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Friday, July 18, 2014

Free Advice Friday: 10 Money-Saving Resources for Writers

What I'm reading: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
What's on the iPod: Alone in My Home by Jack White


Some days, you just know you're about to have a good day. I sat down at this desk yesterday with purpose; I had a plan. Allotting time to three separate projects, I was able to organize two of them to the point where I'm inches from invoicing. The third project is a personal one, and I had plenty of time to play.

I love it when that happens.

I had time to play on the computer, as well. I'm a bit weird in that I like to try learning one more thing about Windows or my computer whenever I get the chance. There's a lot of functionality on our computers that we probably don't even know about let alone use. This came screaming home to me the day I decided to buy software. As I searched for reviews on various products, I came across a post that suggested the software I wanted was already installed on my computer. I looked. Sure enough, there it was.

That saved me $99.

It's not always that we freelance writers are going out buying things, but when we do, it's nice to know how to save a few bucks. There are some things you just can't live without, like equipment, essential word processing software, anti-virus programs, etc. However, just because you need it doesn't mean it has to cost much, if anything.

Here are a few areas where we writers can save some cash:

Voice Recognition software. Before you buy a voice-to-text application, do a search of your PC. Most newer Windows machines have a Voice Recognition program right there under Accessories.

Software in general. For almost every program you're about to pay for, there is a free or very cheap alternative. Open source software is a great way to get the high-end functionality without the exorbitant cost. Do a little research -- I like to go to CNet to find my downloads and reviews. The obvious caveat applies -- make sure it's a trusted source. Otherwise, you could be downloading trouble.

Also, I can't speak for what Apple provides, but Windows also gives you programs such as a sound recorder, a text-to-speech narrator, remote desktop capabilities, an on-screen keyboard, and even a magnifier. My desktop, which is a HP with Windows 7, also has sticky notes, handwriting recognition, a tablet PC input panel, a sync center for syncing within your network, a snipping tool for capturing screen shots, and a journal for handwriting capture. Look before you download.

Pre-owned and older versions are OK. While my desk is a new one, it replaced a used one. Likewise my office chair. It's a fantastic, high-end chair I got from a used office furniture discount site. It's okay to save some money on furnishings. For example, do you really need that fancy matching printer stand, or can you pick up and refinish a nice old dresser or credenza and save a few hundred bucks? The same goes with software. As newer versions come out, you can pick up used or obsolete-ish versions online, especially if it's something where you don't necessarily need the newest, shiniest, most-expensive version. I once picked up an unopened Quark Xpress program for $40. It was three versions outdated, but perfect for my needs.

Blogs instead of webinars. There are slews of webinars, courses, and boot camps out there at any given time, and the main goal is to earn money for the people hosting them. While that's not a bad thing if you know your hosts and trust their expertise, if you're short on cash, do a little Bing/Google search. Invariably, that topic you're about to pay $300 to learn more about can be had for free on a blog or in an article. Sure, the information may have to be pieced together, but you're saving $300. Why wouldn't you opt for that?

Free education. The day my local writer friend alerted me to Coursera was a day I won't forget. His email to his writer friends resonated, and I've since taken advantage of several college-level courses taught by some of the top universities in the world. Coursera isn't the only place to get training for free; try iTunes University, OpenCulture, Stanford University, Yale, Harvard, etc. All free.

Spend wisely. There are a small handful of people I'd pay money to learn from, and there are a few programs and office supplies I would spend good money on. A great anti-virus program is essential (I use Avast! and love it), as is the right office equipment. I couldn't live without my digital voice recorder. Whatever it is you can't live without, splurge on those items. For those webinars and courses -- be sure to read between the lines of the sales pitch. If the information to be presented is new and something you can't get elsewhere or if the host is someone who's walking the talk (not just pretending), go for it.

eBooks. That's right -- you can get free books from your favorite authors, or find some new favorites. BookBub alerts you to the freebies in the format you use -- Kindle, Nook, Apple, etc. Sign up for free, click on the Free e-Books link, and enjoy.

Business cards. The most I paid for business cards was $191 for lovely, embossed cards. No more of that -- now I pay $19 total. But even that can be topped -- for the price of shipping, places like VistaPrint can set you up with your very own pack of 250 business cards.

Sales. There is nothing a writer needs that can't be had at a bargain. Want cheap printer ink? How about a new laptop? One of my all-time favorite places for sales is Groupon. My daughter scored her wedding invitations via a Groupon for $20, including Save-the-Date notes and thank-you notes. If you're willing to be patient and wait for the sale, it will happen. This past month, I saw sales for computers, software, and printers. Even printer paper is currently on deep discount -- $56.99 for 10 pack that retail for $157.85.

Rewards programs. Loyalty should be rewarded (and it's why they probably know my name at DSW). Office supply places usually do offer rewards programs that give you discounts on future purchases. Everything from airline rewards to even search engines offer some kind of reward. Right now, I'm getting 100 GB of free cloud storage for one year on MS OneDrive just because I search using Bing. In fact, Bing has paid for all my Starbucks trips this month. For those things you do every day or buy regularly, find the retailers who will pay you back for sticking with them.

