My Favorite Bag is the Bag of Holding

My Favorite Bag is the Bag of HoldingFor years, I’ve been on a search for the ultimate daily use bag. I bought backpacks made for carrying electronics, messenger bags, and even a few camera bags hoping to find one that I could keep my laptop, notepad, pens, flip cam, and other essentials in. Unfortunately, in the world of bags for men it’s either a disappointment or a glorified purse.

About a year ago, I finally decided to purchase the Bag of Holding. The first thing I noticed about it when browsing on the site was the 20-sided die logo on the front along with that extremely familiar name known to D&D players around the world. At low price point, it could be considered a bargain in a market where budget laptop bags with barely enough room for a miniature mouse can cost twice as much.

The Bag of Holding in the gaming world is an enchanted bag capable of holding items that far exceed the size possible in regular bags in addition to providing some weight reduction properties. In this sense, this bag is a miserable failure, as it can get quite heavy just like any other container when loaded down with gear.

http://youtu.be/vlTwJ9trNN8

Storage capacity is where it did exceed my expectations. The Bag of Holding has an extremely generous amount of room inside, even though the bag itself doesn’t appear very big from the outside. It certainly takes up more room than a typical laptop bag, but it doesn’t have the bulk and hassle of a backpack. It’s somewhere in-between, like a messenger bag on steroids.

The thick canvas material and heavy duty hardware has stood the test of time. Over a year of abuse including being weighed down with multiple notebook computers, tablets, notepads, cables, etc. and it doesn’t really show any signs of use beyond an occasional need for a wash. The seams are surprisingly sturdy and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a loose thread anywhere since the day I took it out of the box.

One drawback I found is the strap isn’t detachable. This can be very annoying, especially when you want to throw it in the washing machine without risking the strap getting caught up in things. The strap material is thick and wide, however, giving your shoulder a lot of support even without a shoulder pad.

Over all, if you’re looking for a bag that can hold just about anything and not appear to be a “purse,” this is certainly a brilliant product to consider. It’s durable, spacious, and light even though its design does skimp in areas where cheap bags often try to make up for shortcomings with frills. In a sense, the Bag of Holding knows it’s awesome and it doesn’t need a detachable strap or extra shoulder support to prove it.

Get your own Bag of Holding here!

Five Things That You Should Buy Used

Five Things That You Should Buy UsedIf you’re like me, you’re probably a sucker for a deal. I love saving money so much that I happily carry the title of Frugal Geek with me in both my professional and personal life. One of the secrets to being a frugal geek is knowing exactly when and how to save money on the technology you love. Sometimes, this means buying things secondhand.

While not everything is a great deal in a used capacity, you can save a lot of money without suffering through the headache of product quality and/or life. Let’s face it, some products just don’t carry the same luster and magic that they do when they’re brand new out of the package for the first time. There are, however, a bunch of great products out there that hold up remarkably well over time.

In fact, some items build character as they age. This is one of the reasons so many antique stores are still doing pretty well. Wooden furniture, though not in this tech-influenced list, is perhaps one of the best examples of potentially excellent values when purchased used. An antique chair, table, or desk increases in value with age and can last for generations past the home assembly kits sold in budget furniture stores today.

Here are five things that you should buy used.

How to Save Money on Auto Repair

I’m sad to say that this past year has been rough on my budget. Not because of gadgets, gizmos, or other geeky purchases, but due in part to a series of misfortunes related to our family vehicles. It seems the entire year has been one vehicle breakdown after another. Why is this? Could it be because the warranties expired just a month before the year began?

Either way, mechanics seem to make an arm and a leg off of us on a monthly basis. That is, until I started looking into alternatives and recommendations that have helped lower the price and frequency of repair.

Paying too much for auto repair is like paying too much for insurance. Yes, you get what you pay for, but on the other hand, did you really need to fork over an additional $50 to have someone do what you could do yourself in less than five minutes? Perhaps not.

Here are some tips to help you save money on auto repair.

Check Your Warranty

You might be surprised at just how long certain parts are covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. A power train warranty can extend past the initial bumper-to-bumper coverage available upon buying the vehicle. Even used cars and trucks may still have some existing warranty left from when the car was brand new.

It’s never a bad idea to check your warranty before bringing your car to a repair facility when the problem appears as though it might be covered.

The problem here is that many dealer repair shops that can cover warranty repair also charge for diagnostic services. This means that you are on the hook for the diagnostic fee, even if the repair in question isn’t covered under warranty after all. If it is, this fee is typically waived.

Have Trouble Codes Read for Free

How to Save Money on Auto RepairWhen your check engine light comes on, it could be indicating a variety of different issues ranging from critical problems to sensor misreads. Having these fault codes read can be a great way to determine where a possible fault may appear in your vehicle. Unfortunately, too many shops charge an arm and a leg to plug a simple device in and read the codes provided by your vehicle’s computer.

There are a couple of ways around this problem. One of them can be as simple as taking your car or truck to the nearest AutoZone and having someone there take a look. This service is provided free of charge, and can help you determine what parts you may need to replace. If you don’t have an AutoZone in your area, many other auto parts stores offer similar services.

Another thing you can do to save money here is buying your own. Ray Miller, a member of the LockerGnome community, relayed his experience: “I am not a mechanic, but I have loved my OBD2 scan tool. Cost 100 dollars and you will know in most cases what is wrong with the vehicle before seeing the mechanic.” He continued, “I used mine because of an erratic idle issue… The tool told me it was the idle speed control valve. I replaced it myself within 15 minutes at a cost of 60 dollars.”

In a recent video on the LockerGnome channel, Chris Pirillo reviewed one of these devices. CarMD is a simple device that plugs directly into your car and gives you a progress report directly from the car’s own internal computer. This is a great way to keep updated as to your vehicle’s condition and maintenance needs.

Buy the Shop Manual (Do It Yourself)

Bob O’Bob, a member of the LockerGnome community, suggests: “Get a shop manual. Read it. No matter what your vehicle is, knowing more about it, even if you can’t directly apply the knowledge, will help you manage those who do.”

Believe it or not, the majority of what needs to be done to keep a car running smoothly can be done in a few easy steps. Car manufacturers have taken great strides to engineer vehicles that are easier to work on and maintain. Changing the oil, belts, fluids, air filter, and basic troubleshooting generally doesn’t require a licensed mechanic (if the car is out of warranty).

Learning how to perform basic maintenance tasks on your vehicle can be an extremely helpful and important part of being a responsible driver. Changing a tire isn’t something everyone knows how to do, but this knowledge can save you from being stranded on the side of a country road at night.

Wallace Roberts, a member of the LockerGnome community and former auto technician, suggests: “Check the Internet for videos on a particular repair that you’re considering; if you find a video that makes sense and you think you can do the job yourself, you probably can.”

Perform Regular Maintenance

Cheryl Wireman, an auto technician, suggested, “Complete proper maintenance and do not complain when the car breaks if you don’t. Don’t expect me to repair your car for free.”

Doing things like getting your oil changed, having your belts replaced during recommended intervals, and checking your fluids can mean the difference between a long and trouble-free experience and one riddled with breakdowns and hassle.

Did you know that mechanics recommend checking your belts, battery, air filter, exhaust, fuel filter, hoses, power steering fluid, tire inflation and condition, and lights every three months? Many people drive around on poorly inflated tires unaware that their fuel efficiency and tire longevity can be greatly effected.

