i The Frugal Law Student | Technology

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Mac on A Budget

Written by Tony Marrone

Well thanks to our friends over at Engadget, we now know what Steve Jobs is unleashing at the Macworld 2008 conference this morning. The new MacBook Air, the thinnest laptop on the market, will be pretty pricey, but it sure seems attractive to law students who carry dozens of pounds of books around with them daily.

Last semester I made the switch over from my bulky Gateway to the black MacBook. It’s true that the MacBook put a major dent in my pocketbook, but it also greatly increased my daily productivity, enabling me to get more done faster. Thanks to great tools like OmniOutliner, OmniFocus, Quicksilver and the ease with which my Mail, Address Book and iCal work with all these programs makes the MacBook “hands-down” the best purchase I’ve ever made.

If you read Mac Law Student (if not you definitely should; here’s the link)you’d know that Macs happen to function a lot like law students’ brains. They have the ability to accomplish multiple tasks at once, storing information in a meaningful and easy to recall way with the overall goal of retaining tons of information for yesterday, tomorrow and into the future.

I do have some tips though for getting yourself into a Mac, even when you’re on a budge

1. Never Purchase New
Generally computers are a lot like cars. They’re not going to go up in value once you’ve taken them out of the box, in fact, computers tend to depreciate much faster than cars simply because the technology is updated more frequently. With this in mind, you should always strive to purchase last season’s technology. So, if you’re in the market for a MacBook now, wait until MacBook Air saturates the market, and then try to purchase a regular MacBook from someone who upgraded to Air.

2. Troll E-Bay
Buying a computer online can be intimidating, you just need to ask plenty of questions, and make sure you’re bidding on a trusted seller. A good rule of thumb I use is to bid and sell using Pay-Pal only, because then you have another level of built-in corporate policies protecting you. In fact, I’m using Ebay now to sell my 16GB iPod Touch (I like the new iPod nano version better; see link here).

3. Call Your Local Apple Store and Ask If They Sell Refurbished
Local Apple Stores will many times have refurbished Macs in stock, or old floor models that they pull off the floor but are available for purchase. It’s best to call your local store or show up and ask them what their particular store’s refurbished options are.

4. Constantly Monitor Mac’s Online Refurbished Sections
Apple will sell their own refurbished products to you here. Most other online retailers also sell refurbished Macs, but I’d stay safe and purchase directly from Apple.

5. When All Else Fails, Finance Your New Mac
I hate to recommend this, but if you can’t find what you want used, and are extremely picky, you can purchase new (and finance through Apple’s Juniper Bank Visa Card–with a huge and unattractive APR). I would almost never recommend this, unless it is your only option to put yourself into a Mac and you are truly in dire straits. My position is that being “backwards” into a Mac by financing it on a credit card is still marginally better than owning and using a PC as your primary computer (sorry for offending PC users–I still have two PCs in my home).

15 Minutes Could Save You 15% or more…

Written by Tony Marrone

On your next cell phone, cable, internet or home phone bill.

Like any good frugal law student, I’ve been crunching the prospective numbers for 2008 and determined that I pay far too much for all of the above services. In light of the upcoming wedding and our desire to be in a new house before graduation next year, it seemed that it was time to dust off the old negotiating tactics and take to the phones.

Cut Back on Your Cable/Internet/Home Phone Costs
First up on the list was good ‘ole Time Warner. The media conglomerate has been charging a monthly fee which hovers dangerously close to fraud-like levels. After haggling with the representative and vowing to switch my cable/internet/home phone service to a DirectTV/Verizon Fios combination, I finally was rewarded by having my monthly bill reduced 27% and only giving up four HD channels we never watch.

Streamline your Cell Phone Bill
After conquering Time Warner, I moved on to Verizon in an effort to lower our wireless bill. I chose to take a non-confrontational approach with the Verizon representative. After a brief review of the usage numbers, we were able to reduce our monthly cell phone bill by approximately 22%. However, when I asked if she could throw in some free text-messages for the next couple of months, the representative admitted that if I had called and threatened to cancel my service, she could have done this no problem. Who says it pays to be kind?

Eliminate Pesky Old Accounts via Technicality
Finally, I was prepared to begin what I felt would surely be a battle to cancel two old Sprint PCS lines that have been hanging around. BFP posted today about cashing in on a great offer usually only distributed to Sprint employees. Unfortunately, the great offer is not available to existing Sprint customers, and the two lines remaining of what used to be my family plan are not eligible for conversion to the cheap SERO plan.

