Affordable Technology for Families on a Tight Budget


If you cringe every time your kids submit a wish list because those small slips of paper are filled with big ticket electronic toys and gadgets, you're probably suffering from tech shock. It's that numb feeling you get when you realize that one day you may have to make a choice between putting food on the table and paying for your mobile service bills, whether that's Internet access, gaming subscription, a satellite account or cable service.

It isn't just the purchase price of the hardware, either. After that pesky plastic packaging comes off (are they kidding with that stuff?), there's almost always a monthly service subscription involved, or software to buy, or expensive how-to books to purchase to get full value from your investment, or security issues that start out cheap but get pricier and pricier over time. Not only that, the cutting-edge technology you're buying today will be obsolete before your kids wear out their school shoes. Then you'll have to go through the same process all over again -- or bear the brunt of endless arguments about how the latest and greatest gadget is absolutely essential for (insert clever manipulative gambit here).

Sure, new technology is neat and useful. What parent doesn't want his child to have emergency access to a mobile phone or the latest educational tools to get a good start in life? Wanting your spouse to have some of the nicer things in life isn't too much to ask either, is it?

Let's consider: A home theater system could mean fewer outings to expensive movies -- and hideously costly side trips to the concession counter. It may even be possible to get free DVDs at the library to offset the cost. See what we're doing here? We're constructing a strategy. Having a strategy is a good beginning.

Deciding what gadgets you want, need, or really, really need is a process. Once you narrow down your long list of desires to a shorter list of family-friendly possibilities, it's time to set a budget and start hunting for the best prices on the items you want.

On the next page, we'll take a look at the ways and means of buying gadgets. When you can't have it all, these tips will help you make smarter choices when buying electronics and other tech gear.