It's back-to-school shopping season, and for a lot of students that means stocking up on tech gear: laptops, flash drives, and maybe even a new phone.
Of course, you're probably the one footing the bill for all this stuff, so it makes sense to seek out the best deals you can.
With that in mind, I've assembled three tips to help you get the most bang for your back-to-school buck.
1. Don't Go Overboard on a Laptop
I'm often asked for laptop buying advice, and my response is always the same: "What do you plan to do with it?"
Students have fairly modest needs--often little more than word processing, Web browsing, and e-mail. Of course, moving beyond mere needs, they'll also want to use their machines for things like music, movies, and games.
Thankfully, these activities don't require a lot of horsepower. At minimum you'll want a dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 320GB hard drive. The big question is screen size: anything larger than 15.6 inches will be too unwieldy for toting around in a backpack, and anything smaller than 13 inches might prove too cramped for homework comfort.
Ultrabooks are all the rage right now, offering thin, lightweight designs and long battery life--but you'll end up paying a considerable premium to get one. My advice: look for a clearance or closeout laptop, something packing last year's hardware. You'll save big, but still get a nicely equipped system.
The bottom line is that you should be able to outfit your student with a fine system for as little as $400--possibly even less.
2. Don't Overpay for Flash Drives
Every student needs a flash drive or two, whether it's for transporting data to and from class or making a quick backup of a crucial school paper.
The good news is that prices have plummeted in recent months, especially on 8GB and 16GB drives. But you might have to shop around a bit to find the very best deals.
How much storage capacity does Junior really need? Even 8GB is enough to hold hundreds of school papers, dozens of PowerPoint presentations, and so on. But for an extra four bucks? Might as well double up.
3. Choose a Prepaid Smartphone
No doubt your student would love an iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy S3, or some other state-of-the-art smartphone. But I suspect you wouldn't love the extra $60-100 per month (for two years) that goes with it.
That's why I highly recommend a prepaid phone. Virgin Mobile offers a variety of them, with handset prices starting as low as $79.99 (for the just-announced Android-powered Chaser
), and no-contract monthly fees starting at $35.
Keep in mind that kids these days don't use their phones for talking (unless it's you calling, of course); all they do is text and play Angry Birds. Virgin knows this, which is why that $35 buys just 300 voice minutes per month, but unlimited texting and data.