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7 ways to save money on your electronics

Our experts tell you how to put money back in your pocket

Published: August 27, 2014 02:15 PM

We love our gadgets, but they sometimes cost us more than we expected—even after we bring them home. Our experts have lots of tips on how to save money when it comes to buying, using, and eventually selling your electronics devices. This advice could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

1. Shop for previous-generation devices

The (so far, alleged) announcement of Apple’s new iPhone is fast approaching—Sept. 9, rumors say. And we’ve already seen prices drop on the most recent generation of iPhones, the 5c and 5s. So if you don’t need the latest, shiniest gadget, opt for a slightly older one—good deals can be found, especially right before the new generation comes out.

2. Don’t buy expensive cables

"Prestige" brands offer very high-priced cables: Some HDMI cables in the 6-foot range sell for $100 or more, and longer cables can cost several times that. But we've found that the modestly priced brands sold at most consumer electronics stores and online for far less work just as well in typical use. We've had no problems using 6-foot HDMI cables we bought online for a few dollars. Any "high-speed" (Category 2) HDMI cable should be adequate for connecting to a TV—even for 3D. Just avoid the really cheap cables at dollar stores; those might have flimsy connectors or inadequate shielding on the cable itself.

3. Check a printer’s ink usage before you buy

High ink- or toner-cartridge costs can make a bargain-priced printer a bad deal in the long run. That’s why Consumer Reports labs tests ink usage—including the ink used by an inkjet printer just to maintain its print heads during intermittent use—and factors that into our printer Ratings. Also, look for a printer that uses separate color cartridges. This is generally more economical.

When you buy stuff can make a difference in price. Visit our guide to the best times to buy anything.

4. Sell your old devices

If your used gadget is still in good shape, you might be able to get some cash for it. Check out our guide to the best places to sell devices. If you’re upgrading your device, ask the company you’ll be buying from whether it takes trade-ins and gives a discount for them. And for good measure, here’s a guide to how to sell just about anything.

5. Unplug your devices

You might be shocked by how much energy electronics suck up. Video-game consoles draw lots of power, even when they’re off or in standby mode; pulling the plug can put around $125 a year back in your pocket. If you have a set-top box at home, consider trading it for one that meets Energy Star’s tougher new 3.0 specification. Make sure your TV is set to the energy-efficient Home mode. And save $75 or more a year on your computer by using the standby or hibernate setting.

6. Negotiate a better deal

Try to negotiate a lower price on a new computer, tablet, or really, any electronics device—or even on a telecom bill. You can often get a better price just by asking for it. It doesn't hurt to haggle anywhere, but you'll probably have a better chance of getting a price break at an independent store or regional chain than at a major chain store. And even if you're buying online, you should still try for a better deal. Anecdotes from successful online hagglers indicate that most of them negotiated by phone, although a few used e-mail.

7. Don’t let your kids play games with in-app purchases

App stores—especially Apple’s—have taken heat from consumers (and the FCC) recently for making it too easy for kids to buy “gems,” “coins,” and other items sold within games, sometimes racking up hundreds of dollars in bills. If you do allow your child to play such games, first read our guide on how to control in-app purchases.

—Carol Mangis

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