So you find yourself without a job. Or the commissions have dried up and crimped your monthly budget. Don't think of technology--in the form of new HDTVs, MP3 players, and game consoles--as something that only costs money. Tech can also save you money, which is no small feat in these days of uncertain paychecks. Here are modern tools that can help you set up an inexpensive home office, and make room in a newly tightened household budget:
Free Apps: Few consumers need to buy Microsoft Office. Capable, easy-to-use competitors are free for downloading from openoffice.org and symphony.lotus.com. They can reproduce all but the latest or most sophisticated Office formats and tools, which few people need. Or you can find online versions at docs.google.com or zoho.com that are more stripped down, but that answer most needs. They're also free.
Cheaper Hardware: If the old PC isn't up to daily work, shop smartly for a new one. Look at “recertified” or “refurbished” machines from manufacturers. Dell, Apple, and other makers have online stores, for example, that sell state-of-the-art hardware at discounts up to 35 percent. Many are customer returns--some never used--that are tested at the factory and come with full warranties. They offer little risk for the considerable savings.
Free Faxing: Receive faxes for free through k7.net. You'll get a fax number with a 206 area code, but you'll have to use it at least once a month to keep it active. Send faxes for free through faxzero.com. Keep in mind that you're limited to two three-page faxes a day and that Faxzero puts an ad on the cover page. For a cleaner look without the ad, consider faxaway.com. Faxaway charges by the minute, and a typical fax costs less than a quarter.
Cut the LD: Hesitant to replace a landline with Internet phone service? Don't pay $20 a month for long-distance calls from the phone company. Make Internet calls through an existing phone with services like Jajah, which connects a conventional phone with others in calls arranged at its website. With no contract to sign and no gear to buy, it's an easy way to get the benefits of Internet calling. Or plug a phone into magicJack, which then plugs into a PC. MagicJack costs $40 the first year and $20 a year after that for unlimited domestic calls. Skype also offers excellent quality, but it requires a special phone or calls must be made through a PC's speakers and microphone.
[See more on Internet phoning options]
Prepaid cellular: Many consumers who use a handset sparingly can save money with prepaid wireless plans. Also, a no long-term contract is a benefit in uncertain times. Prepaid plans no longer mean underpowered, unexciting, handsets, as providers offer cutting-edge hardware. Companies like Virgin Mobile and Boost specialize in prepaid service, which typically costs 10 cents for less a minute. Major carriers also offer plans. One from Verizon Wireless costs five cents a minute, plus free calls on evenings and weekends and to other Verizon cellphones. Customers pay Verizon a fee of $2 a day, but only on days they actually use the phone.
Cut the video fluff: Instead of paying $10 to $50 a month for movie channels, spend $9 a month on Netflix. It offers unlimited movies delivered to your home one to three DVDs at a time, depending on your plan. There's typically a two-day delay between disks for mailing and receiving. But add a $100 box from Roku and get more than 12,000 movies and TV shows instantly on a TV with no added monthly charge.
[Read how Netflix streaming includes some premium cable movies]
Cut the cable: You can cut $50 from a typical cable bill by taking advantage of new and crystal-clear digital broadcasts. Most homes will get great pictures and sound with a simple indoor antenna. Don't think that a new plasma TV demands a high-end package from the cable company. The quality of HDTV broadcasts is better than cable or satellite, prime-time television is now full of HD shows, and it's all free.
[Read more about the transition to digital TV]