Save your cash by knowing the facts
It seems like every time you buy a computer or other technology, there are always three (really expensive) things you just have to have to make it work. How much of what the salesperson tells you is true and how much is just padding their pockets?
Myth No. 1:
Expensive HDMI cables are better than cheaper ones
"Absolutely avoid the Monster cables and those related accessories if you want to save money and have a few extra days of time [to shop],” he said, “These are oversold, sometimes aggressively (as in ‘you will definitely need these, these brands out-perform the no-name brands’).”
Cables you can buy online are readily available and are much, much cheaper. They also send exactly the same digital signal — HDMI cables work or they don't. What the cheaper cables don't do is pad big box retailers' pockets with profits from products that are marked up hundreds of times.
Myth No. 2:
Refurbished computers aren't worth the discount
Customers will storm the doors of major retailers at midnight to save 10 percent on a computer on Black Friday, but pass up savings of 20 to 30 percent every day because they think refurbished computers aren't worth the savings — after all, they’re used and were once broken, right?
The truth is, refurbished computers have lower failure rates than new computers and many come with equivalent factory warranties. You'll probably receive a plain brown box instead of a shiny new one, but in some cases, they come with “upgrades.” For example, if you order a Macbook from Apple, you’ll get a brand new battery when they ship it from the factory. If you buy it at the store, you’ll get one that’s potentially been sitting on the shelf (slowly degrading) for several months.
Myth No. 3:
Extended warranties* are always the smart move
* By law, you can’t actually sell or purchase a warranty (manufacturer or extended). The service you purchase is actually a service agreement, which may be what you see on any documents you sign; however, “extended warranty” is the common vernacular used by many salespeople and consumers, and your salesperson may use either term.
Julie Vlahon from TechBargains succinctly summarizes this myth when she states, "The problem is that most products that are purchased from a store frequently come with their own long-range warranties that cover a number of issues and unforeseen flaws with the product. Extended warranties are easy ways for companies to squeeze a bit more cash out of you at the register."
We don’t recommend purchasing a service agreement (“extended warranty”) on impulse. Research the value it really has first (additional things it may cover, longer effective periods, etc.). Most valuable service contracts can be purchased within a certain number of days after the original purchase (or while the manufacturer’s warranty is still in force), so you have a few days to think about it.
Myth No. 4:
Unlimited texting plans save you money
When choosing their texting plans, many customers are pushed to purchase the unlimited texting option. While that may make sense for a lot of people, many customers don't realize how many free texting alternatives exist that would allow them to pay for a smaller monthly plan and may overestimate the amount of texting they plan to do altogether.
Services like Whatsapp, TextFree and Kik offer free texting in addition to other features, and social media services like Facebook can be used in a similar fashion. Apple even offers iMessage standard on their devices, which enables free texting between iPhones. If the person you text most often is your sweetie, check out Avocado, a couples-only texting app (that may also prevent you from sending certain *ahem* types of pictures to the wrong people).
Myth No. 5:
You have to pay for antivirus software
Michael J. Agri from North Atlantic Consultants refutes the myth that you have to pay extra for antivirus software. "A lot people pay up to $100 annually for antivirus service when they could be getting it for free through their internet provider,” he explains. “The phone carriers and cable providers are offering full security suites as a standard feature to any internet order. All you need to do is simply login to your account and download the software and you're done."
While we certainly recommend paying for antivirus software if you don’t take this option, and you should research the software they plan to give you free (not all antivirus programs are created equal), this is likely a viable alternative for most people. Internet service and phone service providers have a vested interest in keep you virus-free.
Myth No. 6:
The more megapixels, the better
Camera manufacturers have been touting megapixel numbers for so long that consumers have come to use the megapixel count as the sole measure of a camera's quality and ability. The truth is much more complicated. While megapixels definitely affect quality, other factors, like color and sharpening algorithms used and the sensor type and quality, are much more important.
We recommend researching several camera options online before buying. Look for consumer reviews with an eye toward people who note they’re using the camera in the same way you plan to. Don’t buy into what the blue-and-yellow-clad employee tells you. He or she may know nothing about photography, and all the technical knowledge in the world won’t help you understand how much you need your camera to zoom, whether you need fish-eye correction or how many features really affect the camera’s ability to take photos in low light or avoid motion-blur (hint: it’s not determined by megapixels).
Myth No. 7:
New gear is the best gear
The urge to possess the latest and greatest gadgets is a strong one for a lot of consumers who want to be on the cutting edge, but as Andre Pascal from Nia Technologies says, “rushing out to buy the latest anything is usually a mistake. Why? Because most of the time the bugs are not worked out yet. They rely on users to really work out those bugs."
He continues by pointing out the risks early-adopters face, citing the ill-fated Xoom, the first android tablet, "The Xoom was supposed to be the answer and better alternative to the iPad. It costs $600... It became practically worthless within six months. It's usually a better bet to stay one gadget behind. Avoid the hype!"
Myth No. 8:
Free software is worth what you paid for it — nothing
While it’s true there is free software you're better off never having installed, and some free software does comes bundled with adware, that can also be true for software that you paid good money for.
Unless you need macros (not functions) in Excel, Microsoft Office can be replaced by any number of free and open-source office suites (Google Apps, ThinkFree, LibreApps, Open Office) and the same holds true for most popular software. GIMP can replace Adobe Photoshop for most common tasks. Thunderbird is an excellent mail client. Pidgin for instant messaging, Blender for 3D modeling, Handbrake for ripping video… and VLC may very well be the best video player out there, paid or unpaid.
Don’t fear free. The key is doing your homework, reading reviews and really thinking about what your needs are. Just beware. Many free programs aren’t that great and some may have serious bugs and worse. But if you’re downloading from a reputable vendor or the program or app gets rave reviews, it’s OK to check it out.
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