Budget Tips: Everything Old Is New Again

emacI don’t know about you, but one of the hardest things for me about navigating these tough economic times is keeping my gadget spending in check. I have a problem, or more accurately, many problems, and they are all shiny, new and electronic. It’d be nice to say that I have enough willpower to forgo these things when the budget isn’t there, but that’s not at all true. I still have to scratch that itch, so I’ve come up with some ways to do so on the cheap.

Closet Excavation

It may not be quite as satisfying as unboxing something brand-new, or buying a big ticket item at retail, but digging around in your closet for old, nearly forgotten hardware and gadgets can actually be pretty satisfying. Especially if you haven’t looked at them in many years, since you’ll often be surprised with what recent software updates or new peripherals can help you do with older devices.

For instance, I recently reclaimed an old Palm T|X (s palm) that was languishing unused in my brother’s bedside drawer. I’d passed the device onto him when I picked up the first iPod Touch (s aapl), but he’d stopped using it long ago when he got his first iPhone.

Paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, it’s still a great solution for quick document writing and editing on the road, and it actually has the added benefit of preventing distraction. I’d almost compare the experience to working with a typewriter, whereas any computer is more like working with a typewriter in a movie theater while a movie’s playing with a jukebox going in the background. Not to mention the fact that the device is still a great universal remote.

Trade for Tech

People who work from home tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. It piles up, falls in and out of service, and eventually just takes up space. You could sell it, but often the depreciation on electronics makes that an unappealing prospect to me. A nice alternative that usually leaves me (and the people I’m dealing with) much more satisfied is to try to work out barter deals to trade things you’re not using for things you’d like to try out.

I’ve done trade deals a few times, and nabbed an eMac and a nice starter film SLR out of the deal. Most recently, I traded an acoustic guitar I had (no, I don’t play guitar, and yes, I did buy it new for some stupid reason) for a 1.33GHz 12-inch PowerBook G4. It’s seen better days, but everything still works well, including the optical drive, which is a rare find for this particular vintage of Mac. A trip to the Apple Store and my local independent computer supply store later, and I’ve maxed out the RAM (to 1.25GB) and have a brand-new battery that will get me four hours and change with smart battery management practices.

Having the Powerbook means that I don’t need my Eee PC anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the battery is great on that thing, and it handles video streaming somewhat better than the PowerBook, but I just cannot get back to using Windows (s msft) as my primary OS for any length of time. The upshot is that I now have a relatively new Eee PC 1000HE to use for further bartering. I’m hoping to pick up a newer-model Time Capsule, with dual-band networking.

Start a Gadget Exchange Program

Chances are, if you have a lot of gadgets, someone in your circle of friends also has a lot of electronic toys lying around which aren’t strictly useful all of the time. What better way for both (or all, if there’s more than two) of you to get a chance to try out new tools without the high cost than by organizing a gadget exchange?

Of course, there are numerous problems with such an arrangement, which is why you should make sure ahead of time that you trust the people you’re trading with implicitly, and that everyone will treat each other’s gear with respect and compensate one another for any damages that may result. It’ll still work out to be a lot cheaper than all of you impulse buying every new thing that comes out, and is a lot less wasteful, too.

Save Money

The bottom line is, the less you spend on gear, the more money you save. Believe me, if I could, I would just grab everything electronics manufacturers slap a “new” sticker on. Sadly, that’s not a realistic possibility. It’s far better to concentrate on finding “new to me” things to experiment with, and occasionally making a choice investment when one of those things actually does enhance my productivity.

Have you tried a gadget exchange program with your friends? Did is satisfy your urges to acquire shiny, new gadgets?