Reducing Computer-Related Expenses

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brad
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Reducing Computer-Related Expenses

Postby brad » Wed Apr 25, 2007 4:11 pm

Every year I tally up what I've spent on computer and communications-related expenses and moan. I'd like to get these costs under control, so I'll start a journal here.

I work at home, and use a Windows machine for work and a Mac for everything else. Running two platforms is part of the reason my expenses are so high. Normally I would use a company computer for my Windows machine--that would cut down on those expenses considerably, but there are a bunch of reasons why using my own makes more sense (I won't go into those here unless anyone wants to know). Note that in Canada you can't deduct home office equipment, the way you can in the US, unless you're self-employed (which I'm not). So all this stuff is nondeductible. I also bought laptops for my girlfriend and her daughter, but that's 'cause they couldn't afford them. So I have those computers to maintain as well!

Hardware costs
Expenses in this category are large but infrequent, as I tend to keep my computers at least five years or more. However both of my computers are laptops and one option to reduce my costs next time I buy a new Mac would be to buy an iMac instead of a laptop. I hardly ever take my Mac out of the house, whereas I often travel with my Windows laptop for work.

Why do I have both Mac and Windows? I started working on a Mac and all my old archive files are in Mac format. Plus I love the Mac and have been using Macs since they came out in the mid 1980s (we used them in my office back then). I need to use Windows for work because my company's on Windows and quite a few of the programs I use for work are only available for Windows. Yes, I know I could just buy a MacBook Pro and run Windows on it with Boot Camp or Parallels, and maybe that's the solution. Still, even though it's more expensive, it seems simpler and more trouble-free to use a dedicated Windows machine for Windows and the Mac for Mac stuff.

Goal: Reduce hardware costs, possibly by switching to just one machine (MacBook Pro) that runs both Windows and Mac OSX.

Software costs
This is where having both a Mac and a Windows machine is trouble. Upgrades to operating systems and frequently used software on both machines, office software and anti-virus for the Windows machine, etc. ends up costing me hundreds of bucks every year. I've gotten wiser about upgrades and now usually skip them unless they offer some killer functionality that will make my life easier, but sometimes my colleagues or clients upgrade and I have no choice but to follow suit. Company policy is that I'm not reimbursed for software expenses if it's for my own computer, so I eat all these costs.

Goal: Keep total software costs under $200/year by upgrading only when necessary and avoiding duplication across Mac and Windows platforms (I don't need a word processor for my Mac, for example, so why did I buy Pages? Silly me.).

Internet and Internet Services
This is the one I'm most embarrassed about. My employer does pay for my DSL costs, which is good because they're nearly $60/month. But in addition to that, look at all the stuff I spend money on:

1. Webhosting for my personal domain: $250/year (this is very high, I know, but I love my webhost and they have been absolutely rock-solid reliable, never down, immediate support whenever I have questions, so I'm reluctant to switch to anything that might be less reliable).

2. .Mac: $100/year. I don't really need this, but use my mac.com address for personal email and also use my iDisk for offsite backup and sharing large files with friends and family. This is an expense I could pretty easily give up, but I keep waiting to see if Apple will add some great new features that will make it more useful.

3. Strongpace/Joyent: $100/year. Strongspace is a secure FTP site that I use for secure offsite backups of many of my important work files. It's now bundled with some other services, including webhosting, but the webhosting has been pretty flaky from what I've heard...in the process of getting better but I don't trust it enough to switch from my current webhost. Again this is something I could give up if I don't give up .Mac...it should be one or the other but not both.

4. Basecamp: $140/year. This is an online tool from 37signals that I use to keep a couple of non-work-related projects organized (a band that I play in and a nonprofit board that I sit on). A similar product is bundled with the Strongspace/Joyent service I described above, but since I've already got everyone on Basecamp (and since Basecamp is a lot better anyway), I don't feel like switching.

Goal: Consolidate internet services and cut out the ones I can do without.

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jdroth
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Postby jdroth » Wed Apr 25, 2007 4:15 pm

2. .Mac: $100/year. I don't really need this, but use my mac.com address for personal email and also use my iDisk for offsite backup and sharing large files with friends and family. This is an expense I could pretty easily give up, but I keep waiting to see if Apple will add some great new features that will make it more useful.


Amen. Especially to that last part. I, too, pay this $100/year. I admit that I do use the synchro-feature quite heavily. I have three different Macs I use regularly and without iSync I'd be lost. But I don't use the mail, and I don't use the web space. I do keep some files stored on the .Mac servers, but not enough to justify the cost. I need to look at cutting this, even if it is a business expense.

lostmind
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Postby lostmind » Wed Apr 25, 2007 11:27 pm

best AV software out there for free that I've found: www.free-av.com

Your webhosting costs seem a bit steep but I can understand (and appreciate) sticking with a good, solid host. What I don't understand is why you can't use your webhosting for your offsite backups and ftp drops?

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Postby Latro » Thu Apr 26, 2007 3:56 am

There are plenty of "free" online storage sites that aren't built into the OS like .mac but should server your purpose in a lot of ways.

I use Divshare and it has unlimited storage but a limit of 200mb file size per upload. You can purchase uploads of up to 2 gig per file with unlimited storage space for $.99 a file or $9.95 a month but the free account has been perfect for me.

brad
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Postby brad » Thu Apr 26, 2007 4:04 am

lostmind wrote:Your webhosting costs seem a bit steep but I can understand (and appreciate) sticking with a good, solid host. What I don't understand is why you can't use your webhosting for your offsite backups and ftp drops?