When in Doubt, Get a Second Opinion

Taking a mechanic’s word for it when they tell you that you’ve got hundreds of dollars worth of unforeseen repairs ahead of you can be difficult. Your car is possibly in pieces on the shop floor, and you’ve spent whatever the diagnostic fee is, but as with medical issues, you shouldn’t take the first opinion when your life savings is on the line.

Most honest mechanics are absolutely used to customers who seek out a second opinion. It’s good business practice to facilitate this request as it could lead to a long-term relationship with the client should the initial diagnosis prove correct and the estimate be reasonable.

People make mistakes, and mechanics are only able to do what they can with the knowledge they have at their disposal. A certain knock or tick may be easy for one mechanic to diagnose and an entirely new symptom for any other.

Stick to Small Shops

Mom and pop auto repair shops are a great place to get a good deal. These shops, like any small business, depend on customer loyalty, repeat business, and good word of mouth to stay around. Larger stores tend to forget this as loose hiring policies and poor overall ground-up management is an easy side effect of larger corporations. That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent mechanics working at larger chain shops, but you may find that many of them have their hands tied by corporate policy.

Take for advantage a vehicle that needs several different repairs at a given time. A small, locally owned shop owner can work out a deal that helps you get back on the road without breaking your budget.

Repair prices can also vary greatly by region. This may sound unusual, but I can have a radiator repaired for close to $1,000 in Austin, or take my car to a mechanic in a small town and have the same job done by an equally qualified mechanic for hundreds less. Part of what determines a shop’s prices is overhead — including rent and taxes — which tend to be significantly less in a small town.

How to Save Money on Your Next Pair of Glasses

The association between glasses and geeks is one that has withstood generations. While one may not always be connected with the other, long hours in front of the computer can take their toll on your vision as your eyes strain to keep focused through countless hours of gaming, reading, and YouTube viewing.

So why should your need for glasses result in a large chunk being taken out of your budget? The money some people spend on a single pair (even at discount stores) can equate to a brand new tablet computer, laptop, or a gaming console. It seems like an awful lot to pay for a technology that’s been around for over a century and does little more than adjust the focus between your eyes and the object(s) in front of you.

This article focuses on solutions. We’ll go over several tips and tricks to help you avoid spending a fortune on your next pair. In some cases, you may find yourself with enough left over to fund your next tech purchase. After all, isn’t that a lot more fun?

Buy Kid-Sized Frames

Kelly Clay, a writer for LockerGnome and fellow four-eyed geek, suggests: “If you have a small face, buy kid-sized frames. This can save you hundreds!”

I have a big head, but many adults out there can actually get away with buying frames made for youth and save a boatload on them by doing so. Even lenses can come with a steep discount if a pair is billed with a child-sized frame.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a child to receive the child discounts. These offers are generally tied to the frame rather than any specific age question of the customer. This is especially true when ordering online.

Order Online

How to Save Money on Your Next Pair of GlassesThere is one option that my wife and her entire family of glasses-wearing folks choose over any other when it comes to saving a pretty penny on eyewear. Buying glasses online can be an excellent choice for the optically challenged as it enables you to pick a frame and lens that fits your needs and benefit from the savings that comes with a business that operates with less overhead.

Zenni Optical is one of these options. With some of the best prices found anywhere, we’ve ordered almost a dozen pairs of glasses between us, and every pair has arrived in perfect condition, lasting just as long as comparable options from local retailers that cost hundreds more. Zenni also provides an impressive range of lens options including Transitions, bifocal, progressive, and anti-glare coating. With quality frames in adult sizes available for as little as $6, we’ve been hard-pressed to find a better option out there.

Another advantage to ordering online is that many online retailers offer a virtual fitting room where you can submit a photo of yourself, your eye measurements (usually noted in your prescription), and try on different frames before adding them to your cart. This is also a great way to get the opinion of your social network as you can take a snapshot of your virtual fitting and share it with friends on Facebook or Twitter for their opinion.

Social Media

Speaking of social media, did you know that you can find great deals through your social network account? Many national and international retailers post special offers to followers of their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. This is a great way to keep updated with the latest specials and deals so you will be less likely to miss a big sale when one comes along.

Not only that, but you can ask your feed/friends for the best deals in your area. Buying eyeglasses is an expensive endeavor for everyone, so people tend to hold on to their money-saving tips and share them willingly with friends whenever the topic comes up.

When it comes to saving money, there is no stone too large to leave unturned. Your online contacts can surprise you with how frugal they can be when it comes to these often hefty expenses.

Optical Insurance

Optical insurance policies can be found fairly cheap. In fact, they’re usually much cheaper than dental or medical. In addition to saving you money at the optometrist’s office, these policies often include a discount on the glasses themselves.

While these savings don’t usually apply on top of in-store discounts, sales, and special offers, they can save you quite a lot of money in the right situation. If you already have optical insurance, you may have this benefit already and don’t even know it.

Coupon and Discount Sites

The eyewear industry is extremely competitive, and that can be a very good thing for customers. One advantage to this competitive market is the abundance of coupons and discount offers shared through social media and online coupon sites such as LockerGnome’s own coupon site, Groupon, LivingSocial, and Google Offers, among others.

Discounts found on these sites range from free shipping to sharp discounts on frames. Bear in mind that the majority of the money spent on glasses in the US is on the actual lenses themselves, so frames are frequently reduced in online deals. If you can find a coupon for a free upgraded lens technology or buy one get one (BOGO), then you will likely have found a great deal.

Saving money on large purchases such as eyewear can free up your expenses for more important things, like gadgets and energy drinks. All kidding aside, everyone could use a bit of extra scratch in their pockets these days, and keeping your eyes open (no pun intended) to potentially large savings can make all the difference in the world.

So what are your money-saving tips for purchasing eyewear?

Gnomie and LockerGnome community member ThePCBuild suggested VoucherCodes for the UK and its American sister site CouponCodes4U as a great source of money-saving coupons to retailers both inside and outside of the eyewear business. If you’re looking for a discount to a major retailer that you know and trust, it might be worth checking this site out first to see if you might be able to save 20-40% on your eyewear. After all, every little bit helps, right?

How to Save Money at Restaurants with Social Media

Eating out can be a rewarding and yet costly experience. Few things will drain your bank account faster than eating more than an occasional meal at your favorite restaurants. The food may be good, but are you spending too much for the convenience of not having to cook or do dishes?

We decided to take this question to the LockerGnome community and find out how technology can help save you money while dining out. Surprisingly, there are quite a few ways, and some of them can save you boatloads. Imagine only paying half of what you would normally pay for a table full of sushi or taking a date out for a night on the town and still having money left over for that bottle of wine or chocolate dessert that adds that little something special to an already romantic evening.

Here are a few ways you can save money at restaurants.

Foursquare

Foursquare is one of those services that can be both creepy and extremely helpful at the same time. Sure, letting the whole world know where you are at any given moment can be unnerving, but you don’t have to publicize your profile. Use it under a pseudonym or only while you’re out of town. The choice is yours, but the savings can be quite real. Some places give you 10% off your tab just by showing them that you’ve checked in using Foursquare. Other places will reward the mayor of their establishment with further discounts, encouraging frequent visitations.

This option was recommended by GaryX24, Peggy Dolane, Dawn Nicole, and TechDrink1 from the LockerGnome community on Twitter.

