Back to School: Buying cheap tech stuff

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Back when I was in college – nigh on fifteen years ago – I remember reading a book by John Seabrook about his experience on the Internet. Now I was pretty plugged in back then and I got everything he was talking about. But there was one paragraph where Seabrook went down to the store and just bought a 9600 baud modem. Man alive! He paid for it just like that. I was so unaccustomed to having money that I couldn’t understand how someone could just buy a 9600 baud modem, about $200 or so back then.

With that in mind, I’ll talk a little bit about how to get cool gadgets for cheap. You probably already know all this if you read CG, but maybe you can send this to your dumb less tech-savvy friends.

DOs
Buy refurbished – I buy all my Apple gear refurbished from the Apple Store. You can also find refurbished items on major websites including Amazon. You get most of the warranty benefits and you definitely don’t pay full price.

Buy from Craigslist – If you live in a fairly major city you can usually find good deals on older laptops on Craigslist. I know this may not apply to everyone, but I’d go to Craigslist before eBay (see below). The key here is that you can actually see the gear before you buy it. Take a tech savvy friend along to check it out with you if you’re not sure you can appraise the item yourself.

Look for weird sales sites – There are plenty of weird tech sites out there. Check out Monoprice for cheap cables and B&H Photo for cameras. For laptops try Tiger Direct. These sites offer comprehensive item listing and are usually nice and cheap. Newegg is the gold standard for most basic electronics like external hard drives, monitors, and so on — go to the category you’re looking at (“1TB external drives” for instance) and check for well-reviewed stuff that’s on sale. And don’t worry about getting the absolute latest gear.

DONTs
Don’t buy at the big box stores – Seriously. There’s no reason to head down to Best Buy or Radio Shack. They don’t have much in the first place and what they do have is probably overpriced.

Don’t buy from eBay – eBay is a den of fiends. I’ve had nothing but trouble with eBay recently and it’s basically the fastest way to get scammed. Just avoid it.

Don’t wander down to the computer store unless it’s a really good deal – Usually the college book/computer store has a few specific offers – Microsoft Office for Teachers and Students and some deals on hardware but most of the stuff they carry is usually not worth picking up.

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