We all know things are looking tough economically, and with no easy fixes in sight, many think saving money is "the new black." With our love of computers and game consoles and home entertainment systems, geeks (and GeekDads) aren’t always the thriftiest consumers, but we can all use a few tips on how to save some credits without compromising on our geeky lifestyles. So here are a few ideas for tightening the belt around your geeky household, with average potential savings for each:
Don’t buy movies on DVD or Blu-Ray. What’s the point, really? Unless you’re going to watch them more than, say, once a year, you lose almost the entire value the minute you drive them off the lot. The first natural, geeky answer is to rent. Brick-and-mortar is dead, of course, because any money you would save you spend on the gas and mileage driving back and forth to the store. No, Netflix is the default these days. If you, for example, buy one new title a month, you’d spend between $240 and $360 a year on movies (more for Blu-Ray). Netflix will rent you two movies a month for $5, or $60 a year. That’s some handy spare change. Potential savings: $240 a year.
Don’t rent movies. But what if you already have Netflix, and need to tighten the belt a little deeper? The standard 1 movie-at-a-time, unlimited package is $10 a month ($11 if you get Blu-Ray), so that’s a $120-$132 a year sinkhole. How about starting a DVD-sharing club with your friends and neighbors? If everyone chipped in for a copy of Delicious Library ($40) (assuming you or someone you know has a Mac) and built a database of all the movies everyone already owned, and one person acted as secretary, folks could check movies out to each other. Potential savings: $86 a year (or more, if the software cost is shared).
Free Yourself from Cable/Satellite: What if the cable/satellite bill is sapping money that could be better spent on comic books and Warhammer figures (anywhere between $40 and $100 per month)? Now it’s time to get a little geekier, a little more advanved. Drop your Comcast, cancel your DirectTV, and realize that there’s as much, or more entertainment to be found on the internet. NBC is putting almost everything it shows on Hulu a day later, and a lot of its back catalog (sweet ST:TOS, how we love thee) (late addition: we note that potential Hulu-competitor, Joost is coming out of beta, as well, so there’s lots of broadcast content available online). CBS just made a deal to do the same on YouTube via their new higher-definition formats. Freeware apps like Miro (the former Democracy Player) make your computer into a Tivo for video podcasts (as will iTunes, with a little less polish). And, as most geeks have older computer lying around, you could turn one into a media center using one of the various freeware media center apps available (XBMC, MythTv). Potential savings: $840 a year.
Free Yourself from Your Phones: Getting even a little more extreme, what about having no landline (maybe $30 per month) or cell phone ($30 to $80 per month) at all? Consider that, if you’re reading this, you can probably get a SkypeIn phone number with a $10 per month subscription that gets you a phone number anyone can call you with from anywhere, and that you can call anyone with your Skype client from your computer. There is even word that people can call your SkypeIn number, and you can answer and talk on an iPod Touch ($229) using Fring (free). You might also be able to use Fring on a cheap cellphone handset with some kind of minimum plan that gets you wifi and save as well. Potential savings: $280 the first year, $540 per year after that.
- Remember to turn off your computers/electronics when you’re not at home. Shut them off at the wall with a power strip or similar device to save yourself from the power vampire effect. Potential Savings: $100 a year or more.
- If you must keep your computer equipment running, why not keep your home office in your sleeping quarters? Then the excess heat from the processors will help warm the space, and you can turn the thermostat down. Potential savings: who knows; depends upon whether you’ve overclocked or not.
- Compact fluorescent bulbs everywhere in your house. Potential savings: $100 a year or more, power plus replacement costs.
That’s all just a start, and we’ve found more than $1,500 a year potential savings! But I’m sure there’s even more that can be done, and I hope people reading this post will suggest some more in the comments.
Update: I wanted to pull a few of the very good ideas that have been mentioned in the comments up and into the post. Thanks for all your input, folks!
- Cloth diapers instead of disposable for your babies. No, it’s not a very high-tech or geeky solution, but it is much cheaper in the long-run, and more environmentally sound.
- Cook at home with your family as much as possible. Again, not high-tech (unless you’re tracking ingredients and recipes via database on programs like Mac Gourmet, or Big Oven), but obviously cheaper, healthier, and a great way to bring everyone together.
- Growing food at home, in a garden or (very geeky) using hydroponics.
- And add Veoh as another source for IPTV.