Peggy Dolane mentioned, “I’ve saved a ton of money with Foursquare, especially during the holidays when AmEx was doing [its] $10 for $10 promotion.”

Groupon, LivingSocial, Google Offers, etc.

There are a whole bunch of helpful services that can save your pocketbook when dining out, but they all pretty much do the same thing. An establishment in your area is either reached out to by one of these services, or it does the reaching in order to trade steep discounts for customers. By taking part in one of these deals, it’s pretty much guaranteed a ton of customers, who pay up front for what amounts to a gift card at a discount. So, instead of advertising its business through a medium that may or may not have any direct impact on sales, it’s able to get a real and immediate response to the campaign while you receive a huge discount on your bill. That sounds like a win-win to me.

I’ve personally used Groupon on several occasions to get 50% off at various locally owned restaurants. The process is fairly quick and I usually get some proof of purchase to take to the store (coupon code, printable receipt, etc.) very quickly.

This suggestion was recommended by NCTA on Twitter, who also suggested our next savings tip.

Restaurant.com

Restaurant.com appears to be little more than a directory of eateries in your area on the surface, but underneath the initial impression is a site filled with savings. As I researched this article, I found a current deal over there where you can purchase $25 gift certificates for as low as $3. That’s a huge savings.

I did a quick search in my area and almost instantly found gift certificates for places I’ve wanted to go to for ages, and never felt the price would justify the experience. Through this site, I’m able to grab a $50 gift certificate for $25 — a 50% savings.

Twitter

It would be hard to write an article about saving money with any business without mentioning Twitter. Following a company’s official Twitter account is a great way to stay in the know for any specials going on. Not only that, but some companies reward followers with exclusive deals that only they can take part in.

I try to make a habit of tweeting any especially satisfying experiences at locally owned businesses. This supports local commerce, but also gives your followers the benefit of hearing about a place they might not know existed otherwise.

Doing this has landed me free lunches on several occasions as businesses are thankful for the free publicity and their competitors try to get me to try what they have to offer. Yes, that sounds too good to be true, but just think about how much they save on advertising when someone spreads the word with a genuine recommendation through social media.

Facebook

Facebook and Twitter are very different, but some companies love to give discounts to people in return for “liking” their official Facebook page. A restaurant with a properly run social media campaign will usually offer some value-add in exchange for allowing it to be a part of your news feed. Exclusive offers, heads-up on any specials, and other benefits are frequently given to followers. If you’re on Facebook, this a great way to save money.

Plastic Jungle

All right, so gift cards are a big deal these days. People give and receive them as gifts for just about any occasion from Valentine’s Day to Christmas. What if you receive a gift card for a place you really don’t want to go?

Enter Plastic Jungle. This site is awesome. You can pick up a gift card for your favorite restaurant at a significant discount. During a quick look at the site, I found offers for 15% off Baja Fresh, 11% off at the Cheesecake Factory, 20% off at Boston Market, and countless others to restaurants that fit all tastes.

One of the cool things about Plastic Jungle is that it’s a great way to make money off your unwanted cards, too. You could technically sell a card to a place you don’t like very much and put your earnings toward a discount at a place you do like.

Oh, and it also saves you money at other places. Jake Ludington, a member of the LockerGnome team, said: “I actually used Plastic Jungle to buy Best Buy gift cards before I bought my fridge, which effectively reduced the amount I spent on the fridge by $96. Things like food have much wider margins.”

VoucherCloud

Do you live in the UK? VoucherCloud is a great way to save money while dining out, and it was recommended by Matt on Twitter. This site allows you to find the latest voucher codes and discount vouchers to a variety of retailers and restaurants across the UK. You can even have mobile vouchers texted to you.

VoucherCloud even has an iPhone app, making it easier to find discounts while you’re out and about.

So, when is VoucherCloud coming to the US?

Closing Thoughts

Being a frugal geek doesn’t limit you to just saving money on electronics or searching for an open source alternative to otherwise overpriced software. You can save a bundle on everyday activities through utilizing tools like social media and the greater Internet to find and secure deals at your favorite hangouts.

So, what about you? How do you save money at restaurants?

How to Save Money on Your Water Bill

Saving money on your utility bills is a great way to go from being in the red at the end of the month to enjoying a monthly savings that can go toward larger purchases such as a new laptop or an upgraded smartphone. Perhaps one of the most often overlooked bills for cost cutting comes from your water utility.

I spent five years working for an electric/water utility helping customers with concerns regarding their bills. During this time, I picked up on a number of tricks that really work toward cutting costs and keeping the monthly budget under control. Water is an essential resource for any household, though here in America we tend to take advantage of the abundance of the resource, which can lead to often surprising hits to the pocketbook come the end of our billing cycles.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to cut this often expensive bill down. Believe it or not, the average person in the US uses about 4,000 gallons of water each month. That leaves a lot of wiggle room for cutting usage. A household of four, for example, would have somewhere around 12,000 gallons of water to cut down from, making group efforts count that much more.

Gadgets That Help You Conserve

Let’s face it: Geeks love gadgets. Gadgets help us by making kicking stubborn habits a little easier. This could easily be relayed to excessive water usage. Here are some gadgets that can help you cut down on your water bill.

Aqualim

The Aqualim is an interesting take on an efficient shower head. Not only does it conserve water during your shower, but it keeps tabs on just how much time you’ve spent in there. After a set amount of water has been used, the flow will reduce to little more than a soft dribble. After a little more time, it will shut off completely. You can reset the shower once if you have a hair full of shampoo and need a good amount of water to finish up.

The downside of the Aqualim is that it isn’t available just yet. It’s expected to release to the Australian market soon, at a retail price of about AU$80. If you live in Australia, you can sign up to be part of the first batch shipped out at AU$55.

Water Saver

It’s easy to forget just how much water flows through a water hose while watering the plants, operating the sprinkler, or washing the family car. There is one gadget that can help remind you of exactly how much water you’re using, allowing you to better gauge your usage in real time. The Water Saver is a small, portable water meter that attaches to your hose, measures the flow, and gives you a simple readout of your current usage.

Shower Timer

Sometimes, it can be hard to remember exactly how long you’ve been in the shower. This little 2×2″ device attaches to the wall using a suction cup, and gives you a five-minute reminder to wrap things up and go about your day. All you need to do is push it to start, and it’s ready when you are.

Water Saving Tips

Not everything can be improved with the help of a gadget. Thankfully, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help in the effort of water conservation.

Check for Leaks
Check your home for leaks monthly. Leaky faucets aren’t the only potential water wasters lurking in the nether regions of your home. An underground leak can be difficult to detect and costly to repair. An undetected or untreated leak, however, can lead to permanent damage to your home and hundreds of dollars in wasted water over a period of time.

Detecting leaks is actually a fairly simple process. All you need to do is shut off all the water-using devices in your home and take a trip out to the water meter. Once there, take a photo of the meter with your phone. This will give you a clear idea of the kind of water leak you may have once you return to check the meter later.

At this point, you may want to leave the house for a bit. An hour or two will do just fine. Upon your return, check the meter and see if the photo you took earlier looks any different. If it does, you may have a leak. Water meters can be tricky to read because of the reversing dials, but if you can figure it out you’ll be able to estimate just how bad the leak actually is.

