Feb. 16, 2009 -- The average family of four spends about $3,500 a year on technology products and services. Add a new computer to the mix and the total soars. But there are ways to cut your technology costs and still keep your high-tech edge.
The key is to find the ideal plan for your spending patterns. Pattern equals plan. But there are a zillion companies with a gazillion plans, so it's a pain.
Not anymore. A Web site called myvalidas.com does the analysis for you. You upload your most recent cell phone bills to the Validas site and its computer program takes care of the rest. It even examines your texting habits. It costs $5 to $25, depending on how many months of bills you want to analyze.
In one dramatic example, an Orlando family was paying $271 a month for three cell phones but it was paying for too many minutes. Validas found the family a plan for $109 a month.
Savings? $1,935.60 a year.
Another option, especially if you limit your cell phone use to emergencies, is to buy a pay-as-you-go phone and not have a cell phone contract.
Many people, especially younger people, save by ditching their landline phones. Another option is to use a computer phone service like Skype. Computer-to-computer calls are free and computer-to-regular phone calls are cheap.
A typical landline phone bill with a traditional phone company is $45 a month. Skype charges $3 a month.
Annual savings? More than $500.
Once again, look at how you use the technology. If all you do is e-mail and surf around a little on the Internet, you may not need all the bells and whistles.
Consider going back to the future. Yes, we're talking dial-up Internet access. But it's not your father's dial-up. Many carriers, such as Earthlink, now offer an accelerated service that makes it pretty fast, plenty fast for the basic things most of us use the Internet for.
DSL service typically costs about $40 a month but you can get accelerated dial-up from providers for $13 a month, less if you catch a special like Earthlink is running right now.
Savings? $324 a year.
Speaking of computers, how can you save money on the computer itself? First, think about whether you really need a new computer. There was a time when you needed to keep upgrading your hardware to keep up with your software. That's not true anymore and don't let anybody tell you it is.
If you use your computer for typical stuff, it should be plenty powerful as long as it has 512 megabytes of RAM, which is the kind of memory computers use to function. A full gig is even better.
If it's running slow, don't get a new computer. Just get a tune-up for about $100.
If you really do need a new computer, consider a refurbished one. Often these are computers that were returned to the manufacturer, maybe without even being opened.
Your savings? $300 to $2,000.
How can you cut your cable bill? This one is worth pursuing. It's the one entertainment expense that exceeds 1 percent of average household income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So cancel it. I know, breathe, breathe. Don't worry. You can do that and still watch your favorite TV shows.
First of all, most broadcast networks like ABC and many cable networks offer their shows on their Web sites soon after they're shown over the airwaves.
Another option, Hulu.com, offers thousands of episodes of hundreds of different popular TV shows and it's free. You just have to watch a few commercials, just like ... when you watch TV.
Netflix now offers a $100 set-top box that allows you to instantly watch hundreds of movies and TV shows instead of waiting for the DVD in the mail.
Still clinging to your cable remote? Check out the Web site cancelcable.com. It has a show-finder tool to help you find a way to watch your favorite shows using one of the methods above.
So instead of paying the U.S. average of $60 a month for cable, you pay nothing.
Yearly savings? $720.
CDs and DVDs
So many people just download one song at a time these days, but there are times when you want to own the album, check out the cover art, see whom the band thanked. And there are certain movies people like to watch again and again.
So here's what you do. Check out sites like swapacd.com and swapadvd.com, where you trade with other people for the cost of postage. You get credits for whatever you send out, so you don't have to make a direct swap with another individual.
I turned in a Christina Aguilera CD, a Louis Armstrong CD, a CD that shall remain nameless because it was a gift that I hated and a couple of other really obscure ones.
In exchange, I got Coldplay, Rascal Flatts, The Wallflowers and a Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald duets album. Fabulous!
For DVDs, I unloaded two movies that I had already watched and got Season 1 of "Grey's Anatomy," as well as "Erin Brockovich" and "Sleepless in Seattle."
If you were going to buy all this music and these movies new, it would cost you $88.
By swapping, I paid $8.
That's an $80 savings.
Amazingly, many librarians across the country have gone over to the dark side. Yes, many public libraries now carry video games, including hip, modern ones such as "Guitar Hero" and "Call of Duty IV." So if you would normally spend $100 on two or three new games a year, you can play them for free instead, and master more games.
So what's our final tally? If you were able to put all these money-saving tips into practice, you could save $4,814.50 in a year.