Good question: until recently, my major complaint with my webhost was that they are very stingy with space: my plan only allowed 100 megabytes of storage! I was bumping up against that limit and sent them emails with the prices I was seeing for other hosts (1 terabyte of storage for $100 a year, for example). They did recently up their limits in response to the competition, so in fact I could store offsite backups and FTP drops there now. Their bandwidth limits are comfortably high (traffic to my site uses about 15-20 gigs of bandwidth per month), and even in months when I've gone over my limit they haven't charged me extra.

squished18
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Postby squished18 » Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:03 am

Hi brad,

What sort of work do you use your computers for? What are the main applications that you run?

squished

brad
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Postby brad » Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:05 pm

squished18 wrote:Hi brad,

What sort of work do you use your computers for? What are the main applications that you run?

squished


Hi squished,

It's a combination of things: Writing and editing (Word, WordPerfect, and EndNote); website management and content (Dreamweaver, Visual SourceSafe, Fireworks); specialized graphing (SigmaPlot); development of Excel-based tools; Outlook for email, tasks, and calendar; a few Microsoft Access databases that I developed and/or help maintain; occasional PowerPoint presentations; creation and maintenance of digital photo galleries (for work).

None of this requires a particularly high-end computer; I just use an IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPad as my Windows machine.

On the Mac, I mainly use Quicken (I could switch to the Windows version, which is much more powerful, but I've always felt more secure keeping my finances on the Mac), and iPhoto and iTunes for my personal photos and music. I also do a lot of music recording and editing with Amadeus Pro and some other programs (The Amazing Slow Downer, etc.). I also use the Mac with an iSight webcam to do video chats with my siblings -- we live far apart and don't see each other that often, but independently we all bought Mac Powerbooks and iSight cameras, so now we chat by video every month or two.

squished18
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Postby squished18 » Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:40 pm

brad,

Why the different word processors? I didn't even know somebody was still making/supporting WordPerfect. Last I heard it was Corel. Still them?

Have you looked into OpenOffice any?

squished

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jdroth
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Postby jdroth » Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:50 pm

<i> I mainly use Quicken. I could switch to the Windows version, which is much more powerful... </i>

Isn't it the truth? I love my Mac, but it does have some shortcomings. This is one of them. I have Parallels now, though, so the next time I upgrade Quicken (in three years or so), I'll move to the PC version of Intuit still hasn't improved things...

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Postby Gnashchick » Thu Apr 26, 2007 8:37 pm

Open Office has worked out great for my home computer (an old dell) and I've never had a problem going from MS Word to OpenOffice Writer and back. I think the spreadsheet software holds up for home use as well.

I also want to plug Gimp. I use Photoshop CS2 at work every day, but Gimp is what I have at home. It's just as powerful, and I have found some nifty open-source plug-ins for it. If you've never used it before, it can be a bit of a steep learning curve at first, but if you've ever used Photoshop it won't take long to find your way around.

Free is good.
Steal what works, fix what's broke, fake the rest

brad
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Postby brad » Fri Apr 27, 2007 4:09 am

squished18 wrote:brad,

Why the different word processors? I didn't even know somebody was still making/supporting WordPerfect. Last I heard it was Corel. Still them?


All of my clients are in the US government, and some government agencies still use WordPerfect. Fortunately most of my clients have switched to Word, which makes my life MUCH easier, but every year it seems I have to do at least one job in WordPerfect. Word will open WordPerfect files, but sometimes I'm required to edit in WordPerfect using its (lousy) revision tracking tools. Yes, Corel still makes it and apparently there are still millions of people using it. One of my friends works as a translator and editor, and he swears by WordPerfect. I just swear at it! Even the latest version has more bugs than the Amazon rainforest.

squished18 wrote:Have you looked into OpenOffice any?


I haven't, because I'm worried about compatibility problems. If I were only writing, it wouldn't be an issue, but much of my work involves editing. For example right now I'm editing a 700-page technical report written by seven authors and 30 contributing authors, all of whom are using Word. Their files are formatted inconsistently. I've had to reformat all the chapters from scratch as they come in, change all the styles, and then edit them. All of my edits have to be tracked, and we need to insert references using Reference Manager (similar to EndNote), plus there are dozens of graphs, tables, and figures. We also use Word's cross-referencing and footnote features, bookmarks, etc., and I have a suite of editing plug-ins for Word that I use to take care of common problems with one click of the mouse (changing straight quotes to curly ones, changing two spaces between sentences to one, etc.) I can't afford any compatibility issues in a project this complex. I might try testing OpenOffice sometime when work is slow, but work in fact is hardly ever slow!

lostmind
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Postby lostmind » Fri Apr 27, 2007 10:51 am

I can plug openoffice here too. The newest version has even improved support for other software. I've had to edit and read wordperfet and word files all the time. Although most of my work in openoffice is on spreadsheets.

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jdroth
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Postby jdroth » Fri Apr 27, 2007 11:21 am

Does OpenOffice work on OS X yet? Every time I look the site says, "In development -- check back soon!"

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Postby elasticdog » Fri Apr 27, 2007 6:59 pm

jdroth wrote:Does OpenOffice work on OS X yet? Every time I look the site says, "In development -- check back soon!"

Try Neo Office...a fork of Open Office with a lot of customized functionality specifically for the Mac. It doesn't use X11, and it pretty darn good, all things considered. For a small team, they've done a great job at keeping up with applying their customizations to releases of OpenOffice as they come out.

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Postby Fillanzea » Fri Apr 27, 2007 7:25 pm

I agree that Neo Office is really good. However-- it runs really slowly for me. I've been trying out the demo of Mellel, which is a light-footprint word processor, and I really like it, but it's not a full office suite.


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