Maintain Your Toilet
Have you ever heard your toilet run in the middle of then night? If so, there’s a chance that you may have a small leak that slowly drains from the tank to the bowl throughout the day. Checking for this leak is very easy. All you need to do is drop some food coloring in the tank and wait. If the bowl water changes color, you’ve got a leak.

Fixing this kind of leak is also a very easy thing to do. There is a gasket at the bottom of the tank that is supposed to fall flush to the pipe leading to the bowl. When you flush, this gasket lifts and the water drains down through the opening. Replacing this gasket can solve most issues fairly easily.

You may also want to consider filling a bottle with water and placing it in the tank. This can reduce the amount of water used with every flush.

Stop Wasting Water
Most of the battle to lowering your water bill comes down to personal habits. Turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, watering the lawn on a conservative cycle by hand rather than setting up a sprinkler and letting it go all day, and even limiting your showers can have a huge impact on your overall water usage.

Water your plants at night rather than during the day. The heat of the sun evaporates water very quickly, even during the milder months. By watering at night, you’re allowing more to get to the roots and provide nourishment.

A lot of water can be saved by sorting your laundry a little differently. Instead of running six loads of laundry, see if you can combine loads without risking color bleeding. Waiting until you have a full load worth of clothes before running it can also help conserve a good amount of water. After all, do you really need that shirt tomorrow?

The dishwasher actually conserves more water than hand washing does in most cases. It’s easy to keep the faucet on full blast while scrubbing a pot. A dishwasher uses a minimal amount of water for everything. This can add up to big savings over time.

Fix drippy faucets as soon as you see them. A steady drip can waste hundreds and even thousands of gallons over a single month. This adds up to a lot of money during the period of a year.

What’s Ahead?

Technology has given us a great deal of tools to help manage and conserve our water usage. In 2010, New Yorkers received an upgrade to their existing water service in the form of a wireless water meter. This meter transmits the water usage to the utility and makes it accessible to the user with a click of the mouse.

Appliances will undoubtedly become more water efficient as time goes on. Rainwater collection bins, improved gardening techniques, and better lawn fertilizers are being developed to help decrease the amount of tap water needed to maintain a lush, full lawn.

What about you? What do you believe the future will hold for water conservation?

How to Save Money on Shoes

Every year or so, I have to buy a new pair of shoes. That’s not to say the shoes I buy are of particularly low quality, but I typically wear a single pair day in and day out until they fall apart. That said, there are some great tricks that can help you save money on your next pair of shoes, giving you more room in your budget for more important things like video cards and a new smartphone.

The world of footwear is a strange one on its best days. People spend hundreds of dollars for a shoe based on a number of factors including brand name, a particular technology, or a point of origin. For example, shoes made in America tend to go for a high price in part because the costs at the factory are higher. There’s also a pride in buying locally that puts locally made products in high demand.

I’m personally a big fan of San Antonio Shoes (SAS), which makes an excellent line of very comfortable shoes in Texas that seems to last forever. Unfortunately, these shoes can also be fairly expensive.

Here are some tips to help you save money on your next shoe purchase.

Outlet Stores

If you live in or near a large city, there is a good chance that you’ll find an outlet center somewhere within 100 miles of you. These centers are home to dozens of outlet stores from top brands including Nike, Adidas, and more. Texas has one of the largest outlet centers around in San Marcos, which is actually two outlet malls across the street from each other.

The real advantage of outlet malls is the savings. You can easily save 50-75% on top brand products. Some manufacturers test new products out in outlet centers to judge demand before going to a larger market, so you may also be the first on your block to get your hands on something really cool.

For the price of a pair of off-brand shoes that fall apart in a matter of weeks, you can typically find top-of-the-line merchandise that’s current, in style, and reliable.

Military Surplus

I’ve written before about military surplus stores and the advantage of military-grade merchandise being sold at cut-rate prices. It’s easy to forget just how many shoe styles are made available to military both at home and abroad. Sandals, sneakers, dress shoes, boots, and hiking apparel that look exactly like what you would find on the civilian market can be picked up at a surplus store for a significant discount. Add to that construction that meets military specs, and you’ve got a great deal.

Shop Online

Kelly Clay, a fellow writer here at LockerGnome, is no stranger to saving money by finding deals online. As she recommends, “Zappos is the epitome of shoe sites. Great prices and great customer service. It’s what [it’s] known for.”

Zappos is indeed one of the best known online retailers not only for having decent prices, but its customer service is second to none. A lenient return policy, incredibly customer-centric support system, and a smooth interface are just some of the benefits that have helped Zappos build such a stellar reputation among consumers.

Chris Pirillo, a consumer advocate and frugal geek in his own right, advises, “Find the style you like, then look for a cheaper option online.”

One of the big benefits of online retail is the lack of overhead commonly associated with physical stores. Amazon (which owns Zappos), eBay, and their affiliated sellers can afford to shave some of the costs off the prices typically placed on footwear by traditional stores.

You can also pick out a number of other products such as shirts, pants, jackets, and other accessories at most online retailers. Even stores that specialize in shoes often carry other merchandise as a convenience for customers.

Use Insertable Insoles

Shoe inserts and insoles do a lot more than just make your steps more comfortable. They also extend the life of your shoe by relieving some of the pressure off the inside of the shoe with each step.

Not all shoes work with insoles, but some of the more quality ones do. Improved arch support, better shock absorption, and even odor control are just a few of the benefits of opting to improve your experience through this simple (and cheap) trick.

Turn Cheap Shoes into a DIY Project

This is another suggestion by Chris Pirillo, and one I rather like. Who’s to say you can’t turn a cheap pair of shoes into something truly unique and memorable by adding a few elements to personalize your footwear?

British Artist Finn Stone made international news by unveiling a pair of LEG-GO stilettos that featured LEGO bricks which covered every square inch of the shoe’s exterior. The shoe in question may as well have been a pair of discount off-brand kicks from the supermarket, but the fashion statement a little glue and a few colorful bricks can make is one inexpensive way to personalize and conceal even the most boring footwear.

There are plenty of great DIY projects you can do to jazz up boring attire. A drop of hot glue and a small accessory found at your hobby shop can turn boring into brilliant and let you express your inner geek.

After all, have you seen what passes for high-end fashion these days? Lady Gaga could tie a $3.00 steak to a stiletto and suddenly it’s a $10,000 fashion statement with thousands of clones and knock-offs hitting shelves across the globe.

Other Tips

Sometimes the cheaper show is cheaper for a reason. Don’t assume that the $10 pair of sneakers you see at your local supermarket will get you through the day. You can do a lot of damage to your feet, spine, and hips by choosing the wrong shoes. Keep comfort in mind when shopping. Even high-end footwear can be a bad fit for your feet.

Choose the right tool for the job. Running shoes are great for running, but may not be the best choice for everyday walking and lounging. The same could be said about skate shoes being poor choices for wearing during a jog. It’s never a bad idea to have a few pairs to choose from, each made to fill a specific role.

Kelly Clay suggests, “Wait for sales, buy knock-offs, and resell expensive shoes you only wear once on eBay. You can use the money you make from the sale to buy your next pair. You can also borrow shoes from friends and siblings.”

There are still plenty of shoe repair shops in business all around the world that specialize in restoring and even improving on your existing shoes. A good pair of high-end boots can last a lifetime with proper care and a little repair work once in a while. Sole replacement can allow you to enjoy the comfort of a pair of broken-in boots without losing the safety and reliability of good treading.

