Save money with your computer
The chances are your computer cost a lot, so it would be a shame not to get your money's worth out of it. Why not use yours to save a bit of cash?
Cut your phone bill
As long as you've got a microphone, a speaker and a decent (broadband) internet connection, you can use your computer as a phone. Sign up for a free account at places like Skype, Vonage, or Google Talk and you can start making calls to people on the same network for free.
As long as your mates sign up too, you can stay up all night chatting, and it won't cost you a penny. Helps to keep the mobile bill down, anyway.
Save the trees
There's no need to print out every single document that arrives in your mailbox. Only print out the stuff you really need to see on paper - things that would make your eyes ache to read on screen.
Keep everything else digital. Save copies of important documents on your hard disk and give them sensible, straightforward names to help you find them again. Use an electronic notebook to store snippets of information, notes, online receipts and reference material. Treepad does this well on Windows, Yojimbo is a good choice for Mac users. If you're really stuck for space, scan things like bank statements and keep them on your hard disk. Shred the originals.
Backup your life
Of course none of this digital archiving will be worth squat if your hard disk fails and you lose everything. And trust us - one day, your hard disk will fail. Hard disks are very fragile mechanical devices with dozens of tiny moving parts. It's very easy for something to break. That's why backing up your computer is the most important thing you need to remember, but it needn't cost a fortune either.
The majority of simple files - written documents, spreadsheets, or schoolwork - aren't big files and there's a really easy way to back them up. Just get yourself a free email account from Google Mail, MSN or Yahoo. All of them offer hundreds of megs of storage space, plenty for basic file backup. You won't be able to backup ripped CDs or movies this way, but college work, research, letters, that novel you've been working on; they can all be emailed to your backup account whenever, and as often as you like.
For proper backup, you need an external hard disk. They're cheap - you can get a big fat 500GB backup disk for less than £80. It's money worth spending. Get into the habit of backing things up. No matter how new or swish your computer, one day something will go wrong, and when that day comes you'll be pleased that you had backups.
Why pay for bandwidth?
Wireless networks are everywhere these days. If your laptop has a wireless card, you can sit down in hundreds of cafes, pubs, airports and rail stations all over the country and get yourself a wireless connection in an instant. But it'll cost you - roughly a fiver for an hour's access.
So it pays to prepare in advance and hunt down free wireless networks. There's more of them than you might think, some offered by enlightened cafe owners and pub landlords, some by charitable householders, and some large-scale networks operated by city councils, charities and other groups. All you have to do is find them.
That's easy on JiWire. Here you can search by location or network name to find a wireless hotspot that won't cost.
Of course when you're using someone else's wireless, you need to play by their rules. Don't try abusing the network - you'll get kicked off, and you won't be welcome back.
If you can't afford to splash out £100 on a nice digital radio, your computer offers a pretty good alternative. There are hundreds of internet radio stations to try out, including all the national BBC channels and most of the independent stations now broadcasting on DAB in the UK. Also, check out last.fm for free customised online radio.
Podcasts are a fantastic source of free entertainment, whether you're after speech radio or music. Go back to the BBC for dozens of great podcast shows, which download themselves to your computer (or your music player) automatically. Think of them as radio to takeaway. The best international list of podcasts is on iTunes, which you can download for free for Mac or Windows. And don't forget TheSite.org's audio content - interviews, expert advice and audio guides to listen to for free.
Music tends to be cheaper if you buy it online. Again, Apple's iTunes Store is a good place to start and is by far the best known, but there are plenty of others to try. Tesco.com and Woolworths are fine for chart music; bleep.com is great for dance and techno; and blogs like Rcrd Lbl offer a wide range of free and paid-for music. For excellent value and high quality MP3s, try eMusic. In most cases, you should expect to pay between 70p and £1 for one song, and £7 to £10 for an entire album. Some services let you pay a monthly subscription, and you can download as much music as you like.
Search before you buy
The internet is your friend. Now that everyone sells everything online, the net knows where the bargains are. Before spending significant cash on anything (a new phone, a camera, a new PC), make sure you spend some time browsing around the search sites and shopping comparison sites to find the best prices. Search Yahoo or Google Products reviews of the product you've got your eye on; see what other people have said about it at Amazon and other online shops that let customers make comments. As well as saving a few pounds, you might be able to avoid buying a dud.
Written by Giles Turnbull
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