Remember, the factories that make items with brand names on them make similar items without the fancy labels. Sometimes they're even the same items.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Cheapskate's guide for 2012: Accessories

December 16, 2012

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard

The companies that make computers probably would go broke if it weren't for all the high-profit stuff you buy to support your habit -- a mouse, a USB thingie, some powered loudspeakers, maybe some earbuds and a few extras like backup drives and blank CDs and DVDs.

All that stuff is cheap to make, and most of it sells at exorbitant prices. Case in point: I was shopping for a wireless mouse the other day, and noticed that the name-brand mouse I was looking at was more than $60. Discouraged, I made my way to Big Lots, my favorite anything-goes discounter, and found a similar mouse for $6.

The point isn't just that one wireless mouse was 1/10th the price of the other. Twirl this thought around for a while: Big Lots was making good money off the $5 mouse! So the cost of making a mouse in China, where just about all of them are made, is insignificant; you could sell them for $2 and not lose a dime. Remember, the factories that make items with brand names on them make similar items without the fancy labels. Sometimes they're even the same items.

In modern, state-of-the-art electronics factories, it costs only a little bit more to make things well than to make things poorly. We've finally reached the point in electronic goods that we had crossed two dozen years ago in the manufacture of digital watches: If you make them properly, you can also make them cheaply.

The secret, then, is to stop thinking brand names mean anything when you're buying computer accessories. Buy that $6 mouse. Get those $4 ear buds, those dollar store batteries, those $60 external hard drives. Buy blank disks in bulk.

Where can you find such bargains? Big Lots and the many different dollar stores are my favorite places to look for cheap accessories. I even found a specialized FireWire accessory cable at Big Lots a few years ago for less than 1/10th the price in a local electronics store.

External hard drives usually cost too much at local stores -- if you can even find the ones you want. The discounter I recommend is New Egg, at www.newegg.com. While I was writing this column, I saw a slew of USB external drives priced under $70 at New Egg. You'll probably see many drives with odd brand names, but most of them are made in the same factories as the name-brand models.

Need a couple of USB cables or a few extra memory cards? Try Amazon, at www.amazon.com. When you see a list of items, reorder it from low to high price. (All major online stores let you do that.)

Blank CDs and DVDs don't need to cost much. Meritline, at www.meritline.com, is the king of disk-counters (sorry, I mean disk discounters) and can sell you 100 blank DVDs for less than $20. Blank CDs are even cheaper. (If you're wondering which brand to get, Ritek is well regarded.)

Finally, don't be reluctant to make good use of Google's search system. I often type something like "best price" followed by the item I'm looking for. The results can speed up your bargain hunting significantly.