No matter what you decide, the money you save on shoes can really add up over time. Just think about how much closer you’ll be to saving up enough for that shiny new computer with an extra $50-100 in your pocket.

Five Things That You Should Not Buy Used

Buying secondhand goods is a great way to save money. Unfortunately, some products come with a little added risk when you buy them used. Either the products themselves don’t age particularly well, or they might contain hidden problems that rarely present themselves during the initial inspection.

Just about everything on this list has been either purchased by me or close friends of mine at one point or another. Each purchase has resulted in less than satisfactory user experiences. While new products can certainly arrive defective, warranties and protection plans are rarely transferable. If you buy something used from the wrong person and it breaks on you a week later, you might be out of luck.

Here are five things you should avoid buying used. Keep in mind while reading this list that I’m not including factory refurbished items. A camera or vacuum cleaner sold directly from a certified dealer after being refurbished by the factory can still be a good deal. It all comes down to warranty and whether or not the item itself has been inspected and approved by a certified technician.

Laptops

Five Things You Should Not Buy UsedI’m going to state first and foremost that refurbished goods should not be considered in this category. The process of factory refurbishing is generally pretty thorough from most major manufacturers out there. HP, Lenovo, Dell, and Apple have great refurbishing processes.

The laptops I’m referring to are the ones you buy at thrift stores, pawn shops, off eBay, and through Craigslist. Used laptops sold by individual sellers are a risky bargain. Sure, you might save some serious cash, but you never know what kind of abuse that portable computer has endured over its lifespan. Laptops by nature are difficult to repair and even more difficult to protect than desktop machines. A slight jarring or drop can cause a number of issues that may not present themselves right away.

Bottom line: Buy used laptops at your own peril. If you do, don’t trust any mission critical functions to them.

Vacuum Cleaners

Vacuum cleaners are terrible products to buy used. You never know what someone has subjected this machine to, and it may or may not be something you’d want to bring into your home. The vacuum cleaner is one of those household appliances that can be incredibly difficult to troubleshoot and even harder to fix.

A broken seal can be difficult to spot on initial inspection and a poor vacuum isn’t always easy to spot. Bottom line: You may be wasting your money on a used vacuum more often than not. People don’t get rid of their vacuum cleaners if they’re running well. They upgrade because what they have doesn’t work very well.

DSLR Cameras

A few test shots don’t tell the whole story of a high-end camera. Hot pixels, sensor scratches, and other problems can present themselves and drive you crazy once they do. Buying used cameras online isn’t recommended. You never know if the previous owner decided that they would try to clean the sensor with a cotton ball (a bad idea) or a cotton shirt (a VERY bad idea). Unless the camera is factory refurbished or rectified, you’re probably best avoiding buying one secondhand.

As with any item on this list, there are exceptions. Sometimes, you can get a great deal on a camera that someone has taken very good care of. The problem with buying used, especially online, is you never know exactly what happened to the device during its life time.

Homemade Desktop Computers

I typically try to avoid desktop computers that were assembled by someone and are being sold on Craigslist or eBay. Sure, these systems may have been assembled with love. The previous owner may have built the ultimate gaming machine with all the bells and whistles. The fact is, you never know if this person forgot something important and easily overlooked such as thermal paste on the heat sink. Some components work better with others, and computer enthusiasts often mix RAM and other components with motherboards that aren’t optimized for the product.

Pre-assembled machines from a brand you know and trust is a good thing. Not only do you typically get a restore disc that includes all the drivers you need, but also specific support updates that can help the machine run as it is intended. You generally know that the components are a match, and can depend on the product to work. Of course, there are exceptions.

Hard Drives

When we sent the question out to Twitter asking what tech product our community members would never recommend anyone buy used, the first and most popular suggestion was a hard drive. Ckeboss, a member of the LockerGnome community, tweeted: “Hard drives store your important data. They are also prone to failure because of their mechanical nature.”

Never ever EVER EVER EVER buy hard drives used. Yes, you read that right. I’m calling out everyone who ever sold a hard drive that didn’t quite work for them and passed it off as something great that they just didn’t have use for. Hard drives are cheap new, and there’s no reasonable excuse for further cheaping out on this one vital system component. Your motherboard, processor, GPU, and RAM can be replaced very easily. Hard drives are a different situation.

Buying a used hard drive is like buying a record with deep gouges on the surface. Sure, it might still play, but I wouldn’t trust it to stand the test of time as the needle catches and drags across various pits and dips on the old record.

You should assume that every used hard drive has been dropped. If someone’s selling an open box on eBay, it probably was. Even the slightest amount of abuse on the part of the original owner can significantly reduce the lifespan of a drive. Is that a risk you’re willing to take with your valuable data?

Anyone who has bought enough hard drives will tell you that there are enough problems in the world with new hard drives to throw the monkey wrench in the operation of a used one.

On the other hand, there are plenty of things that you should buy used.

How to Save Money on the Groom’s Wedding Band

Buying a wedding band for the groom can be more difficult than it seems. Traditional yellow gold rings are fine for some, but modern wedding bands come in a variety of different materials that appeal to today’s gentleman. Thankfully, some of the more popular and appealing of these options come with a significantly reduced price tag to other traditional wedding band materials.

Choosing a wedding ring on a budget is a great way to save money that can be used on other very important components of a wedding or early days of marriage. For example, a few hundred dollars can go a long way towards hiring a better photographer to capture the moments of your big day. You could also put these savings towards your joint savings and, later, the down payment on a new home.

Let’s face it, while the symbolic nature of the wedding band is important, men generally don’t have as much attachment to the material and/or cost of their wedding band as the bride. You may see an embedded diamond or two on a man’s wedding band, but when you’re on a budget, this is one of the first costs that get cut with very little pushback from the groom.

During the months before my wedding, I wanted a titanium ring because it is a geek-friendly material that is light enough not to bother me throughout the day. My wedding band ended up costing less than $100, which saved us more than enough to afford our wedding gifts to each other: Nikon D3000 DSLR cameras. Every couple is different.

Material

Here are a few alternative materials and some things to consider when shopping.

Titanium
Titanium is a popular choice for modern grooms. Not only is it an incredibly light material, but it’s also one of the strongest metals out there. Titanium in itself is also quite inexpensive when compared to precious metals like gold or platinum. There is a coolness factor to having a titanium wedding band. If the love of your life is a geek, they’ll appreciate the awesomeness of this strong and lightweight metal. Titanium is also hypoallergenic, making it a great alternative for grooms with allergies to gold or silver. It’s also more subtle than shinier metals due to its muted grey color.

With the benefits come the downsides. Titanium is easy to scratch. While the metal itself may be strong, the surface can be easily scuffed over time. You also can’t have most titanium rings resized. Once you purchase it, you’ll have to replace it if your ring size changes. It also has no give in terms of shape, meaning that it won’t adjust over time to the shape of your finger like softer gold or silver. This may cause discomfort as it presses against adjoining fingers over time.

Tungsten
Tungsten is an extremely strong hypoallergenic metal that is extremely scratch resistant. If you want a ring that can be polished to a mirror finish, without high maintenance, Tungsten is one of the best choices out there. Tungsten made for rings is actually a combination of tungsten and carbon known as tungsten carbide. Like titanium and stainless steel, these rings tend to be cheaper than ones made of precious metals like gold, silver, or platinum.

