Technobuddy: Savings could buy your new computer

This is your lucky day. I am going to help furnish the money so your family can buy a new computer.

Today’s tips will save your family enough money in a year to pay for that computer. Or, you can use the savings for anything you want. The savings are real — no gimmicks. Unless you are one of the rare people already doing a terrific job of using technology to save money, these are savings that you can quite literally put in the bank.

Lighten your electric bill

Let’s start with a savings of at least $250 over a year. Some families can actually double that amount. It’s easy to get started on the savings. Simply remove all your old-fashioned incandescent lights and replace them with compact fluorescent light bulbs (in tech-speak, these are CFLs).

These CFLs use much less electricity to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb. I’ll give you a for-instance from my own home. One of our rooms has “can lights” in the ceiling — rows of recessed floodlight bulbs mounted in a can-like structure. In that room alone there are eight lights. Each incandescent bulb drew 75 watts. I replaced them with 15-watt CFLs that came in the same floodlight shape. In that one room, energy use went from 600 watts to 120 watts.

While CFLs definitely cost more than the old incandescent lights, they also can last up to six times as long. So you’ll save money on replacement costs. That long lifespan also is a terrific advantage for lights in hard-to-reach locations.

It’s hard to believe but lighting accounts for about 11 percent of the electric bill in a typical home. That’s impressive when you compare that to typical cooling costs. That amounts to about 12 percent of your bill. Here’s a Web page that includes a calculator that will let you figure the sort of savings you can expect in your own home based on your own lighting scheme:

A call for savings

Technology can save on your telephone bill by substituting Internet-based telephone services such as Skype :

The free call goes out over your Internet connection instead of your telephone line. But the amount you actually save is murkier compared to changing out light bulbs. Actual savings will vary wildly based on your family’s circumstances.

For instance, in my own family our cellular plan allows us to make a huge amount of long distance calling in the U.S. with no increase in our monthly bill. So, I don’t save a dime by using Skype to call my brother in Arkansas. However, when our best friends lived in Sydney, Australia, for a year and a half, we used Skype to talk free — complete with video — at a great savings on an almost weekly basis.

So, for those with family or friends overseas, or with a cellular plan doesn’t allow “free” U.S. long distance, the savings can be great.

Fueling your bank account

Gasoline costs are a big part of any family budget. Since gas prices go up and down so fast I can’t give you a figure that is reliable. Gas may account from anywhere from 4 percent to 8 percent of a family budget. Whatever the real figure, it’s enough money to be significant.

That’s why shopping for the best prices in your area can save money for any family. There are plenty of sites that help you do that. I use this site:

Or use Google with a search such as this one — “find gas prices by zip code” — to find other gas shopping sites. Try several and select the one that does the best job for you.

If you consistently buy the cheapest gas you can save several pennies a gallon each time you fill up. For some families that means saving hundreds of dollars, perhaps a thousand, each year.

Small change

There are other ways to use technology to save smaller amounts. But each savings mounts up. I’ll mention a couple of these less dramatic examples. Consider printing your own greeting cards using your computer and printer. Cards cost $3 to $7 at the store, so real savings to be had. You can also save money by using the Internet to check price and availability of items you buy at local retailers. That way, instead of burning gas to run all over town, you’ll find the best deal before starting the car.

OK. Now it’s your turn. You may have tips that I can add to my list. If so, just write me at and I may include your ideas in a future column.

Bill Husted, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution technology writer, writes on computers and consumer technology subjects. E-mail:

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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