A Computer Is the Best Investment

If you are reading this, you have savings opportunities at your fingertips.

When it comes to spending money to save money, a computer can be one of the best investments because it pays for itself many times over if you use its tools to lower costs and take advantage of access to information. Here are some ways your computer can help you save money in a down economy:

You can compare rates better: With money tight, you don't want to pay more for a service than you have to. Computers have leveled the playing field, enabling you to scout out cheaper services. For example, if you want car insurance, simply put your information into one of the many car insurance comparison sites, and it will return a list of companies and rates. Other comparisons worth researching: phone rates and travel deals.

You can track personal finances for free: When the economy is in the dumps, knowing where your money goes is vitally important if you are to stick to a budget. Your computer offers a number of convenient ways to track finances for free, saving you the time of doing it all by hand and the cost of any materials.

You can find the best deal: Even when times are difficult, you still need to make purchases. If you don't have a computer, you might need to travel to several stores to compare prices. With a computer, all you need to do is input the product to find out where you can get it for the best price. (Use BizRate.com, PriceGrabber.com and Shopping.com.) This saves time and money. Even if you eventually purchase the product offline, the price comparisons will ensure you are getting a good deal.

You can buy online: Sometimes the best way to save money is to avoid malls and shops altogether. Your computer gives you the option of ordering online and having it delivered to your home rather than running all over town looking for it. This saves you time and the cost of traveling, plus there is almost always a discount via an online coupon code.

You can bank online: Without a computer, you are pretty much limited to the banks closest to your house and the interest rates they offer. Your computer allows you to find banks that are paying the highest interest rates regardless of where they're located. In addition, online banking saves you the cost of traveling to your bank and sending payments through the mail.

You can get services for free: One of the nice things about your computer is you can sometimes get things for free. Telephone service is a good example. Why pay for phone calls when you can make them for free on your computer by signing up with a VOIP provider such as Skype. VOIP allows you to call over Internet lines. Another example is newspapers and magazines. Most print publications now offer free online content.

You can sell your unwanted stuff: Your computer lets you sell to the world instead of to those who happen to live in your neighborhood, meaning you are likely to get more money for your unwanted goods. This is especially important for unique and collectible items that may have a limited appeal to those around you, but are highly valued by collectors. (See places such as Craigslist and eBay.) You can also get rid of large items, such as appliances, at no cost using a Web site like Freecycle.org.

You can find better travel deals: Traveling during a recession can be the best time because of all the deals. Your computer can help you locate the best of these via comparison sites like Expedia and Travelocity or search through excess travel inventory at auction sites like Priceline and Hotwire. Many of the sites also offer reviews.

You have access to large amounts of savings information: If you need to learn how to save money on practically anything, a simple search of "save money on" and a subject will yield plenty of articles.

You have tools for job searching: If the bad economy claims your job, your computer can do a lot to help you network and get the word out that you are in search of employment. LinkedIn helps you make contact with others, and Monster.com enables you to post your resume and search for job openings that are posted. Plus, you can learn about resume writing, interviewing and other job-search techniques.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.

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