Tungsten is heavier than most other metals, making it harder to ignore or get used to than titanium or stainless steel. Like ceramic, tungsten carbide rings can’t be resized. Some jewelry stores offer a lifetime size replacement guarantee, giving you the ability to replace your ring with another of the same general make and price point for just a few dollars. Tungsten is also capable of cracking or shattering when dropped on ceramic tile, or slung against a hard surface.

Ceramic
Ceramic rings open up a wide range of possibilities in terms of look and color. These rings are lightweight, and offer a multitude of different styling options to match the needs and tastes of the groom. A glossy finish gives the ring a solid appearance, and the hard material stands up to almost anything it can encounter during normal day-to-day activity. Ceramic is also hypoallergenic, which makes it a great choice for grooms with allergies to commonly used precious metals.

Unfortunately, ceramic can shatter when dropped or hit against a hard surface at significant speed. They also can’t be resized, meaning that you’ll either need to buy-in to a low-cost replacement plan or buy a new one when your size changes.

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel rings are great for shopping on a very tight budget. Stainless steel is a relatively lightweight material that is easy to shape and design, so you will find more options in terms of shape and patterns than you would on a harder and less moldable metal like titanium and tungsten.

Unfortunately, stainless steel is a cheap and relatively weak metal compared to others. It is resistant to the elements, but more likely to need replacement than tungsten, titanium, or ceramic. They’re also so cheap, it might be less expensive to buy a new one than have it resized. In general, stainless steel may be great for someone who wants a certain look or is prone to losing their wedding band, but it isn’t something you should expect to wear daily for the rest of your life.

Family

In addition to material, you might want to consider a few other money-saving options. For example, a wedding band passed down through the family may be an excellent choice for you if one is available. This is a common practice among brides. Keeping a wedding ring “alive” within the family from generation to generation adds to the sacred and symbolic importance of the ring itself. My wife, for example, wears her grandmother’s wedding and engagement ring on one hand and our original engagement ring on the other. Everyone is different, but that’s what worked for us.

If a precious metal such as gold, silver, or platinum is something you really want, this could be one way of satisfying that need without breaking the bank by buying a brand new ring.

Sales

Jewelry stores have sales during the wedding off-season. Usually taking place in spring, wedding season is the time of year that is most temperate in your area. March, April, May, and June are big months for weddings, as is February due to Valentine’s Day. A jewelry store offering a 30% discount on their merchandise can save you hundreds of dollars on a quality ring. Remember, percentages really add up when you’re talking about larger prices.

Shop Secondhand

Not everyone gets to live happily ever after, and if you’re not one for superstitions, then you might want to check eBay or Craigslist for a wedding band. Yes, you should stick to a trusted seller on eBay or have someone from Craigslist meet you at a jewelry store that can confirm the validity of a ring’s value, but you can find great deals by buying secondhand. Pawn shops tend to mark up their prices to near-retail, but you might be able to find a good deal from a reasonable shop.

I Do, Now I Don’t is a successful secondhand jewelry site that lets people sell their wedding jewelry off at a low price for another couple to hopefully have better luck with.

Discount Web Sites

There are a ton of sites out there that offer fine jewelry at an incredibly discounted price. Get your size taken at your local jewelry store, and take that information to your browser and do some searching. Bottom line: jewelry is marked up significantly by the time it makes its way to a local store with brick-and-mortar overhead. By shopping online, you can find excellent wedding bands for a fraction of what you would pay in-person. Diamonds, for example, are greatly inflated in price here in the US. Overseas, their value can be very different.

Alternatives to the Wedding Band

A lot of modern couples don’t even have wedding bands or rings. Yes, this has long been a symbol of love and endless devotion, but there is nothing that says you can’t symbolize this commitment through alternative means.

One couple I know has dog tags made up, each with their spouse’s name on it. Some couples get tattoos to express their devotion to one another. This may not be my first choice, but it could be a good option if you’re prone to losing things.

Wedding watches are also a popular alternative for men. This is a functional alternative, that can be a great option if he works in an industry where a ring could easily become a hazard.

Closing Comments

Wedding bands are a symbolic gesture, and that symbolism can be relayed to whatever the couple chooses. Be it a ring, tattoo, tag, necklace, bracelet, or simply a promise made to one another.

Choosing the right wedding band takes a lot of consideration. After all, it’s something the groom will be wearing (potentially) for the rest of their life, and you want to make sure it’s something that matches his lifestyle, tastes, and work. Doing this without breaking the bank is just a bonus.

How to Save Money on Luggage

Have you recently switched jobs to one that requires you to travel on occasion? When I made the decision to move to a more travel-friendly career, the idea of packing a week’s worth of clothes and supplies and heading out on the road came into play. Unfortunately, I didn’t own any luggage outside of a few very budget pieces that are all right, but nothing you could easily move from place to place or use to keep a decent amount of gear. Facing my first real business trip, I knew that I needed to get a decent bag that was capable of holding my clothes and electronics without requiring me to check the bag at the airport.

Unfortunately, bags made for travel can be extremely expensive. Prices for a decent carry-on bag can range from around $50 to well over $500, depending on the brand and features. If you’re really looking for the best of the best, you might find yourself dropping an amount that reaches into the four digits.

So, how do you find a good bag on a budget? Here are a few tips.

Avoid Pricey Brands

Having a brand or a logo on anything that has an inherent function or purpose is useless. Let’s be honest: the only people who care about the brand of your bag are the same people you really don’t want to work with or befriend in the first place. Stick to the simple rule of function over form. The material, capacity, protective elements, and modular extras are far more important than a brand name. Bottom line: you are wasting your money if you check the tag for anything other than specifications or price.

This rule doesn’t always apply. For example, if a certain brand plays to your particular tastes in terms of features and function, then that is a different scenario altogether. LockerGnome’s Jake Ludington likes Tom Bihn bags because they each share a particular set of useful features. Some may prefer mil spec gear for its durability and modular features. Pouches can be readily added and removed from mil spec bags, allowing a single bag to work in multiple situations. This is a matter of personal taste and needs, and not a case of chasing a name brand that doesn’t actually bring anything useful or unique to the table that you can’t find in an off-brand product.

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores are a great place to find quality luggage. You can normally find luggage along the wall of a thrift store, and you might be surprised at how often you can pick up a complete set for pennies on the dollar. Luggage is one of those items that is either used until it falls apart or is rarely used by its owner. Families donate luggage all the time when they find a new set or no longer have a use for them. Their loss could be your gain; just make sure to check each bag carefully before bringing it to the register.

When it comes to second-hand products, few are as functionally reliable as a good piece of luggage. If a bag is built to last, it will last, no matter who is using it. Also, if you want to chase a name brand, you’re likely to find a great deal here.

Family

Are you in a situation where you know you need to travel, but aren’t certain you’ll be doing it very often? There’s a good chance you have a family member or friend that has a set sitting in their closet, collecting dust. Luggage is one of those things that a lot of people have, but not everyone needs. A friend or family member will likely be willing to let you borrow theirs during a rare trip of your own. If anything, it gives them a chance to clean out that closet of theirs and discover a pair of 20-year-old shoes in which they suddenly have a renewed interest. Hooray!