However, there is a loophole for all of you wanting to get out of your Sprint contracts without paying the hefty $200 early termination fee. Sprint sent a letter to its current customers about fee changes effective January 1, 2008. What Sprint does not disclose in the letter is that the cancellation of the Federal E911 fee of 40 cents per line and the Federal Local Number Pool and Portability fee of 15 cents per line and the addition of the two new fees actually results in a “net increase in fees”. Technically under most contracts, the net increase in fees creates a loophole which allows you to cancel your contract and forces Sprint to waive the Early Termination Fee.

After I went back-and-forth with the representative, she agreed I was right, and could get out of the two-line account and save the $400 in Early Termination Fees, but would have to call back when I received the bill in order for her to apply the credit. I made sure to get the representative’s identification number before I hung up.

All told, with a little bit of time on your hands and the willingness to have customer service representatives try to convince you why only Time Warner can deliver you the best in high-speed internet or ESPN HD service, you can successfully trim your cable/internet/phone budget by at least 20%. That’s not bad for just 15 minutes…

10 Ways to Make Money And Save Money On Facebook

Written by Brett McKay


Facebook is an amazing social network and it is better than ever with the addition of the market place and the application platform. Start leveraging Facebook’s awesome social network to make and save you money. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

  1. Sell your old stuff in Facebook Marketplace. Facebook’s Marketplace is much like Craig’s List. Listing items are free, so you don’t lose money in commissions like you do on eBay. What makes Facebook’s Marketplace really cool is that others can see in your profile what you’re selling. So, you get free advertising for your product as well.
  2. Buy stuff on Facebook Marketplace. If you want to save money, buying used is the way to go. In the Marketplace you can find cars, TVs, furniture, ect. You can potentially save hundreds of dollars doing your shopping in Facebook’s Marketplace.
  3. Find a Roommate on Faceboook’s Marketplace. In addition to selling stuff in the Marketplace, you can post roommate wanted bulletins. One of the best ways to save money on rent and utilities is to split them with one or more people. You can decide whether your post shows to the entire Facebook network or just your local network. Your posting in Marketplace will be seen in your profile, so all your friends will see you’re looking for a roommate. So, instead of ending up with a mystery roommate, you have a good chance of finding someone you know.
  4. Get a job in Facebook’s Marketplace. Your next job could come from Facebook! Companies and individuals can post “help wanted ads” in Facebook’s Marketplace. You can also post a “job wanted” posting. I’ve posted one for blog consulting, no one has yet to take me on it, but we’ll see what happens.
  5. Install the Ether application. Ether is a really cool Facebook application that allows you to make money while giving advice to people over the phone. If you’re an expert at Spanish or some other school subject, you can charge people for your tutoring services. You set the rates and Ether provides a number that individuals can call. The call will then be forwarded to your personal telephone number.
  6. Install YouCam, Chatterbox, or the Walkietalkie application. These applications allow voice over protocall on Facebook. Instead of wasting valuable cell phone minutes talking to your friends, do it for free with one of these applications.
  7. Install the Lending Club application. Lending Club is a peer to peer lending service like Prosper. You lend money to others and they pay you back with interest. If used correctly, Lending Club can be a great investment tool.
  8. Install the Books application. The Books application lists the book you’ve been reading in your profile. You can connect with your friends who are also using the Books applications to trade books with each other. You’ll save money by not buying new.
  9. Promote your blog on Facebook. If you have a blog that you monetize, use Facebook as another tool to increase traffic. Add a feed from your blog to your Notes section so others can see what you’re writing. If they like what they read, they’ll come to your blog. You can also create a Facebook group dedicated to your blog to help promote it. Get all your friends to join it and all your friends’ friends to join it. Pretty soon you’ll have a group from which you can get more readers from.
  10. Save money on photos. My favorite feature on Facebook is the ability to share photos with your friends. Instead of printing off expensive rolls of film, just upload your pics from the latest get together on Facebook. If you find a picture you’d like to print, you can order one directly from Facebook at a pretty reasonable price.

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Check out Best Facebook Applications for more information on Facebook applications.

[tags] Facebook, Facebook Marketplace, money, personal finance, Ether[/tags]


Do You Suffer From Digital Pack Rat-itis? Here’s Your Prescription.

Written by Brett McKay


Talk of the Nation had an interesting segment yesterday about pack rats. Neal Conan interviewed Mark McCluskey, products editor at Wired magazine, about how hoarding has gone digital.

