- Use the internet to save on everything from groceries to garden seeds.
- Spend time, not money, using your computer to design your own cards, make free calls and shop online.
- Don’t buy software when free software will do.
These are economically challenging times — you don’t need to be an economist to realise that money’s tight. But your computer is a powerful tool, and there are ways to save a few dollars — or more — while using it. So here are a few suggestions that may help you put it to good use.
1. Shop online
Not only is shopping online convenient — you don’t even have to leave your seat! Shopfronts and staff cost money, and so businesses that operate online can reduce costs — savings which are often passed onto
Groceries are one of your biggest weekly expenses, so it pays to shop around. Some supermarkets offer online shopping and delivery, for example Coles and Woolworths (see shopfast.com.au and homeshop.com.au respectively).
If you want to pick up discount vouchers, then go to whypayfullprice.com.au, shopfree.com.au or hotdockets.com.au. The sites have discounted dockets that can be printed and used at a variety of outlets as well as free offers and competitions.
Online auction sites like eBay (www.ebay.com.au) and Oztion (www.oztion.com.au) are still popular for finding new and secondhand items at good prices. Online discount stores are growing too such as bigshop.com.au, crazysales.com.au and dealsdirect.com.au.
2. Bargain hunting
Grab a bargain online with a shopping comparison site such as shopferret.com.au, shopbot.com.au or getprice.com.au. Enter the details of the product you’re looking for to get a range of prices from different retailers. For computer gear specifically also try staticice.com.au for comparative prices as well as helping you find online stores you can purchase from locally or nationwide.
If you prefer to browse catalogues before you shop then a site like lasoo.com.au might be the one to try. It features current catalogues from some of the major retailers including food, fashion, homewares and appliances. Go to lastminute.com.au to grab a discount on theatre, dining, hotel and holiday packages.
And if you don’t want to spend any cash at all, there’s also a unique giveaway and recycling scheme called Freecycle, which has groups in many areas, where people give away items for free. Go to freecycle.org and follow the links to join the group that includes your area.
Finally, if you don’t mind taking a lucky dip, sites like www.giveawayoftheday.com give away a full featured commercial product for free, every day — but only for that day, so you have to snap it up on the day it’s available.
3. Talk for free
Make free calls over the internet and save on mobile and landline phone costs. Skype (skype.com), Google Talk (google.com/talk), Windows Messenger (download.live.com/messenger) and ICQ (icq.com) can all be used to stay in touch. You can chat and talk to other users for free with a microphone or headset connected to your computer and if you want video calls, just add a webcam!
Social networking sites like Facebook (facebook.com), MySpace (myspace.com) or Twitter (twitter.com) let you keep in touch with lots of people all at once.
4. Transport and travel
If you’re travelling, there’s a lot you can do to save money by going online. When shopping around for flights try www.directflights.com.au, cheapflights.com.au and webjet.com.au. Sites such as wotif.com.au, hotel.com.au and bbbook.com.au can be used to book accommodation, while travel.com.au can be used for booking travel, accommodation, and more.
Travel insurance is often significantly cheaper if you buy it online too, but do compare the details of the policy. If you’re looking to compare a range of financial products www.choice.com.au has information or try canstar.com.au.
Organising car hire online can also save you a fair bit of money. An internet search will yield sites or try cheapcarhireonline.com.au or carhire.com.au. If it’s overseas you’re interested in try www.easycar.com, driveaway.com.au or www.budget-international.com.
Before travelling consider doing some online research and downloading podcast travel guides that you can take with you on your travels. The Lonely Planet site at lonelyplanet.com.au provides travel advice on sightseeing and hotels. Download travel podcasts from iTunes or try podcastdirectory.com and podfeed.net, both of which have travel sections.
5. Get a better deal
If you need work done around the house, there are websites offering online quotes from tradesmen. Examples includeservicecentral.com.au and serviceseeking.com.au. You list your job, such as paving, fencing or painting and review the submitted quotes.
If you think your mobile, phone or internet access costs are a bit steep then try one of the sites like whirlpool.net.au or phonechoice.com.au that help to compare services and find a plan that better suits your budget.
For budgeting the Government has created a website devoted to all things financial — FIDO has loads of information on superannuation, mortgages, savings and more. You can also find a ready-made budget that you can save to your computer to help plan your finances.
Go to www.fido.gov.au › Money Tips › Managing your money Budget Planner to find the Excel spreadsheet that you can download.
If you want TV and radio, podcasts and lots of entertainment content for free, Miro is a fantastic application that aggregates multiple media sources into an easy to use interface. There are hundreds of community driven shows to watch, as well as some commercial programming from overseas. The only requirement is a broadband connection.
To get Miro head to getmiro.com and download the version for your operating system — it’s available for Windows, Linux and MacOS X.
For local commercial TV, the ABC’s iView site lets you watch recent shows in high quality for free on www.abc.net.au/iview. Note that the content available on iView is sometimes offered unmetered (doesn’t count towards your download quota) by some ISPs, as are a wide range of online radio stations. Check your ISP’s "free" content features for services that don’t add to your quota.
7. Veggie patch
You might not realise it, but you can actually use your computer to grow your own fruit and vegetables! We all know that home-grown food tastes better and is better for you, but it can also save you a lot of money too. With the right software you can design a veggie patch and you can even go online to buy the seeds and get lots of free tips on gardening websites.
Go to plangarden.com to find the free Plangarden Vegetable Garden Design program that can be used to mark out the size, shape and composition of your vegetable patch.
Once the plot has taken shape, turn to sites such as the diggersgardenclub.com.au or greenharvest.com.au to buy seeds, gardening books and other supplies. If you’re looking for help or inspiration, try the ABC website’s gardening section at www.abc.net.au/gardening that has videos, fact sheets and lots of helpful information.
8. Design and printing
E-cards are a fun, cost effective way to remember that special occasion without the need to pay for expensive greeting cards and postage. You can send animated or singing cards via www.e-cards.com or www.postcards.org, but there many others to choose from. Do a search on ‘e-cards’ in Google for more.
To design your own, head to download.com and search on ‘design greeting cards’ to find some free programs like Greeting Card Designer or Print Workshop.
Printing digital photos via the web can also save you plenty of money and time getting to the photo lab. There are a number of different services, for example retailers such as Big W and Harvey Norman have their sites like www.bigwphotos.com.au or www.harveynorman.com.au/photocentre. You can also try www.fujicolor.com.au, photolab.com.au or www.snapfish.com.au.
9. Free surfing
If you’ve got a laptop, you can find Wi-Fi wireless internet hotspots in some cafes, libraries and fast food chains where you can surf the net for free (or at the least, the cost of a coffee). Have a look at www.freewifi.com.au to find some local spots.
While you’re on the net, you can do some free reading and save money buying books. You can find books through Google Books at www.books.google.com.au. The site has excerpts from copyright titles and out-of-copyright titles can be downloaded and printed in their entirety. The Online Books Page at onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu has an index of thousands of books that can also be read online.
CHOICE is here to help. The choice.com.au website has lots of helpful articles on how to save money, get your budget under control and get a good deal when you’re shopping.
Our article on debt relief includes an online budget planner. There are also comparison tools for home, travel and medical insurance that include tips to save money on premiums. Our article Ten easy ways to beat the GFC has some handy tips for saving money.
t buy software when free software will do.
Please note: this information was current as of July 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.