant message client, you can see if any of your friends or family are online before you call them. (Finally, an end to the tedious game of voice-message tag.) If you measure your time in dollars and cents, that's Skype's best feature. And you can't get this from the phone company, at any price.
As for the Internet service you'll need for Skype, there are deals to be had--even for broadband service. There's no need to stick with a dial-up Internet connection. While AT&T doesn't push this option, it offers digital subscriber line service for $10 in 22 states, one of the conditions it had to agree to in getting approval from the U.S. government to close its acquisition of BellSouth.