You probably remember that problem from high school math class: If you saved $5 a day and invested it at a nominal interest rate, you’d make $147,000 after 35 years. The point your math teacher was trying to make was that little amounts add up.
But you don’t have to stick a $5 bill in a jar. The virtual universe is full of deals, and shrewd internet habits could lead to big savings over time. You don’t even have to sacrifice simple pleasures like music and video games; you can just obtain them in a smarter and more economical way.
By the way, if you’ve avoided budgeting and managing your money because it’s too cumbersome, depressing or difficult, new apps and programs make it manageable and maybe even, dare I say, fun. Click here for the best budgeting and finance software.
So how do you cut corners? Here are seven simple ways to save money on the internet.
1. Use online coupons
Most people hear the word “coupon” and roll their eyes. It’s tedious, snipping out little squares from the Sunday newspaper and then handing them over to a cashier. But online, this process is much easier. Visit sites like RetailMeNot or CouponCodes, and you’ll have access to discounts on everyday products. Codes work for a diverse selection of retailers, including Walmart, Target, Sears and Macy’s. When you check out, you’ll see the words “promo code.” Just copy and paste your code into the field, and that’s it. You’ll be astounded by the rewards you can reap.
Meanwhile, Amazon has an entire section of its website dedicated to coupons. Here, you can find discounts in specific categories, such as groceries, electronics and office supplies. The coupons get even more enticing for Prime Members. Click here to get coupons on Amazon while you shop.
2. Get free music (or even rent it)
Twenty years ago, it was hard to imagine CDs vanishing from shelves, but today it’s hard to even find a physical music store. Now, we may be entering a new phase. Music fans may not have to buy music at all.
Music subscription services like Spotify and Pandora have huge libraries containing millions and millions of songs. They’re basically an all-you-can-eat buffet of artists and albums. For a limited selection and quality, you can sign up for free, and many listeners will be satisfied with this robust offering. But for the full experience, a subscription to either service will give you access to all the latest hits.
It gets better if you’re already an Amazon Prime member. Many people enjoy their first year of Prime without ever knowing they can download music for free. Yes, you can stream songs, but you can also choose from more than a million MP3s to keep on your phone or computer.
3. Avoid in-game purchases
For years, the routine was the same: Gamers went to a store, bought a game, and took it home. When new consoles came out, gamers upgraded. Some rented games from the video store (remember those?) but the console game prices were pretty consistent.
That’s why the “in-game purchase” is such an alarming trend. You can play to a certain point, and then you have to wait or pay to proceed. It’s a splash of the cold water in an otherwise exciting experience. Apps are notorious for this practice.
Instead of paying to skip a level, get more points, or gain additional lives in a game, Google searches the game’s title and the level you are attempting to master. There are sites that list exactly what you need to do to avoid paying the game developer. Best of all, the steps are free.
4. Skip the crazy gadgets
Some of these gadgets can be fun, especially if you give them as tongue-in-cheek gifts, but who actually needs a “smart” Panini maker? Is your roommate really such a jerk that you need an “ice cream lock”? And although it may be colorful, who could sleep with a “light-up pillow”?
Worse are the “proof-of-concept” projects that start their lives on crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter. Many never see the light of day, and you may lose your pledge money without ever seeing a finished product.
5. Redeem those rebates
Yes, rebates used to be a pain. Why would you mail a form in when you don’t even remember the last time you licked a stamp? Some shoppers are young enough not to know the difference between a coupon and a rebate. To refresh: Coupons are used at the time of purchase and are instantaneous. Rebates can only be redeemed after the purchase of an item, usually at full price.
But now rebates can be easy. Amazon has a special section for checking if an item you have purchased qualifies for a rebate. Manufacturers, wireless service providers, merchants, and other companies on Amazon.com use mail-in rebates to offer the best possible price on new items.
You’ll need your order number and email address handy, and make sure to keep the packing slip when your order is delivered. You’ll use these documents to complete the online rebate form. Rebates may take 12 to 15 weeks to process, but they’re another way to get cash back. I have more information about Amazon rebates on my site.
6. Watch your smart phone’s data
Smartphones are more powerful than ever, enabling you to use GPS, Skype friends in Japan, and stream videos while sitting on a boat in the middle of a bay. These are amazing features, of course, but they also devour your data.
If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, you may run out of juice before your next billing cycle. This is the kiss of death for smartphone users. Buying more data is generally expensive, and you’re forced to add a gig or two because your phone is useless otherwise.
My suggestion is to either secure an unlimited data plan, especially if you use heavyweight apps on the go, or just carefully watch your data. You can always track how much data you have left, either through your phone’s settings or by downloading your provider’s app. Click here for five ways to drastically reduce your smartphone’s data usage.
7. Wait to upgrade your phone
You don’t have to tell me: Phones get better every year. Every incarnation comes with its exciting new features, like improved battery life and camera resolution. So once the next iPhone or Galaxy becomes available, why should you wait to snatch it from the display case?
For one, it’s expensive. The people who camp overnight in front of the Apple store don’t mind spending up to $1,000 on the latest model, but most of us don’t have the spare capital. If your phone is working nicely and it’s still in good physical condition, there’s no particular reason to upgrade.
Bonus: Buy your modem or router
Too many people make the mistake of renting a modem and router from their service provider. Sure, the rental fee for modems and routers is usually nominal, about $6 per month, but after four years of service, that adds up to $288.
You can find a very decent router through Best Buy or Amazon for under $100. Better yet, buy your router based on the features you want. Not all routers are created equal. Some are faster; others are better known for security. Click here for my three best router recommendations.
There are a few considerations, though: First, your internet service provider may not let you use a store-bought router or modem. Second, you may have to figure out how to install the devices yourself, and not everybody wants to deal with that. Finally, do you expect to use the same service provider for more than a year?
The same advice applies to your modem. You’re better off buying that too. Click here for advice on buying the best modem.
What are some other ways you can cut tech costs? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.