Writers, how and where do you save money? What are your favorite resources?
What would you plunk down good money for, discount or not?

9 comments:

Cathy Miller said...

Lori's resources - priceless. :-)

There are several good resources for the business side of freelancing. One of my favorites is SCORE at score.org. You can find mentors, business tools, templates for business forms, local workshops and webinars.

Cathy Miller said...

I think I screwed up my HTML for the link but you get the idea. ;-)

Lori Widmer said...

Got it, Cathy. :) Great resource, too. Thanks!

Paula said...

My favorite work-related bargain is my desk. The story behind it reminds me that some things are meant to be:

My sister and I love flea markets and garage sales. One Saturday we hit a small flea market and a huge neighborhood wide garage sale event at the same time. I was already thinking of turning a spare bedroom into my office - I'd outgrown the 7x7 original butler's pantry next to it. The desk I had then was one of those cheap laminated chipboard ones you assemble at home. It was both flimsy and ugly...and only had one drawer.

My sister and I always start out by asking what the other is looking for. I usually find more things for her than she finds for herself. When I said I was looking for a great solid old desk, for under $100 she laughed. One of the garage sales had a bunch of those metal teachers desks, which are kind of neat, but they were all over $100. If that were my style, I might have considered one, but I left without a desk. On a whim, my sister decided to stop at a new resale shop on the edge of town. We walked in and right in front of me sat a beautiful, large, old dark oak office desk. The kind you see in 1940s detective movies. I would have been drawn to it even if I hadn't been looking for a desk.

While my sister shopped, I inspected the desk, expecting it to be wobbly or missing a drawer or hardware. The price tag said $50 so surely there had to be a flaw. The only flaw I spotted was a small bubble in the finish on the desktop - easily hidden by a paperweight. Assuming it was a typo and should say $150, I asked an employee if the tag was right. She came over, looked at the tag, looked at the desk and said, "Let's make it $45, since that one drawer handle doesn't match." (I later realized the style is the same, but the brass pull on the center drawer was shinier because it had been used more than the three handles on the false drawers hiding typewriter cupboard.)

SOLD.

Well, first I had to figure out a way to get it home, since I didn't know anyone locally with a truck. (Yep. The sheer size of this puppy is probably why the price was so low.)

Coincidentally, my brother had told me he'd be in town that Monday with a big new SUV. As usual, he was happy to help out. We measured the desk and his SUV and there was barely enough clearance for our knuckles, but it would fit. I bought it. While we were loading it up, he noticed the name "Jeanne" was written on the pencil holder in the center drawer and said that was the name of his new girlfriend. (They're married now!)

When we got the desk home, I called a friend to come help us move it into the house. Luckily the front door is wide. But we had to remove the office door and some of the door trim to inch the desk in! Quite an ordeal.

And my office chair? A similar period wheeled office chair (maple) that leans back and swivels. I see similar chairs at flea markets for well over $100 all the time. Mine was free. I just carried it up the basement stairs and wiped off a little dust!

KeriLynn Engel said...

Great list! I'm all about saving money and getting free & used stuff. It's so much better for the environment, too, than buying new all the time.

Here's another tip: Every so often my friends & I get together and have a giveaway party: We round up all our stuff we don't want anymore (clothes, books, even small furniture) and bring it to the party. Everyone takes what they want, and we donate whatever's left over. It's a great way to get free stuff that's new to you :)

The only thing on this list I don't do is get cheap business cards. I'm kind of a business card snob! I love designing interesting new cards, and I always go to Moo.com. (No affiliation, I just love them!) Great selection & customer service, and the brand just has such personality. It's a little pricier, but worth it to me :)

Lori Widmer said...

Paula, I'd walk through fire for a desk bargain like that. Lucky woman! My desk was found at a flea market, but it was new. The man there made them himself. It's an oak mission-style desk with a keyboard drawer. I put the roof down in the car and seat belted it into the back seat. :)

Great idea, KeriLynn! One man's trash, as they say.

Try the business cards. I paid a designer $30 for my own design (ask for vector art), and I uploaded it to VistaPrint. In total, I had maybe $60 into it, but I can use the design over and over.

Paula said...

Sounds like a lovely desk, Lori. Mission style furniture always looks great in a bungalow...but I only have one piece that really qualifies, an antique armoire.

Jennifer Mattern said...

Great tips Lori!

One other option for voice recognition software is to use your phone or table. There are free and cheap apps that do a great job (I've had better luck with Nuance's Android app than their full Dragon, Naturally Speaking software). What's great is that they're portable so you can "write" from anywhere and copy the transcription to your computer later.

Lori Widmer said...

I'd wondered about those, Jenn! Thanks for letting us know. I'm also searching for a smartphone-based recorder that will capture both sides of the conversation. As you know, I've had my power go out too often for too long. I need something more portable!

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