How to Buy a Computer on a Budget


Everyone needs a home computer these days. And yet, it's impossible to ignore the huge costs of a new computer, especially a laptop. If you're willing to do some homework (you can start with this post), determine what you need in your next computer, and maybe even get your hands dirty, you can have a machine that won't crash your budget.

Following are a few tips for how to buy a computer.

For you Mac geeks: You won't be able to completely build a computer from scratch, but the Mac Mini is a good alternative. It's affordable, for one, but it also gives you the freedom to add the monitor, keyboard, and mouse of your choosing. And you can spend as much or as little money on these peripherals as you'd like.

Upgrade your current computer.

The benefits of upgrading the computer you're currently using are similar to those of building one yourself. Frugal users who want to know how to upgrade a computer should look to components such as the hard drive and RAM, which can be upgraded fairly easily. Doing so is a cost-effective way of speeding up your machine while giving you flexibility to decide how much of what hardware you'd like to add to your computer.

Don't overbuy.

The biggest mistake DIY-ers can make is to try and "futureproof" their computer by buying add-ons they really don't need. If you're planning to use your desktop or laptop computer for simple Internet browsing, email and office applications, you won't need to buy as complicated (and expensive) a computer as someone who does lots of programming or gaming. CNET has a list of budget computers that serves as a good springboard into the search for your next desktop computer. TechSpot also offers some advice on price points that will give you an idea of just how much you should plan to spend given your computing needs.

Celebrate national holidays with a new computer.

Knowing when to buy a new computer is almost as important as how to buy a computer. Most retailers offer considerable discounts on desktop and laptop computers on or near major holidays. In particular, post-Christmas sales and Memorial Day sales produce the best bang-for-your-buck options at online stores. While shoppers rush out to malls on Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving phenomenon called Cyber Monday is the Internet's response to the holiday gift-buying rush.

Also keep an eye out for retailers who are going out of business. These vendors often need to liquidate as much merchandise as possible in a short amount of time and slash prices accordingly.

Buy a previous model.

Immediately after a manufacturer releases a new version of a desktop or laptop computer, prices on the models they're replacing drop dramatically. More often than not, you won't notice any difference in performance, especially if you're using the computer for simple Web browsing and email.

Buy refurbished.

Most computer manufacturers offer what are referred to as refurbished units, which were returned because of an initial failure but then rebuilt as if brand new. Because these units were returned, manufacturers offer them at steep discounts, ranging anywhere from 5% to 25%. This is an excellent way to buy a computer at a much lower price than you originally expected to pay. Just make sure the computer you're looking at includes a manufacturer's warranty.

Cut out a coupon.

The Internet is a gold mine for coupons and coupon codes for a wide variety of products, including desktop and laptop computers. As you work through your strategy for how to buy a computer, do a bit of digging for coupon codes online that cover anything from free shipping to a percentage off your purchase. Couponing is a good resource for online discount and coupon codes.

Rebates, Rebates, Rebates.

While rebates have gotten a bit of a bad rap over the past few years, manufacturers have stepped up their game and given the rebates real value and made sure that you'll get your money back. Rebates range from free peripherals, such as inkjet printers and hard drives, to a big chunk off the price of the computer. As an added bonus, most rebates are now handled online, eliminating the uncertainty about whether or not your rebate was processed.

Install your own software.

Many manufacturers offer bundles of computer software as a package. This may seem like a good deal, but it gives them the opportunity to charge you more. Instead, consider buying software on your own through retailers like Newegg and TigerDirect, where prices are often lower than what the manufacturer charges. If you're a college student, your school might even have a relationship with software manufacturers that nets you even sharper discounts.

There is also free software that will do exactly what you need. The most popular example is OpenOffice, which functions much like the Microsoft Office suite but also lets you save documents in a format compatible with Microsoft Office products.