Unlike analog pack rats who love collecting things, digital pack rats love collecting content. Analog pack rats love the tactile experience of holding an old vinyl album or smelling an old book. Analog pack rats generally don’t even listen to the records or read the books that they hold on to. Digital pack rats on the other hand love collecting information. They like knowing that somewhere in their computer or external hard drive lies a golden nugget of information.

I know I’m guilty of both, but more so with digital hoarding. I have emails from three years ago still on my account. I know I’ll never read them, but I just don’t have the heart to delete them. It’s like my little collection of letters tied with a digital bow that I keep in my digital attic. Instead of old drawings from kindergarten, my computer is overflowing with undergrad papers that I wrote years ago. I have no desire to read my research paper on the philosophy of language, but I don’t want to delete it.

However, analog and digital hoarding can cost people time and money. Important things or information can get lost in the clutter of stuff that you hold on to. That bill that was due yesterday is probably lost in the huge piles of paper sitting on your desk. My computer is starting to slow down because of all the crap that’s on it.

GTD: Just What the Dr. Ordered

My prescription to you is buying a copy Getting Things Done by David Allen. GTD will help you eliminate clutter and focus on the important things in your life. Below is a short list of resources about GTD and decluttering that I have used to cure myself of pack rat-itis.

Warning: Take productivity in moderation

In your quest to heal yourself of pack rat-itis, don’t replace your obsession with collecting “stuff” with an obsession of productivity. My own experience has shown me that one can get so obsessed with GTD and life hacks that you end up less productive than before. If you take productivity in moderation and you should be alright.

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[tags] GTD, life hack, productivity, NPR, Zen Habits[/tags]

3 Ways To Save Money on Your Personal Printer

Written by Brett McKay


If you have a personal ink jet printer at home, there’s no doubt that you’ve seen the ridiculous prices it costs for new cartridge. You can be set $30-$40 each time you buy a replacement and each cartridge only gives you about 200 printed pages. It doesn’t take very long before you’ve spent more on ink than on your printer/scanner/copy machine that you have at home. The truth is that printer companies make most their money selling ink, not printers. How can you save money in this area? Check it.

  • Get a Laser printer. While you’ll have to refill the toner in laser printers, you get much printed pages than you would with an ink jet. So you get more bang for your buck. Additionally, it prints much faster then the ink jet. Brother makes cheap laser printers. My father-in-law calls them disposable printers because they’re so cheap and only last about a year. It’s just cheaper to throw the thing out and buy a new one than it would be to replace 4 ink jet cartridges.
  • Print in draft mode. If you don’t want to buy a laser printer, at least print in draft mode with your ink jet when you’re printing documents. It uses much less ink then the normal printer setting and it prints faster. I honestly can’t tell the difference between a document I printed in draft mode and one that I printed in the normal mode. However, you can definitely see a difference when you’re printing an image.
  • Refill your cartridges. Instead of buying new cartridges, save some money by taking them to get refilled. There are several businesses offering cartridge refilling services. I use Cartridge World. Office Depot and Wallgreen’s also offers cartridge refill services. You can save up to 40% on the cost of ink by refilling. Not only are you saving money, you’re helping the environment out as well.

Make Extra Money by Becoming a Mechanical Turk

Written by Brett McKay

The New York Times had an interesting article on Sunday about businesses paying people to do small tasks that computers can’t. For example computers can’t look at a picture and count the number of happy people in a picture. Neither can it easily recognize the difference between a picture of an oak tree and a maple tree. These differences can be important when organizing information. What many search engine companies are doing is outsourcing this work to humans, who can do these kinds of things easily.

Amazon.com has created a site called Mechanical Turk (a mechanical turk recalls a famous 18th-century hoax, where what seemed to be a chess-playing automaton really concealed a human chess master.) where people can sign up to take on Human Intelligence Tasks (HIT). A HIT might consist of looking at a photo and telling if it contains a pizza parlor. A computer would have hard time doing this, but a person can do it in a matter of seconds.

Most HIT’s reward just a few cents for each task, but it all adds up. The article discussed a disabled former military officer spending two hours a day on HITs. He earns about $100 a week. Not too shabby.

Being a mechanical turk seems like an easy way to earn some extra cash while in school. It’s not going to make you rich, but it can at least give you some extra money to pay those bills.

Hat tip to my lovely wife for telling me about the article.