Sales

Luggage is sold at a premium during the travel season. Summer and holidays are big when it comes to selling travel gear. Consider holding off on your purchase until the off seasons. Stores will often mark down luggage in order to make room in their inventory for the next year’s stock.

Big sales holidays such as Black Friday and Labor Day are also great times to find good deals on the bags you need.

Coupons

Have you considered signing up for coupon services such as Groupon? You might be surprised by a really good deal on a set of luggage from a store near you. You can also check your local newspaper for coupons that offer a percentage off of your next purchase. This would be a great opportunity to buy something big, like a piece (or set) of luggage.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to find a better deal on the bag (or bags) you’re looking for. Luggage is an important consideration when leaving the comfort of your home for business, pleasure, or a mix of the two. It’s important that you maximize on functionality while keeping aesthetics in mind.

Those are my tips; what are yours?

Five Ways to Save Money on Coffee

Coffee is one of those universally recognized symbols of the morning routine. For many, a cup of coffee is an essential part of waking up and preparing oneself for the tasks ahead.

Unfortunately, a good cup of coffee can be hard to find at a good price. Even if regular coffee isn’t your preference, many other drinks served at a coffee shop come with a significant markup. Since when is it acceptable to charge $3-5 for a cup of coffee that realistically costs $0.50-0.75 to make?

So, how do you satisfy your need for caffeine without turning to canned or bottled flavored drinks? Here are five ways to save money on coffee.

Make Your Own
All right, so this suggestion seems like a hard one to follow, but there are plenty of great options available to you that don’t require a lot of timely effort. Some coffeemakers use pods to supply the grounds that can easily be inserted and removed after the cup is made. There are plenty of fairly reasonably priced options that make a single cup at a time, giving you the ability to grab your drink and go.

Bring Your Own Cup
Reusable cups are not only great for the environment, but also good for your pocketbook. Many coffee shops, both local and chain, offer discounts for customers who supply their own cup. Next time you’re at the counter of your favorite coffee shop, ask if it offers this discount. You might be surprised how many do, and it can add up to a significant savings over time.

Customer Loyalty Programs
All right, I’m not a huge fan of customer loyalty cards, but there are plenty of reasons to consider making return trips to your local coffee shop that does have one of these offers. For example, a punch card that gives you a free cup of joe every five or 10 trips is a good way to save money over time. Sure, you may not be making a down payment on a mansion from the money you save, but why give away cash that you can otherwise keep?

Avoid Trendy Chains
I’m going to say it: you’ve got to avoid those big coffee chains out there. Yes, they may have that one blend that you can’t imagine living without, but you might be surprised just how good the coffee is at that locally owned shop down the street. There are quite a few convenience stores that offer a more upscale selection in their blends, as well.

Coupons
Did you know that coupons are becoming a serious source of discounts for the tech savvy? In Seattle, an app called Pirq is currently being tested that allows people to find deals of up to 40% and 50% off at their favorite restaurants and coffee houses. Groupon, Living Social, etc. are also great sources of occasional deals. You might also find that your favorite chain has its own iPhone or Android App that has a built-in coupon the cashier can scan at the register. If you can eat it, or drink it, you can find a coupon for it.

Unfortunately, coupons can be a pain to keep up with. Often, the best deals are hidden away in an app or buried in the pages of your local newspaper. You’ll need to find a service or two that you trust to give you consistently good deals to places in which you’re generally interested. If that means grabbing a copy of your local events listing, you might make up for the effort in the money you save.

Bonus Tip: Cut Back
Yes, this suggestion may seem like a cop-out, but listen up. Coffee and caffeine in general causes dependence over time. Where one cup of coffee might have worked for you in the past, your intake gradually increased over time. You know who you are. Consider dropping back your habit and having one cup, or a smaller cup to start your day. If you’re feeling down after that, try forcing yourself to go for that less-expensive potted coffee at the office. After a while, you may find that you can accomplish more with less.

Saving money on coffee isn’t the most important step to correcting a budget that goes into the red, but it is one of those many small pieces that add up to a better financial outlook without sacrificing some of the perks to which you’ve become accustomed.

With these methods, you should be able to put a dent in your monthly coffee budget and put that money toward something even better, like a sound machine that helps you sleep.

These are my suggestions; what are yours?

How to Save Money on Physical Books

While eBooks seem to be all the rage right now due to considerably lower average cost than their physical counterparts, the benefits of buying a physical book are still worth the price difference to many avid readers. Like an audio CD from a popular band, physical books sometimes come with additional extras like companion DVDs and physical collectables. So, how do you save money on these often expensive pieces of literature?

Shop at Used Book Stores

Used book stores are great places to find books both old and new at very reasonable prices. The typical price for a used book is at or below 50% of the original marked asking price, with rare books being more valuable. Places that sell used books often buy them directly from their customers to keep their stock rich with a variety of interesting and rotating titles so you might be able to trade in your old literature for something new to you with for pennies on the dollar of what you might normally expect to pay.

Book Swap Services

How to Save Money on Physical BooksThere are a few sites online that allow you to trade your old books for someone else’s old books without having to deal much with the fuss of buying and selling. PaperBack Swap is one of these places, and it’s built a business on facilitating trades between members.

By joining a book exchange, you can find the book you’re looking for and acquire it by simply making some of your old books available in exchange. You may not have to exchange with the same member, as the deal works on more of a community level. For example, if Fred needs War and Peace and Jill’s got it, she can send it to Fred and pick from other books available by other members in exchange.

Amazon

Like it or not, online retailers have the market cornered when it comes to undercutting retail brick-and-mortar bookstores. I’m personally a big fan of walking into a bookstore and experiencing the environment that comes with physically browsing the aisles for the perfect book and making the purchase. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the best way to save money. Amazon frequently offers deals like free shipping and gives buyers access to a library of used books to buy from as well as third-party distributors. When it comes to quickly finding a good deal on a hardcover or paperback book, it’s hard to look past this retail giant.

Join a Store’s Discount Club

Many book shops including, Barnes & Noble, offer customers the opportunity to join their frequent customer club, which comes with a reasonable discount of 10-20% on any merchandise in the store. This, coupled with seasonal sales and frequent special can add up to serious savings on your purchase. In some cases, these clubs can even save you money at the store’s coffee bar, as well.

Going Out of Business Sales

This may be a depressing note on which to end this article, but the reality of the industry as it stands today is grim. Borders has recently shut its doors entirely and gone out of business after decades of providing service to its many customers. Locally owned book shops are facing an uphill battle as the popularity of eBooks grows and more are closing every quarter. Clearance and going out of business sales are one way the store owner can attempt to recoup at least some of their investment in stock without having to pay to cart it all off once it comes time to actually close their doors. By taking advantage of these sales, you are giving them the opportunity to shut down without facing overwhelming debt on their current stock. In addition, you can save a bundle as well.

The book business is a rough one right now, and as more and more readers embrace digital books, stores around the country are having to adapt and bring their business online in a hurry. Fortunately for some of us old-fashioned physical book lovers, there are still a few ways to save money.

