The average lifespan of computers in developed countries has dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005 [source].
It is fair to say that computers, access to the internet, and even mobile phones are considered essential items for maintaining an average standard of living in Australia.
As you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you agree to some extent.
The problem is, keeping up with technology can be expensive.
And I’m not even talking about upgrading to the latest i-product every year. Just finding the money to replace the family computer when it goes caput can put a strain on the budget.
We purchased two new laptops this month. Both DH’s desktop and my laptop are over five years old. The frequent blue-screens-of-death signalled that the end was near for both machines, mine finally giving up the ghost last weekend (if you’re wondering why we got two laptops rather than sharing, DH was adamant that he wanted a computer of his own. He never spends any money on anything for himself, ever, so this was a fair deal).
New computers can take a fairly hefty chunk out of the monthly budget. You can ease the replacement pain with two strategies that are really two sides of the same coin: save in advance and save on the ticket price.
a saving Provision for Tech
On one hand, replacing old computers is easier if you expect it and save up for it in advance.
Saving in advance, long before a computer (or other tech device) needs replacing means that you can pay with cash.
The cash benefit is threefold:
- No extra interest expense that you would get if you pay with credit (in fact, earn interest while you save)
- You can spread the cost over the lifespan of the computer by saving a small amount each week; and
- When it comes time purchase, you have the time to shop around for the best deal possible and you have the leverage to negotiate a better ‘cash’ price.
I’ve written before about how we save for various expenses – our modern update on the old envelope system. We put aside a set amount each pay day to cover bills and other expenses and then pay with cash when the time comes. ‘Tech’ is another account in our savings spreadsheet in which we put money aside.
It’s much easier to save a few dollars each week than to find hundreds of dollars in a pinch when something needs replacing.
Assuming you’re not worried about upgrading to the latest and greatest gadget, the average laptop lasts around 3 – 6 years. To replace an $800 laptop every 3 years for example, you would need to put aside $5 each week.
If you know that you will eventually be replacing your computers and other tech devices, start saving now in anticipation of that expense.
saving on tech purchases
The other side of the coin is to pay the least amount possible for what you need.
Firstly, you need to ask yourself whether you need the most powerful (and expensive) computer on the market or whether a cheaper one will sufficiently meet your needs (and also, ahem – tongue in cheek here, whether you need multiple computers when one might be sufficient).
If gaming is your hobby or you create a lot of graphics using your computer, you may need to pay extra for a flash video card and processor.
On the other hand, if you use your computer for simple word processing and net surfing, you can get away with a mid to low range computer or even buy one second hand.
I have had both good and bad experiences purchasing second hand computers. Based on my own experiences I recommend buying from a second hand dealer who refurbishes old computers (and offers a warranty) rather than purchasing from a private seller.
Alternatively, buying new online or waiting for retail sales can save you significant money off the regular retail price. Computers happened to be on sale in several shops on the weekend the old laptop died, and I was able to save around $150 off the regular price.
You can also buy a cheaper computer and upgrade it with more RAM, or if your existing computer is still in working order, you can upgrade it rather than replace it, which keeps it out of landfill.
Another option is to have a computer custom built from scratch. DH has had computers custom built in the past and it can mean a top quality computer for a lot less.
Besides the purchase price, another thing to consider is the running cost. Not only are laptops portable (which suits us better, especially now we don’t have an ‘office’) they also use less power. The downside is that they tend not to last as long as desktop computers because they are more likely to get knocked about.
I’m 32 years old. When I was a young kid we didn’t have mobile phones, computers (we got a second hand Commodore 64 when I was around 12), the internet, tablets…I remember when we got our first VCR and when there were only two TV channels: ABC and Midstate TV. My first music album was on LP.
My point is that a lot has changed in just a couple of decades – things that most of us couldn’t have conceived of 20 – 30 years ago are now considered essential items, like internet access.
Those technological advances have also meant dramatic increases in the average household budget. We have a whole lot more, at least in terms of gadgets, but that means we also pay for a lot more. I have far more “essential” expenses than my parents did.
If you consider computers, mobile phones and internet access essentials, it makes sense to budget for these things, just as you budget for other types of bills and expenses, rather than rely on credit when old tech dies.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.