How to Save Money on Computer Games

In recent years, the gaming industry has grown to a point where it stands toe-to-toe with the movie industry. In fact, more and more games are beginning to feature the voices of Academy Award winning actors and actresses and these roles are appearing as part of their resume alongside blockbuster hits. In many ways, games have become an entertainment medium that combines the art of storytelling and the budget of major potion pictures with an interactive environment only a game can provide. With some titles costing users between $40 and $60, there is no question that gamers have had to make room in their budgets for these games. Here are some tips on how to save money on computer games:

Buy Digital Copies
Online game retailers like Steam and Direct 2 Drive frequently have incredible deals on games. This is due in part to the lessened overhead often associated with traditional brick-and-mortar retail. For example, a big retail store has to pay for a lot more than its merchandise. It needs to cover logistics, paying staff in the warehouse and sales floor, stocking, accounting at each location, cashiers, lighting, air conditioning, taxes, etc. All of these things are put aside when dealing with a cloud-based service. Bandwidth is cheaper than physical transportation, and these savings are usually passed on to the customers during these big sales. It isn’t uncommon to see a new game go for 50%-75% off online while retail stores have to maintain a specific profit margin just to stay in business.

How to Save Money on Computer GamesDon’t Purchase Right Away
As much as you’d like to buy a new game on opening weekend, hold off if you’re on a strict budget. You’ll be surprised how quickly a game will go on sale or experience a price drop after it comes out. Think of the gaming business like the movie business. After a month or two, the newness of the product dies down and sales begin to kick in so latecomers will be enticed to make the purchase. If you can be patient, be patient.

Take Advantage of Pre-Order Deals
If you’re less inclined to wait, try to get in on any pre-order deals that may come your way. Retailers and even primary distributors will often offer some incentive for making a pre-order. Even if it’s just 10%, it can help cut the price down on more expensive titles quite a bit. You can put that extra savings towards a new game next time.

Consider Actual Expected Play Time
At some point, you need to put a value on the amount of time you actually get to spend playing the game. If you’re buying a game that allows you to play against other people online for free for an unlimited amount of time, you may get more hours out of the title than you would on a game with a set storyline that plays out over an average period of time. For example, people who buy Neverwinter Nights and play on custom campaigns or persistent worlds might end up playing for months while Dragon Age puts you through a set campaign that may or may not hold your interest past a few play-throughs.

Play Demos
If a demo of the game you’re considering purchasing is available, download it and give it a go. This will give you the opportunity to find out if the game is actually something you’ll have lasting interest in and give you a chance to cut through the marketing. Marketing makes even the worst games seem appealing and playing something yourself gives you a much more realistic take on what a specific title has to offer you for your money. This especially goes for MMOs and other subscription-based games. If the company wants people to make an initial investment plus pay a monthly subscription, its games had better be good.

Overall, gaming can be an expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to put you in the poor house. Finding the perfect game for long-term enjoyment can be difficult with so many options out there (and so few of them really any good). If someone is offering a good deal on something, take a look at it and see if the deal is the result of poor sales from a bad game or a legitimate special offer that will work out for you.

How to Save Money on MMORPGs

One of the most popular online gaming genres right now is the massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). From Aion Online to World of Warcraft and all points in-between, this popular genre of games has a massive following including gamers from backgrounds as diverse as the worlds their virtual characters inhabit. There’s no question that these games are big business for their developers. The monthly subscription fees that are incurred by their users (in addition to the costs for expansions) can become as much a part of your budget as your telephone or cable bill.

There is a ray of hope for those of you who enjoy the idea of a massively multiplayer experience without spending a giant chunk of your budget doing so. Here are some tips on how to save money on MMORPGs:

Free-To-Play Games
There are plenty of free MMORPGs out there with significant user bases and remarkable overall game quality. Games such as 4Story (a World of Warcraft clone) have borrowed from concepts of their more expensive  counterparts and offered the game absolutely free to players. Almost all of these titles offer extra bonuses and perks to players for real money including premium plans that allow you to reach a certain level or access various features of the game. Some of them give their free players full access to levels and abilities and only sell in-game currency to players as their primary source of income.

How to Save Money on MMORPGsWait
I know telling people to wait is akin to asking them not to play in the first place. I have seen prices on popular games drop from $30-60 to $5 and even become free (subscription separate) after just a couple months from launch. RIFT Online is a very popular MMORPG that initially launched with a box price of $79.99 for the Collectors Edition ($59.99 for the digital version). Just a week ago, I picked up RIFT Collector’s Edition for $5.99 on Steam. This was a temporary sale, though this kind of deal is becoming more and more popular among MMO titles.

Don’t Buy a Box
The funny thing about the MMO genre is that your gaming experience is almost entirely dependent on the cloud. You don’t have an offline mode, and updates are frequently pushed to clients without a choice if they intend to continue to play. If you’re on a budget, consider purchasing a digital copy of the game. Chances are, if the title has been out for a few months, you’re probably going to have to re-download much of the content anyway as patches and various other changes have been made. As mentioned before, deals like 90% off specials aren’t made at retail stores unless a game absolutely doesn’t sell and they’re kicking it out of stock entirely.

Find a Friend Who Plays
If you have a friend who already plays, you might be able to get in on an invitation basis. For example, RIFT has recently sent out offers to its current player base, allowing players to invite a friend with a FREE digital copy of the game. This means instant direct savings as an incentive to play. Remember, the company makes its money off monthly subscriptions, and having friends to play with increases the chances of renewals significantly. It’s in the game maker’s best interest to spare potential players the initial (security) cost to join in the fun knowing they’re more likely to keep paying in the future. EVE Online also has a system in place where inviting a friend (or opening a second account) can be done at a significant discount and has even included free or discounted time on the monthly subscription.

Playing an MMORPG can be a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have to break your bank. Paying for the initial privilege of paying a monthly fee is one of the biggest barriers to entry for players, and the companies who put these titles out know that. In many cases, they will bend over backwards to get you in the door so they can hook you with their content. It’s just a matter of knowing how to take advantage of these deals.

How to Save Money on Your Groceries

If there is one universal thing geeks love, it’s food. While we may come in all shapes and sizes, LAN parties and conventions are always accompanied by food in one way or another. The problem is, grocery shopping tends to take way too much money out of your gadget budget than you may feel comfortable with. Is there a solution? Here’s how to save money on your groceries:

First, as much as you may be inclined to laugh at the image of someone clipping coupons out of their daily junk mail, it really can put a dent in the overall cost of food. Recently, grocery stores have been doing coupons in packs rather than on single items. This allows you to buy one thing, and get several others that go along with it absolutely free. Keep your eyes peeled for these kinds of deals; they may even be printed out and placed next to their featured product in the store.

You can also spot some great deals by skimming the weekly ads available by the entrance of most stores.

Also, some grocery stores have a policy that if a customer finds a product that has passed its expiration date, they can get one (that’s still within its safe time period) absolutely free as a reward for helping the store discover and remove passed produce. By identifying and reporting the problem, you may have saved the store from a potential lawsuit and customer service nightmare down the line. Make sure your local grocer has this policy before you spend too much time hunting for expired food. If they do, you might be surprised how often something sits on the shelf past its prime while stockers try their best to keep up.

You can also save money by buying gift certificates. This might sound crazy, but a lot of people sell valid gift certificates to restaurants and stores they don’t go to. Either it’s too far out of their way, or their loyalties are with their competition. In either case, you can often find coupons to small and large retailers online at auction sites like eBay and even locally through Craigslist and other classified services. Be mindful of where you’re getting your cards, as there are folks out there that would love to get one over on you.

Saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be a laughable hobby. As much as that image of the coupon clipper might warrant a chuckle, those folks are also the ones walking around with the latest gadgets.